Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Fat Lady Can Sing?

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Being fair minded while discussing Microsoft is difficult for me considering the illegal activities their management has engaged in, and have been convicted for, in both U.S. and International Courts, over the years. But, I do try hard to be as open-minded as I possibly can when talking about their software.

With that in mind, I wanted to talk to you about Vista and all the hype that has been blowing around on the wind. It is confusing, conflicting, and in some cases, just too hard to believe!

On the one hand, you hear Microsoft touting the virtues of Vista as the Best OS since sliced bread! The jury is still out on that, of course, but there is strong evidence that it is not, under the hood. Yes, it does have a pleasing look to it with the Areo Desktop, but XP can be made to look the same way! Linux distributions have, for years, had several different desktops that could, with a little configuring, look as good, if not better, than Vista’s best, and with more useful features, too.

Performance is another area that Microsoft has been pushing. “Vista is faster!” as the advertisements say. When you examine the criteria used, however, you start seeing a few things that seem to skew the results a bit. For example in a trial between XP and Vista, the Vista machine was configured to optimize for speed doing whatever the test is trying to prove (downloading, file access, etc.) while the XP system was not, and even then, the timings that I have seen are in the range of less than a few milliseconds. Not enough to make a real difference, but enough for the claim. If the test was completely fair, the XP system would show to be the quicker.

One area that shows more dramatic results is downloading ‘races’ between Windows and Linux. Downloading a large file on windows you might see speeds of 50 to 100 KBS which isn’t bad at all. BUT, downloading the same file, even on a slower processor, on Linux can yield speeds in excess of 500KBS, using the same Internet connection! Hmmm… I think it’s obvious who won THAT race, don’t you?

Other things, however, aren’t so easily compared. One of those, DRM, offers no advantage to the users at all. DRM controls what you can watch or hear on your PC. If you have a favorite movie you watch from time to time, you may not be able to much longer. DRM will not allow it! DRM is designed, and implemented, strictly for the benefit of Microsoft and the Recording and Movie Industry. Forget about downloaded music or movies via peer-to-peer methods, it can’t be shared. Not that I totally support P2P but I still consider DRM an encroachment on my right of ownership. If I bought my copy of whatever from a ‘legit’ dealer or retailer, I expect to be able to play it wherever I wish. But, now I will need to pay a ‘licensing fee’ to use my computer to play it. Who gets paid? Microsoft, who then shares the fee with the product producers (or will they?).

If you listen to the ‘market speak’ from Microsoft, Vista is sweeping the world and selling like crazy, but if you pay attention to what is being said to stock analysts by Microsoft, the words are ‘…not as strong as predicted’ and ‘…softer market than expected’ (Mar 12 issue of InformationWeek). With Government agencies stepping back both in the U.S. and abroad and with large businesses saying ‘2008 before implementation’, Microsoft has a serious problem on its hands. Oh, they are still on their marketing soap box pushing Vista, but there is another refrain being stated more quietly that the consumer won’t hear unless they are paying attention to ‘the man behind the curtain’ and not the bad magician waving his hands.

Like the Carney Barker says, “It ain’t over until the Fat Lady Sings!” Stick around for the show!


Friday, March 02, 2007

A Case for Anti-spyware - The Julie Amero Case

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I noticed and started following, a news story that raises my ire! No, it isn’t about Microsoft and Vista, although that tends to upset me, too. It’s about a substitute school teacher that has been caught in what is termed a ‘Porn’ Trap.

To begin with, a ‘Porn’ Trap (or a ‘Mouse’ Trap) is when an Internet surfer clicks on a web site and is treated to a cascade of pop-ups, usually advertising a ‘Porn’ site. These ads come in at such a high rate of speed, the user cannot keep up with them. The content is also rather offensive since they depict minimally dressed or totally undressed women. If you have ever experienced the pop-up ‘storm’ you have no idea how frustrated it will make you since you lose any control over your browser and system. The only way to stop it is to power your system off, risking damage to system files on the drive.

The substitute teacher, working in a Middle School in Connecticut, had started her first day in the classroom of a seventh grade language arts class. As she was taking over the class, she was instructed to leave the computer powered on since she did not have a password for it. When, during the morning, the Trap was triggered, the ‘Porn’ Trap proceeded to display dozens of offensive pop-ups to the open view of the youths in the classroom. The series of errors, misconceptions, and misunderstandings have resulted in the teacher being convicted of various charges that could result in her receiving a prison sentence of up to 40 years!

Nancy Willard, M.S., J.D.
, who works for The Center for Safe and Responsible Use of the Internet, has prepared a monograph that expresses the concerns and views of the Internet Security community.

The general viewpoint of computing professionals is that although Ms. Julie Armero did not know how to stop the pop-up’s, she was not responsible for them appearing on the monitor.

The whole story brings out one specific thing about the Internet, computers, and children. You have to take an active part in Internet usage in the home! If you have school age children in your home, you MUST take preventative action to protect them. They won’t like it, but it has to be done!

There are two areas that must be addressed.

Technical security

Computers need effective firewalls, security software to protect against all forms of malware, and a browser that limits pop-ups. Filtering software can provide some protection (while presenting other concerns). But it is likely less effective against the malware and porn traps because these devices will frequently lead to access to sites with URLs that have not yet been found by the filtering company. Peer-to-peer networking software should never be installed on any computer that a child has access to because this can be a source of pornography and malware. It is critically important that everyone understands that none of these technologies will provide 100% protection.


All Internet users – adults and children – must understand how to avoid accidental access and exactly what to do if they get “porn trapped.” Unfortunately, the false security that is grounded in reliance on fallible filtering software has resulted in a failure to teach these strategies.

I suppose it could safely be said that Malware does have a negative effect, then. From a rather minor annoyance to a possible 40 year prison sentence is a rather large jump. What is even worse, the Internet is truly global geographically as well as in scope. There are cultures left in the world that take a dim view of such things if not to exact a far worse punishment then prison.

We can’t shut down the developers of such trash, but we can do some things to stop it from being displayed on our screens.

1. Install a good firewall is the start. There are several really good free firewalls available so you have no excuse for not having one. Don’t count on the Microsoft firewall since it is easily breakable!

2. Install a good Anti-Virus application. Again there are several to chose from, some free and some not . 3. Install a good Anti-Spyware/Adware application. Again, there are both free and commercial applications available. I have my own ideas about what is best in this arena. I like AdAware SE and Advanced Windows Care V2. Spybot Search & Destroy and others are paid registration applications that will do a good job for you.

In closing, I want to point out that the computer in your home, AND at work, is your responsibility. If you don’t have the necessary protections, get them! You will be glad you did!


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Mac vs PC TV Ads

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We have all seen them, the Apple Mac vs Microsoft Windows PC. Some times funny, sometimes scary, but always leaving us with a question in our minds as to which is better.

I must admit, I do not own a Mac. I do own a number of Windows and UNIX/Linux based PCs though. I seem to, without conscious effort on my part, to have collected mostly Compaq systems. They are, for the most part, reliable. I can count on them starting up in the morning if they have not been running over night to finish a task. In fact, of the systems I own, two are Windows XP SP2 (Home and Pro). One is a Gateway that my wife uses, and a Compaq 5410US. Her system has been in the shop because of overheating problems and I have replaced the PacTel Modem in the 5410 because it got hit by lightening! (another story some other time).

