As of December 25, 2008 it has been a year since I first installed a Linux distro on my home computer. With the help of my brother, I installed Debian based sidux and I have to say, I have been very pleased with the results. You can read about my first impressions of sidux here and here. I thought I would share a few of my thoughts about my first full year of using Linux.
After years of using Windows, I was tired of the upkeep that was involved in maintaining the system. I constantly had to be on guard against viruses and spyware and had to run extra programs just to make sure my system stayed clean and uninfected with such trash. My brother had been telling me about Linux for a couple of years and finally convinced me to try it. The beauty was in the trying. He had a live CD of sidux, which is basically the operating system on a CD that can be booted up and used, without actually installing it on the hard drive. This allowed me to see what the system looked like and get a feel for what it was capable of. That was plus points right off the start. Let’s see you try that with Windows. Most Linux distros have live CDs available for download and it really does work. I chose sidux because that is what my brother was using, but there are any number of distros to choose from. A friend of mine over at Preacherpen’s Desk uses Mepis and has written extensively about it. My point is, Linux comes in many different flavors, but it boils down to being a system that is easy to use and update and is much more secure than Windows. I don’t even have to run antivirus or spyware programs to make sure the system stays safe. Again, let’s see you try that with Windows. For more background on who developed Linux and it’s growth, you can visit Linux Online.
When I first installed Linux, it was on an older computer that I had been using for several years. One of the stipulations of the install was that Windows XP had to be accessible for my wife. She simply didn’t want to go through the hassle of learning a completely new operating system, no matter how easy it was. That called for a dual boot system and I must say, it was very easy to set up. Using Grub for the boot menu, I had no problem making sure my wife could log onto Windows XP. I was even able to edit the Grub menu to make sure Windows was the default system to make it easier on her. Thankfully, when I purchased my new computer, one of the first things she mentioned was that she wanted to get rid of Windows and just use Linux with me. That was music to my ears. After doing a bit of searching around, I was able to figure out how to make a menu on the taskbar that would mimic the desktop toolbar menu I was using in Windows. That made her move from Windows to Linux even more painless.
One of the first differences I noticed between Windows XP and Linux was the speed of installation. I was used to sitting and watching the computer screen for nearly an hour as XP would grind it’s way through the process. I was quite pleasantly surprised when the Linux installation went so quickly and smoothly. I don’t remember the exact time, but within thirty minutes, I had the hard drive partitioned, Linux installed and configured, and was actually using the system. Like I said, I wasn’t used to that.
Before I get to the rest of the article, let me be clear about something. My Linux experience has not been perfect and there have been glitches. One of the main problems I have had is with playing online media, such as news videos from some of the major news sites. CNN comes to mind. Some of their videos will not play for me, giving me an error message about my operating system not being supported. Of course, that isn’t the fault of the system, but there are others that do not work. For instance, DivX videos scrambles my entire screen when I try to play them and I have to restart the system. The fault with this may lie within the way I have my system set up,I am not sure, but it hasn’t been a big enough problem to cause me much grief. The only other problem has been with making online payments to Fingerhut. For some reason, it doesn’t work on my system, but Ron from Preacherpen’s Desk says it works fine for him. That tells me it will work on mine, if I cared enough to really try to fix it. So overall, I have had virtually no problems with Linux.
The desktop environment I use is KDE and it is as configurable as the day is long. For instance, I used to use Webshots on Windows to change my desktop wallpaper every few minutes. That was just one more program I had to run in order to get Windows doing what I wanted it to do. With KDE, all I have to do is right click on the desktop, choose configure, and add the wallpapers from right there. KDE actually has a repository of wallpapers that is quite impressive. Easy to install, easy to configure, and just let it do the work. Here a couple of the wallpapers I have displayed while writing this article and there are many more where that came from or you can add your own.
Not only is the wallpaper highly configurable, the color scheme, fonts, window decorations and much more can all be changed via the KDE Control Center. As with the rest of Linux, items such as those mentioned above are all free to download and use. Again, a far cry from anything you can do with Windows and much easier to download and install.
