GET INTO MY FRAME OF MIND:
I’m not a Microsoft fanboy, far from it.
I’m also not a Linux fanboy – again, far from it.
So we can avoid any and all of the fanboy arguments here – I don’t want to hear it. Linux fanboys say “linux is easy and you’re an idiot if you don’t love it as much as we do”. MS fanboy’s say the opposite. Again, I don’t care, and don’t want to hear it, because it’s all garbage, crap, wormfodder.
What follows is MY experience. I’m a 13 year Information Systems professional, and I’m very experienced with putting myself into a “average” user’s shoes to diagnose issues and evaluate software. In my former job I had to put myself in the mindset of your average high-school diploma shop-floor worker, of office workers, of senior level executives. I know how they think and how they respond to systems – they are your average computer users….the “joe-sixpacks” as Overclocker.com is fond of saying…and I know how to drink beer with them.
I’m a consumer, a user of products. I use what I need to use to get a job done. I use something until it breaks, then I go searching for that exact same item if it has been good to me. I’m loyal, sometimes to a fault. But I’m never so loyal that I don’t look around at other things, just to make sure I’m getting the value I think I should be getting.
My entire life’s philosophy can be summed up in a simple statement: “I _____ everyone/everything, until I’m given a reason not to.” You fill in the blank. “Trust”, “Respect”, “Use” (and that would be “use everything”, not everyone, lol), etc… It’s a simple way for me to be nice to people, respectful of things that are different, and on the prowl for something new. It forces me to learn about someone/something before I make judgements. BUT, once I’m given a reason “not to”, look out because at that point you’ve lost my “trust”, “respect” or loyalty. Then I’m a thorn, a pain that never goes away.
So with that in mind, you can understand where I’m at in the whole OS debate. Microsoft has been good to me over the years. From version 1 (for which I believe I still have the floppies in my basement storage bin), through the latest – Windows XP. People complain and whine about bugs, viruses, this, that, but I’ve been pretty safe and secure, things have “just worked” and it couldn’t be easier to get drivers, programs, games to work. Yes, there have been exceptions, some really pain in the posterior exceptions. But for the most part, extremely reliable. It is quite simply a very mature operating system.
There are, as you all know, problems. Windows certainly seems to be ripe for attacks for a variety of reasons – the way it was coded, the crappy quality control at Microsoft, the fact that it is on so many machines, etc… We pay through the nose for a copy of Windows, as much as $199 per full copy, only to learn that it is vulnerable to attack, worm, viruses, spam, spyware, on and on. We all have tools available to us to fight this nonsense, but some of us are wondering why we have to in the first place. We are wondering what else can we do, other than spending money on the OS, only to spend more money on anti-virus/spam/spy software, and software and hardware firewalls.
I think what pushed me to the point and the day I began looking around was when it was revealed that Microsoft was going to have you authenticate XP, potentially multiple times. So if you changed too much stuff in your rig, you’d have to re-authenticate your copy of XP. Now this really ticked me off, because for the most part I’m a good honest computer user. By way of comparison, the only stuff I downloaded from Napster and Kazaa were the songs that I already had on cassette tape that I was in the process of making CD backups of anyway – legal or not and both could be and have been argued, in my mind it was OK to do this – but that is another debate.
My point is that I don’t have illegal software running on my computer. I always thought people were door knobs for stealing and copying somebody’s hard work. My solution at the time was to keep running Window 98SE. I ran Win98SE until XP-SP1 came out…then I was forced to upgrade because, 1) I was building a new computer and still had the old one running, 2) I had software that wasn’t running on Win98SE.
I was pleased that I upgraded and until my recent build had no issues with XP and authenticating. Better put, I was reasonably satisfied until the latest Microsoft move of the “Genuine Advantage” spy tool came into play. I seriously began to wonder what Vista would have inside it that I wasn’t going to be happy with.