The rest of the group is comprised of Ubuntu running on a Compaq 550, FreeBSD on the ancient Compaq ESP1000, x86 Solaris 10.0 on a hand-built AMD Athelon 2800+ system, and an AMD Duron 1300 running Fedora Core 6. At the moment, none of these system knows any of the other exist, but that will change in the future. With the exception of the 5410 and Gateway systems, all of the other were salvaged from discarded systems or purchased as a box of parts.

With that being said, I think I can be accurate when I talk about the issues involved in upgrading hardware for one reason or another.

I stumbled upon a blog the other day that stated Bill Gates had voiced distaste for one of the newest of the aforementioned television advertisements. His comment was the idea of having a PC undergo major surgery just to be made ready for Windows Vista was false when comparing to Mac OS X and the Mac. To be honest, I don’t see how he can complain too much. Mainly because the concept of the ad it true. It does take a lot to upgrade an existing PC to Vista readiness.

There are basically three areas that need to be addressed. First is Memory. The MINIMUM recommendation from Microsoft is 512 MB. In actuality, you will need double that if you want to run things at full speed. The extra memory is needed if you wish to view movies and such in a smooth manner. If you don’t, the movie will be jerky, making it difficult to watch. Secondly, the display adapter or video card. We are told that we need to have 128 MB of video memory on our cards, but the truth is 256MB or even more will be needed to make sure the Aero Desktop looks ‘pretty. That’s before we start showing those movies we just talked about. The third thing is far more invasive to your system, the processor. If you have work to do that requires some processing power over and above Vista’s needs, you will have to upgrade the processor. That means you also need to replace the system (or Mother) board, the memory, and your various interface cards, virtually replacing the entire system except for the case and power supply, and that may need to be upgraded as well.

With Mac OS x and Apple Macs, I haven’t seen any such requirements. Upgrading the OS on a Mac may require additional Memory, but that isn’t as expensive nor as invasive as the Vista PC requires.

I don’t see where Microsoft can complain! There are too many alternates to Vista. Over 1200 different distributions of Linux, a family of BSD versions (FreeBSD and NetBSD), free UNIX (x86 Solaris 10), and several additional free PC OSs. And then there is the Apple Mac system. You need to purchase a new computer? Don’t get in a rut! Look around and have fun!


Friday, January 26, 2007

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam

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Shades of Monty Python...

As I was working with my email today, I realized that I was not alone in trying to combat Spam! Many others are trying to reduce the space and time it takes to transfer the stuff, in many cases at very real expense since there are a few Service Providers that charge for the amount of data being moved to the subscribers email client.

Some companies, such as AOL and Yahoo, have come up with strategies that don’t really work all that well and tend to cause difficulties for everybody. Others (Hotmail, AOL, etc.) say they have spam filtering, but don’t seem to be able to get it to work at all.

Step One - Being Proactive

So then, what to do to reduce, if not eliminate’ spam in our email inboxes? For the most part, it’s fairly easy, but time consuming, to do. The first step is basically Prevention! Don’t get on the mailing lists in the first place. It is a truth that Spam causes more Spam. On most of those ‘pretty’ advertisements, you will notice a space for you to type in your email address and sometimes even more information such as your name, mailing address, phone number, and other information. Beware of filling out that form! You have no idea where all that information is going to wind up. Yes, it could be used for legitimate purposes, but it could also be used for Identity Theft. It will also be used to subscribe you to a list to receive 'interesting advertisements’ (Spam) that fill your inbox.

Step Two - Unsubscribe When It Arrives

Here in the US, and perhaps other countries as well, it is Federal law that such advertising must include an easily accessed method of ‘opting out’ from the subscription list. In fact, if you do unsubscribe, they must stop sending you ‘stuff’ within 10 days or face substantial fines.

To unsubscribe is, in most cases, a two step process. If you read the fine print at the bottom of those ‘messages’, you will find a paragraph that tells you the procedure you need to follow to remove yourself from their list. Actually, there are two such paragraphs, one for the ad and one for the list owner. Do both! You will be asked to type in your email address, but don’t be too concerned. When you ‘opt-out’ they cannot place you on any list except the removal list. If they don’t, they risk their business. It can take as little as a few hours to as much as 10 days to stop getting spam from them so be patient. Go through the entire list of spam you have received, one at a time, and unsubscribe from both the advertiser and the list owner. You will see positive results by the next day.

I have managed to cut my spam folder contents from 700+ messages a week to less than 15, just by following the two-step procedure, so it really does work. Now, if only I can resist the free laptop ads, I’ll be fine!

Microsoft Gets Involved

In an effort to help decrease spam, Microsoft made some changes in Outlook and Outlook Express that is causing an uproar in the spam ‘industry’. The changes included a reassignment of the way the email clients decode (or interpret) HTML. Instead of using the Internet Explorer HTML Engine to do the work, they decided to use the HTML engine in Word, which is not as ‘complete’ as IE’s. Specifically, it disables the developers’ ability to use CSS (Style Sheets) in emails. The end result being their ‘fine’ work will look garbled and messy which is severely hampering their ability to create eye-catching advertisements to send out as emails. You may have noticed a marked decrease of graphic loaded spam and an increase of textual spam in recent weeks so it must be working.

I suppose you could say, that like death and taxes, Spam will be around for ever. But by using the procedures I described, you should be able to regain control of your email.

Have Fun!


Sunday, November 26, 2006

The leopard is still spotted!

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This is an Editorial. Actually, it is more of a commentary on my last posting concerning Microsoft’s CEO and his remarks that declared his ‘position’ on the Novell/Microsoft agreement.

Mr. Ballmer stated that Microsoft was preparing to take Linux to task over Intellectual Property rights. He stated he was doing this for his ‘share holders’ to increase their ‘profits’. It appears that Mr. Ballmer was speaking about himself more than anyone else since he owns a fairly large chunk of Microsoft stock.

There are a few things that Mr. Ballmer needs to be made aware!

  1. Linux is the kernel and only the kernel. It doesn’t have an interface, Graphical or otherwise, so how can Linux be infringing on Microsoft’s Intellectual Property?

  2. The Graphical Desktop is provided by several different software platforms, KDE, Gnome, and a dozen or so others.

  3. The Desktops mentioned are not ‘owned’ by any specific company. Since they are Open Source, there are thousands of individuals, around the world that have developed, tested, and maintained those desktop packages. Is Microsoft going to go ‘hunting’ for them?

  4. I can still remember Apple suing Microsoft over the same thing in the early 80s. Apple had several systems that used GUI Desktops at the time Windows first came out. Has Microsoft forgotten about that?

Mr. Ballmer’s obvious lack of knowledge on the subject has created a rather hefty belly laugh in the community as well as a healthy amount of skepticism over Microsoft’s internal health (at least, in my mind). Keeping in mind that Microsoft has been rather militant about removing Open Source and Linux in the past, I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Ballmer didn’t accidentally voice his ‘hidden agenda’ with his remarks.

