May 09, 2006

Moving on to a new OS

I mentioned in the past that moving from Windows to Linux needn't be so painful. However, I'll admit to having been pretty sketchy when it comes to details. Doug Roberts goes where I haven't in this article. Excerpt:

With the hype around Windows Vista about to reach ear piercing decibel levels when Beta2 is released for testing and evaluation, discerning computer users will no doubt be evaluating what upgrade path they want to take from Windows XP.

XP has been a fairly good ride, and a long one. Make that a very long one. In many respects, this powerful general purpose OS has served its time reasonably well, although some would say it has over-served its time. During its five-year-plus reign, a lot of changes have taken place in the operating system landscape.

Year after year, XP has faced an onslaught of security breaches and vulnerabilities. Apple's OS X, on the cutting edge of OS technology, will naturally draw comparisons with Vista. And lately, Linux has been nipping at XP's heels for a place on the desktop. From commercial Linux distributions like SUSE and Red Hat, to community based distros with strange sounding names like Ubuntu, Mepis, and Kanotix, these Linux OSes are challenging XP both on the security front and in terms of functionality. And, did I mention, they are free!

During the many months that I've been using Linux, I've seen my Debian install mature quite rapidly. I've seen a lot of rough edges polished off and features added as I continued to update my system, which started life as a Knoppix Live CD. I've seen the software applications gain in sophistication, too. In fact, it's not a stretch to say that there are many areas where Linux has not only matched, but has exceeded, Windows XP. In short, I like it.

Does this mean I'm going to try to convince you to abandon Windows XP? No. I still use it, and would feel like a hypocrite if I told you to do something I have not done myself. I'm dual booting and will be for the foreseeable future, as I have things in Windows I need to do from time to time. I just don't use it online very much. :-)

I'll tell you up front, you may have to give up certain favorite Windows software applications if you start using Linux a lot. The strength of Windows rests, in large part, on some of the really great applications that run on it. It's hard for people to be torn away from old favorites that are as comfortable as old shoes. In my case, it's WordPerfect -- it's hard to say goodbye to it.

But, if you switch to Linux, you are also saying goodbye to constantly running Spyware and Antivirus programs, and never-ending hurried malware updates. You are saying goodbye to Windows licensing fees. You are saying goodbye to disk defragmenters! (Linux's superior journaling file system makes them unnecessary.) You are saying goodbye to reboots after OS updates and software installs. Unlike Windows, Linux does not require these reboots. Finally, you are saying goodbye to OS system crashes. You have to work really hard to make Linux crash. Has that got your attention? Oh, and did I mention Linux is costs less? The community-based distros are even free! :-) I did mention that, right?

The GUI environment

Yes, Linux does have a history of being a command line OS. But, that is ancient history at this point. Yes, you can still do a lot in a command console, but it's rarely necessary anymore for desktop users.

For Linux to ever have a chance to move from servers to desktops, it needed a GUI interface like Windows has. One of the best ones is KDE, which I use. It's a richly featured GUI that easily rivals Windows XP. Eye candy is nice up to a point, but I like my desktop to have some function, not just be pretty, so I actually have a lot of KDE's eye candy turned off -- like bouncing icons when programs launch. :-) Bouncing icons? C'mon! I do have my desktop icons set to turn a bright green when my mouse slides over them, though. Green as in "go."

Speaking of eye candy, I suppose you've heard about the new Windows Vista's glass effects. Have you seen the screenshots? Vista will probably get the award for the world's prettiest OS! But, if you switch to Debian with KDE, you can also get some nice "glass" effects, and without having to upgrade to a newer high-end video card that Vista would require. For example, on my system, the task bar on the bottom of the screen is configured to be about 90 percent clear, letting my photo of Red Rock Canyon show through (see screenshot, below). You can even use a slider to vary the clarity or opaqueness. Menus are also translucent, so that you can see what's underneath them.



What about running Windows apps?

At this point, you may be thinking that while Linux does have a lot of desktop software, you have certain Windows software apps that you just can't be weaned off of. I understand; I'm in the same boat. As I said before, in my case it's WordPerfect. That's the reason I keep dual-booting.

But, let's say you really want to use Microsoft Word. Here, you're in luck! You can run Word and lots more Windows software in Linux. How?

On my Debian install, I added a commercial package called CrossOver Office, to run Word. CrossOver Office uses a technology called Wine, which intercepts Windows commands and translates them on the fly into corresponding Linux commands. The result is that Word runs just the same way as it does on Windows, and with no perceived speed difference.

CrossOver Office also lets me run quite a nice variety of Windows games, as well as Windows Media Player 6.4, which pops up when I click on my favorite Bluegrass Internet radio station. It also runs Adobe PDF Reader 5.0, along with all Windows versions of Firefox! The list of Windows software that CrossOver Office lets you run is so extensive that you should be sure to check if it will run a specific Windows software package in Linux.

But, the most amazing news is that I can run Adobe Photoshop 7 my favorite photo software via CrossOver Office. PS7 does the heavy lifting for my photo editing. Now, I realize PS7 may be more than what a lot of people need. Is there a good photo editor/browser out there for the rest of us? Yes, it's called XnView, and it's available in both Windows and Linux formats. Most of my every day photo editing tasks get assigned to XnView, a fast browser/editor.

Lots of good information. As I've mentioned before, give the Live CD versions of Linux a try before you make the leap. Knoppix is a great place to start, but you need to find the one that's right for you.

Posted by Physics Geek at May 9, 2006 11:57 AM | TrackBack StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!