To date, I have refused to download the Vista beta’s. With my March-2006 new rig build, including a new copy of Windows XP, I’m less than thrilled about shelling out more for Vista in a year. Instead, I began looking for a possible alternative, figuring I’ve got a year or two before XP begins to “break”.
So, having a curious mind and my “I use everything until I’m given a reason not to” philosophy on the border of clubbing me in the head, I wanted to experience for myself what “this Linux stuff” was all about. The fanboy’s go on and on about it, like a new religion. The Microsofties have their arguments against it. Me, I was in the middle with no preconceived notions. I guess the reason I’ve gone on and on about some of this is because it is important for me to convey that the only thing I’m a fanboy of is my wife. So here’s my Linux story:
I should start with a bit more of my background. I have a BS in Computer Science with a focus in Business Systems. I have an MBA in Executive Management, with a focus in Technology Management, Entrepreneurship, and Global Business. I have done everything from being a lowly programmer to managing the entire business system applications and staff for a North American division of a DOW 30 company.
We used HP-UX (HP’s linux) and Oracle mainly. I was not a unix expert – I know some of the commands to get what I want, but that’s it – I didn’t install it, didn’t maintain it, just used it – you know “ps -ef|grep” to get processes for a person, or “kill -9” to whack processes. I was dangerous, but a bit of knowledge. I was more than an average user but certainly not an expert, like our administrator was.
So, about a 18 months ago, it was a simple fact that Windows XP was easier to use than ANYTHING ELSE AVAILABLE ON A PC, at least that was the impression I was getting by reading reviews and forums. You could be more productive, use more software, play more games, etc… But that came with a price, for some quite a severe price. The price, as we all know, is security or varying degrees of it (or lack there of, according to the Linux fanboys out there).
Again, all I know is that my Windows XP install is pretty free from viruses, attacks, adware and spyware. Why? Because I take the time to utilize the software that is out there to stop this stuff. Should I have to? Doesn’t matter – I do and I probably would anyway to ensure that the one sneaky kid doesn’t mess with my stuff. What can I say, I lock my doors when I go for a bike ride in my safe and secure neighborhood. I lock the doors when I’m home. I close and lock the windows on the first floor at night. I don’t take chances with things like security.
But, wanting to be an informed consumer and know my options….and with Linux starting to get some major play in the corporate world and in the media, I figured maybe it was time to throw it on the computer and check it out. I was hesitant, nervous, etc. I didn’t want to mess up my current files and didn’t want to backup everything on my PC in case something bad happened. I just didn’t feel like putting a whole lot of effort into the darn thing if it was going to be something I wasn’t going to use.
Ah, then I discovered this “bootable CD” thing and was pointed to Mandrake’s “Move” download. I downloaded the Mandrake Move v10 CD image and booted up on my Athlon XP 2200+ rig. Holy cow! I was impressed with the fact that an entire OS was on that bootable CD – yes it is a bit slow and the CD is spinning non-stop like a jet engine, but very very cool.
It was mildly interesting, at least enough so that I went ahead and downloaded the full (and free) OS and installed it as a dual boot so I could play around with it without having to rely on it. Then things took turn for the worse… OK, it was terrible.
While it seemed to install without ANY issues, it mostly didn’t work for stuff that I wanted (or would need if I used it full time). I played around with it for a few months, on and off. Sure I could type a document, print it out and play a few of the games included – but I had lots of trouble figuring out how to install programs, update programs, etc…
At nearly every turn I had some sort of issue that I had no idea how to deal with. I’d go out to forums and be ridiculed and talked down to – yes, you fanboys were rather rude and condescending. There were a few helpful people out there that took pity upon me and tried to help, but after banging my head against the wall, I gave up and decided that if it was THIS painful, it was NOT ready for prime time, nowhere near ready.
If I was having these issues, then I knew darn well that 95% of the user population would not be happy with the product. So I basically let it die on my desktop. In fact I believe it is still taking up valuable disk space on my old computer…I’ll have to take care of that one day.