The deal with Novell, on the surface, was intended to foster a wider use of Microsoft Office and other products, much as has been done with Apple and the Macintosh platform. I have no difficulty with that, it’s a good idea. This is exactly what Novell thought the agreement was for. You can imagine their surprise to discover their ‘buy in’ actually was a licensing fee for the GUI (Graphical User Interface) Desktop, which Novell doesn’t own anyway.

I wonder what is flitting around in the halls out at IBM, HP, and Sun after hearing those remarks. I’d be willing to bet any future ‘deals’ with Microsoft will become subject to extreme scrutiny if they happen at all.

How will all of this affect us, the consumers? We will have to pay the price at the checkout counter with raised prices on software and hardware. I can understand a company striving to gain market share, It’s part of being in business. But this isn’t something you would learn at the Harvard School of Business, is it?


Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Leopard's Spots

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In my last article, I likened Microsoft to the fabled leopard that couldn’t change its spots. As it happens, Microsoft, in the voice and actions of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, has proven that indeed, the leopard is still covered in spots.

Mr. Ballmer declared his belief that the Linux operating system infringes on Microsoft's intellectual property. What is so laughable about his assertion is that Microsoft has had those same charges leveled at them for infringement of the very same Intellectual Property of Apple, Xerox, and several other entities.

(Full Source Article

What is Intellectual Property?

IP was designed to be a method of legal protection for ideas or "property of the mind". It's a controversial topic, especially in computer science, because it deals with concepts and methods rather than something concrete like a physical object. When you own some intellectual property, you can apply for special governmental protection for your ideas to ensure other people can't use them. In short, it's a defensive measure designed to protect someone's original work.

From the Wikipedia entry: "In law, intellectual property (IP) is an umbrella term for various legal entitlements which attach to certain types of information, ideas, or other intangibles in their expressed form. The holder of this legal entitlement is generally entitled to exercise various exclusive rights in relation to the subject matter of the IP. The term intellectual property reflects the idea that this subject matter is the product of the mind or the intellect, and that IP rights may be protected at law in the same way as any other form of property. However, the use of the term and the concepts it is said to embody are the subject of some controversy."

Groups like the Free Software Foundation believe that exclusive rights to ideas are a bad thing for society. Instead of encouraging individuals to market their ideas in a protected environment, intellectual property is used as an offensive tactic by some companies to force others to pay for common ideas or technologies that have been used for a long time or are widely used in the marketplace.

Ballmer: Linux users owe Microsoft

Full Source Article

In comments confirming the open-source community's suspicions, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer Thursday declared his belief that the Linux operating system infringes on Microsoft's intellectual property. Mr. Ballmer further asserted that “…Microsoft was motivated to sign a deal with SUSE Linux distributor Novell earlier this month because Linux uses their intellectual property and Microsoft wanted to get the appropriate economic return for our shareholders from our innovation.“

The Nov. 2 deal involves an agreement by Novell and Microsoft to boost the interoperability of their competing software products. It also calls for Microsoft to pay Novell US$440 million for coupons entitling users to a year's worth of maintenance and support on SUSE Linux to its customers. In addition, Microsoft agreed to recommend SUSE software for Windows users looking to use Linux as well.

On the face of it, that seems like a reasonable idea. Well, it got worse. Mainly because some folks haven’t learned the lessons us Texans learned at our Mother’s knee. Basically, “If you are in a big hole in the ground, stop digging!” Mr. Ballmer didn’t even slow down!

"Novell pays us some money for the right to tell customers that anybody who uses SUSE Linux is appropriately covered," Ballmer said. This "is important to us, because [otherwise] we believe every Linux customer basically has an undisclosed balance-sheet liability." There is a term for that kind of talk. It’s called FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt).

What does this all mean? Basically, that Microsoft is trying to get us to reimburse them for using Linux, of which they have had no part. The claim is that the Windows Desktop concept is ‘copied’ by the various desktops used in Linux, and therefore needs to be paid for. If you look at the first URL in this article, you will find several examples of pre-dated Intellectual Property that were used against Microsoft when Windows was first introduced, proving that Microsoft doesn’t ‘own’ the property they are claiming has been ‘stolen’.

Novel is wondering where all this has come from because the agreement they agreed to said nothing about Intellectual Property.

One comment made stated, “If Microsoft thinks it has a case, it should get it into court to prove or disprove its claims.” If that happens, Microsoft should look to its market place, because the customers are going to make their point of view very plain!


Thursday, November 09, 2006

The time has come

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“The time has come,” the Walrus said,” to speak of many things.”

Not that I liken myself to the Walrus in Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter”, but it is still time to speak of many things. Things are changing with the speed of a run-away freight train, and you need to know the facts before things get out of hand. This is truly a cautionary exercise and not a case of ‘Chicken Little’ism.


First off, Microsoft and Novell entered into a collaborative agreement last week to develop a set of applications, interfaces, and ‘drivers’ to allow Microsoft Office and other formerly Windows exclusive applications to function under Linux. More specifically, a distribution known as SUSE (Sus-uh), which was purchased by Novell from the German development company known as SuSE. On the surface, it sounds like a good deal but, knowing how Microsoft has done business in the past, and considering the active role Microsoft has taken to ‘eradicate’ Linux from the marketplace, I have serious doubts things are going to happen the way they have been stated. Microsoft has ‘promised’ to behave nicely towards the Linux Community and to actively support the GPL (General Public License) which, in a nutshell, says the source code and compiled applications are free as in freedom to copy and pass around. Information Week has reported that other computer and software manufacturers like Sun, IBM, and Hewlett Packard are giving their blessings to the effort. We should know more about the whole deal before the end of the month.

The Linux Community is seeing a different view of the situation, however. The GPL, which was proposed by the Free Software Foundation and Richard Stallman some years ago, may be tested in court. If it fails, the concept of Open Source Software is in danger of disappearing. Microsoft is looking to apply a license to Linux, which means someone (you and I) will have to pay for the right to use it, much like the Windows EULA (End User License Agreement). That, my friends, will not be a good thing. It would be like you inventing and building a useful device that someone else takes, manufactures thousands more, and then sells them, keeping all proceeds in their pocket. Microsoft is guilty of a lot of things, some we know about, but one thing we must agree upon, they are looking for the income and little else. I’m hoping the leopard has changed his spots, but like the saying goes, it just doesn’t happen that way.

Web 2.0 problems

Network Computing had an interesting set of articles relating to Web 2.0 and it’s underlying structure. It seems the concept, which is already showing up in dozens of new sites, has a few serious problems in the area of Security and performance. We are all aware that the Internet is not a safe and ‘friendly’ place. If it were, we would not have need for such things as firewalls and anti-spyware, anti-adware, anti-virus utilities. As it turns out, the security holes prevalent in Web 2.0 make it look like a round of Swiss Cheese and the performance of the applications on those sites are slow and prone to making errors. Is the situation hopeless? Only time will tell.

Vista Limitations?

