Shopping for a linux distro

M$ wants to keep you locked in to Windows so that it can take your money, your personal data, and your user freedom. They don’t want you to know that you have a choice of better operating systems; operating systems that respect your freedom. There are tons of free “as in freedom” software operating systems that you can download and install at no cost.

And when they’re improved, you can choose whether or not you want to upgrade, without a corporation breathing down your neck. It is time to upgrade your computer, but not to Windows 8.

johnny-depp-funny

Which Linux will fit me?

There are many distributions, and most have very active forums or mailing lists where you can ask questions if you get stuck. Ubuntu and Linux Mint are considered the easiest for new users who want to get productive in Linux as soon as possible without having to master all its complexities immediately.

[linkview show_cat_name=”0″ cat_name=”Choosing Linux”] And more consideration(s) may apply:

Myths?

Linux is hard to install

Non-sense. New users can get started pretty quickly with Live USB or DVD systems that allow for trying out a particular Linux first. Installing Linux is pretty easy these days, but getting everything to work exactly the way you like it can take a little more work. The install itself is nothing more than a download, a few mouse clicks and deciding basic options like timezone, language and name. Even though all are of laughable simplicity in their use, each Linux installation has its own setup utility, different from all the others, or nearly the same like in the case of Mint and Ubuntu. This makes it very difficult if not impossible to write a step by step Linux installation manual that works for all. Luckily there are lots of helpful blog posts and focused forums out there.

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Linux does not recognize my hardware

This can happen if your machine is younger than 6 months. Hardware like a sound card or ethernet card, etc. have two essential pieces of software that make them function. The first is a working driver, software that lets your system talk to the hardware. The second is firmware, usually a small piece of code uploaded directly to the device and maintained by the company that develops the hardware device. You can think of the firmware as a way of programming the hardware inside the device. It is a black box, and because of that treated like hardware; there’s no accompanying source code that is freely distributed with it.

In M$ worlds, firmware is usually a part of the driver you install, not seen by the user. In Linux, firmware may be distributed from a number of sources. Some firmware comes from the Linux kernel sources. Others that have redistribution licenses come from upstream. Some firmware unfortunately does not have licenses allowing free redistribution.

Tip: During install you get messages as to what hardware could not be provided for. Write down what those messages say. Ya needz it to find the driver. Try installing the linux-firmware-nonfree package and if that doesn’t help, check the make, type, model, serial numbers of your machine and hit the net to find out exactly what driver(s) you need. Find out what is in your box for example using a site like check what is in your notebook, or open up the box. All of the components of interest have labels. Then find the driver file required and install.

Firmware can come from one of the following sources in Debian, Mint or Ubuntu:

  • The linux-image package (containing the Linux kernel and licensed firmware, installed by default)
  • The linux-firmware package (containing other licensed firmware, installed by default)
  • The linux-firmware-nonfree package in multiverse (containing firmware that are missing redistribution licenses, not installed by default)
  • A separate driver package (not installed by default)
  • Elsewhere (not installed by default, driver CD, email attachment, website)
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Note: hibernate/suspend remains a problem with many laptops, although it has come a long way.

Linux is too complicated to use

Tip: And it has more to offer if you learn to use the keyboard (again). Habituated windows users may find that using a keyboard instead of a mouse is a difficult part of the transition, but once they discover the power of the command line, they may never want to click again. And for GUI-bound types not wanting to go there, no worries, for Linux has several desktop managers from which to choose, not just one. You can use a Linux machine for years and never touch the command line.

Ehh. Myth. It has a graphical interface with a mouse and windows. It has an auto-updater to keep things current. It has software add/remove capabilities that allow you to install programs with a couple of mouse clicks. It even has many apps found in Windows and Mac OS X like Firefox, Thunderbird, Pidgin, Audacity, …

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There are no applications available

Non-sense. If you do not have a “stripped linux”, after install you have all you need for usual use. And there are many thousands of additional applications available for free: Nearly every distro has a centralized location where you can search for, add, or remove software (using a point and click interface or the command line). With package management systems such as Synaptic, you can open up one tool, search for an application (or group of applications), and install without having to do any web searching (or purchasing).

It is true that windows used to be the better platform for games, but recently Steam has arrived in Linux. And some Windows games can be run on Linux using wine (but not all). The game you wish to play may actually be available for linux now.

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Reasons for using Linux as an activist

Security

I don’t think any operating system is ever “secure”. A particular configuration of an operating system has a particular degree of resistance to particular types of attacks. Linux and M$ products are not easy to compare but some general statements can be made:

  • Windows is more difficult to “strip down” than Linux systems.
  • Viruses are less of a threat on Linux. This also applies to spyware, malware, etc.
Tip: The shellshock vulnerability will still be found in unpatched systems for the foreseeable future—though the odds of it directly impacting our local machines appear slim if using standard security precautions. If scary or seemingly too complex get a local geek to help you with that or hit the respective forums.

And some theories can be posed:

  • Theory 1: Because the Linux kernel code, and many of its drivers and utilities are free, it has likely been reviewed and fixed frequently for coding mistakes that can lead to remote vulnerabilities that a hacker can exploit. This prevents backdoors.
  • Theory 2: Because Linux is not owned by a corporation, it can explore the security goal more fully than a corporation can. Businesses must make money; while free software groups simply don’t have this restriction. Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering (2003) and When Free Software Isn’t Better (2010) kindly dispelled the theory.
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Updatability

Linux is in a constant state of development and improvement by developers donating their time and skills to the various projects in return for their own enjoyment and learning. The licensing allows anyone to add features they need. The usual route for that is: Request feature; not satisfied (takes too long or is rejected?); Fork and go.

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Support

Support for linux is amazing. You can have an issue with something, check the documentation and the forums, and if nothing found, send out an e-mail to a mailing list or post on a forum, and within 10 minutes be flooded with suggestions. Or it can take hours or days. Or may never come. Still, generally speaking, most problems with Linux have been encountered and are documented. Chances are you’ll find solutions fairly quickly.

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Self-improvement

If not satisfied with going through life with blinders on and living the technical “status-quo”, Linux is an excellent choice. Linux provides an environment for learning new skills and gaining deeper insights into how computers work. It also provides a platform to develop more scripts and tools. It’s ways and communities tick most “autonomy” aspects.

With Linux you have a room where floor and ceiling can be raised or lowered as high or low as you want them. With Windows, neither move. You can’t go further than M$ has deemed it necessary for you to go.

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Cost

The cost advantage of Linux is huge, especially in resource constrained environments. You get the complete OS, thousands of applications AND support for the grand total price of … <drumroll> … zilch! And we’re not talking about the crumbs that fell off a (big) business plate, not a watered down whiskey, not a feature deprived OS … ye get a full-blown, complete, freakishly configurable and flexible intuitive ready OS, for free. And it runs on old computers.

Linux expands the life of your hardware by reducing overhead and needing less system resources, which is why it runs fine on older machines. And you can do the tests yourself ofcourse.

Interesting read: “For Free Information and Open Internet Independent journalists, community media and hacktivists take action” (pdf): Why free software is more important now than ever before (stallman) – starts on page 57
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Why go shopping again?

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