Maybe you’ve seen that penguin somewhere before? His name’s Tux and he (she?) is the Linux mascot. Linux is an operating system for computers but, unlike Windows or the Mac system, it isn’t made by a company but by thousands of unpaid volunteers. It might be worth looking at if you’re getting fed up with being locked into some company’s walled garden … or if you like that penguin.
Well, this isn’t one of those “linux Blogs”, and I’m not planning to post any nerdish code hacks or cool applications here, but I’d be dishonest not to add tinkering with the computer to one of my regular activities. I started out late – in 2002 or so, with a laptop that had been designed for Windows 95 and was running Windows 98. It was all very new and exciting, but meanwhile the rest of the world had moved on and trying to view “modern” web pages on this machine became less and less fun. Things improved a lot when a friend loaned me a more modern machine, but life remained a struggle to keep the demands of what I was trying to do within the capabilities of the machine I was using. Uninstall this… disable that… All this combined with finding anti-virus software and firewalls that wouldn’t make things grind to a complete halt…
The final straw came when Microsoft announced that Windows 98 would no longer be supported, and the only options to keep things reasonably safe would be to upgrade to Windows XP (and buy a computer that could run it) or try Linux. I was told about Ubuntu Linux, whose motto was “Linux for human beings”, and gave the then current “Breezy Badger” version a try. Now, it wasn’t a delightful experience, to be honest – very slow, and partly incomprehensible. My computer was still too slow and under-powered. Linux went on the backburner for a year or so till a version called “Xubuntu” – a bit simpler and lighter than regular Ubuntu – turned out to work OK, and Windows was finally left behind. There were some new things to be learned at first, but after about 6 months there came a lightbulb moment when I realized that the system and programmes were on your side! You were no longer struggling to get things to do what you wanted against the aims of some company, the penguin wanted to help you… Now I wouldn’t think of going back to Windows, even if it was free.
If you’re up for something different and would like to give Linux a try, it has some advantages even for non-geeks: it’s safer – you don’t really need an anti-virus – it’s very easy to install new software, and of course the price is right. Everything’s free as in free beer, and equally important, free as in freedom – no-one’s trying to control what you do with your computer. T, who has trouble using a VTR, does her email and web browsing as if nothing had changed. It’s also possible to install Linux and Windows together on the same computer and choose which you want when you start up.
You might try Ubuntu Linux, which has changed a lot since I used it – it’s now very shiny and smart. There’s also Linux Mint, which is based on Ubuntu, but with even more emphasis on usability. (A friend was recently introduced to Linux via Mint and likes it very much.) Finally, I’m now using something called Crunchbang Linux – this is more spartan, but runs faster as a result, and offers even more opportunity for tweaking the way you want. I like it a lot, and if you visit the Crunchbang forums you might run into me under the name johnraff.
Well, Linux isn’t for everyone, but if you like tinkering you might get caught!