Microsoft is releasing Vista on November 20th (or so they say). It has been six years since XP Pro and XP Home were released Does Vista show any sign of being all that much better for being worked on for six years? Unfortunately, no. Don’t get me wrong, Vista does have a few things that are an improvement over XP, but if it took six years to do it, I am not terribly impressed. About all they accomplished is a pretty desktop with a few glitzy tricks (eye candy). A point to ponder! If a software company is having problems getting a piece of software out the door, one way to get the software in the hands of the consumer is to trim features, Especially if those features are causing the delay. A few months ago, I read an article that talked about all the broken promises in undelivered features that Vista was to have had. Knowing the well publicized six month plus delay in releasing Vista, I wonder what they pulled from the OS. I suppose it makes sense to release Vista with things missing and then add the missing features by the update channel. But I get the feeling I’d be ‘buying a pig in a poke’ in that circumstance.

I’m not crying “Sour grapes!” Nor am I bashing Microsoft, although it would be easy to do so. I’m just pointing to the horizon with concern. This kind of stuff makes having fun with my computer very difficult.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Windows vs Linux Reason 6

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We all know that Windows has a convenient tool called "Windows (or Microsoft) update", which allows you to update your system with the latest updates available. All you need to have is the ability to prove, or Microsoft to validate, your installation as being ‘Genuine’ . That’s fine for your Microsoft Windows and Office software.

But what about getting updates for all your non-Microsoft software that you have installed, such as Adobe applications, the ZIP compressor, Spyware and adware cleaner, CD or DVD burning program, non-Microsoft web browsers and email clients, etc.? You need to update all of them, one at a time, and that takes a lot of time, since not all of them have their own updating system. Most of them may require accessing a web page and downloading the new version. Then you have to run the installer for those programs. It takes a lot to keep your system up to date, doesn’t it?

Linux, on the other hand, has a ‘better’ idea. Why not update everything that needs it all at the same time? Is it possible to have one program to launch, which will allow you to pick and chose exactly what you want to update?

Yes, there is, and it works like a charm! Linux provides a central "Package manager", which not only maintains your system’s kernel software, but also every single piece of software your computer has installed. So if you want to keep everything up-to-date, the only thing you need to do is press the "Install Updates" button. There just happens to be several of these ‘Managers’ available for Linux. Yum (Yellow Dog Update Manager) is used with RPM packages that support RedHat, Fedora Core, SUSE, and others. It doesn’t have a GUI but there is yumex *Yum Extended) that does provide one. The GUI makes it easier to do updates and additional software installs. RedHat and Fedora Core also have Update which does just updates. Debian based Linux systems use APT, which also doesn’t have a GUI, but uses the Debian installation package file format.

In each Package manager, you have Repositories for the distribution you are using, which are supplied by the publisher of that distro. There are additional repositories (e.g. Fresh RPMs and DAC RPMs) that are not associated with the publishers, but maintain the work of the various developers that produce most of the fine software you have installed on your Linux environment. If you decide to install additional software that wasn’t on the install CDS, you will be glad to know that getting updates for that software is handled automatically for you without any action on your part.

The advantages of handling updates like this are obvious. You don’t need to visit the web pages of the software publishers to check for updates. The mechanism is easy to use and is highly efficient. And finally, you have complete freedom to choose what to update and when you wish to update.


Sunday, October 15, 2006

Windows vs Linux Reason 5

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Linux and "Open Source" software are "free". This means their license is a "free license", and the most common is the GPL (General Public License, or the CopyLeft license). This license states that anyone is allowed to copy the software, see the source code, modify it, and redistribute it as long as it remains licensed with the GPL. Also, being free doesn’t just mean free of charge, but also free as in free range (chickens?) and Land of the Free!

So what do you care about freedom? Imagine that Microsoft disappears tomorrow (okay, that's not very likely, but what about in 5 years, 10 years? Wishful thinking? Not me, uh uh, no sir!). Or imagine it suddenly boosts the price for a Windows or Office license. If you're tied to Windows, there's nothing you can do. You (or your business) rely on this one company, on its software, and you can't possibly make things work without it. What good is a computer without a functional operating system? That is a serious problem! You're depending on one single company and trusting it wholeheartedly to let something so important nowadays as your computer, work the way they should. If Microsoft decides to charge $1000 for the next version of Windows, there's nothing you can do about it except switch to Linux, of course. If Windows has a bug that bothers you and Microsoft won't fix it, there's nothing you can do and submitting bugs to Microsoft isn't that easy.

With Open Source, if a particular project or support company dies, all the code remains open to the community and people can keep improving it. If a project is especially useful to you, you can even take over yourself. If a particular bug annoys you, you can submit it, talk with the developers, you can fix it yourself or hire someone to do it for you, and send the changes back to the upstream developers so that everyone gets the improvement as well. You're free to do just about whatever you want with the software. If you aren’t a developer, you can’t do much, of course, but as a user you have a lot of clout. .

That brings up the subject of Updates. In Windows, you get a large block of ‘Critical’ updates and a few ‘Not-so-Critical‘ ones that are supposed to fix discovered flaws in the various components that make up Windows. You have very little control over what gets updated and, if an update breaks something, you are stuck until you can convince Microsoft that they broke your system. (Good luck with that!) Sometimes an update fix creates one or more additional flaws which will require another update.

In Linux distros, updates are a regular thing, too. The difference is the update does far more than just installing a set of patches. The Linux update process also keeps your system up to date with new versions of installed applications. If a developer improves an application by adding a few new features, the update process is the method used to update all the installed copies of the application. Don’t want the new stuff? No problem. You just select the updates you want and let the rest slide by.

It’s all about maintaining control over your computer!


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Windows vs Linux Reason 4

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You're probably saying to yourself: "Oh, I didn't pay for Windows". Are you absolutely sure? If your computer came with a copy of Windows, then you paid for it, even if the store didn't tell you about it. The price for a Windows license amounts to an average of one fourth of each new computer's price. So unless you obtained Windows illegally, you probably paid for it. Where do you think Microsoft gets its money from?

Another thing, you don’t own it! It’s like the road system and your driver’s license. You bought and paid for your license, but do you own the highway? Some of us drive like we do, but no, we don’t own the road. We have purchased the right to use it. It’s the same with Microsoft Windows and most purchased software. You bought the right to use it. The ugly thing about that is that Microsoft has been talking about changing their licensing procedures to force you to re-purchase the license on an annual basis. Microsoft owns the software on your system! If they wanted to, they could come to your door and demand its return. Don’t believe me? Get out the EULA (End User Licensing Agreement), that nobody really reads, and take a look for yourself. Nowhere in that document does Microsoft transfer ownership of your copy of Windows to you, the user.

On the other hand, you can get Linux completely free of charge. That's right, all those people all around the world worked very hard to make a neat, secure, efficient, good-looking system, and they are giving their work away for everybody to use freely. If you wonder why these guys do such things, drop me an email and I'll try to explain the best I can. ;-) Of course, some companies are doing good business by selling support, documentation, hotline, etc. for their own version of Linux, and this is certainly a good thing. But most of the time, you won't need to pay a cent. In fact, if you buy a copy of Linux from a retail store, what you are paying for are the physical CDs (or media), books, and the pretty box along with a limited length of time support contract.