I have been focusing on the KDE desktop environment because it looks more like Windows, which is what most users have been used to, but it would be remiss of me to not mention Gnome, another desktop for Linux. I have no experience with it, but those who have say it works just as well as KDE. I believe it is just a matter of choosing which one fits your needs the best. There is also the option of running programs using the terminal, which is similar to the command line used in Windows, except for the fact that it is much more powerful. I do some tasks with the terminal, such as my updates for the operating system kernel and sidux itself. Some people use it for practically everything and it is certainly not to be taken lightly as an option.
Speaking of programs, get a load of what you can get for Linux. Some of them are installed by default on most Linux distros and others you have to install yourself, but that is mostly a breeze to do. Let’s start with a program that anyone who has used a computer for very long will recognize, namely Microsoft Office. You won’t see it on Linux, but there is a program called Open Office that does everything Microsoft Office can do and more. In fact, just try saving an Open Office document in Microsoft Office and see what happens. It doesn’t work good at all. You may even get a warning from the program, telling you something isn’t right with the document and a lot of the time, it will not display properly. Now, let’s reverse that and save a Microsoft Office document with Open Office. I have done that several times and so far, Open Office has performed flawlessly. As an example, take a look at the spreadsheet below. I was given this template from another pigeon keeper and I modified it to keep my loft records in order. It was originally created with Microsoft Excel and when I went to Linux, I copied it over and saved it as an Open Office document. It gave me no problems at all. By the way, did I mention that Open Office can also be used on Windows?
Another program that may be of interest to you is Gimp, an image editor that rivals anything I have seen. Admittedly, I am no expert at editing images, but trust me, Gimp can do anything I need and then some. All of the images I use on my blog were edited with Gimp. No matter if you need to crop, resize, or perform any other image manipulation, Gimp is the one to use. It can also be used on Windows as well.
KDE also comes with a number of text editors that can be used to open various files, such as text, ini, php, and html documents. When I was using Windows, I had buy a program called Note Tab Pro, in order to get some of the functions I needed. These were very basic functions, such as being able to open multiple documents at the same time. Since I have moved to Linux, I use a program called Kate that provides me with everything I need to edit just about any file I want and I can have several documents open at the same time, if needed. As with the other programs I have mentioned, Kate is Open Source and is free to use.
Of course, no article about Linux and the programs that run on it would be complete without a mention of one of the most used programs in the world, namely the web browser that allows a user to surf the Internet. Sidux comes loaded with it’s own version of Mozilla Firefox, as do most other distros of Linux. I have already written an article about my experience with Firefox 3, which is what my wife is using. I am using a beta version of Opera 10 and although it isn’t Open Source, it is an excellent program. You can also read about my experience with Opera 9.5.
The above mentioned programs only scratch the surface of what Linux provides. Using the tools that are installed with the system, I can view and manage files, zip them into archives, and completely manage the operating system. No question about it, Linux is much more manageable than Windows, once the small learning curve is achieved.
There is one other major difference that I have noticed between Linux and Windows. My daughter uses Windows Vista because she just didn’t want to learn how to use Linux. It is a 3 Ghz dual processor with three gig of memory. My system is virtually the same, with four gig of memory. Her computer has a tendency to slow down just a bit when she has multiple applications open. I believe that is because Windows Vista uses so much memory, just to run in the background. My computer seldom slows down at all and that is with Opera, Firefox, and several other applications running in the background. Linux simply seems to handle multiple processes better than Windows and that’s just another plus in my book.
All in all, my first year with Linux has been a positive experience. Even though there have been a few problems, as I mentioned above, I don’t see myself ever using Windows again on my personal computer. The pluses are too great and the minuses are too few for me to even consider removing Linux and reinstalling Windows. Not the least of which is the $600 dollar price tag Windows has put on Vista. There is no telling how expensive Windows 7 will be.
I suppose it could all be boiled down to a very simple statement. Windows seems to want to charge the user a lot of money and put very stringent restrictions on what they can and cannot do with the operating system. I am not talking about sharing the software so much as I am about the restrictions they place on how you can use and configure it. Compare that to Linux, which is not only free, but Open Source, which allows you to configure it how you want. You can even make root level changes if you want and are capable enough to do so. Faced with the choices above, it’s an easy decision fro me to continue using Linux. I just wish I had made the switch sooner. Give it a try and I don’t believe you will be disappointed.