Linux for the rest of us

Confessions of a would-be penguin freak. For the last two or three months I’ve indulged in a minor obsession. I switched completely from Windows to Linux. Started out with the Ubuntu 8.10 flavour but in the end settled on Mandriva 2009.

I’ve been so up to my ears in the learning curve that I’ve been ignoring my blog, my websites and the house painting.

I’ve tried Linux three or four times in the past. On those occasions I gave up within days: the learning curve took up too much of my time and there were programs I missed and didn’t care to do without. This time, accepting that Linux and the free software movement has improved by a degree or two of magnitude in recent years, I changed my criteria. Instead of considering what I’d have to give up I started out deciding what I couldn’t do without. It wasn’t all that much:

Must haves

The Need The solution Rating
LAN and wireless Internet connectivity. No brainer for wired connection. My Dell Broadcom wireless card is proving fractious, although a USB wireless adaptor works OK. 9/10
Web browser and email client. My favourite browser, Firefox, and add-ons are totally Linux compatible. 10/10
Word processor and a spreadsheet program. OpenOffice.org 3.0 is an excellent office suite. Not as fancy as MS Office, but plenty good enough and improving all the time. What’s more it doesn’t have that pestilential “ribbon”. 8/10
Photo and web graphics editing. The GIMP is a long way short of Photoshop and Corel Painter but good enough for my graphics needs. 7/10
FTP program (file transfer protocol ) for uploading files to my websites. FileZilla FTP program is totally Linux compatible 10/10
Information manager for storing and retrieving text data. This was my deal-breaker in the past. I use Info Select – an ugly duckling of a program which infuriates its devotees, is expensive, has too many extra features, but is the best data management software under the sun. Try it for a month and you’ll be hooked. Happy days, there’s now a Linux program which is not as good but is acceptable for my needs. BasKet Note Pads. Sadly not Windows portable yet so that makes transition difficult, but it’s a very good program under continual development.
What’s more, I made the happy discovery that I could run Info Select successfully in Linux using the outstanding Wine layer translation program.
9/10
Printing and scanning. Recognises my scanner and all three printers. I can’t print CDs yet but I’ll get over that. 9/10
Stable and secure operating system. No problem. Linux beats Windows in this regard. 12/10
Hard disk and partition management. BootIT-NG is a great program for all operating systems, albeit a bit harder to learn than my Windows must-haves: Acronis True Image and Acronis Disk Director. 9/10
Acceptable motherboard and graphics card compatibility. Hardware compatibility for Linux is generally better than Windows. Graphics cards and some wireless networking cards require a special download of drivers because of copyright issues, but generally not a problem. 11/10

Important, but not deal-breakers:

The ability to network my desktop and laptop for synchronization of data files. I’m having trouble with this. I need to spend some serious time learning the intricacies of Linux permissions. This is a lack of knowledge on my part, not a Linux failure. In fact it’s a Linux plus – due in part to Linux’ superior security. 3/10
Music player. I can take my pick from a number of very good music players. 10/10
PDF program. I use Adobe Acrobat 8, its excellent Scan to OCR facility would be sorely missed, but creating and reading PDF files in Linux is a breeze. 8/10
OCR (optical character recognition) capability. Not in the same league as Acrobat, but not bad. 7/10
System backup capability. BootIT-NG does the job. 10/10
Play flash and Apple QuickTime movies. Bit of a hassle to install, but no big problem. 9/10
A good WYSIWYG HTML editor. Bluefish and KompoZer are very good. Not in the same league as Dreamweaver or MS’s Expression Web, but good for most amateur use.
For me however, I need to learn more PHP scripting unless I totally rehash my websites to do without includes.
7/10

It’s easy to have the best of both worlds and run both Windows and Linux in dedicated machines, in virtual machines or as a “dual boot” configuration. But unless one has a specific requirement to do that to my mind it’s a waste of effort, resources and time. If you must use Windows, there’s not much point in having Linux as well unless you need it on a server, for learning or for teaching or as a short term situation during the transition to stand alone Linux.

For me, Linux is all or nothing. After about a month I decided that there was no going back to Windows. I was a Linux user now and forever. My must haves were satisfied and with more learning my non deal-breakers would be too.

However!

A week ago I switched back to Windows. It’s not permanent, but I’ll be using Vista for some time yet. Linux is ready for prime time. I’ve set up two of my granddaughters with Ubuntu: one 20-year-old, recently married and impecunious; one 9-year-old and smart. I’d be happy to set up any new computer user with Linux. They’d find it less of a battle than Windows.

For me it’s more problematic. I’m supposed to be an experienced computer user and fix-it man. My friends, children and grandchildren come to me for help mistaking me for a geek. As yet I’m not there in Linux. There are too many arcane bits of knowledge I need to acquire before I can make the switch confident that I can fix things when they turn pear-shaped.

This is not a Linux failing. To reach the level of expertise I need takes time with Windows too.

Update

In 2012 I switched to the Mac.

Sigh…

I want to stick with Linux, but Ubuntu have gone in a direction I don’t care for, Evernote won’t come up with a Linux client and I got hooked on an iPhone.

One of theses days. 🙂