With Linux, you own the software. You can’t buy a license for it like Windows because the concept is not used. You have a document similar to the EULA that is called the ‘Copyleft’. All it really says is that if you make changes to the source code and you wish to allow others to use it, you can do so, after doing a couple things like making sure the previous developers names are kept in the documentation and you don’t charge folk for getting your application. Otherwise, it is yours to do with as you wish.

The question now becomes, “Is it really free?” The answer is yes. You can access the Internet and download all sorts of distributions, free of charge. Well, free except for the connection charge you pay monthly to access the Internet. But compared to the charges you pay for a Windows license, which have been announced for Vista ($300+), you can’t find a better deal.


Windows vs Linux pt 3

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Viruses, Trojans, adware, spyware... Windows lets all these enter your computer easily. The average period of time before a Windows PC that is connected to the Internet and with a default "Service Pack 2" installation gets infected is 40 minutes and it sometimes takes as little time as 30 seconds.

So you can either install a firewall, an antivirus program, an Adware/Spyware scanner program, stop using of Internet Explorer and Outlook (you can’t remove them) replacing them with Firefox and Thunderbird, and pray that pirates aren't smart enough to overcome these protections and, if a security flaw is discovered, Microsoft will take less than a month to make an update available which hardly ever happens. Or you can install Linux and sleep soundly, or at least stop worrying about it.

As we have already said in the previous posting, Open Source software (e.g. Linux) has more eyes to check the code. Any programmer on Planet Earth can download the code, have a look, and see and repair any security flaws. On the other hand, the only people allowed to look at the Windows source code are people working for Microsoft. That's hundreds of thousands of people (maybe millions) versus a few thousand. That makes a big difference. Also, on top of that, where the Microsoft developers are dedicated to helping the company make money and not necessarily a better product, the developers of Open Source Software are dedicated to the product. They want to make the software better for the joy of it.

In actuality, it isn't matter of how many flaws a system has, compared to the other systems. If there are undiscovered flaws of a serious nature or are minor in that they don't compromise an important part of the system, pirates won't do much damage until they find them. It is really a matter of how fast a security flaw can be solved once it has been discovered. If a security flaw is discovered in an open source program, anyone in the open source community can have a look and help solve it. The solution and the update usually appear within a few days, sometimes even a few hours. In the case of Linux, security patches usually get released and applied before anyone really notices. And, due to the amount of testing, checking, and even more testing the software goes through, the patches are infrequent. Most of the time, any updates applied are for the addition of new features to the various effected software packages.

Microsoft doesn't have that much manpower, and usually releases a flock of security patches a month or more after flaws have been discovered and sometimes published. A lot of the time, updates to Microsoft products don’t fix the flaws. That gives more than enough for pirates to do whatever they want with your computer.


Windows vs Linux Reason 2

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How long has it been since you rebooted your Windows system because of a system error of one sort or another? Have you ever lost your work because Windows crashed? Do you always shut down your computer properly, or do you sometimes just switch it off because Windows has gone crazy and won’t shutdown for some reason? Have you ever gotten the "blue screen of death" or error messages telling you that the computer needs to be shut down or reboot for obscure reasons?

The latest versions of Windows, especially the XP or 2000 "Professional" ones are more stable than previous releases. Nevertheless, this kind of problem still happens fairly often.

Of course, no operating system is perfect, and people who tell you that theirs can never crash are lying! However, some operating systems can be so stable that most users never see their systems crash, even after several years. This is true for Linux.

Linux can run for years without needing to be restarted, in fact, most internet servers run Linux, and they usually never restart. Of course, with heavy updates, it still needs to be rebooted the proper way. But if you install Linux, and then use your system as much as you want, leaving your computer on all the time, you can go on like that for years without having any trouble. Most of the time, you won't leave your computer on for such a long time, but this shows how stable Linux is.

From personal experience, I know this to be true. I had a system I was using for development and testing purposes that ran continuously for 3 years, without error. The system finally failed, but not because of the software. The bearings in the main drive failed and the system died. I had to replace the hard drive, of course, but I was able to have the entire system back in operation in a matter of hours since I had backups of everything on the old drive.

As far as Windows is concerned, a week is a long time between reboots. A lot of folk experience system ‘glitches’ the require rebooting three or four times a week. By any standard, Windows is not a stable system in comparison to Linux.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Windows vs Linux - Reason 1

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I was chatting with a handful of my friends the other day when my favorite subject was raised. Linux! Over the next few weeks, I’ll try to write down the various things we discussed. It may open your eyes and get you to thinking more about Linux.The topic that got the ball rolling was the question, “Can you give me just one good reason why Linux is better than Windows?” This was from the Microsoft Certified Engineer (MCSE) in the group. He is one of those guys that has to have solid, factual, and absolute proof, not just so-so reasons.

The FIRST item mentioned was ‘Malware’! We all have been fighting the war on Spyware, Adware, and viruses of all sorts. What you may not know is that such things are all but nonexistent in the Linux world.

Linux hardly has any viruses. And that's not like "Oh well, not very often, you know". It is more along the lines of, "I think I may have heard of one a year or so ago but I may be mistaken.” Of course, a Linux virus is not impossible to find. However, Linux makes it very difficult for this to happen, for several reasons.

First of all, most people use Microsoft Windows, and pirates want to do as much damage (or control) as possible: therefore, they target Windows. But that's not the only reason; the Apache web server (a web server is a program located on a remote computer that sends web pages to your browser when you ask for them), which is open source software, has the biggest market share (against Microsoft's IIS server), but it still suffers from much fewer attacks/flaws than the Microsoft one.

Linux uses smart authorization management. In Windows you (and any program you install, including malware) have the right to do pretty much anything to the system. If you feel like punishing your PC because it just let your precious work disappear, you can go inside the system folder and delete whatever you want: Windows won't complain. Of course, the next time you reboot, you pay the price. If you can delete this system stuff, other programs can, too, or just mess it up. Linux doesn't allow that. Every time you request to do something that has to do with the system, an administrator (or ‘root’) password is required and if you're not an administrator on the system, you can’t change or erase a thing. Viruses can't just go around and delete or modify what they want in the system for the same reason. They don't have the authorization. Spyware can’t run at all without permission. In fact, most (98%) of the system configuration files can only be changed by the administrator directly modifying them.

“What about security flaws in the program?” Unlike Windows, Linux Distros (Linux speak for distributions) are Open Source. That means the source code is freely available to anyone. With the hundreds of programs in a distro, there are thousands highly skilled and experienced developers along with a very large group of testers that spend hundreds of hours trying to find the errors and eradicating them. There is that old Chinese proverb, “Many hands make light work!” and it is very true in the Linux world.

Another thing, if the user community (folks like you) find something they missed, it will usually take just a day or two, when reported, to get a fix written and made available to the entire community.


