Sunday, April 12, 2009

Done with Windows

This weekend I took the plunge and jumped on the Linux bandwagon.

I've wanted to check out Linux for a long while now. You hear so many good things about it like; stability, security, cost (free is always nice), etc. With all the constant security issues in Windows, especially this latest Cornficker worm, I got to the end of my rope with Windows. When I found myself using my computer, not having any confidence in whether it was secure or not, I knew it was time for a change.

So, I made a trip down to Fry's. There's always a good excuse to head down there. I wanted to buy some more RAM anyways, plus I needed a good way to back up all my files from my hard drive. At first I was thinking I'd buy an external drive and back all my files up on to there, but when you look at some of the prices on hard drives these days, it becomes obvious that a hard drive upgrade is the right answer. $130 for 1TB of storage! Back when I bought my PC 6 years ago, my 160GB drive was pretty big.

My original plan was to set up a dual boot on my existing hard drive. However, armed with this new hard drive I decided to go all in; swapped out the hard drives and installed Linux onto the new drive. I then just transferred my files from the old drive to the new one, and voila, up and running on Linux. If I had to do it again I could probably do the whole thing in less than an hour. I'm really impressed. Last week I had no clue as to how one would install Linux or what the implications would be. With a minimal amount of reading online documentation and some basic computer hardware knowledge I was able to pull this thing off.

For those who aren't familiar with Linux, it's an open source operating system. Linux is then distributed as a pre-built package. For those of us who are used to the nice graphical interface of something like Windows, there's a distribution type known as Desktop Linux. Desktop Linux has all the sorts of point and click capabilities one is used to in Windows for things like printing, file management, web browsing, etc. After looking around the internet for 30 minutes or so, I came to the conclusion that the Ubuntu distribution was the right thing for me. If you want more info, go check out their site, the documentation is very well written. They've got guides for how to go from Windows to Linux, how to run Windows and Linux on the same hard drive, how to install Linux, etc. Basically you download the distribution from their website and burn it as a bootable cd; from there you can install it, or even run your PC in Linux off the cd without installing.

At this point I'm up and running full steam, with one exception. I can't seem to get my bluetooth mouse and keyboard working. They were working after my install; however, once I loaded all the cumulative Linux updates they stopped working. It's rather odd in that my PC can see other bluetooth devices like people's phones. This'll be something for another day. My wired mouse and keyboard are working fine.

One of the first things you notice about Linux is how software is distributed and installed. In Windows you hunt and peck across the internet looking for an application that will meet your needs. Maybe you want a media player, so you install Windows MediaPlayer, Winamp or RealPlayer. If you've installed any of these apps you know that RealPlayer is constantly trying to get you to buy something else. MediaPlayer and Winamp constantly need to be upgraded, etc. If you're looking for something more specialized, say for example a video file combiner, you might end up grabbing some freeware. That freeware might have a ton of bugs in it, might just install a virus on your PC, who knows?

In Linux (for the most part), all the software you need is cataloged inside the environment. So, if you want a media player you simply click add/remove applications (note that it opens in seconds, not minutes like the Windows add/remove programs) and then browse through all the open source, free media players that are available for Linux. Each of these programs is managed, distributed, and QA'd by the Linux community, so they are validated to work and be secure for the Linux OS. Each of the programs has info on what it does, a ranking based upon how popular it is etc. If you install it, check it out and don't like it you can simply remove it (and btw you don't need to restart your machine after you install or remove something). These applications aren't a bunch of useless crap apps. For example, if you like MS Office, there's a Linux word processor that will save and open MS Word files.

First impressions vs. Windows:

1. Much, much faster. It takes literally 20 seconds to boot my machine. And when you do see your desktop you can use your machine. Not like Windows where you wait another few minutes for your hard drive to stop spinning.
2. So far, a lot simpler. With 1 hour of reading the usage manual on Ubuntu's website I think my parents could use this OS and get more out of it than they get from Windows.
3. Really easy to customize. For example, you can add as many "workspaces" as you want to your Linux desktop. You can then run different applications in different workspaces. This makes it really easy to run multiple applications at the same time, yet keep them separated visually.
4. Everything you're used to doing in Windows can be done in Linux.
5. Windows applications of course won't run in Linux. I have read somewhere that you can get a plugin for Linux that will allow this to happen, but don't know for sure. Not being able to run some of my Windows apps like some games is a little frustrating. But, I can always just put my old hard drive back in and have my old Windows environment when I want to play a game.
6. Free!
7. Sorry, now that I'm back on my laptop I had to come back and add this one, no more of the stupidest keyboard key in the history of computers, the damned "Windows Key". What sort of impression do you have to have of yourself to look at a keyboard that has been pretty much constant since the days of the typewriter and say to yourself, "hey you know what, I think we should add a key to the keyboard just for Windows!".

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