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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Linux ~ My New Beginning


Here's the story of a man named Jed. Well that's just a bold faced lie. It's the story of Paul's Most Highly Excellent Linux Adventure. His 23rd in fact … and for MANY reasons I'm extremely happy with my decision. I'm hoping that if this doesn't entice you to try it, or switch to it, then certainly to embrace it in the future as a really VIABLE alternative operating system, and take away some fears you might have should you decide to use it later.

Silly disclaimer you have to read, in case you install it in a mad panic before backing up and knowing where your original Windows Install Disks are and then wonder where Windows went and lose all your data and get mad at me: … oh wait, you just read it :-)


Introduction & My Computer “Background” :

I love computers and gadgets. I bought my first PC to be a “peripheral” - not a “computer” - to my beloved first Palm Pilot, the M505. I wanted a way to synch the Palm, have a desktop backup, and way to install programs ON THE PALM. I was convinced my little 505 would be a “laptop killer,” and I had NO intentions of sitting at a computer. I viewed the internet as “I like cats, do you like cats? … Yes, I like cats” type of chatroom banter nonsense, and wanted no part of it! Hahaha! How things change. Now I'm asking “I like Linux, do you like Linux … yes I like Linux.” Well talk about full circle.

Once I was awake and out of the cave, eyes blinking in the first years of the 21st century, my ex-GF sat in Rancho Mirage Library with me and [PATIENTLY] taught me how to send my first email. Once I got RoadRunner and “came online,” I was a changed human. I became fascinated with computers, and especially software, but more importantly “tweaking them both.” After solving a problem that the Microsoft Redmond Forum couldn't answer, Microsoft offered me a job! That was nice of them. I first wrote for/contributed to 2 Palm forums helping users, then became a Moderator and the “go-to” guy for re-flashing Palm ROMs. Back then you see, under OS 4.0, you could use a program called “Jack Sprat” to remove extra languages and things you didn't want in “permanent ROM memory,” then place proggies you DID want in “flash” to survive a hard reset. Obviously, doing the wrong thing here resulted in ruining or “bricking” your device, and I was an expert at helping people learn that stuff. You could at that time use hacks, run by a hack-manager, to shortcut the operating system and do things YOU wanted to do. When Palm went to OS 5, some thought hacks were dead. “TealMaster” would only handle 4.0 and older hacks. Thank God “Yet Another Hack Manager” or “YAHM” came about for 5.0 and later … so guess who was running TWO hack managers on one system? :-)) Talk about “hot-rodded.” I loved it. On Monday, January 23rd 2011, I retired (and destroyed) my Palm Tungsten T3, opting to go totally with my Android Phone as “full PDA.”

I got involved with beta-testing Palm programs for developers worldwide. Some of these developers are still in contact with me, and I'm proud of them and their finished products. The premiere security/encryption app for Palm, TealLock, made by Tealpoint Software in San Mateo CA, was my favorite to work on. I also beta tested AxCrypt for PCs and another encryption software I can't talk about here. The Palm beta-testing quickly developed into PC software beta testing including Gmail when it was in Alpha, and my “eternal favorite,” Firefox Browser when it was version 0.80. I was part of the 1.0PR (Public Release) and beta tested DAILY branch builds with others on the Mozilla forums. Learned a lot there indeed. The most downloaded Firefox script of all time, “FiltersetP” for blocking ads … is named for “Filterset PaulFox.” That's me. I wrote it. I got in a “tiff” with an adblocker extension author who wasn't going to allow any more “regular expression” coding for filters, and so I wrote the script which DID AWAY with even needing his extension at all. Hehehe … 500k extension reduced to a 30k script … lightning quick. You can run it under the “Stylish” extension, or as I did – place it in your userContent folder in your Firefox Profile. Quick and easy. Combined with a good Hosts file, you don't even contact “bad sites” from the browser, and those ads that do get through aren't displayed. Pages load faster, etc. One other highpoint & something I'm proud of and USE DAILY, is the “enhance” page in a wonderful 4MB photo program called “FastStone,” available from faststone.org. That's pretty much my design, beta-testing that proggie with the authors who I just spoke to and they're going to TRY and work on a Linux version, time permitting! Yay! Until then it runs fine under “Wine,” and more on that later.