A few months after that, I was bored and noticed that the subversion of Mandrake had been updated quite significantly. Hoping, praying that they had “fixed all of my issues”, I decided to download it, burn three more CD’s and try to install it on my laptop.
Oops. Trouble trouble trouble. Issues with drivers, the keyboard wasn’t quite right, etc… Again, the software that I wanted/needed was difficult to install, etc…I ended up losing my entire menu and spent weeks trying to get it back. I stumped the “expert fanboys” out there and basically the only solution was to wipe it and reinstall it. That meant months of work gone – the months that I had spent fixing, and trying to get other things working gone….to fix a “missing menu”. Hmm.
Not happy at the time wasted. Some would say that laptops are “more difficult to get things working on”, blah blah blah – it either works or it doesn’t. People are starting to buy more and more laptops – laptops have become portable desktops….if people are going to say Linux is ready for prime time, then it darn well better install on all laptops.
What I learned at that time: Linux is not a quick and dirty software installable OS. You really have to “know things” in order to make it work. You have to know where things are. You have to have lots of time available in order to search the various sites in order to figure out how to do things. You have to spend countless more hours trying to figure out how to fix things when you follow the directions and it doesn’t work right.
Basically it was an OS that wasn’t something that you could install and just use and not need to “know” about the guts. You ended up spending more time searching for solutions than actually using the computer for what it is supposed to be used for.
Ultimately, you have to learn to fight through the anti-new-person mentality that is on most of the Linux help sites. You see, if you are not an experienced person with Linux, you are mostly looked down on at the help sites. You ask a question, they give you a smart-a$$ answer that is no help at all. You ask a question that includes the statement “this is what I did in Windows, how do I do it in Linux” and you are just asking to get walloped by these Linux fanboy vultures. They assume you know what they are talking about. They assume you have hours and hours and hours to ready thousands and thousands of words in order to solve your issue.
Too painful. I gave up. Assessment on Attempt #2:
Many moons later (about 12 of them and about a month ago), I decided to wipe my laptop completely and do a fresh install of Windows. I moved all my Windows files that I needed to my desktop for safekeeping. I wiped the hard drive. Then I stopped. This is about the time I really understood the whole “genuine advantage” disadvantage, when I started reading about Vista.
So I thought to myself, “Hmm wonder what’s going on in Linux now. I’m hearing lots of good things, maybe it’s not all hype anymore”. So I searched around, looked for “the best noob version”, etc… I tried no less than four installs – none worked correctly, some wouldn’t even finish the install. Fedora, Debian, Gentoo and Suse, you all wasted my time and valuable CDs – OK, the CD’s were “free after rebate”, so just my time.
These distro’s may be other peoples favorites, if so good for you, not digging you or them, just letting you know that I had one helluva crappy time with all of them. Your mileage may very.
I was very disappointed. I was really getting into how cool it would be to get Linux on my laptop. I was actually getting excited about computing again. Well, I figured I’d wasted this much time, might as well waste some more. I headed back to
From the screen shots I saw, it looked pretty much the same anyway…..so…..off to download the full version. (Though, I did download the bootabe CD version so I would have it for possible later use and to test it on my X2-4800 desktop before committing that machine.)
Now keep in mind that at this point I had a “wiped clean” laptop…I was trying the fifth Linux distro…I was almost ready to give up and get Windows XP back on the thing so it could be useful again.
I LEAPED OUT OF MY DESKCHAIR, KNOCKING IT OVER, HANDS IN THE AIR FOR VICTORY!
What? Are you kidding me? It actually installed easily? Yes. It asked a few questions that I wasn’t sure about but was able to guess pretty easily about. If I didn’t know I defaulted it. Then I started thinking, “Ya, but as soon as I boot the first time it will begin having isues”. It didn’t. This can’t be right, so I started checking stuff out. Sure enough ALL hardware was detected correctly AND working. Hmmm.
