lostcarpark: (Lego Spaceman)
Let me nail my colours to the wall by telling you that I love Linux. I've experimented with several distros, and door the most part enjoyed the experience and learned a lot from it. I don't see myself going back to Windows any time soon.

However if you ask me would I recommend Linux to other people, unless they are the sort of techies who consider computing for its own sake an end rather than a means to an end, I would have to say no.

I find this a pity, as I would so love to be able to put Linux on my Mum's computer and leave her to get on with it, but I know there would be to many problems that I would have to fix, and they would invariably happen at a time when I wouldn't be able to remote access and I'd have to try to feed commands over the phone.

Let me give a few examples of things that are far to complex for mainstream users, and need to be sorted out before Linux can work for non-techies. These use Ubuntu, because in my experience it is the closest top being ready for wider use, mainly because it has had the most money thrown at it.

The first is upgrading Firefox. This is something Ubuntu completely ignores. New versions of Ubuntu only come around every six months, and the Firefox team aren't kind enough to follow the same schedule, so Ubuntu is often months behind the latest release. Sure, its possible to override that and shoehorn the latest version in, but it's much more complicated than just running an installer like in Windows. Of course the Windows version updates itself. It's not just Firefox. If you want Flash, that's another non trivial process. And of you want to talk to people with Skype, that's certainly not as easy it ought to be. Any program that that the Ubuntu overseers haven't seen fit to offer is a similar story, but the above are the real show-stoppers.

Another big issue surrounds graphics drivers. I've had several computers suddenly declaring they weren't happy with the state of their drivers, and dump you into "low graphics mode". From Googling, it's clear that this is far from uncommon, and virtually every solution requires command line gymnastics that would baffle most users. Another similar problem I've encountered is my window borders mysteriously disappearing. The command to fix this is simple enough, but it's not something most users want to be faced with.

The final issue that really doesn't work for novice users is support. Linux pundits are always keen to tell us how wonderful the community is, and it is, but I see the same questions over and over again on Linux forums. Linux experts get feed up of offering answers over and over again, will often provide the sort of terse answer that doesn't really give a novice user much of a clue of what to do.

I think that to properly broaden its appeal, Linux needs to be a lot more helpful. Major releases of main applications should be easily available in a timely fashion without the user having to do anything difficult. And when things go wrong, the system should take the user by the hand and guide them through the problem. I know there are many problems that really need community support, but if a concerted effort was made to identify the top 100 problems on forums and provide solutions that guide the user through the problem, this would make it an awful lot easier for Linux experts too, since they would only have deal with the more interesting, challenging problems.

I really hope that Linux reaches the point where I can offer it to my Mum wit confidence, but were certainly not there yet.
lostcarpark: (Lego Spaceman)
I'm catching up on the latest PC vs Mac ads on Youtube.

I think this one has to be my favourite:


"Ask not what Vista can do for you, ask what you can buy for Vista!"

This one about UAC is great too:


However, why should PCs and Macs have all the fun? Linux has joined the club (sponsored by Sun):


Best of all have to be the South Park versions:



"Screw you guys, I gotta take a memory dump."
lostcarpark: (Lego Spaceman)
My sister killed her old laptop in an unfortunate "spilt milk" accident. Fortunately it was covered by the extended warrenty/insurance she'd taken out. They collected it from her, checked it out, declared it deceased, then sent her vouchers for a new one.

She's left the replacement with me for the last few days to "set it up" for her. Of course it has Vista on it, I thought about putting XP on, but her dislike of Vista isn't as passionate as mine, so it didn't seem worth the effort, so I'm just trying to make it as bearable as possible. Nuked Norton trialware and installed AVG free. Nuked Internet Explorer (well hid - you can't uninstall it without breaking windows) and installed Firefox, nuked MS Works and installed OpenOffice. Nuked MS Live messenger and installed Pidgen. That covers the basics.

For some reason, I couldn't get it to copy any of the above from my network. It would connect to the network and browse for files, but as soon as I tried to copy anything, I got "permission denied". Go figure. Disabling UAC didn't help. As the only reason for connecting to the network was to copy those files, I abandoned it and stuck them on a USB drive.

Meanwhile I'm having much more fun with Linux. After experimenting with several alternative distros on the EeePC, I've gone back to the default Xandros. Everything else I've tried has had incomplete hardware support, and took much longer to boot. A shame, as Ubuntu in particular had some nice extra features. Even the Xandros "advanced desktop" mode (or for anyone familiar with Linux desktops, KDE) adds about five seconds to the boot time. So far I've found nothing that comes close to the ten seconds that the standard Xandros/IceWM manages, which I have to say is an impressive achievement on the part of the Asus developers.