The myriad of software developers I've worked with is lengthy, and I won't name them all, but I've learned a great deal about WINDOWS, I LOVE Bill Gates, I LOVE Microsoft, and by God know how to tweak it AND maintain it. My first OS was in my opinion the BEST Windows version, Windows 2000 professional. You can't break Win2K by throwing it off a building, and by using XPLite/Lite2000 to remove Internet Explorer (yes it can be done) … and then correcting the 287 registry errors that creates … you quickly have a lean and mean system from hell. I skipped XP completely, the last laptop I bought had Vista on it. People bad-mouthed Vista, but like anything else it can be “trimmed, cleaned up and hot-rodded” to be very stable and fast. Vista “takes” 900MB of RAM just to RUN. So a 2GB of RAM machine has 1GB left. Windows 7 takes 1.3GB just to RUN. Here we find the first reasons perhaps you should consider switching to Linux. I trimmed Vista usage down to 480MB of RAM … acceptable … but a little glitch with “Install Shield” on New Year's Eve made me frustrated to the point where I thought “Hell with this. I'm doing something else.” What the else was … was Ubuntu 10.10.

Now we start the Ubuntu story.

Linux Distros Over 7 Years – What, Are You Kidding, Paul?!?

My first 6 months of owning a PC with Windows 2000 Professional, I was already “hearing the voices” about Linux. Most, I concluded, were “Gates haters,” and I am NOT one. I can see the logic of not wanting to buy upgraded software for 300 computers if you own a company; indeed Toyota and WalMart have switched to Linux as have many European companies and individuals. I tried … I hope you're sitting down … 22 different distros or “flavors” of Linux over 7 years. This was not limited to Ubuntu/Kubuntu/Xubuntu – it included SUSE to Mint, even Puppy Linux (which is so small at 74MB it will run in RAM and doesn't even have to be installed).

NONE of them made me happy, and probably because I was such a “newbie” I lacked the patience to delve into things properly. However … after all the beta-testing of programs and daily installs of Firefox branch builds … I WAS patient. Hmmm. A dilemma. I did expect, even after all the beta testing, to be able to turn the computer on and get “something.” Simple results. I didn't mind tweaking “some stuff,” but for heaven's sake give me some basic GUI and tools. For instance, Linux would not recognize (until now) … out of the “box” … my Nikon cameras as “external USB storage devices.” Now that's just silly. Apparently there was a “script” somewhere that would fix it, but the script itself caused a security breach of what could be connected to the laptop and I wasn't about to bother trying it. For this and other reasons, 22 times I went back to Windows. And I have to tell you, I dropped to my knees upon hearing the “Windows music” start, and exclaimed “Thank you GOD, an operating system that just works!!” Windows was familiar, Windows was my “baby,” I could make it do anything with registry tweaking … I basically had “WINUX.” We must all remember that Microsoft is the LARGEST contributor to Apple Software of anyone, and in my rather stubborn opinion I won't have refuted, made it possible to speak to the world, and connect every fax, printer, scanner, tower, monitor, mouse and person on this planet. There I said it. BILL gets the credit in my book. Disagree if you like, I'm stickin' with that. God Bless Bill Gates. Won't hear a bad word about him, Steve Ballmer, MicroSoft, and/or Windows. Nothing is perfect, who knew when Internet Explorer 4 came out that there would be “weasels” writing as much malware as there is in the world … with the good comes the bad. So this isn't a “bash Bill and go to Linux” blog. It's a “this works faster and more efficiently for ME and provides everything I want with better security and less maintenance, so perhaps you'd like to try it” blog. OK? Cool.

But Why Keep Pushing It? Why 23 Times? What's the Appeal?

Two things, for me … 1)I like options. I will NOT be told “you can only use this tool.” I've been that way all my life. 2) I had to open two folders after installing Linux, using “Terminal.” That was to temporarily change permissions so I could use my OWN scripts, in two different programs. That “HASSLE” is what's great about Linux. Imagine a virus trying to do the same thing. If anything frustrates you sometimes (it won't after a while, but it certainly did ME in the beginning) .. it's the feeling of “GOD, who's computer IS this anyway?” …. The reasons for that security – protection of almost every file and folder on the system … is what makes Linux inherently so safe, and in the process not need 471 other programs to “protect” it. Now if you were to write your passwords on a bus stop … all bets are off!!!

Ladies and Gents, Presenting Ubuntu 10.10 “Maverick Meerkat”

So it's pretty plain by now to all I'm a “geek.” Proud of it too. I'm writing this standing on the edge of the bathtub with a towel as a cape, and duct tape over my reading glasses. Yeah, you laugh … chicks need their computers fixin' :-)

Now we'll start to get into the “meat of it.”

