January 2018
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Moving Back to Linux

I have enjoyed as much as I can stand of Windows. I can’t afford a Macintosh. My Dell laptop has disintegrated and is in pieces held together by rubber bands. My options are limited. But there are options.

Linux has been around since the early 1990s but has not made any real inroads into the public

New Linux Desktop

My new Linux Desktop

consciousness despite it being secure, robust and versatile. This has been mostly due to the perception that Linux is difficult to install and even more difficult to configure; especially when it comes to printers, network cards, wireless networking (wifi), monitors, sound cards, etc. Indeed, for many years it really was a chore to set a Linux desktop up and use it.

Then I received an email flyer from Tiger Direct offering a Quad AMD CPU computer “kit” for $199 and decided to go for it. Once my order was in I had to decide on a distribution. Linux is offered by many distributors and in many flavors. Some, like Centos, are more suited to server use while others, like Fedora and Debian, are aimed at the user’s desktop. I chose Ubuntu which is a “flavor” of Debian and has been reputed to be easy to install and configure.

Once my “kit” arrived I assembled the components into a working computer with no operating system. I had burned an image (an “iso”) onto a CD on the laptop,  set the kit computer to boot from the CD/DVD drive, plugged in a network connection and turned the power on. The screen came to life and asked me a few easy questions and an hour later I had a fully functioning Linux computer connected to the Internet.

I had been careful to use open source applications on my laptop; eschewing the Microsoft programs like the Explorer browser, MS Office, and the MS Outlook email client. Instead I had used Thunderbird for my email, Firefox for my web browser and Open Office for my documentation, spreadsheets, etc. These applications are available “cross platform” which includes Windows, Macs, several flavors of Unix and Linux so that all data (saved mail, email account information, documents, bookmarks… even browser cookies) are all transferable for a seamless experience. So by the end of the next day I had a fully updated operatiing system (Ubuntu updates all its programs automatically) with all my usual applications. In fact it all looked very much like my old laptop.

I was somewhat concerned about moving data from cameras and other devices which use SD memory cards to the new Linux box. I bought a little device made by Vivitar that reads multiple varieties of these memory cards (for US$25.00) which worked perfectly the very first time I tried it. I spent five minutes configuring the SAMBA file sharing system on the Linux computer to share files with the laptop and transferred over all 15gb of data and documents from my laptop.

Next I brought my Samsung color laser printer and plugged it into the USB port on the Linux machine fully expecting that it would take me a while to get it to work. To my great surprise when I opened the printer configuration utility the printer was already installed and working. No setup at all.

So just a couple of hours of my time spread over a few days was all it took to move all of my work to a Linux computer from a Windows XP computer. Not only does it work but it’s much faster, has more RAM and multiplies the hard drive space by factor of 6, Because the laptop was in pieces I had been using a separate monitor, keyboard and mouse anyway and I found an APC keyboard we used to use for rack-mounted servers that had a built-in mouse pad. I get four desktops so one of them has my web browser opened, another has my email opened, a third has my remote SSH consoles (I’m only semi-retired, after all) open and the fourth is an extra. If I need more I just configure more.

Right after I got the new computer running on Linux I decided to try to edit some videos I took on my new GoPro Hero. Ubuntu offers several open source video editing applications as free downloads. I put my SD cards into my new Vivitar card reader which appeared as a drive in the /media folder so I could move the video over and edit it and then upload it. I can also edit my photos with GIMP which is a photoshop-like application (also available for Windows).

Am I a happy camper? You bet I am! The Linux box does everything I had been doing before but faster. The new fans for towers are as quiet as the laptop was and the monitor – which the laptop could not drive correctly – is now filled completely. I can customise almost everything I care to or just leave everything stock.

If you, like me, are fed up with Windows then I encourage you to try Linux. You don’t have to have a new computer either. Give it a try. It’s free.

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