Monday, October 30, 2006

Let me get off the theme I was on and ratchet the level up a bit. Lately, I've read too many blogs debating whether Linux is ready for the desktop, or not. Last week, I attended the FSOSS conference in Toronto and heard speakers addressing this same question. Strangely, no one is bloging or speaking about whether Windows is ready for the desktop. Why not?

For me, desktop experiences are personal. Everyone has different needs and expectations of their desktop. So how can there be a generalized debate about whether Linux is ready for the desktop. For some people it is and for some it isn't. I think the same applies to Windows. So, let me make some assumptions here. First, most of those who don't think windows is ready for the desktop demand specialized software that is either not available for Linux or, if it is, the Linux equivalents are not up to par.

Secondly, Linux requires a somewhat different user involvement than Windows. For Windows, it involves calling support lines when you're in trouble (and you do get into trouble with Windows). For Linux users, it involves accessing some self-help on line and then fixing it yourself. As someone who had been frustrated by the inability to diagnose and fix Windows problems, the Linux was is more satisfying. I can actually fix any problems I have. I can't do that in Windows. So, I have made a commitment to learn a little about things like the terminal and things have worked out well. My point is that some of the people who don't think Linux is ready for the desktop are those who think it's too much work.

So, if the desktop experience is personal, let me get personal. I'll state up front that I am not a technical professional or hacker. I am in the category of the above average user of a desktop. I use a desktop every day at home and at work. I surf the Web, do e-mail, chat, write, make presentations, do some graphics and download and play music. I print, I scan. I have to use Windows NT corporate system at work. I dual boot Windows XP and Ubuntu at home.

Let me tell you a bit about my experiences of just the past two weeks and let you judge which OS is "ready for the desktop." At work today, I opened IE and browsed to Yahoo.com. Immediately, a pop-up demanded to know if I was safe from viruses and asked if I wanted to download a program to protect my system. I clicked "Cancel," but the download went along its merry way. My work system is protected with hardware and software firewalls, as well as server and desktop virus, SPAM and spyware protection. But, the darn thing got through and froze my NT desktop. Our IT professionals took my machine away and are reformatting the hard drive because they cannot remove the little devil. So, I came home to continue work on my Ubuntu system, where I do not have an added firewall or virus protection (other the system's natural, built-in protection).

Yesterday, I booted up my Windows XP just to ensure I had all the latest updates. Microsoft kindly upgraded my IE6 to the new IE7. Now I cannot connect to my ISP. My ISP has no idea why. I could not reach anyone at MS for support after being on hold for 2 hours and 20 minutes. I searched the Web, but found nothing. So, now my Windows system at work is borked and my Windows system at home cannot go on line.

Meanwhile, my Ubuntu system (even though it's the newest "Edgy" version, is purring along fine. This is a personal experience. Not everyone has the same experience. But, I ask you... for me, personally, which OS is ready for the desktop?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Now, a bit about my Ubuntu adventure. When I discovered Ububtu, it was version 5.10 Breezy Badger, beta 1. Perhaps it was not the best place to start. Stuff broke frequently. I was a total newbee on Ubuntu Forums and, while the folks there were very helpful, I had a lot of learning to do. In particular, when things broke, I panicked. Ubuntu was on my production box and I needed it everyday to do my work.

I learned several things that, as a Windows user, I was quite unfamiliar with. First: the command line. No, there was virgin territory for me. Most of the beta breakages were fixed through command line interaction. I would travel to the forums on my Windows box at work. Run home and try the fixes on the Ubuntu box. Certain things broke the xserver. Those were the worst. I didn't have a clue that I could use the command line even when X was broken to update my system or download fixes. As a result, I reinstalled Ubuntu no fewer than five times before the final release and a stable system.

Even now, I play too much and break things badly. Like trying to get Nvidia working on my new system. That brings me to the second thing I learned: make a backup disk of all my important data. I don't know why I ignored advice to make a backup before, but it's essential if you're going to play and break things.

The third thing I learned was to wait if something was broken. Often you had to wait a could of days for an official fix from the Ubuntu people, then simple go to the command line and do a sudo apt-get update, sudo apt-get dist-upgrade... problem fixed. By this time, I was really hooked on Linux and the Ubuntu miracle.

In my next post, I'll talk about how I replaced everything (everything but one) that I used to do on Windows. That includes some tricky stuff, like getting my Canon Pixma printer working and the scanner, too. Cheers.

Monday, August 28, 2006

About a year ago, I was introduced to Linux by a technosavvy friend at work. I was, to say the least, a somewhat unwilling participant in the journey into Linuxland. But, I was really forced into it by our friends at Microsoft. Here's what happened to me... it may be a familiar story.

One day, the power supply on my machine decided to send a little jolt of electricity through my system. The result? Burned out power supply, keyboard, scanner motherboard and hard drive. I took my beloved machine to my local repair shop and, for a fairly modest price, rebuilt the computer. Now came the big task... reloading all my software. The machine had come pre-loaded with Windows XP. I didn't have disks, so my repair shop graciously loaded in the OS from their bulk copy. Fine. I started reinstalling software.

Now, I have been meticulous about buying licenced software. However, lots of the programs failed to install because the hidden file on the hard drive from the original installation was no longer there. Many phone calls later, most of the vendors had provided me with a new installation key. But, not Microsoft. My vital workhorse Microsoft Office suite would not activate and the activation hotline was entirely automated. In other words, there was no one to explain the situation to. I simply got a: "This software has already been installed on another machine. Good-bye."

Eventually, after numerous e-mails and phone calls, someone gave me a new activation code with the dire warning that they would not do it again. Okay, okay... I won't do it again. Promise.

I'm also meticulous about updating my system. So, a week or so later, I fired up Windows Update. Of course, my copy of Windows was not registered. I was unable to update my system. A bit of Googling and I found someone's workaround and got my updates. Then, the worst that could happen, happened. My new hard drive was defective and had to be replaced. This time, Microsoft would not give me another activation code. I lost the workaround for Windows Update and could not find it again. So, you get the picture. My perfect life was, essentially, ruined.

Now, my friend at work was a real computer enthusiast. He was a Windows user, but had tried a Linux distro called Xandros. "It's free," he said. And it can do all your office documents with something called OpenOffice.org, and is fully compatable with Office formats. So, Xandros got installed, wiping out Windows. Everything worked like a charm.

But, ever curious, I started scouting the Web to find out everything I could about Linux. I was intrigued by Linspire and actually bought it and installed it. But, CNR (the program download repository) bugged me. Everything I wanted required a paid membership. Not what I was in the mood for. More Web surfing. Next, I discovered Ubuntu's Web site. When I read the Ubuntu philosophy, I was hooked. For me, using a computer is a holistic thing, and Ubuntu gave me what I wanted... a free operating system AND a religion to go along with it. Amen, Brothers and Sisters. Praise the Lord.

So, that's how my journey started. I'll take a break now and let that settle into your minds. Next: Ubuntu adventures (or How I learned to Install and Reinstall a Linux Distribution Over and Over Again). Don't worry, there is a happy ending.