  • FIRST … FOR ALL THE LINUX whizkids out there, who “build theirs debian from terminal” and that sort of thing … I don't know if I even said that correctly … THIS BLOG ISN'T FOR YOU. You can stop reading right now. THIS BLOG is more of a journal of MY install for the newbies (like I was and STILL AM) … that want something out of the box to try, minimum of nosebleeds, minimum of hassle and fear … that just “WORKS.” My discussion will not cover the zillions of different “flavors” of Linux, ways it can be assembled/built from scratch, and the myriad of “other” distros which just MIGHT be better for some. This is about Ubuntu 10.10, with a brief mention of Kubuntu and Xubuntu (2 other variants which are just as easy to download and just as free but which have a different “look” to the GUI and a different set of libraries and included programs out of the box).

  • SECOND .. I will not be explaining what you can read better from someone else, and “Google is your friend.” The countless screenshots, tutorials, endorsements, forums, etc will fill in a lot of blanks. I will not be doing 200 screenshots of things you could easily see yourself. This is more of a “journal” of my (hopefully) FINAL installation of Linux and complete replacement of Windows.

I chose Ubuntu because 1) I was most familiar with it, 2) it comes with the “most stuff I want without having to go get it later, and 3) a file manager I really like called “Nautilus.” Graphics are good, tweakability of its appearance is good, and it comes with Open Office – the Linux equivalent of Microsoft Office which I actually prefer. Open Office, by the way, is downloadable to Windows as well. Just like The GNU Image Manipulation Program, or “GIMP” for photo editing … it was developed for the Linux community first. The Linux community just happens to be very cool and kind and shared their results with the “non-linux” world. Adobe wouldn't MAKE PhotoShop for Linux. Some photographers use Linux. So what do do. They wrote their own “GIMP.” It was always the “ugly 2nd cousin” to PhotoShop, but I started using PhotoShop 7 years ago and GIMP 5 years ago. 3 years ago GIMP surpassed PhotoShop in my estimation … and I no longer use PhotoShop at all. Perhaps I'll do another blog dealing with “GIMP” only.

I mention The GIMP because the whole idea of a Linux install disk is small size. It “should” fit on one CD … some distros are much larger (now) and require several CDs or a DVD for full install. Ubuntu wanted it all to fit on a single CD, and at 697MB, continues (God Bless them) to squeeze it in. Unfortunately, they had to make a decision of something to trim from the install … and for 10.10 it was my beloved GIMP. No problem … you simply download it separately later. And free, of course.

I started “looking at” Ubuntu at Version 4. We're up to 10.10 now. And it works. And I love it. And I'm never “goin' back.” Later I'll explain how I “hosed” my installation and opted to reinstall the whole thing … that was totally MY fault and I've learned a lesson. Screw-ups are good like that. They teach you things.

Trying It Out

You can try Ubuntu from a CD, and NEVER touch/change/harm your Windows installation. You download the “ISO IMAGE” from Ubuntu, save it to somewhere. Then you burn … NOT an “audio files CD” or “data files CD” .. but an “IMAGE” to a CD. Your burner should have an option for “Burn Image,” or “Burn ISO Image” to disk. Use that one. Burn the ISO image to a CD, and you've got your install disk. You can delete the 700MB downloaded file now, put the CD in the tray, and restart the machine or shut it down and “turn it on again.” Now … this is the trickiest part and it comes early in the discussion: computers “look” for the operating system in different places. Used to be they looked at the CD tray first, then the C: Drive (computer hard drive) … to find the files to start your computer. Nowadays some ignore the CD/DVD tray and go to hard drive first. That will prove annoying, as you'll restart and the (DUH!) default Windows install will come up just like usual. So … if the default isn't “CD Drive,” you'll have restart again, and hit whatever “F” key controls the boot menu (on my Toshiba it's F12) RIGHT AT THE STARTUP OF THE computer. Your mouse won't work; use the arrow keys to navigate up/down to “CD Drive” and hit enter. Now you've TOLD the computer where to look (I love giving computers orders, unlike women they like it) … and after a few whizbangs and a LOT of smoke (I'm kidding) … Ubuntu will come up right from the CD. You can now play with it, see what programs it comes with … it will recognize your mouse, external mouse, internet connection, USB ports, hubs, etc etc … you can audition it for as long as you like.

Important: First thing you'll notice is the simplicity of the desktop. Two icons. Two. And no flashing taskbar tray stuff like “For God's sake, turn on Windows Defender” and all that garbage. ONE OF THE ICONS SAYS “Install.” No matter how intrigued you are … don't install it just yet. You have several installation options, and before you proceed you should “do a couple of things.” So have a good gander, top right is the “off switch,” remove the CD from the tray and hit “ENTER,” and your machine will power off. Next time you turn it on … up will come Windows.

