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!