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  • A Guru's World #12 - Many Ask, Why Linux?
    September 24th, 2000
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    Click Here for previous A Guru's World columns.

    There are many reasons to select Linux over the more popular Microsoft alternative. Linux offers true multitasking and actual multi-user capabilities with the ability to switch from one user login to the next with just a keystroke. It has better virtual memory handling. It mounts several different types of partitions and multiple daemons like mail, ftp, www servers. It can run X server with your choice of desktop environment and still be "Linux". It's STABLE. Although certain desktop environments can make the Linux environment almost as unstable as Windows can be, the OS itself rarely crashes and you always have that handy KILL feature!

    For me, it started two years ago when I was looking for an alternative to Windows 95. Most people were going for the newly released Windows 98, but I felt let down that Windows 98 was essentially the same buggy Windows 95 with a face-lift.

    Curious as to what my alternatives were, I had picked up a book that came bundled with Work Group Solution's Turbo Linux, and I did a fresh install on my hard drive. Things went quite smoothly on that installation and I had everything up and running properly in one evening. Not bad for a Linux newbie! I was instantly convinced that Linux could put a serious foothold in the industry.

    I felt very comfortable with the Linux console and actually wrote up a quick cheat sheet for all of the most commonly used DOS commands and threw it up on my website (what is still at

    The Gnome GUI left me a bit displeased, though. I couldn't seem to get beyond 640 X 480 and 256 colors on my PC. Everything sort of looked as if I had taken a step backwards and installed Windows 3.1. No one online could seem to help with my issue. No one could figure out how it is that I had more than 16 colors, but couldn't go beyond 640 X 480. I figured it was likely just old software, lack of drivers and that the answer was to get something a little newer than my Turbo Linux distribution, which was built on an early version of Red Hat. I went out and bought the newest copy of Red Hat.

    I was so happy with myself having bought Red Hat as I did. As soon as version 5.2 was released I ran right down to Best Buy and picked up a package that housed no less than five CDs! I thought that this would be the end of Windows for sure. Everything I needed was in this box, or so I thought.

    My Red Hat installation went smoothly and all of my hardware worked, and this time around I was able to go as high as 1024 X 768 in resolution. But I gained nothing extra out of all of the extra CDs that were in the package, Gnome was still a bit "rough" in my opinion, the manual was as useless as could be (I knew more about Linux BEFORE trying it then what was in this book) and the "free tech support" only supported installation of the OS.

    Everything else I needed I had to download off the net, and due to my Linux ignorance, I only dared to download in the RPM format. For those who don't know, RPM is the Red Hat Package Manager and it works very much the same way as Nico Mak's WinZip Self Extractor.

    Believe it or not, I putted along like this for six months. Without the use of Windows. It didn't matter that I had no clue as to how to burn a CD in Linux. The RIO player, scanner and digital camera; I had no idea as to how to access in Linux. You see, all of these devices were plugged into my wife's machine that was running Memphis (the final pre-release version of Windows 98. It STILL does not have a release version of Windows 98 on it today) and was always there when I needed it. Well, unless my wife was playing Minesweeper.

    My PC did just what I needed it to do. I could type up documents, I could surf the net. As for games, I was still playing old DOS classics like Quake and Whiplash. I had a pimped out DOS boot disk for such occasions. My modem was a hardware modem so I could easily play Quake online or dial up a friend to play Warcraft. My CD ROM drivers and sound drivers were on the disk as well, so everything that I ever needed from Bill Gates fit on a 1.44 floppy. MSDOS and MSCDEX. Yeah, I was a pretty boring guy.

    It was at a July 4th party in 1999, I was at the house of the other technician from my work and he showed me his installation of Linux. The thing that really got my attention was KDE running at 1024 X 768 with 32-bit color.

    I had a fit getting KDE on my system, me not being as well seasoned at using Linux as I would like. Wait a minute! I've been using this stuff for a year now! Yeah. I'm a tech, but where I work, everyone uses Windows systems. That's something else about Linux. If you want to install something on a Windows system, you just run an executable. Done. In Linux, you download a tar-ball, un-tar it, and make it the whole nine yards. It's quite a feat. I wanted a quick and easy solution, so I bought Idiot's Guide To Linux, which came with Caldera's distribution of Linux that happen to have KDE on the disk. So Caldera it is. Besides, it had a newer kernel.

    Unfortunately, the installation of Caldera forced me to swap out sound cards. Where Red Hat could see my sound card, Caldera could not even when using the PNP tools that my guru buddy advised me of. But that wasn't the only problem. I found adding programs more and more difficult. Downloading simple programs that did simple tasks were even difficult because many of them required libraries to be installed that would've normally been installed if I were still using Red Hat. Bummer. Windows never does this. I sucked down libraries left and right and just when I thought I had all of the libraries I needed to do the duty, the machine quit booting into Linux. Crap.