Friday, September 22, 2006

One Click System Maintenance

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One of the things I dislike about Windows is the need for software utilities to take care of system settings and conditions. Battling such things as Spyware, viruses, registry hacks, and other things that directly impact the usage of our systems just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I’ve been involved with Information Technology for over 37 years on any number of systems, both large and small, and needing something to ‘stick a thumb in the dike’ seems wasteful of my time when there are other things I want and need to do.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the utilities have become highly respected and ‘loved’ because they work well. Registry Mechanic, Spybot Search & Destroy, Adaware SE, and Anti-Virus software from Norton and others have become cornerstones of my daily system ‘experience’. A lot of you folks have found the satisfaction of improving your system’s operation by installing some of these tools and using them to good effect. The only problem is they are individual programs and need to be executed at different times (not all at the same time). I can, and sometimes do, spend almost 2 hours just running Spybot, Registry Mechanic, etc. That’s 2 hours I could be spending in getting productive work done. I have been searching for a ‘One Click’ solution that I could launch and take care of all the functions at one time and either match or exceed the results from all those separate programs.

I’m glad to say that I found one! Advanced WindowsCare by IOBit. They have just completed their Beta testing and have now declared their Release Candidate and I must say, it is well worth a look.

The software combines several tools into a single pass. The package will scan Spyware, Registry, do a Privacy Sweep, Optimize your system settings to tune it for your usage habits with System Analysis. The Security Defense installs specific spyware filters to prevent the stuff from even installing on your system. Then, after all that, will scan for, and remove, the temporary files that get written during normal operations. It also has a Memory Cleaner that will release memory being hoarded by a poorly written software package.

In my testing, I ran Registry Mechanic before and after a repair run of AWC. Both programs found the same registry problems. The really interesting result after the scans was, Registry Mechanic xame up empty after AWC repaired the Registry. The Spyware ‘filtering' works so well that Spybot AND Adaware SE found nothing to do after scanning. That says a lot for AWC.

Another powerful feature is that a Restore Point is made prior to the actual scan run and everything that is found can be manually deselected for repair. It also does it in just a few moments. The only things it won’t do is scan for viruses and defragment your hard drives. IOBit has a dandy defragmenter as a separate product that you might want to consider, too.

The really impressive part of this, however, is that it performs all of those tasks, and more, without requiring a large chunk of money. They will be releasing a ‘Personal’ version that will be free, but the Pro version is still not to expensive. The task performance is as good as, if not better than, the list of tools mentioned at the top of this article.

So check it out and have fun!


Sunday, August 20, 2006

32-bit Vs 64-bit Systems

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Not so long ago, we received a query concerning buying a computer and what all the hype was about concerning 32 bit vs. 64 bit and so on. Since the gift giving season is rolling around and prices for computer equipment is going down, I decided to try and give you all some help.

To start, the difference between 32- and 64-bit systems and the 'why' behind it. In your computer, you have several 'items' that, normally, you don't need to concern yourself about. One of those is called the 'data buss'. It doesn't go across town or anything like that, but it does provide transportation. It connects memory to the microprocessor, which does all the thinking in your computer. The 'data buss' is used to move the data around inside your computer. In a 32-bit computer, the width(or size) of the data buss is 32 bits wide. A 64-bit buss system can move twice as much data around. Being able to process more data means a faster system. But only for specific things. Normal office productivity and web surfing will show no advantages at all but graphics processing and scientific calculations will go faster. .

Processor manufacturers are working out ways to provide 64-bit processors that are faster and cooler running temperatures so you may hear about multi-core processors and other highly technical terms that are related to 64-bit computing. So, as they say, the band is in the bandwagon, playing, the parade has started, and 64-bit is being touted as the up and coming technology for computing.

However, it is also said that the thing about bandwagons is, it never takes you where you want to go! Windows for 64-bit is not where it should be. It has been reported that Vista, Microsoft's next Windows release, already has severe problems in the 64-bit code. It also already, prior to release, has had critical updates applied. Nothing like getting a head start, is there. Other problems with 64-bit is the general lack of stable software to run on these Ferrari of the computer world. The entire system has to be designed and built for the wider data buss, too, so the system will cost more

One good thing, however, is that the price of the 32-bit systems has been dropping. Looking around the web nowadays is disclosing some really surprising price drops almost across the board, even on laptops. Already, prices for desktop systems are running about half of what they were this time last year. Over the next few months, those prices will drop even further what with the retail sales rush during October through December. If you need (or want) to buy a new system, this is the time. Start looking for good deals on new equipment now.

It's also a good time for the used computer market. Lower prices on new systems will cause more used equipment being made available and at rock bottom prices. Don't ignore them!

I suppose the question now is ,”Who would benefit for buying a 64-bit system?” Mostly businesses, universities, scientific groups, and government. If you produce videos, computer art, or develop programs, 64-bit systems will be helpful. But for the home user, 64-bit is definitely overkill. You won't see faster activities like writing, spreadsheet processing, or web browsing so don't waste your cash.

Have Fun!


Thursday, May 04, 2006

Linux 103, Updates?

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As we continue wandering along, looking at all the Linux Distros parked on the lot, kicking a tire or two, and test driving a few, there is one area of Linux operation you need to know about and consider before taking the plunge and installing one of them. Oh, there are many things you will need to learn and we will get to those later, that is a promise. The one area we need to talk about, though, is Updates and the Update process.

Thanks to Microsoft's repeated issuance of Critical Updates over the years, I am sure you have a bad taste in your mouth at the very mention of the word. However, an update in Linux does not need to be either as scary or as confusing as a Windows update.

Because of the nature of Windows, the updates you download from Microsoft tend to be huge and complicated. They also occur frequently and do not always 'fix' the problems they are intended to address. The reason for this is that Windows is considered by Microsoft to be a single massive application. A change in one area of the software can affect another as well as having additional errors raising their ugly heads. You also see patches on top of patches, which can cause other strange and unwanted problems. As a result, changes in behavior of the whole package can be expected and, I suspect, are desired by Microsoft. There have been times where a MS Update has actually broken Windows to the extent that it needed to be reinstalled from scratch. It is no wonder we look upon the word 'update' with a jaundiced eye.

Updating Linux, however, is a very different situation. Since Linux is a collection of programs, the update process is highly selective. Updating also does not address the whole of the Linux installation. Rather, it addresses the various modules and components that make up the Linux system as individual programs. This approach to software tends to make updating far more accurate and complete since, frequently, the entire updated program is replaced, not patched. Another benefit of Linux updates is that software developers can provide you with new features and improved operation by giving you the latest version of a software package. One last thing to mention before we look at the tools used and that is that you can choose which programs you want to update. Unlike Windows where an update is a wholesale change that happens all at once, you have the choice to apply or not any part of the update. You have total control of the process. Moreover, if part of the update breaks something, the part that caused the problem can be removed and functionality restored without affecting the rest of the system except in the specific case of the kernel and even then, restoring your system to functionality can be done without too much difficulty. If you absolutely cannot restore it, you only need to reinstall the broken program and not the entire system.