So You Like A-Spicy?

So you like? Good. “Ya ain't seen nothin' yet.” Don't worry about the boot time from the CD, it all changes after it's installed. It's the installation where things are VERY VERY easy … but you need to consider a couple of things and here they are:

READ THIS REALLY CAREFULLY, while sober (oh, on the other hand, the hell with it, you're probably drinking by now to finish this blog) ...

  • If you would like to share your computer between Windows AND Ubuntu, you can do that. You can have a choice at startup WHICH operating system you want to use.

  • (Personal bias option): You can GROW A SPINE and install it on the whole damned system. Tim Allen style. Ohhh, ohh ohh. That's what I did. Balls out. No half measures. Let's do this thing. You WILL LOSE everything from Aunt Minnie, the pictures of your cat, love letters from your high school sweetheart HoneyDew Melons, your ENTIRE porn collection, songs to have Blip Wars with Amy with, files, spreadsheets, shopping lists, bookmarks in your browser, and the winning Lotto numbers. They will be GONE. Toast. Outta here. So …. if you're going with this option … Ummmm … BACK UP YOUR documents/photos/files to DVD or external hard drive or USB sticks … something … because there is no recourse. You also might make sure you have your Windows Install Disk “around” to reinstall Windows, and of course your “other” software disks should you decice to go “back” to Windows later.

  • Within this option of “use the whole disk” there is a “let us just configure it for you,” and “would you like to manually configure the partitions yourself. Now I've messed around with partitioners before, Gparted being the best … but I recommend you “let them do it.” Linux is so quick to install, and heaven knows 11.0 will be out soon enough … you can always “dabble” with that later. For now, let it just assign twice your RAM to swap space, figure out and name the partitions, install the damn system and we'll be on our way.

THE REALLY COOL THING IS … if you let Linux “run from the CD,” and THEN click install on the desktop … you'll be able to have your internet running. That's right. It will KEEP ALIVE the internet connection, so that updated files can be downloaded DURING the install, making things faster and better organized. Not much to explain here, it downloads what it needs, unpacks files from the disk, and configures the system. NOW … just because you might have a fast internet connection, doesn't mean the server will be “fast.” Download speeds can vary to where install can take 40 minutes or 90 minutes, and once the system is completely installed and the machine restarted, there will be some security updates. Those probably take another 20 minutes. So if you're going to install “while online,” be prepared for a possible delay. First install for me was done in 40 minutes flat.

Once installed you can configure things like icon size, you'll be amazed how unlike Vista it actually REMEMBERS window sizes, and views, default views for all folders can be set as well. Want your own icons? Click on an icon and select “properties,” click on the greyed “picture of the icon,” select where your icon will come from, and oila, it's done. Fonts are all very readable, choose one you like, if you should use “Wine” later in order to use some Windows programs (if they'll work properly under it) … you'll get all the MS licensed fonts as well. There are “extreme” font packages available but I'm not one for bloating up the machine with 3000 fonts I won't use.

Dude, I need more software …

Of course you do. Well, you may. Ubuntu comes with a VERY impressive “opening salvo” of software including Open Office Writer/Spreadhseet/Presentation software, superior in my opinion to Word, Excel and PowerPoint. It comes with a Video Editor. IT comes with Firefox. IT comes with Gwibber for Twitter, messenger programs, Evolution Email program (like Outlook except you won't be hacked) … and others. This list can change, and “Google is your friend,” so I'll let you all peruse the offerings at your leisure and decide. Should you want other programs, however …. very simple. Open “Synaptic Package Manager,” which is like Android Marketplace. ALL free, all secure, all installed in seconds.

To keep this brief I won't go into “Terminal” commands … but you can do just about “anything” in terminal in Linux. A command as simple as “sudo apt-get install xxxx” will ask for your root password. Type it in and it's downloaded and installed. This is where Paul knows “just enough to be dangerous,” but I'm learning. Ubuntu forums, other Linux forums, and indeed some folks on Twitter can help you far better than I in that department. Remember, this isn't the Windows Registry! It's new to me as well.

Now This is The Part Where I Tell You Where I Screwed Up!

