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Should I use Linux?

A bit of an introduction.

If you just want the summaries, just read the bold text, and scroll down to “IS LINUX FOR YOU”

One day my 10 year old desktop crawling on Windows had broken down and so I was stuck with my 3 year old 256 megabyte RAM 30gb hard drive space laptop, and an afternoon full of nothing to do. So, why not try Linux out? The following is a written evaluation of how I found it.

Step 1: start easy. I borrowed a friends laptop and created a Ubuntu live CD to play with. I chose Ubuntu because it’s reputed to be the most user friendly, which meant it would be easy to work my way up to what Linux is capable of. Ubuntu is a Linux distro, or distribution, which you might call a version or flavour of Linux. It was pretty easy to start: plug and play. I inserted the CD into my friend’s computer (whose hardware was more recent) and booted up. The default wallpaper was trendy, and the icons definitely more visually appealing than windows.

Summary: Ubuntu provides me with a full working system just with a plug and play! It’s awesome!

My first objective was to find out how to start and use the Linux equivalent of Microsoft’s Notepad. There were three clear menus labeled Applications, Places and System. Clicking on Applications gave me a wonderfully categorized menu – categorised by application type, which is a lot more useful than Windows “group by brand”. This division also made it easier to quickly navigate to folders, apps or settings. This made it easy to find the app I needed – GEdit. It was not the notepad I remember. It started up pretty fast, and also featured tabs, and as I soon found out, code syntax highlighting, which is very useful for a programmer like me. File browsing was easy, though the filesystem took a bit of getting used to (what stuff shouldn’t i touch, and where my files are.) and the icons were definitely more attractive. I could easily connect online, as all I had to do was connect my LAN cable and open up Firefox.

Applications are categorised by type on Gnome and KDE, not brand name. This is very useful.

I then decided that it was too much like Windows, so I wanted to try something new. I also wanted to comment more on the system itself more than the GUI, because in Linux it is pretty easy to change between different GUIs. I therefore searched for another Linux distro and found Gentoo, which boasted fast speed and freedom. This is something I value in an operating system. I decided to try out the Gentoo live CD, but it failed to run. The blokes in the Gentoo IRC channel recommended me to use the minimal install live CD and follow the Gentoo handbook. Having not much prior Linux experience and command line usage, my first time configuring and compiling a kernel was filled with errors and humiliating moments in the IRC channel. However, without those helpful people in that channel, I would’ve failed horribly. Therefore, this is a rather negative image on Linux. However I cannot blame Linux as it all depends on the distro. Gentoo’s aims were not user friendliness, and hence targeted more experienced users. Ubuntu was meant for user friendliness, and was pretty much plug and play. However, I recently reinstalled Gentoo on another computer and it was a breeze, hardly any problems at all.

Gentoo took a long (quite difficult too for a newbie) time to install.

The install took a long time for my first time. Mainly because I was inexperienced, but also because I had to download all the files from the internet. In a way this was bad because you are helpless without your internet when installing, but it was good that you always get the latest files. Gentoo’s style and prmise of complete configuation was proved by the fact that I had to compile everything from source. This was bad because it took a long time to install things, but it allowed you to edit everything you wanted in the code. After the install, it seemed pretty dissapointing as all I was left with was something that looked like MS-DOS. If you are used to Windows,you’d probably wonder what can you do now. There are no windows, toolbars, no visible way to multitask, and no applications to work with. However, I soon learnt how to browse through files effectively, install my favourite programming editor (Vim) to edit text files with, and even start browsing the web.

Managing installed applications is easier with Linux.

One thing I noticed during the install of Vim was that all applications (well, most that I was going to be using) was part of a packaging system. This meant no broken downloads or unreliable links, and only one place to go to whe updating, installing, uninstalling or reinstalling any apps. However, yet again, everything had to be compiled so it took a long time to install programs. A very clever and useful feature of this packaging system was that before installing, it checked whether or not all dependencies for the program were installed. Whereas on windows you just have to have you have all the dlls and libraries.

I don’t know what “rm -rf /” means, but luckily I have the manual to work it out!

Another useful feature i noticed was that almost every coomand and application had a manual page describing its uses and functions in a uniform way. This made it exceptionally informative and efficient at teaching what is going on with those funny commands.

The people in the linux IRC channels are newbie friendly.

The online Gentoo handbook and tutorials were surprisingly newbie friendly for such a “thou shalt not hide anything from the user” system. The IRC fellows were also very kind and understanding, definitely not like the people in th #windows channel, who banned me for asking how to uninstall windows. Whenever I had errors whilst compiling they knew exactly how to fix it, and now I can say that i am decent at Gentoo and can overcome most of the problems i encounter.

It’s pretty difficult to run some Windows programs.

