Monday, March 25, 2013

Good Times in Linux-Land

I'm going to suggest you start using a Linux-based operating system on your computers, rather than Mac OSX or Windows. One reason for switching is because Microsoft is dropping support for Windows XP next April, and you will only be able to get Windows 8 (and then only after a hardware upgrade). If you don't want to buy a new computer, switching to Linux could easily save you from that.

Many Linux variants (called distros) are easy to install, use, and maintain. They do really well what most people do on their computers: surf the web, email, chat on instant messaging clients, manage photos, and word processing. Few of these things are done exactly how they're done in Windows. But that's a feature, not a bug. In a lot of cases, the ways that Windows does these things are kind of lousy, but you're used to the problems. In the meantime, the new way of doing things will seem unnatural and awkward, but it was every bit as awkward and unnatural when you were first learning how to do it in Windows.

Before you consider installing a Linux distro, I urge you to
  2. Read their documentation
  3. Test that you can restore your data from backup
  4. Read their documentation
  5. Defragment your hard drive
  6. Read their documentation
  7. Proceed with download, testing, and installation of your chosen distro
The easiest way for most people to start with Linux is to use Linux Mint 13 (Maya) KDE Edition. The desktop is pretty, quite a bit like Windows 7, and Linux Mint 13 will be supported util April 2017, which means you won't have to reinstall until then. The next version of Linux Mint to have support past that date will be released no sooner than April 2014. Try the live version before installing.

There are other distros that are well-suited for beginners. These include openSUSE, Ubuntu (which has a novel interface called Unity that should also work for smartphones and tablets -- I recommend the LTS version), Kubuntu (again, I recommend LTS), Mageia, PCLinuxOS, and Lubuntu Extra Life Extention. They vary in how often they release new versions, what sort of desktop environment to provide, how long they support old versions, which software they think it is most important to support and update, and how devoted they are to software freedom.

Fedora is quite a bit trickier to make desktop-ready than any of these that I've mentioned. It is heavily supported by Red Hat, which is strongly devoted to free software principles. As a result, Fedora doesn't have a push-button easy way to enable Adobe Flash, many popular (captive) multimedia formats (such as DVDs and MP3s, as well as Adobe Flash), or the nVidia or Radeon proprietary graphics drivers. If installing FlashBlock in your web browser doesn't change anything for you, and you don't play any games with 3-D acceleration, this might not matter. Fedora is also devoted to cutting edge software and rapid release cycles.

Software freedom is one of the major reasons I prefer free software to captive software, like Microsoft Windows and Office, iTunes, Adobe Flash, Kindle, and Nook. They all mean to prevent you from actually controlling copyrighted content, but rather putting control of such content in the hands of others. And if they have to be able to hijack your computer without your say-so to keep that control, then they can. And really, do you deserves that kind of aggravation? Should you have to live with other people controlling your computer, because of so-called "intellectual property rights"? Is it right and just for (say) MGM or Sony Entertainment to delete your legitimate, legal, digital download of a movie or song, because somebody else posted a copy of it on Pirate Bay or MegaUpload or a similar site?

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