I wasn't too pleased with some of the graphics programs in Ubuntu, or Linux for that matter. With the exception of the GIMP, for any type of professional work … ugh. The stock viewers are fine, “Shotwell” is the stock viewer now and the best they've had so far. There is one, called “DigiKam,” but it's primarily for the Kubuntu (KDE) Desktop environment. Ubuntu uses Gnome, Kubuntu uses KDE, and Xubuntu (fastest and lightest of the “buntus”) … uses XFCE. Anyway, a KDE program will work fine in Ubuntu but has to bring with it some dependencies, libraries of files it needs. Drag for me was, I prefer Ubuntu, but wanted K3B CD/DVD burner app (the best!) and Digikam … so decided to put up with the extra files. Well, what they don't tell you is that to take Digikam you also “get” Konqueror, the Kubuntu web browser … and Dolphin, their file manager. I thought this was silly and read on the forums I could delete them (uninstall using Synaptic). That left what another proggie said were “orphan files.” Well … some were NOT orphans, if you get my drift. Next thing Firefox isn't displaying webpages correctly, and rather than hunt it all down I just reinstalled Ubuntu from scratch.

Footnote: I have since decided to take Digikam again, despite the bloat because it does have some VERY nice features. But take this as a little hint NOT to uninstall programs that “come with the primary installation,” and be careful when uninstalling them. Normally it's no problem … but anything involving dependencies should either be left alone or have a Linux “whiz” handle it for you.

Now perhaps some of you won't feel so bad if you “make a goof,” in the learning stages. “That darn Paul did it … “ … if you're a “use it out of the box and don't fiddle with things” type, you shouldn't have any problems. Sometimes I can't help “looking under the hood.”


Why Did I Switch And What Are Advantages For Me?

Long story short, the straw that broke the camel's back and irritated me to the point of “that's it!!” … was an annoying and un-fixable “glitch” with Install Shield in Vista. So “It's on” with Linux and I'm delighted …. VERY happy that after “22 goes at it,” I tried #23 -- something new – that coincidentally by NOW had matured into a “real viable alternative” and I'm happy. Like I said, I'm not going back.

Advantages for Me:

Creative: 41 seconds from power-on of the laptop to actually online (Ubuntu remembers my preferred WiFi connections and if within range, hooks me up instantly), and lightning speed of applications. Occasionally I actually have been known to have a thought, and “instant on” is a tremendous asset. Plus I'm not the most patient guy in the world.

System Efficiency: 280MB or RAM to run vs 980MB on Vista (or 1300MB on Windows 7!!) means majority of “oomph” goes to DOING STUFF rather than the “machine being on.” I managed to trim Vista to 480MB of ram, this is still nearly half of that … it FLIES. If you've got 2GB of RAM on a machine, you've got roughly 1.8GB free to “actually work on stuff.” So imagine with 4GB as most new machines come with … 3.8GB of available workhorse. I mean really … that just ROCKS!!

WorkFlow: It has improved. Tremendously. The ONE program I “missed” from Windows I have made work under “Wine,” and I'm off and running. Editing that used to take 4.5 hours now takes 2.5. I found it rather odd around day 3, when I was “turning it on, doing my work, turning it off” that I didn't have to do all the “maintenance” of Windows. This month also saw the end of my 8 year marriage to Palm, and I have to say between the Android phone and Linux my whole way of computing has changed and I'm LESS “geeky.” I'm certainly less consumed with mundane duties and can be more creative with a camera AND more direct in my business dealings. And that can't be a bad thing.

Security: No hacks, no antivirus, no firewall, no defragging, and I DO NOT MISS the NINE utilities I had to have to “keep windows clean.” No running Spybot, no Windows Defender yelling at you, no bloated hugely fragmented useless “updates.” Yes you will have updates from time to time, and you should take them … but nowhere near the ridiculousness of “oh wait, another Outlook and I.E. fix #K57469475...”

It's here I really disagree with a “few” that maintain you can get anything on anything. If you smash 300 pounds of sugar up a mouse's ass it will kill it, so do we all stop eating sugar? Well, same with computers … I'll be bold …. I like Linux because I believe you won't be hacked, it is infinitely more secure than Windows, and I don't see that changing. Part of the “buzz” of using it is knowing you don't have 100MB tied up in running a firewall and A/V. Want some web security? Use a password protected router. Simplest, best non-intrusive no-overhead protection you can have. Use the Firefox browser that comes with Linux. Limit yourself to TRUSTED porn sites (snort). DM for a list :-) Be kind to your waitresses and try the veal … I'm here all week.

In all seriousness though, this VERY brief “overview of an overview” took several days to outline properly, and I'm not being paid. I did it because I really do want to “suggest” something new to people who may have thought about it, and some who have never HEARD of it. I realize not everyone wants a “Linux crusade,” but I've helped many friends & neighbors with computer problems, and just want to have it be a tool rather than a constant project. For me, Linux has given me that.

Love to all.