The tools used for updating have, over the years, evolved to the point that controlling the process is easy. With names like 'apt' (intended for Debian based distribution installs), 'yum' (Yellowdog Update Manager for RPM), 'yumex' (Yellowdog Update Manager EXtended), and 'update' (Which is Redhat's update tool), each provides you with the ability to select the specific program or module to update or install. Of the group, 'yumex' is my choice for RPM based installations because it provides a Graphical User Interface (GUI) for the update/installation process and is simple to use.

Although you change Operating Systems from Windows to Linux, updating your system will still be a part of your regular activities. However, it will not be as 'hidden' a process as it is with Windows. You will have far more control over what is updated and when, as well as keeping your system functioning with the latest new software available. You will also get to know your system.
Running Linux can be a positive experience but, just to make sure, it is not Windows, so do not expect to see 'the same stuff' on the screen. But, hey! That is part of the fun of computing. Linux will challenge you, or be simply a platform for writing, email, and web browsing. One thing is sure; you do not have the constant worry about 'Malware' you have with Windows now.

Have fun!


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Linux 102 - Decisions, Decisions

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In my previous article, we discussed choosing a Linux ‘distro’. The choice is highly personal and depends upon your needs, so I will not go much further than that.

Before you start installing Linux your application needs should be decided upon before you start as well as HOW you want to install it.

Let us start with the Desktop. There are several to choose from. If you were to ask twenty people that used Linux regularly, which they would recommend, you would get a handful of answers, but the two that would get the most responses (or votes) would be Gnome and KDE. In fact, these two cause heated debates over which is best. To add to the debate, a newer Desktop called XFCE is becoming very popular. There are several others, like GNUStep, that enjoy a rather limited popularity and provide some rather interesting displays. If you want, you can install all of them and play around with them to see which you like best.

KDE was the first. It provides a wide array of applications that cover almost everything from Office Productivity to Gaming. When it was originally developed, the Qt library and tools used were not Open Source nor was it free. (It is now.) KDE was free for use but a group of developers did not care for the idea of having to buy a library from someone to develop software for the Desktop so they developed Gnome. Everything about Gnome was Open and no cost. There is not quite as much software developed specifically for Gnome as there is for KDE, but the Application Framework for Gnome is loose enough that most applications developed for Linux will fit nicely into the Gnome environment. Which is better? Neither and both is the only answer you will get from me. It is up to you to decide. Either Desktop will do what you need. Just keep in mind that Linux is not Windows and it will not look or operate the same.

XFCE is a good choice, too. You can closely approximate the Windows look with it and it also has a selection of Applications written for it, but it is ‘the new kid on the block’ and still being developed in some areas. That is not to say that the Desktop is not usable. Far from it! XFCE is a well-tested and mature product that performs as well as Gnome and KDE! It is just being improved and expanded as new services and capabilities are being regularly added.

Most Linux distros allow you to install one or more of the Desktop environments as well as the ability to switch from one to another, so install what you want and try them.

There are a few ways to install Linux that need to be decided upon as well as the application mix. There are three methods to consider, each with advantages and disadvantages.

The first and easiest is using a dedicated system for Linux. In this instance, Linux uses the entire system for operation. You actually replace everything on the hard drive(s) with Linux software. It is a bad idea to go this route if you want to keep Windows on the machine since Windows will be totally removed.

Another method would be to use a hard drive partition or second drive for Linux. This is called ‘Dual Boot’ and will allow multiple Operating Systems to be available for use. With this choice, Windows will be left alone on the system so it will be there if you need it. There is little chance Windows and Linux will intermix files since they use different file system protocols so it should be safe. To shift from Windows to Linux and back requires you to shutdown whichever OS you are using and start up from initial boot.

The third is to use VMWare. The VM in VMWare stands for Virtual Machine and is rather interesting for its own sake. It allows you to install Linux along side Windows and the VMWare system literally builds a virtual system inside your computer that recognizes each environment separately and keeps them apart. It does require a bit more memory and a faster system because of VMWare’s overhead, but if configured correctly, will allow you to run Linux and Windows with ease. In addition, switching from Windows to Linux requires a predetermined sequence of keystrokes but not a full scale reboot. VMWare is free for Home use and they have good support available.

Since Linux will run happily on older equipment, I suggest getting a separate system (Pentium I or even an 80486 system) for Linux use. The cost is usually low since the older systems will not run the newer Windows, and they should be plentiful and available (possibly in your own closet, garage, or basement). You might want to invest in additional memory and perhaps a larger hard drive but Linux will run in 128 MB of memory quite nicely and you can install a full Linux Personal Workstation onto a 1.2 GB hard drive with a lot of space left over. Whatever the distribution has as a default should be your starting point. Get used to Linux before trying to get ‘fancy’. If you are new to Linux, leave the server and development stuff alone and just install either the workstation or Personal system. Learn your system first and then add stuff.

Next time we will discus update methods.

Have Fun!


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Linux 101 - How to begin!

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Linux is on the rise and we can all thank Microsoft for it! People around the world are tired of Microsoft’s heavy handedness in their marketing ploys and in foisting off a lousy Operating System commonly known as Windows. After years of putting up with high pricing, program bloat, and the constant need to Update and Upgrade because of coding errors and insufficient operation, people are turning to Linux in greater numbers. Are you one of them?

This article is offered to help you decide which Linux will be right for you and to give you a few resources so you can make an educated decision. At first glance, the process is daunting because you have over 1,000 different versions of Linux to choose from, but I think I can help by trimming that list down to just a handful.

Linux is the name of a UNIX-like operating system for the PC user. Versions of Linux have been developed for several PC ‘architectures’ like Intel x86, Intel x86-64, and PPC, to name a few. As a result, you should have no problems finding a Linux distribution that will run on your system.

A Linux distribution (or Distro) consists of a kernel and several dozen applications. The difference between distros is the combination of applications that are furnished. The kernel is, basically, the same. The applications include office productivity, games, utilities, and a few other categories. Some distros are great for the office, others for general home use, others for servers, and still others for software development. You can even install a personalized version where you choose which applications you want from long lists of applications. Fun!

The first thing to do is find out what distro to start out. You can get a dandy idea by using the Linux Chooser. The site has a good listing of distros that fall into the ‘better-known’ category. They cover a wide range of user experience from First timers to Experts. Go to the web site and take the quiz. Answer the questions and you will wind up with a name of a distro or two, or three! Decide on one of them and either download it or buy it from a computer store or on-line. If you are a first time user, look at Ubuntu. You can order copies of both a Live CD and an Install CD free of charge (free shipping, too). If you have friends who are interested in Linux as well, order extra copies for them (still free). While you are waiting for the order to arrive, it is time to read up on Linux and get a bit of learning out of the way. . It will make the start up a lot easier for you. The Windows to Ubuntu Guide is an interesting read that details the shift from Windows to Ubuntu Linux. You may find it informative and helpful There are dozens of other sites on the web that offer free How-To tutorials on Linux installation and operation. For those that want a desk reference at hand, get a copy of the following books from your local bookseller. “Linux in a Nutshell” and “Running Linux” from O’Reilly Publishing. The first is a desk reference for the commands used in Linux and the other is a ‘necessary read’ to familiarize you with the inner workings of Linux.

