Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Experience from Linux as a desktop, short term trial

In my previous posting I mentioned that I spent about 4 weeks with a Linux system as my full time computer. I still have Vista running on my notebook but my main computer is where I browse and apply for work, so it does a bunch of work for me. After the 4 weeks I wanted to write out some of the pros and cons of working with Linux and what might help out to transition Linux to full mainstream.

First, the installers of Linux has been so much better than when I first installed Linux. I think I first was exposed to Linux Red Hat version 3. I saw the box and read about it on-line but at the time was connected to the Internet with a 56K line, so downloading the entire cd set would taken hours. I instead bought the set from Fry's Electronics and begain the install process.

After installing Linux I ran into a few problem, the video card was not working, the modem did not work either (even though I bought a non-Winmodem) so I was not able to download any drivers or work around this issue. At the time I only had one computer and made things tough to get around. I think I did try Linux again later when I got broadband Internet but didn't venture further than getting the GUI to run and play some simple games.

Now after looking for work I'm finding that many jobs are asking for basic knowledge of Linux, either for Windows system admin positions or even help desk support jobs. I was also curious about getting to know Linux better. After I took a few classes about UNIX and a certification class for Linux, but really wanted to know more.

The installer now is much much smoother. My Fedora and Ubuntu installers found all of the drivers, except for the audio and video drivers but I was still able to work and access the Internet for the drivers. After locating the drivers I was able to find Linux 64bit drivers for my hardware, something a bit rare 8 years ago. I started the install of the drivers but it's not as simple as in Windows.

In Linux you will either have a run file or a gzip file for the driver download. Here's where it gets a bit technical, in order to run the files you might need to make some commands on the command line. Now, in all honesty it's very simple, just run this command and you're done but it's another part of why Linux might not be for the casual computer user.

Another problem I found was the driver install could render your desktop with the wrong display settings and the only way to change this is starting the command line start up, editing the config files and then you should be good to go. This happened to me in Fedora but not Ubuntu.

Going on to application, I feel this is where Linux shines, there are many applications that are open source and able to run typically paid-only applications from Windows. For example, I found a great IRC chat application but on Windows I always couldn't find something that would work the same AND cost nothing. I also liked that with Wine, you could run Windows applications under Linux. This includes games, basically most applications. I was able to get my Photoshop CS2 running while it does not run at all on Vista.

There are some problems with Wine, for one I installed it on Fedora and Ubuntu, Wine only worked on Fedora with no problems while on Ubuntu there were many issues. I couldn't start any Windows applications, even after patching and updating. Of course I'm sure it's a problem of configurations but shows an example of out of the box it needs some work.

What is a really nice feature of Linux is the ability to install packages using the YUM or APT-GET command. These commands pull down the application files and install the application in one command line. This really makes it easy to install most command applications or even other third party applications if you include the source of the applications.

On the topic of applications there were some issues that I found. Since I was editing my resume and sending out applications to jobs, I was often using Sun's Open Office Suite. With Open Office you can save documents as DOC but not the new DOCX format. I was working on my resume when I sent a copy to my girlfriend, after a few minutes she called that the formatting was off. To be sure, I sent the same version to my Vista machine and opened it up in Office 2007, sure enough all of my formatting was off by a page or so.

Now, many people send resumes in many formats but I think it's a valid point that not all documents will save the same formatting as they are opened by different applications. In turn, there are more Office users than there are Open Office users, so to make my resume the most compatible I can either use Office or send the resumes in a new format. I started to send out resumes in PDF format but quickly I found out that Craiglist blocks attachments beyond a certain size, and my PDF documents were beyond that size. So I restored back to sending my resume and cover letters in standard text format, which worked but had a few people ask for a DOC format instead.

I really considered sending the documents in the Open Document standard that Office 2007 can now open but if my guess is correct, many people do not patch their Office suite and can not open any other document format. Either way, I sent out my cover letters and resumes in text format but when they ask, it's in DOC format created from my Vista computer. I rather do a bit extra work just in case to get that job.

From my using Linux experience I found that while it's grown to a great OS I'm still not sure if it's ready for the standards of a Dell or Gateway PC. There is going to be required knowledge to install drivers, and since the GUI is not always the ideal tool to use, some command line knowledge as well.

Does this mean Linux could never become main stream?

Well no. Linux has a huge bonus that it's free to use and deploy. I see an ideal Linux desktop install for netbooks, where the user is only using the the system for Internet or simple chat applications. Linux is also proven in areas where a stable OS is needed that does not have any security issues, such as the file share devices or home routers. But in the world where people constantly install games, applications and share files that need to be the same format, I don't see Linux taking over soon.

Now, this argument is not the same on the server side. Microsoft has already mentioned that they know about the growth of Linux and adding Linux to their virtual software. We'll see how this turns in the next few years but looks to be very interesting.

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