Never a better time to switch to Linux

With Microsoft having launched their new Vista operating system on an unwilling public, there’s never been a better time to abandon Microsoft to their fate and switch to either Linux or an Apple Mac.

Not only has Vista been a more effective Linux advert than anything Microsoft have done previously, it coincides with the rise of some VERY nice and easy to use distributions of Linux. Before I go on, I’d like to thank two major players here…..Microsoft and Ubuntu.

For many people the common view of Linux, is of a geeks system which is unsuitable for normal users. This used to be true, but with Ubuntu leading the charge…..Linux has matured, and it’s time for some misconceptions to be explained in their current context. Ubuntu has received a lot of buzz recently, and despite being a relatively new distribution, has soared past other more established names, so we’ll look at why this is…..and how others have reacted.

The change can be very intimidating if you do not have someone willing to help hold your hand for a while. Ubuntu decided that their Linux would be firmly aimed at “normal users” who are scared or unsure about stepping into the Linux world. Other distributions have incorporated these features into their own now.

  1. A single CD version with all the normal users programs as standard, like Firefox (currently the worlds best web browser), Evolution (email comparable to Microsoft Outlook), GAIM (a multi-network PM client now renamed Pidgin), Amarok (music player comparable to Windows Media Player) and OpenOffice.org (a full featured office suite comparable to the Microsoft Office). This list is only the start, and varies from distribution to distribution.

  2. A combination live / install CD allowing people to try it without any change in their PC. Booting the PC with the CD in, boots into a live version of Linux running in memory, from the CD. Some features are disabled in live mode (such as the ability to navigate through your Windows folders and documents) but many are not. If you choose to install it, you can with an easy GUI interface (from the same CD)…..if not, a simple shut down or restart will eject the CD, and reboot you back into an unchanged Windows.

  3. A package manager which handles dependencies automatically. Most Linux software is open source, and is installed or uninstalled from one program called a “package manager”. Here you can search for keywords like “web design” (which will give a program called NVU, which I am using to write this blog entry on). Simply tick the package you want to install, or untick one that’s already ticked to uninstall it….and the rest handles itself. Linux programs work on dependencies, which need to be satisfied for a program to work. Before now, you had to sort those yourself, now it’s done for you….all you have to do is say “yes” when it tells you that you need extra packages to make the one you want install.

  4. A simple “updates” shortcut which does everything with one click…..it updates not only the operating system itself, but all your programs too. Along with this, is a live icon in the system tray, which lets you know by it’s colour if there are updates to download or not. If there are….again, a single click on it will tell you, which will open another window with all the updates already ticked, meaning that all you need say is “yes” and it does the rest for you.

  5. Since Linux is virtually immune to malicious code you have no need for an anti-virus program, unless you’re using it as a outbound point for a network containing Windows PC’s (the code affects Windows only). I have a free home edition of Avast for Linux, which I only need run to scan every now and again…..not as a resident program always on duty. Avast is a brilliant anti-virus for both Windows and Linux, although the Windows version is a bit heavy on the resources for my tastes……because it’s running several separate residents, to protect different services.

  6. Many people don’t remember which program they need to send an email, write a letter or surf the web……and with Linux, they don’t need to. With Windows programs install wherever they like, adding shortcuts everywhere, which very quickly turns the “all programs” into a three page list, listed under developer names. Linux has long held a much stricter view. When a program is installed, it has a specific place on the start menu….it’s also listed by function. START >> INTERNET >> EMAIL CLIENT or START >> INTERNET >> WEB BROWSER ……which can be a LOT easier than remembering it’s Firefox to surf the web, and that it’s developed by Mozilla…..and that it may keep changing it’s place in the three page list when a new program is installed.

  7. A package called WINE will let you install most Windows versions of programs on your Linux PC. It tricks the software into thinking it’s a Windows PC. It has a LOT of contributors to the code….and as such, has a lot of up to date Windows programs now fully compatible. Photoshop CS 8 (Photoshop CS3 10 will be released in summer 2007) and Dreamweaver 8 (the current version of Dreamweaver) are both now fully compatible. They used to be quite a few versions behind. This varies from program to program, and Linux to Linux…..but as the “easy-to-use” distributions are soaring in popularity, their support will too. It is not fool proof, and is not a guaranteed fix, but it’s improved a LOT recently.