I started digging a bit deeper. Hold the phone, it did not set up my Volume/Mute buttons on my keyboard. OK, I thought, here we go. I’ll spend about 2 weeks trying to get that simple thing to work. Wrong – there is a whole list of “configuration” applications, very similar to “Control Panel”. I popped into the keyboard configuraion and simply mapped those keys to be “volume up”, “down” and “mute”. Boom, they worked, and it ony took me one Google search to figure out how to configure the keyboard – all of about five minutes of work.
Hmm, while I’m on the interent and it connected to my basestation just fine, it didn’t set up my wireless. Feeling confident, I jumped into the network setup application and within a few minutes the wireless was working. Holy Toledo! That’s freaking awesome! So away I went down to the cool basement to begin utilizing my new toy – a wireless Linux laptop. I must have stayed up half the night playing around the OS.
The next day I then used the included handy-dandy software updating application and it updated everything for me automatically. No need to search for anything, just give it a mirror location (actually select one it has in the list that is close to you) and boom, done. Hmm, seems to be like Windows Update, except it does it or ALL applications…..WOW.
Now, the one frustrating thing I noticed was in regards to Firefox.
It was there, but it was version 1.0.5. I had a few extensions that only work with newer versions, so feeling very confident, went searching. Nothing. I found no easily downloadable/installable file for v1.5. But, there was not an “official Mandriva” RPM for it at that point either, which meant I had to “build my own”…so I guess I really bungled the “build your own” process.
During this “trouble”, I realized that I was knee deep in the same “crap” I was in before – where things began to spiral out of control and get very bothersome and time consuming for very little payback. I decided to not update Firefox to the latest version and just forget about trying to do anything fancy like build my own RPM to install.
Then when a few weeks later, I ran the Linux Update application to look for whatever updates where out there. I didn’t pay attenion to what it found, just selected it all and updated the system. Low and behold, it updated Firefox for me to the latest version w/o me having to touch anything, I was stunned, amazed and realized that I should just NEVER try to update things on my own – wait for others to build the official updates and let it do it on its own. Life suddenly got much better for me and my relationship with Linux.
A few days after I installed Linux on the laptop, my new AMD X2 rig went out of commission. I had to RMA a few components, with the RMA of my X2-4400, the rig was down until I got that back – a whole 3 weeks. Oops, got the call that they had no 89 watt 4400’s in stock, so they wanted to send me a 110 watt 4800+….Hmm, I had no problem with that, espesically with the price drops – it somehow made me feel much better.
Oops, they sent me 110 watt 4400+…no way, no how, not what I agreed to….so had to send that back, wait some more……so about 6-7 weeks in all to FINALLY get the “free upgrade” to the 4800+. (Yes it was worth the wait 🙂 )
Long story short: I HAD TO USE MY LAPTOP FOR THAT ENTIRE TIME, and all I had on it was a new version of Linux.
I was scared, I was freaking out, I was preparing to dual boot it and get XP back on it….then I decided to force myself to use it for a while first. I was pleasently surprised.
I was able to do all of my office productivity with Open Office. I was able to get email and to edit photos with Gimp. There was a scanning program that worked with my scanner. I was able to get photos and video from my camera and camcorder and edit/print/whatever. I used my home network (wired AND wireless), connected to my kids’ Windows XP computer, etc… There was nothing that I missed while using it…..except the pure power of my new rig. But, I was able to play my favorite game, Enemy Territory, even though somewhat crippled with nothing better than a Pentium M 1.3 and an ATI Mobile 9200 in the laptop.
I was pretty darn happy with the way things went. So happy, that I now use my laptop exclusively for Linux. I don’t bat an eye when using it, it is part of my routine now……and best of all, IT JUST WORKS. I don’t have to delve into the guts, unless I want to. I fire up the Update package route every once in a while and I’m in heaven.
I’ve had such a great experience with it this go around that my next step is to toss in the Mandriva One CD in my X2-4800 rig and see what happens, then I’ll gab the appropriate full-CD’s and dual boot the fast rig and see how it goes.
