Saturday, January 12, 2008

Sweet Jesus, Linux is enough to give you a nosebleed

Linux seems to be getting more and more press. A lot of people have got fed up with Windows over the years and maybe don't want to pay for the Vista upgrade, or maybe just want to try something different.

A Mac, you need the hardware; it's good, and if you consider the price against the performance and all the software bundled, and the quality of it all, it's not that expensive. Is Vista worth the extra cash? It has the security flaws of the previous version and needs higher spec hardware to get the same results! So, Linux, you think... hey, that's free, I can get better performance out the Windows PC I have now!

Now a few years back it was just for geeks. There was all kinds of voodoo you had to do to get it working, so that made the choice easy: Windows. Okay, Windows 95 wasn't perfect but it was accessible. Linux was too hard to use back then without growing a hobbit beard, wearing a cardigan and socks and sandals. But now there are dozens of different versions of Linux, and lot of effort has been put into usability. But that's where the problem starts; we're spoilt for choice; nosebleed number one.

All these distributions come about because people have different ideologies, motives (or axes to grind) about Linux. Some want a raw, text based low resource version, like Slackware, where you have to know how it works. And some want easy to use versions, perhaps with commercial support, in case you stuck or want to buy services, like Red Hat and Xandros. And then there are the philanthropic versions, like Ubuntu. The idea here is to stick to the values of free software.

So, Ubuntu, I'll give that a whirl. It's getting some good press. There we go decision made. Except it isn't, ha, oh no. There are multiple versions of Ubuntu to choose from! Nosebleed two, cardigan ruined. To be fair it's easy to choose here because they are packaged with specific uses in mind. I decided to go with the "desktop" version (version 7.10 at the time of writing).

Well, at least the experience of installing is okay. After some fannying around with partitions and boot programs and graphics card drivers we get the thing working. This was certainly a more pleasant experience than with Red Hat linux a few years back. I won't into the different versions of Debian that Ubuntu is based on or I'll run out of blood before the end of this. And now we're up and running.

The desktop environment isn't that different from Windows. If you want it to be more like Windows you can always use Kubuntu. Yes, that was another option; sandals and socks stained now. This provides a more glossy user interface experience and a whole load of free applications. Strangely these work under both Ubuntu and Kubuntu, the difference is just that some people decided to do it a different way.

What a shame there have been so many ideological differences whilst Linux and it's software was developed. Just imagine how far ahead of Windows it could be right now. All those thousands, probably millions of hours of duplicate effort and refusal to compromise principles. Unfortunately end users just want things that work and don't care about principles, well not much for development ones and open source anyway. Uncle Bill doesn't really need to attack Linux because for a lot of the time it's been it's own worst enemy!

Well, here's to hoping that Ubuntu and a friendlier, more end-user centric development philosophy gives us end users more choice. And try Ubuntu (or Kubuntu if you like flash GUIs) out, you'll probably like it. You can always download it and run the Live CD (i.e. it runs off the installation CD and you don't have to install anything). If you need more info, read:

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