Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dr. PingOS; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Linux

Around this time last year, my laptop had a meltdown. This was helped along by the cracked monitor and the sticky something that was spilled and killed the lamp in my screen. I was not a happy camper. I discovered if I hooked it up to an external monitor that the keyboard and mouse worked ok but I was still operating on Windows Vista and it kept crashing with increasing frequency.

In April of this year, I had a friend come to visit. He took one look at my computer and said “I'm putting Linux on your laptop so you can actually use it.”

Linux? I panicked. I don't know computers well enough to use Linux! It's been 20 years since I've had to type anything into a command line. Please don't make me look like an idiot, I begged.

He told me there was nothing to worry about but I didn't believe him. Didn't only hackers and computer nerds use Linux? I was an enthusiast, at best.

He installed Ubuntu 10.04 while I was at work and when I came home, it was up and running. He had me type in my password on the sign in page.

Huh, I thought as it opened up. This doesn't look too scary. The menus were at the top of the screen instead of at the bottom but he showed me how to change it if I wanted to. My files and applications were easier to find than with the Windows start menu. I'd been using Open Office for a little over a year so that wasn't a big change, except I had the new version which was all shiny.

Well, but what about getting on line? I loved Firefox but it was a total memory hog on Windows. Opening it on my laptop literally meant I couldn't use anything else but I liked it a lot better than other browsers I'd used. It came pre-installed and, while still a memory hog, my operating system wasn't taking up most of my available memory. I can be online and write at that same time. Well, in theory. I still get distracted by the shiny online.

Freecell! What about my solitaire game of choice? He showed me the software center, which is on the bar at the top of my screen, where I can install and un-install many, if not most, of the applications available for Linux. Oh, sure, there was freecell but what's that one that looks like Tetris? Or Lemmings? Bust a Move? Forget Freecell, man, I like these games better!

The one thing I hadn't found an immediate replacement for was Microsoft Publisher. I love Publisher. Slowly, I ventured out into the Linux community to see if there was a recommendation. What I found astounded me. Yes, people recommended a program which I still haven't had a chance to explore yet, but it was the attitude that astonished me. I wasn't a n00b. People were polite and actually wanted to help me. Getting help from Windows is like asking a 14-year-old for, well, just about anything. I felt like I was dealing with grownups while I was getting help for my Linux questions and that was incredibly refreshing.

The great part about all of this? It was all free (that's free as in freedom and free as in no cost). There are industrial versions of Linux that are meant for large corporations that do cost money but, from my understanding, they don't cost nearly as much as Windows. Also, I could have run the whole thing off a 4gb memory stick had I really, really wanted to keep Windows on my laptop.

Now, my computer boots up in 30 seconds. I can get online in less than a minute. I'm learning how to use several programs that are supposed to replace other software that I used to play around with. The games are fun and kinda cute. They certainly run better.

If you yourself are interested in checking out linux, check out Ubuntu or Linux Mint, both great for new users. Download the file, burn to a disc, pop it in, and try out the live CD feature, allowing you to demo the operating system without even installing it.

There's a learning curve but you know what? I think I'm smart enough to use Linux.

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