Instead of a shiny new distro, I've been experimenting with customising the standard desktop, and have come up with a few useful scripts. I almost have a script working that sets the Eee clock speed to a battery saving 630Mhz when on battery power, but switches up to a speedy 900Mhz on mains power (the EeePC has a 900Mhz processor underclocked to 630Mhz to help it achieve a decent battery life). There's just one part of it that's giving trouble with file permissions that I think I just need to find the right start-up script to insert a fix.

Oh, and I've just finished making a wallpaper image of some milk bottles with a red "no" sign for Brenda's wallpaper.

Now I must get back to my novel...


Oct. 29th, 2008 12:09 am
lostcarpark: (Lego Dude on Rail)
After many months of procrastination, and playing with numerous LiveCDs, I've finally nuked Windows off my main desktop PC. It's now running a shiny new Ubuntu Linux. I'm pretty happy with it so far. I've even managed to get it talking with my network connected external hard drive, which required a bit of command line fiddling, but nothing too scary.

I'm very pleased at how many things just worked. For example it detected my network connect all-in-one printer/scanner, without having to install 40MB of HP driver bloat.

One thing that's made the transition much easier is the amount of Open Source software I was already using under Windows, so that in many cases I'm just switching from the Windows version to the Linux version of the same program.

I'm looking forward to learning more about it.

What fun!
lostcarpark: (Lego Spaceman)
I note with interest that Dell have launched their answer to the Asus Eee PC, the Inspiron Mini 9. Big deal - so's everyone. The bit I find interesting is the fact they offer Ubuntu Linux as one of the default OS choices. Shame they give it less SSD storage than the XP version.
lostcarpark: (Lego Spaceman)
I've been really enjoying my Eee PC, and its Linux Desktop. An estimated 75% of users have been keeping the Linux installationn (sorry, should have a source for that).

And why wouldn't they? Out of the box the machine does pretty much everything that the majority of users want. It seems to be billed as an appliance that comes with everything you need, and doesn't facilitate adding extra software (apart from OS updates). This would seem to be a deliberate decision, as it avoids the situation many Windows users find where their machine becomes so full of applications and forgotten processes running in the background, that it eventually becomes unusable.

However, it's not ideal if you want an extra program or two. There is a way around it, but it involves a bit of hacking. No problem if you know what you're doing, but not something the Linux virgin wants to face alone.

For most Eee users who want to surf the web and do a bit of word processing this isn't a problem, but for Linux to make the big time it will have to do better.

Of course other distros are much better in this regard, but more about them in another post.
lostcarpark: (Lego Spaceman)
My last post on Windows Vista generated more anonymous comments than I think I've ever had. Clearly I must do some more of that!

I accidently discovered that the old Windows menus are still available in Vista, simply by pressing and releasing the Alt key. personally I find this quite useful. I haven't had a chance to check if this works in Office 2007 yet.

I have also been getting more up to speed with the Linux desktop, which I'm liking more and more. My feeling now is that I'd like to get to the point where I can do everything I want in Linux before XP stops being useful.

But rather than knocking Vista, I thought I'd post something constructive. Like some advice to Microsoft on what would win me back to a post-Vista version of Windows.

My first advice is to look at what Linux does well. Microsoft have always been good at looking at their competitors achievements and mimicing them, so why not Linux?

The most obvious area thet could learn from is the whole area of software installation. The Windows way tends to involve finding an application, downloading an installer, running the installer which then does all the things necessary to make that application work. This usually works, but sometimes things conflict and either the application won't work, or something else will stop working. In extreme cases I've seen apps that had entrenched themselves deeply in the system get in a huff with each other and leave the system unbootable. Even when everything works, the system is fiddly, and requires the user to figure out how to download the application, where to save it, and how to run the installer. There can also be complications that you need to install something like the .NET framework to make it work, leaving the software the choice of including it in the installer (making the download bigger than it needs to be) or reqiring extra steps prior to installation.

Contrast this with Linux, where you have a package manager. You simply tick a box for the application you want to install, and Linux takes care of all the grunt work of finding everything needed to install and run the application, and making there are no version conflicts.

How nice it would be to have a package manager for Windows, though I'm sure the supreme court would have a field day when the arguments started over accusations of favourtism over whose applications were included in the package manager. I'm sure there are ways it could be worked out.

While I'm on the subject, the package manager could replace the rather tired Add/Remove programs control panel, as well as the many versions of Windows Update. The beauty of this is when I ask it to check for udates it would check for updates to all applications on my system, cutting out the need for every application to have its own update checking feature, which must add a fair bit of overhead to an average PC.

I also think this could benefit security. if there were a number of package repositories that vetted the packages they include, it might dissuade users from installing every bit of spyware offering a flashing mouse cursor that came their way. Of course, this would favour larger software producers, but I'm sure someone will come up with som,ething to help the little guys.

I was expecting a longer list than one item, but I have gone on a bit. While this would help win me back to Windows, Linux already has it, so it's not going to do it alone. So I'll add some more items here soon. In the meantime, feel free to add your suggestions.

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