There is only presently one pesky little problem I’m still having:
My USB Microsoft Optical mouse seems to “sleep” or “shut off” randomly and I’ve not been able to figure out why. I’ve tried different drivers, but nothing fixes it. Of course when I posted this issue in a forum, the immediate swarming of fanboys tried to say “of course you are having issues, it’s a Microsoft Mouse”, somehow blaming Microsoft for this issue – like Microsoft has nothing better to do than put firmware in their hardware that came out BEFORE this version of Linux did, to automatically shut down so a stupid consumer would blame Linux and go running back to Microsoft. So beware, there is still mostly “crazy fanboys” in the forums.
I’m still not a fanboy, it still could be easier to use and install software, etc… BUT, what I think is that it is probably 90% ready for prime time – meaning that if it were sold in a store in a shrink-wrapped box, someone w/o skills could buy it, drop in the CDs, install it and use it w/o much training or issues. The other 10% of the work that still needs to be done is making it easier to install and basically hiding all of the “technical crap” that must be done to make things work, fix things that become broken, etc… The stuff that Windows has because it has been out there for years and years.
I can say that I will install Linux Mandriva’s latest version a heck of a lot sooner than I’ll even think about touching Vista. If it is at 90% now, I figure I’ve got a year to get the other 10%. That means I may have just saved myself a whole lotta’ cash by not having to go with Vista.
The only potential downside I see in this whole “Do I keep XP, go with Linux or upgrade to Vista” debate, is that, I’m sure at some point in the future, there will be a game that I want to play or some other piece of software that will only run on Vista. Then I’ll be stuck with the proposition of spending money for that piece of software PLUS shelling out another 100-150 bucks for Vista, OR, just turning my back on whatever game or piece of software that I wanted.
Then again, if enough of us adopt Linux this year, BEFORE Vista comes out, perhaps more companies will develop more software for Linux THAT IS EASY, EASY, EASY TO INSTALL (and by that I mean drop the CD in, auto-spin it to the install splash screen and install the darn thing so that it works without me having to do anything with a stinking “RPM” or “compiling program” or whatever.)
I’d definitely recommend grabbing a copy of Mandriva One – their “live OS on a CD”. Give it a try and if you think it is interesting, grab the 3-CD “free” version. Keep an open mind – don’t expect perfection and know that it is only 90% ready for prime time.
My other recommendation is that you MUST live with it for a while to get comfortable using it. Force yourself to use it exclusively for a few weeks or a month as best you can. Only then will you start to get that warm fuzzy feeling.
Is it ready to replace XP on your desktop? I think it is seriously close and leaning more towards “yes” than “no”. There are just too many things that only run on Windows for it to be a total replacement. BUT, you can certainly replace quite a bit of what you are doing on the Windows side.
My plan and it probably should be your plan to if you want to avoide Vista:
- Move your email, schedule, office documents over;
- Begin surfing the net only when using Linux;
- Begin editing photos and listening to music on Linux;
- Do everything you can on Linux and search for the stuff that isn’t there by default;
- Save the Windows sessions for the times when the piece of software you want to run only windows and has no counterpart in Linux, but other than games those are few and far between.
Do that, and you will quickly come to the same realization I did – Linux is close to being ready now and should definately be ready by the time Vista comes out to becoming your main OS, relegating any Windows install as the secondary OS. If you aren’t a gamer, forget about Windows completely.
In closing, I’ll say this again:
Beware – there are still mostly “crazy fanboys” in the forums, so when asking your questions DON’T get mouthy or rude, re-read your post several times to make sure it doesn’t flame anyone, or anything, and don’t take an overly frustrated tone.
Do explain your problem, your skill level and get as specific as you can. Do this and you’ll be saving yourself some heartache in the long run and most likely will get pointed in the right direction. But be prepared to do slightly more leg work than you did with Windows in order to get things working if they don’t work automatically for you. But with 2006 comes the fact that most of Mandriva FREE-2006 just works out of the proverbial box.