    I formatted the hard drive and finally… and reluctantly… installed Windows 98 SE, just before the final update of my web page for a long, long time.

    I even received a complementary copy of Red Hat 6.1 from an employee at Red Hat because I helped out a support rep with a question. I felt so alienated by Linux at this time, I ended up selling the unopened box on eBay. Sorry Erica. L

    Did I Give Up?

    One would think. Fact of the matter is that my machine is quite stable with 98 SE. It runs 24/7 with never having to reboot. So, for a while; I really had left Linux in my dust.

    However, that Linux buddy of mine (the one from the 4th of July get together) started running a release called Mandrake about a couple months ago. Mandrake is cool because since it is a tweaked out Red Hat reminiscent of my Turbo Linux days, it is completely Red Hat compatible, so when these guys on line say "this worked for me on my Red Hat box" it will also work on Mandrake. I decided to give it a try.

    I've installed Mandrake 7. It installed easily and everything worked perfectly. I think I found the Holy Grail. Mandrake 7.1 came out and I installed it. DOH! The sound quits working and I can't get on the network. Do I give up? Heck no! First off, I probably should've used the upgrade option and even without doing that, I realize that my problems are minimal this time around. Fact of the matter is, all of my problems with Linux have been minor, but the bitter part about the whole thing is, you don't run into these kinds of problems with Windows. What have I seen? A stable environment that, thanks to the Linux movement of the last couple years, I can burn CDs with, edit photos, and play Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament. Once again, I'm thinking, "Hmm… Who needs Windows?"

    Fortunately, we now have Maximum Linux magazine. Not to say that Maximum Linux is a better publication than the other Linux publications or that the people on staff is more competent than other Linux gurus, but when you read it I feel like I'm reading something written by someone… LIKE ME… or any of my computer friends for that matter. AND, they "revolve" around the Mandrake release that I am using and bring into light Linux applications for the everyday person. How to install Linux, how to install Q3A and UT for Linux, how to set up your ICQ users with LICQ and how to burn a CD.

    Linux is coming into some serious mainstream, but it seems that the hype that Linux was getting last year has quieted down.

    The web page is needing an update! J

    So really, why is Windows so popular?

    It's Installed

    If I were to walk into a store, the kind of store where 90% of people walk into to buy a computer, and buy a new PC; it is going to come with Windows. Add to that installation of Windows about a dozen programs to use with Windows and you have a PC that will satisfy the needs of 75% of the people that walked in to buy that computer.

    This is really too bad. If you were to install Linux on these machines, make sure the PC was ready to go for the internet, graphics editing, gaming and your typical multimedia packages, then you would easily have a PC that 50% of these people would not even care did not have Windows on it.

    It's Widely Available

    I can go to a number of web sites and download a number of programs and utilities that are made to work in Windows and only Windows. I can go to a store and buy a game, and that game is made to work in Windows, but not Linux.

    There are programs for Linux available and most of those programs are online and are completely, legally free. But, it's likely that the program has no recognition amongst the general public, including in computer circles, unless it's a program that is VERY popular like Star Office or a Corel product like Draw, and you often don't know what exactly you may need unless it is laid out for you in no uncertain terms right in front of you.

    Let's face it. It's Easy

    Anyone has to admit that installing software for Windows is pretty easy. Drop in the CD, it auto runs and you click on "Install". If that doesn't work or if you don't have auto insert notification on, you click on a SETUP.EXE file typically found in the root directory of the CD. Easy.

    I must admit that this is not impossible for Linux. If you take the Star Office CD that comes with the Red Hat 6.1 and up releases, you'll find that it actually installs through a setup program similar to a Window's UnWise or Install Shield program. Why aren't more programs like this?

    Why not Linux?

    The same thing that makes Linux very tangible to all, also makes Linux almost unusable for the average user. One word: Free.

    I have to admit that greed inspires most of the software developed. Now, we're not talking about how the id Software guys are driving around in Ferraris, but Bill Gates is the richest man on the face of the Earth. No one is getting rich selling Linux software. This has changed some with the advent of giants like Red Hat and companies like Corel focusing so hard on Linux. The fine line between free and profitable reminds me of the MP3 debate and how certain artists give away their music on Napster, but still expect you to run out and buy the CD. The aisle of Linux software at Best Buy is growing. I just hope that people are buying, because without cash flow, I can see some developers running out of interest pretty fast.

    All and all, the future of Linux in the mainstream seems uncertain, but hopeful. Despite many of those who had supported it in the past giving up on the "movement", new efforts have breathed new life into the interest of Linux and new versions of the kernel, desktop environments and hardware support as well as cross platform compatibility of certain software makes It worth while to stay on the Linux bandwagon.

    At least I'll stay on the bandwagon for now, while dual booting.

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