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August 31, 2007

Byebye Microsoft, Hello Linux

Posted in: Guides

tuxI’ve been aware of Linux for a long time as an alternative to Microsoft Windows but only installed it a few years ago when I was looking to experiment with a telephone server.

My encounters with it since have been more frequent and now that I am in a position to upgrade XP to Vista I intend to abandon Bill’s new OS (that I’ve heard little good about) and switch over to Linus’s alternative.

The purpose of this post is to highlight the reasons for the migration and to give food for thought to whoever may be considering the switch.

Reasons to switch;

  1. Free/Open Source. Software is free…. You won’t pay a thing!
  2. Alternatives. Viable (and arguably better) alternatives to Windows software.
  3. Windows/Legacy Compatible. Linux can run Windows software.
  4. Universal. It caters well for technophiles and technophobes.
  5. More Secure. Viruses are VERY rare on Linux systems, security built in.

We’ll discuss the above in more detail later on.

background I grew up on Microsoft products. I entered the world of Windows with version 3.1 that needed a parallel installation of MS DOS in order to run. Over the years, ‘Compatible with Windows’ was plastered over software packaging everywhere.

Bill Gates has enjoyed a monopoly for many years but I sense that times are changing and that the Open Source community has delivered software that is giving Microsoft (and other proprietary operating systems) a run for their money. Finally Linux is reaching beyond the technophile to the average computer user and complete neophyte.

Versions of Linux such as Ubuntu (discussed later) have made the transition relatively easy, employing the familiar desktop GUI prevalent in Windows systems with ubiquitous start button menu. This distribution is so on par with user requirements that computer retailers such as Dell have recently started selling systems with Ubuntu Linux pre-installed, saving the customer the additional cost of the Windows operating system.

Free/Open Source
freeI completely agree with the idea that software should be freely downloadable, usable and modifiable. The nature of open source means that it is not only free to obtain but free of proprietary restrictions.

Although Linux get’s it’s name from Linus Torvalds who wrote a primary component of the operating system (the kernel), the majority of the software has been collaboratively written by open source programmers around the world. These generous people donate their time and effort towards something that benefits millions of people for no monetary benefit. The fruits of their labour can be downloaded and used for free without registration and nag screens.

alternativesThe open source community provides alternatives to Windows software that have a thriving and growing community of developers and users.

I’ve listed some of my daily activities below together with the software I currently use for the task on Windows. Next to these I’ve displayed free Linux counterparts1 that I intend to use when I migrate. :

Activity (click on activity for screenshots)
Windows Linux (all free)
Browsing the Internet Firefox Firefox
Emailing Outlook Evolution (or Thunderbird)
Calendar and Task Management Outlook Evolution
Programming/Markup Notepad++ Scribes
Word Processing and Spreadsheets MS Office Open Office
Image Editing Photoshop GIMP
Skyping Skype Skype

Windows/Legacy Compatible
WINEFor those of you that are practically welded to your Windows programs there is a solution for you too. It’s called WINE. …no, I’m not suggesting you drown your sorrows, WINE is an (yes you guessed it, free) open source implementation of the Windows API that, once installed, enables Windows software to happily run on Linux… and for those that are wondering, no, it’s not an emulator. WINE runs Windows applications in essentially the same way Windows does. There is no inherent loss of speed due to “emulation” nor is there a need to open WINE before running your application.

What about device drivers?
All my devices have Linux equivalent drivers that are readily downloadable. Manufacturers websites will usually list the Linux driver alongside the Windows version.

universalIn Linux, there are two ways to do a single task. One is using a command line and the other is via the Graphical User Interface (GUI) akin to Microsoft Windows. It’s up to the user how they would like to carry out tasks. For the Geeks amongst us the command line may appeal, for those of us the just want to point and click (akin to Windows) that’s ok too! Linux provides a fit for both Technophiles and Technophobes. Multi-languages are also catered for.

securityLinux has always come with a great security framework built in. It’s robust permissions system provides security for individuals as well as groups of individuals. In terms of Viruses, there are relatively none compared to Windows, From Scott Granneman, SecurityFocus, Linux vs. Windows Viruses:

a Linux-based Virus would fizzle out quickly. Windows is an inviting petri dish for viruses and worms, while Linux is a hostile environment for such nasties.

UbuntuUnlike Microsoft Windows, Linux comes in many flavours (distributions). The distribution I’ve chosen to migrate to is Ubuntu. I’ve chosen this because it has a VERY active community and rave reviews. I currently have a server installation which has been extremely stable for the last year.

Ubuntu Screenshots

login screenshot Similar to Windows Start Menus config screenshot writer screenshot

If you want to try out Ubuntu without installing it you’ll be pleased to hear that it can run straight from a CD without setup (choose to ’start’ Ubuntu instead of installing). This will allow you to play around with the Operating System before deciding to install it permanently. Bear in mind that applications will run slow from the CD, however once it’s installed to the hard drive… well, it runs faster than my Windows installation.

And so…
and so...I intend to switch in the next month or so. I know I’m going to be very fond of my new OS due to the positive experience I’ve had to date. I love the idea of running on totally open source/free software.

I hope this post has given you something to think about. If you are in the middle of upgrading your system(s), or starting a business and are worried about software costs this may be the ideal solution, or maybe you’re just curious to try out something new; grab a free copy of Ubuntu Desktop from the Ubuntu Website and give the Live CD option a spin2, no installation necessary. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised as I was.

1 These are a handful of alternatives, to see a more extensive list of what’s on offer visit the Linux Alternative Project website that lists popular software alternatives on the Linux Platform.
2 If you want a very basic book to help you get up an running, I recommend Ubuntu for Non-Geeks, 2nd Edition: A Pain-Free, Project-Based, Get-Things-Done Guidebook.

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