  8. The automatic mounting of removable media. Usually with Linux you had to create a mounting script with the location etc. Now as soon as you insert a CD / DVD, plug in an external hard drive / USB pen etc the system finds and mounts it for you, allowing you to use it straight away. Usually when you wanted to eject the CD you had to unmount it first….the button on the CD player didn’t work. Now a simple right click and “unmount” does the job.

  9. All Linux distributions have their own communities which always welcome new users, and are more than willing to help out newbies. Everyone has to start somewhere, and most members keep this in mind….so don’t feel like an idiot when you ask a simple question.

  10. Last, but not least, Linux is now fully usable in GUI (Graphical User Interface) mode (using the mouse to point and click on buttons to use programs). Learning to do things at the command line is an essential skill to get the most from Linux, and is a great skill for recovering a downed Linux……but for ALL day to day stuff, the default is GUI mode. For most users, they will never need to see a terminal (the command line tool).

Now for the “try it for yourself” pitch. All distibutions of Linux allow you switch between “desktop environments” whenever you feel like it (for easy reference, think of it as a theme or a skin for the operating system……although it’s much, much more than that)….so deciding on any one (KDE, Gnome etc) is only a starting point, and can easily be changed after installation. I’d suggest sticking to KDE, as it’s less of a culture shock for Windows users, and very advanced in the packages it includes. Some desktop environments are better supported than others, both KDE and Gnome are the top two.

  1. Kubuntu 7.04 – Identical to Ubuntu but built with KDE instead of Gnome, the fastest growing Linux today and based on the Debian family tree. I’ve used it (Ubuntu and Kubuntu 6.10) and am VERY impressed with it.

  2. Mandriva 2007 One – The Linux I’ve chosen to use, based on the Redhat family tree. Both KDE and Gnome versions are available, which is unusual in itself as Mandrake / Mandriva has traditionally favored KDE. My introduction to Linux was Mandrake 9.1…..and the latest version is VERY much improved…..thanks to the Ubuntu juggernaut.

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6 Responses to “Never a better time to switch to Linux”

  1. StDogbert Says:

    Good writeup… one thing about the ‘buntus (Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, etc.), is that similar to Mac OS, the initial user account does tasks by using sudo in the background. Good for the new user that may not be used to dealing with the root account.

  2. Dirk Gently Says:

    When I used Ubuntu before I didn’t like the SUDO thing. Maybe that’s because every other Linux I’d tried used SU. Every tuition book, website or video I’d seen talk about SU…..and mention SUDO almost as an afterthought.

    I hear what you’re saying though. I did check it out in the Ubuntu IRC room, and was told about SUDO….and why it’s there. I don’t remember the answer I got, but I do remember it made sense at the time. I did enable SU on my Ubuntu (I think more for Linux purity)……which is now overwritten with Mandriva.

    I just reckoned it’d be easier to log in as root, and do what you have to do, rather than type SUDO before each command. I think maybe my Linux knowledge is a bit out of date, but that will improve now I’m working with a Mandriva set up. Linux is a fast evolving world, which I’m not up to speed yet with.

  3. StDogbert Says:

    Right. I think the sudo in the background for GUI tasks is good for the new linux user. For those with a little more experience, or want to learn command line more, it definitely makes sense to enable su use. It’s one of the first thinks I do when I install a ‘buntu flavor. Then even if logged in as your general user, you can always “su -” in the terminal, type the root password in, then execute as root without typing sudo before everything.

  4. simnor Says:

    I converted from Windows Vista to Ubuntu Linux because of how bad Vista was (http://thelinuxconvert.wordpress.com)

  5. Dirk Gently Says:

    Whichever distribution people decide on, I welcome ALL Linux people. I happen to think the “easy to use” distributions like (K)Ubuntu and now Mandriva, along with PCLinux, and apparently Pardis are ALL a happy addition to the family.

    These are great to get used to, to learn on….to get confident on. After a while, I plan to check out Slackware, as I’ve heard a lot about how efficient it is. I also want to set up a Damn Small Linux as a recovery OS from my USB pen…..to gain the confidence, starting with a newbie friendly Linux is vital.

    If you’re thrown in the deep end with no help, you’re likely to get freaked out, and change back to Windows, and close of the Linux idea altogether. If on the other hand you start easy, with something which helps you at every turn……you adapt much easier, and learn quicker.

    As much as people scoff at Ubuntu, it’s an excellent newbie Linux. If my modem worked on it I’d be using it myself.

  6. yoho Says:

    2007 Spring (also called 2007.1) is out ! try it out ;)

    Here’s a good description of this release : http://wiki.mandriva.com/en/Releases/Mandriva/2007.1/Tour


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