One last point, before the actual installation of Linux on your system you are going to need a network connection that is always on like cable or DSL. Many of the distros will download applications directly to your machine so having a connection is vital. A dial-up connection will work, but it will take a lot of time to complete the download. There are distros that do not require it, but they are usually for the more experienced user.

This is the first of many articles dealing with the installation, use, and administration of Linux on a Home PC so keep an eye out for them.

Have Fun!


Friday, February 17, 2006

Changes on the Horizon? Part 3

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After reading parts 1 and 2, you may get the feeling that I do not like Windows. Nothing could be further from the truth. I like Windows just fine. In fact, here at Computerist Tower, Windows XP Pro is running communications and home network, and most of my writing tools are Windows applications. I also run a Fedora Core 4 Linux system that runs my database, software development, and web development tools. Both systems are central to my operations. I have a third system that I use to test Linux distributions and a forth that runs Windows 98SE for my library of Win95/98 software. If I did not like Windows, I would not be using it.

There are a few final things I would like to point out to you before I close these articles. Earlier, I mentioned the software bloat that Microsoft has foisted off onto their customers. That bloat is driving the computer industry to develop improved hardware and software to match. Games have been getting to the point that serious gamers buy the fastest and biggest home PCs available if not building systems that are the envy of most commercial developers. The trend has no end in sight.

Nevertheless, what about the systems we bought last year? They still work! Will they still work when we upgrade to Microsoft Vista? Maybe! We spend anywhere from $400 to $5,000 and more for the system of our dreams only to find that the new Windows operating system will not function without this or that hardware upgrade. That is when the question becomes, “Should I upgrade?” If you do, what about the system you have on your desk? You have not had the system long enough to get your money’s worth out of it yet but to use the new Windows, you have to buy new. Let us not forget the other software we have invested in and use daily. Will we need to buy replacement packages? It is frustrating and a lot of us ‘lose our cool’ when we see the drain on our pocket book.

Consider this, though. Linux has gone through upgrades since its release, just as Windows but you can run the latest release Linux on that old 80486 processor-based system you pushed into the corner years ago. Memory concerns? The latest release of Linux will run on 128MB of memory just fine. No slowdowns and is highly productive. Why is that, you ask.

It is all due to the way the operating systems were developed! Windows was and is still developed as a monolithic application. That is, everything is in a single piece. Hundreds of software engineers work on features, developing file system support, threading, and other features that are assembled into one, massive whole. Is it any wonder there are bugs in it. Testing becomes a nightmare, bug correction a full time occupation. Moreover, we, you and I, pay for it. We get the ‘end’ result, except it is not the end. Continuous updates of a critical nature, viruses and malware designed just for Windows.

Unlike Windows, Linux does not have that problem. The kernel is separate from everything else. Integration (putting it all together) problems are minimized since there are established interface standards published. You still have hundreds of software developers and engineers working on portions, but there is no integration involved. Each piece of a Linux system is independent of the rest of the system. In Windows, each part of the system depends on all the other parts. Like a house of cards, one part fails, the whole thing collapses (the ‘Blue Screen of Death’). In Linux, one part fails, the rest of the system keeps running and the failed process is restarted automatically.

The BIG question, though, is how hard is Linux to operate? Yes, there are differences. It can be challenging to administer as well, but there are dozens of web pages that cover the in’s and out’s of that, so information is readily available. The biggest problem you have is not the ‘how’ but the ‘which’. There are over a thousand different distributions of Linux out there.

Want to try Linux? Go to your closet, storage shed, basement, wherever you have stuffed that old computer, drag it out, dust it off, plug it in, and say, “Hello, old friend!”. Install a copy of Linux and start learning about the other side of computing. In an effort to help you decide, many Linux distributions are available as Live CD systems. They do not install anything on your hardware and are fully functional systems on a CD. You can see and hear what that version of Linux is all about before deciding. Try a few! Go hunting and find the one that best fits your needs. We, at Handicapped Computerist, have our favorites and I am sure, wherever you live, there is a group of Linux users that will happily extol the virtues of their favorite, too.

Computing is fun so, for Heaven’s sake HAVE FUN!


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Changes on the Horizon? Part 2

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As I said in Part 1, The industry has been ‘driven’ by Microsoft to provide bigger, faster, better hardware just to support Windows. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, Windows has created a ready market for hardware and software. However, the problem that most folk do not see is the lack of Downward Compatibility that I also mentioned. It is not just with Windows either. Case in point is Word for Windows. Part of the Office suite, Word has become a virtual standard for clean and efficient operation while providing the writer with a rich set of tools for productive writing. I doubt there is much argument with that. However, do not bother trying to edit a document written with Word 95 with Word 2002. It cannot do it in the .DOC format. In fact, you may not be able to do it at all. Therefore, if you have a lot of documentation written with an older version of Word, you may have lost all that work. Microsoft has you over a barrel since they do not support very many older versions. If you want to keep Microsoft support, you need to buy the newer, if not newest release of MS Office at $550 a pop.

Software is another area that causes a problem when upgrading Windows. Most software written for windows use Microsoft libraries to provide functionality the developer does not have to build from scratch. Unfortunately, these libraries are specific to a particular version of Windows. That means a software written for Windows 3.1 or 95 will not run or at least not run correctly on Windows XP or 2003 or even Vista! I, myself, have a large library of Windows 95 software that I cannot run on my system. My solution? I have a second system setup with Windows 98 Second Edition that WILL run that software. Not the best solution, but it is cheaper than trying to find and then purchase replacement software. It is no wonder that I spend a lot of time searching for freeware or shareware solutions. Fortunately, there is a huge array of software that fit the bill.

Other solutions to the difficulty are readily available free or a small fraction of the cost. I know what you are saying and you are right. Linux is one such solution and a good one as well. However, I want to give you a ‘case study’ to watch.

This scenario is taking place in Spain right now. I am not making this up, it is really happening.

In Merida, Spain, Luis Millan Vazquez de Miguel, a college professor turned politician, is succeeding where multibillion-dollar, multinational corporations have failed. He is managing to unseat Microsoft Corp. as the dominant player in the software industry, at least in his little part of the world.

Vazquez de Miguel is the minister of education, science and technology in a western region of Spain called Extremadura, a mostly rural expanse of olive trees and tiny towns with 1.1 million inhabitants. In April, the government launched an unorthodox campaign to convert all the area's computer systems, in government offices, businesses and homes, from the Windows operating system to Linux, a free alternative.

"We are the future," he said. "If Microsoft doesn't become more open and generous with its code, people will stop using it and it will disappear."

It has not been easy, and there have been a few glitches, but so far, there has been over 10,000 systems converted. In addition, there are 70 proposals and laws in twenty-four countries that will allow the use of Open Source solutions instead of Windows or Microsoft software.

Microsoft Spain is not handling the movement at all well.

The biggest problem the Spanish government is facing with this is the incompatibility of documents created on Windows systems being printed out by Linux systems. Nevertheless, with the use of such software as Open Office, that hurdle is being easily bypassed.

Part 3, a few comparisons between Linux and Windows.