April 5, 2011

Linux... Finally

   As an avid computer user and self-described tech geek/gadget fan I don't know why I didn't get to this earlier. But I have finally installed and run Linux on my computer. As a beginner I decided to go with Linux Mint.
   Because I have been a long time Windows user and didn't really want to reinstall everything I have on my laptop should things go wrong I decided to go with a USB drive version (Trend Micro thinks this site is dangerous though it was not so the first time I visited). Basically what this means is that I have installed Linux Mint on my 8GB flash drive and when I want to run it I can use the boot menu to load it instead of Windows.
   The initial installation took probably 15 minutes. That included downloading and installing on a new flash drive that was already empty. Then it took me a couple of minutes to enable the boot menu option on my laptop.
   Running Linux Mint the first time was kind of strange. Overall it looks quite a bit like Windows. It is essentially a simple point and click interface like we are all used to. I would say that it just doesn't quite have the polish that Windows has, though if you are used to running Windows XP it may be a step up.
   There is what is essentially a "Start" button in the lower left hand corner that will open up a menu where all of the preloaded programs are located. It comes with Open Office as well as Mozilla Firefox and a handful of other programs that essentially equate with things within Windows.
   Being a Chrome user mainly I immediately went and downloaded Chrome for Linux and installed it. I used the version Google packaged for Ubuntu as I was told Mint and Ubuntu are very similar. It was really easy to install. Once it was downloaded I simply had to click the installation package and it ran an installer program. A minute later I was importing my bookmarks into Chrome and browsing the web.
   And that ends the simplicity of using Linux. Everything I have attempted to do since installing Chrome has been something of a headache.
   The next thing I tried to install was an anti-virus program. Linux users the world over will swear that you never need an anti-virus program in Linux. This fact I have seen debated in many forums. As I am not qualified to say I would just assume that no computer system is free from security issues. However, for my purposes I was hoping to install the software to scan Windows based systems from a safe environment. The idea being that if my laptop or a computer I support gets a serious infection I could boot to Mint and run a check on the drive(s) and clean the system.
   I found a number of anti-virus programs designed to run within Linux that were advertised to scan Windows drives. Once I found one I was shocked at how difficult the system was to install. It required opening the command line terminal. Many of you may remember when computers ran DOS. You had to type commands into a black screen and hope that you typed them right in order for the computer to do anything. If you were studious you may have learned a lot of commands. You may remember some of them still. But in today's world that stuff is mostly forgotten and in many cases not needed. In the Linux world it is still how everything is done. The graphical user interface is still something of a facade.
   To end this part of the story I'll just say that I still have not figured out how to install this anti-virus software or any other for that matter. Perhaps one day I will get online to learn the commands required. Yes it requires more than one command to install.
   The next hurdle in my Linux adventure was when I tried to connect to my home internet using the wireless card in my laptop. I suppose Windows has made me lazy. I remember in the DOS days that all hardware came with driver disks. Even whole computers would come with disks containing drivers for preinstalled hardware. Then one day Microsoft decided that it would create a vast database of drivers and make it's operating system automatically detect new hardware and at least attempt to install it from its database.
   Linux has some drivers built in. I have to say that the Ethernet port worked without installing additional drivers. The wireless card would not. I looked on the internet for some kind of fix. From what I can see so far the only possible way to make it work is to get a report from my system, upload it to an experts forum then wait and hope that the card is even supportable.
   Now all this wouldn't be so bad, especially considering that Linux is free. However, it is difficult for me to live with these difficulties when many Linux advocates love to say things like, Linux can do anything Windows can do.
   Can I play Starcraft on Linux natively? Can I run MS Office? No. In fact just browsing the web wirelessly has proven difficult to say the least.
   I recently have run across statements on the internet
   The point is my parents want to get on their computer and do something. They do anything from playing games to working on genealogy. The point is they don't have the patience to deal with command lines and I don't have the time to be doing it for them.
   With Linux it may be possible to do anything one can do with Windows. But at this point in development Linux is far more confusing that most other computer systems out there. As computers get more powerful and more compact the users of computers are looking for simplicity and convenience. Computers should be a way for the average user to get more things done not a way to find more things that need getting done. From where I sit the only Linux based system that is even capable of this at this time is Google's Linux based Android, which ultimately only uses some Linux guts.
   For now the world of computing for the masses still belongs to Microsoft Windows, Apple's OS X/iOS and Google's Android. My advice, don't get your parents or grandparents anything else.