January 17, 2006

Linux for All

Posted in Geek Stuff at 6:30 pm by jyesis

Those of you who know me know of my aggressive promotion of the Linux operating system. I’ve been told many times that the “average user” neither needs, nor wants anything other than a Windows system because “windows just works.” Well, this here blog gives me the chance to respond to this.

How many of you have had a virus on your system? How many have seen an otherwise fast system run slower than molasses in January because of spyware and adware? How much time, money, and effort have you spent to prevent these problems from happening? These are the questions that prompted my switch to Linux about a year and a half ago. Like many of you, I spent hours every month running updates, scans, defrags, and countless other maintenance chores just to keep my “just working” system functioning. I soon found myself downloading “freeware” like Adaware, and Spybot S&D to keep my system safe. It didn’t take long for me to ask why this free software was able to do what my operating system (which I paid good money for) could not. I mean, I thought this kinda software was unreliable, buggy, and loaded with viruses. What kind of person in their right mind would take the time and effort to produce quality software and then not charge for it?! It didn’t take long to realize that my computer ran smoother and was better protected with this “freeware” than it ever had been with proprietary ($$) software. I started using other freeware programs to make my weekly maintenance chores easier. Free firewalls like Sygate or ZoneAlarm, registry cleaners, faster defrag software and other nifty little gizmos were tested and adopted as I tried to spend less time on “chores” and more time having fun with my PC. One day, while browsing for more freeware utilities, I came upon a forum entry that announced “Linux is ready for the desktop!” Now keep in mind, I’d never heard of this “linux” thing at the time, but it aroused my curiosity.

A quick google search told me that linux was a free operating system. Free? Now wait a sec, I just paid a fortune for XP Pro… either this Linux thing is pretty cheesy or I had been royally taken advantage of. Everybody knows there are only two choices in the computer world – Windows and Macintosh. Both of those choices cost money. A free operating system seemed kinda dodgy to me, but, after my experiences running freeware on Windows, I felt I should take a closer look.

I clicked on a link to something called “gentoo” (funny name, something to do with a cow) and found myself looking at all sorts of high tech gobbledygook. “Ahhh…., I understand now,” I said. “This Linux thing is for programmers!” I almost quit right there, but I was curious why they called Linux “Gentoo”, so I followed another link that taught me the concept of a distribution. There are hundreds of “flavors” of Linux called distributions. www.distrowatch.com is a great site that lists the most popular of these distributions. To make a long story short, I soon found that there were indeed “non-geek” versions of Linux that met my computing needs (internet, word processing, etc). I admit I was still somewhat nervous about “learning” a “new” operating system, but I reasoned that if I spent the same amount of time learning that I currently spent on updates, scans, etc, then I should be proficient with the new system in no time. Guess what? It worked!

Today I run the kubuntu linux distribution and I haven’t spent a dime on software for over a year. I don’t have to pay for Antivirus. I don’t have to scan for spyware. While I have software on my system that protects me (clamAV, snort, guarddog, and tripwire for the curious), every item I’ve installed has been free of charge. I have found Linux to be far more configureable than Windows ever was (and yes I’d “re-skinned” windows back in the day), and the “Linux community” far more helpful than any “tech-support” I’ve ever dealt with. I’m taking my first steps into programming today, thanks to the time I’ve saved, and the lessons I’ve learned thanks to Linux. It’s not for everybody, but if you aren’t afraid of that giant calculator on your desk, then you might enjoy a fresh (and did I mention FREE) alternative to Windows.

On a side note. There are idealistic reasons behind my switch to Linux, Firefox, and other open source software as well. The shuttleworth foundation does a good job of describing this. I’ll go further into this topic later, but I hope this post has been sufficient to whet your curiosity about alternatives to the “standard” that Windows seems to be by default. Linux isn’t perfect, but I find it more efficient to use and less maintenance intensive than Windows. Give it ashot! The Linux community will be happy to help, and what have you got to lose – its FREE!

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