Sunday, May 3, 2009

Linux Usage

Most people spend most of their time on a computer doing the following things: Browsing the Internet, chatting on instant messengers like AIM and the Windows Messenger, email, sharing and editing digital photos, and word processing. There are several Linux distributions, or distros, that handle these things (and web development) as well as they're handled in Windows, if not better.

It's been a long time since I've written about Linux, and quite a bit has changed. But some things remain the same.

What has changed? Well, driver availability is much better than it once was, though it still lags behind Windows and Mac OS. Gnome and KDE are much easier to use than they used to be. Ease of installation has increased by leaps and bounds, especially for Ubuntu (if you want a free install CD) or Linux Mint (a better choice if you are willing to download and burn the install CD yourself). Both have very helpful and friendly communities providing support. Switching over from Windows is far easier than it used to be, as well. Most of your favorite Windows programs have near equivalents in Linux, that do the same things, but only sometimes in the same way.

What hasn't changed? Linux is released under the GNU Public License. This means that you have a property right to the source code and software. Since property rights are the basis for a libertarian society, this is a huge benefit. Microsoft (and most software "sellers") makes sure that they, not you, retain all property rights.

A computer running Windows is more loyal to Microsoft than you than ever before; "Trusted" Computing and Digital Rights Management are the primary processes by which Microsoft maintains control over what you do with your computer. These issues are the core reasons I refuse to use Windows XP and any subsequent OS released by Microsoft. This article expands upon this and other reasons.

Linux has much lower system requirements than Windows Vista or XP, and can run ably on machines that were new when Windows 2000 came out.

If you are interested in trying Linux, there are several distros that are as easy to install as Windows. Installation is a bit more complex if you want to keep Windows on your computer, but it's not out of reach.

My first recommendation is Ubuntu. This is partly because Canonical will ship you a free CD-ROM to let you test-drive and install Ubuntu (called a Live CD). The other reason is that the user community is so large, friendly and helpful. (Check out this newbie's guide for an example.) When I have a problem with Ubuntu, I can stop mid-installation and check out the forums, the official documentation, the community wiki, and the Ubuntu IRC channel (connect to and /join #ubuntu ).

I am using Linux Mint right now. It is mostly Ubuntu with some added configuration and administration tools, and I think what the Linux Mint team has changed, they have changed for the better. You have to download the image file for the Linux Mint Live CD and burn it onto a CD-R yourself, but after that, I find it takes less effort to use than Ubuntu.

Ubuntu and Mint use the GNOME desktop by default. The other main desktop environment used in Linux is KDE, and many Windows users will prefer it. (Neither is really "better" than the other; it comes down to what you like.) Many distros come in both KDE and GNOME versions, but I think most are better at one than the other.

If you would rather try KDE, you have several options. There is Kubuntu, the KDE version of Ubuntu (and again, Canonical will ship you a free LiveCD). I think that Ubuntu is better with Gnome. There is SimplyMEPIS, a distro developed to help new users with setup and configuration, which is KDE. There is Mandriva. They have a Gnome version as well, but I think they have been doing KDE for longer. Mandriva has been oriented towards the new user for over 15 years. There is PCLinuxOS, which was originally based on Mandriva. I used PCLOS for two years, and it was always better than Windows for anything to do with the internet. Just as I think of Linux Mint as a more polished version of Ubuntu, I think of PCLOS as a more polished version of Mandriva. I still would be using PCLOS if I didn't want to keep playing World of Warcraft. PCLOS had only KDE to start, but some reviewers think the latest Gnome version is better.

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