With so many people sending me great email responses to the “Is Linux Ready For Prime Time?” article, I felt the need to respond and throw out a promise.
There were a few recurring themes in the emails I received:
- Many people felt like the article was “about them”….aka we shared the same shoes and walked the nightmare that was Linux not so long ago
- Many wondered about “newer” hardware as opposed to my “older” notebook
- A few thought that 90% was probably a bit high cause they had issues with Mandriva and Linux in general
My quick take on the emails is this:
Linux probably depends quite a bit on your specific hardware.
Finding a distro that plays nice with your hardware configuration is the key. So from a “buy shrinkwrapped software and install it Average Joe” perspective, it is NOT anywhere close to ready for mass use. Why? Because of what I mentioned in the article and because of what people sent me in their email comments:
You need to try several different distro’s in order to find the one that works on your hardware.
But, then I thought, “Ya, but most Joe’s are buying Dell”. If a Linux distro was pre-installed on a Dell, Joe wouldn’t have to do anything but plug it in and start it up. Dell would have already dealt with the problems, having created an image to throw onto a hard drive before shipping it to you. From that perspective, I think it is 90% there, but still needs to work on new-software-install – way too much command line stuff needed in order to get many things to work….the “Joe’s” can’t and won’t deal with that.
So with that said, I will announce to you all that I’ve been prompted by the email comments to create a “Part II” article with my experience installing the operating system on a “fast” rig. Something that most of us will be running – the nice vid card, the nice CPU, etc… So, to wet your whistle, here’s what I’ve got going:
- Antec TPII-550 PSU
- Asus A8N32-SLI Deluxe
- AMD Athlon64 X2-4800
- 2 x 1GB Corsair XMS 3200ptc2
- 1 x eVGA 7900GT CO N583
- 2 x 250GB Western Digital 16MB/cache SATA-II
- 2 x Asus E616A DVD-ROM 2/2MB cache
- 1 x LITE-ON SHM-165H6S 16xDVD+-RW w/2mb cache, lightscribe
- i-Rocks IR-9400C USB2/firewire external enclosure with a WD 80GB drive
- Microsoft MN-500 Wireless Basestation
- Logitech x-530 70 watt 5.1 speakers
- ATI TV Wonder VE – currently hosed…I think 🙁
- Various USB Thumb drives (a sandisk 128MB cruzer, 2 256MB attaches)
- HP 932C Inkjet Printer connected via USB
- Samsung ML-2010 Laser printer connected via USB
- Belkin 4 port USB Hub
- Sunbeam 20-in-1 front panel
- Gateway VX900 19″ monitor
- Microsoft Wireless Natural Multimedia Keyboard and Wireless Optical Mouse
…and finally a Microsoft Sidewinder steering wheel and pedals, lol….Very fun with driving games and unlikely to work, but we are going to plug it in and see how robust Linux really is…finding something to actually use it with may be another challenge.
OK, that’s the rig. Here’s what am I going to do:
First I just finished downloading and burning the ISO files – I got “Mandriva Free 2006 x86-64bit” CD’s 1, 2 and 3. On my list to do is defrag the drives, then carve out a section of disk space using System Commander v7 (Why? ‘Cause I like it and I know how to use it to get what I want…I trust it to do the right thing). After that I’ll begin keeping track of my experience putting a 64-bit version of Linux on a screaming fast machine.
Will it recognize all of the hardware; will it utilize the abilities of the 64-bit CPU and my fairly nice video card; will it recognize the mobo’s features and all of the extra stuff I have, like my 20-in-1 front panel?
Well, hopefully I’ll get a positive response to all these questions and will be able to report back to you in a few weeks what happened, how it went……..and how many beers I had to consume in order to keep my sanity during the process.
Once again, thanks for all the great emails.