Some of the programs I used in Windows didn’t work, such as Macromedia Flash MX 2004, but that is probably because it’s a pretty old version.

How does one evaluate an OS for themselves? Simple, list out their needs and see how well it matches it. This is what i have done below, and ive also given a rating out of ten.

It’s easy to access and setup all the power tools i need for programming.

On Linux I could easily use vim, apache, ftp, php, mysql, perl, python, gtk and qt tools, ftp, ssh, svn, all following the same style of usage. Perfect. Windows has notepad but it is pretty useless for what I like to do.

Wow. The internets is fast. I get to choose whatever browser I want. I’m not forced upon one.

The internet was faster when running linux. I don’t know why, but it was. firefox was well supported, it had a console browser, and also allowed a list of other browsers that came with the guis gnome and kde such as epiphany and konqueror. I’ve never really found a use for them though. Luckily WINE didn’t come with IE. I hate IE so much. It’s slow, unsecure, no tabs, horrible at rendering pages…and is forced upon users.

File browsing for Linux and Windows are equal. The autocomplete for CLI is awesome, but I sometimes get lost between all my /opt /proc /bin, etc.

KDE came with konqueror. I didn’t like the fact that i needed to open such a huge program just to browse files. However, KDE 4 improved this by introducing dolphin. With gnome, the file browser was excellent, however the eog (eye of gnome) image viewer had problems viewing most of my images, and was a pain to fix. however, i found the name completion when in cli and the open with settings so much easier than windows. Another really useful feature i noticed in gnome was that when hovering over media files, it gave a preview without me even havo open the file. The thumbnail previews worked for videos too!

I can choose exactly how I want to use my computer. I have total customisation. I don’t have to learn something else

No complaints here. Super fast. My computer isn’t a total powerbox, but if I want to have a lot of eyecandy, Compiz-Fusion can make my computer look sexier than ever. Since I’m not the eyecandy type of person, I don’t need to use Gnome or KDE, I can try some of the minimalist GUIs like Fluxbox. It’s still a bit ugly, but I see why some people like it. It’s _fast_. Right now I’m using Ratpoison. It’s amazingly minimalist, but I love it.

I sometimes get errors and I’m totally stuck.

Yes, it happens. It’s happening less since I’m learning more, but I would recommend you get somebody who already knows Linux before you try Linux, (especially if you are using something like Gentoo). Ubuntu users should be fine.

For a newbie, I realise that what comes with linux is not what comes with Windows. On Gentoo, I don’t get sound, printer support, internet, etc just like that.

I’ve definitely had a bit of a problem when starting to use Gentoo to mount and unmount external devices. I had to setup sound, printing support, and configure my internet. This is something I’m not exactly used to, so I had to learn a bit to understand exactly what was going on.

Ok. I feel as though I’ve typed enough.

I’m not the person you should trust the most in the world, but I’ll give my honest opinion on whether or not you should use Linux.

IS LINUX FOR YOU?

I suck at computers: Don’t use it.

I suck at computers, but I have a friend who is awesome with them: Use Linux.

If you use the computer (on average) for about 15-30 minutes a day, and it’s because you have to, not because you want to, and you already use Windows or Mac: Do not use Linux. It’s probably not worth the learning curve.

If you are on a tight budget: Use Linux. It’s free.

You are a super hardcore gamer: Don’t use Linux. Unless you want to stop playing games as much as you do now.

You are a computer programmer: Definitely USE LINUX.

You like open source and are technologically-able and interested in stuff like IT Development: Yes, use Linux.

Your office wants you to use Windows: Don’t use it unless you use another computer pretty often at home for personal use.

All the programs I use are only for Windows: Then stick with Windows.

You already use Windows or Mac and only use your computer for web browsing and document editing: Probably not worth it to use Linux, but you should use Firefox as a web browser and you should try out OpenOffice.

I’m ready to use Linux, but I don’t know which distro to use:

You just want to use your computer. Try Ubuntu or Debian.

You are awesome at computers. You want to personalise it completely. Use Gentoo.

I don’t know. What’s a distro again? Join the linux IRC channel and ask all you want!

Which GUI should I choose? Try them all! You’ll find one that gives you a warm fuzzy feeling and you’ll choose that one.

Wow! There are so many choices! You’ll thank me afterwards. Give it a go.

Dion Moult

I've been developing software for well over 10 years, work as an architect (not the computer kind, the regular sort), and am classically trained as a pianist. I try to do the right thing when I get the chance in my field, such as through contributing to open-source communities and promoting sustainable living.

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3 Comments

  1. I switched over to Ubuntu 3 weeks ago, and I’m extremely happy with it.
    I’ve hit a few road bumps, but the amazing community really helped me to sort them out and get things on the right track.
    Extremely user friendly, and I love Terminal and the file repositories.

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