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Linux is something more people are looking at to avoid issues they might have with Windows. Linux in the home is definitely getting closer.

With all the issues surrounding Microsoft Windows, do you think the day might come in the near future where those of us in the middle ground of technology, those home users who know enough to keep our boxes up and running and to tinker here and there, might want/be able to switch to one of the friendlier distributions of Linux?

What do you think? Is the Linux community gaining enough common ground that it one day might be a viable alternative?

Absolutely. That day is coming.

In fact, I've become enamored with one particular Linux distribution that's really caused me to believe that, for exactly the crowd you describe, that day might just be today.

But as I'm also finding out, it really depends on what you do with your computer. Some things aren't quite there yet.

I've become a big fan of Ubuntu Linux. It installs easily, has a broad base of support, and has a good update mechanism. In fact, I run Ubuntu on a couple of machines now - one dedicated machine (an older machine I'm trying a few geeky things on), and in a virtual machine (using Parallels Desktop) on my Dell laptop.

For basic use - email, web browsing, word processing and the like, it looks like a very reasonable and workable platform for "mid range" users - as you say, those who aren't afraid to tinker a little here and there, but are still mostly interested in just getting things done.

That's not to say that there aren't issues. For one example, it was quite a bit of exploring and "geek and tweak" to get my Ubuntu install to recognize that my laptop was capable of a larger screen size than it had detected by default. That kind of thing, while out there, could be intimidating for some users.

And local area networking and sharing, already a bit of a nightmare for Windows users at home, doesn't get any easier when you introduce different operating system into the mix. In my case, I'm currently stuck with my Ubuntu machine being able to see my Windows machine(s), but not the other way around.

So why haven't I switched completely?

Well, as mentioned in my MacBook Pro investigation, Thunderbird, the cross-platform email program I want to switch to still has a couple of bugs that prevent me from migrating my inbox rules. That's not a Linux problem, but highlights the fact that migrating is about more than operating systems - it's about migrating everything you do. In my case email is a critical part of my day. I rely heavily on some of the features in Microsoft Outlook under Windows XP, and if I can't migrate those features, I can't migrate.

Similarly, I rely heavily on being able to use my Treo as a modem when I travel. That's currently only something that's available under Windows, and as a result has stymied my migration to either Linux or my MacBook Pro.

But I am finding a lot of things that, unexpectedly, work. For example I rely heavily on TrueCrypt, a data encryption program, and on Hamachi, a VPN utility - and to my surprise I now have both available and working on one of my Ubuntu installs. With surprisingly little effort, I might add.

Some software I use regularly is already open-source and cross-platform, so it's simply a mater of locating and installing the Linux versions, if they're not already there.

After that it starts to become a matter of taste.

In many cases equivalent software is available, but it can best be described as "the same only different". Open Office is a great example. For much of what folks do, it has many of the same features as Microsoft Word or Excel and family - but presents a slightly different look and feel. It can be jarring to try to switch. Other programs - the graphics program GIMP comes to mind - provide very powerful features that might match many popular Windows equivalents, but do so with such a dramatically different user interface that "jarring" doesn't seem to capture the difference.

"Linux is definitely, albeit slowly, becoming a viable alternative for more and more people."

The other problem that I do have with most open source software (which is most of what you'll find for Linux) is documentation. Not that documentation for retail products is necessarily perfect or even complete, but it typically does cover the basics for most users. Open source documentation can best be termed "spotty". There's great stuff out there, and there's ... well, in some cases there's nothing; you're on your own.

The big mitigating factor is that for most every major piece of open source software there's typically a very active user community providing some level of support. This, too, runs the range from "arrogant and geeky" to actually helpful, but there's a lot of it out there. My video resolution issue I mentioned earlier took just a few minutes of Googling to find the appropriate community and answer.

But in short, distributions like Ubuntu are definitely elevating Linux from the "geek" realm to those who I'd simply call "adventurous".

While I'm not ready to make the switch myself for the reasons I mention above, I have ordered more memory for my laptop so as to be able to run Ubuntu more often, and use it for more things, along side (or rather, within) Windows XP.

Linux is definitely, albeit slowly, becoming a viable alternative for more and more people.

Article C2774 - August 30, 2006 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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16 Comments
Angelo
August 30, 2006 7:25 PM

Ubuntu is probably the closest, but I don't think it's quite there yet. One thing I notice about a lot of free Linux distros is that support for propriety media formats (notably MP3) isn't included--something that's virtually a given on Windows and OS X. A user has to go online and find the appropriate packages to download and install in order to do so.

OpenOffice.org is excellent, but aside from the word processor I find that the other included apps just aren't as... mature as their MS Office counterparts. Granted, it IS free, though.

jdanylko
August 31, 2006 6:52 AM

Absolutely!

As a matter of fact, I just finished creating my own Media PC for home and I'm a Windows guy. I just used a version of Fedora to create a MythTV system (MythDora).

It seems Linux comes up faster than Windows on this machine. Interesting. ;-)

Great post!

JD
http://www.dcs-media.com/

Ken
August 31, 2006 8:35 AM

And, a note for those who think that Linux is some "new kid on the block", I'd like to point out that I've been using Linux since Windows 3.1 was brand new. I still have a set of Linux disks from 1994. It may have only recently gotten noticed by the "real world", but it's been around for a long time.

Dan
September 1, 2006 8:54 PM

Ubuntu is an excellent distro. It's the first I've ever used and have been using it on my Desktop since April. I'm no expert but I find commands more user intuitive.

One graphics application you may find interesting for Linux is Xara Xtreme (http://www.xaraxtreme.org) I just downloaded and installed it, it seems very powerful.

Since moving to Ubuntu, I hate working on Windows machines, the user interface is so ugly among many other things.

-Dan

Kiko
September 2, 2006 7:51 AM

For the "closest thing to Windows" Linux, you may want to try the latest beta of Freespire - they have a "live CD" version which - for the first time of any distro- loaded and ran without a hitch on my Dell laptop- Linux and laptops don't often get along so well- Ubuntu was a close 2nd but I was really impressed - especially for a Beta - and they offer an distro which includes proprietary codecs etc....this one is ( IMHO ) the leading one that could be the "Linux on the desktop" for Joe Sixpack...and they are just starting...Linspire ( on which it was based) never worked for me...but this one I could almost go 100% for...give them a bit of time ( and support) and they could be what all the buzz was about 3-4 yrs ago when Linux was supposedly "threatening" (*cough*) the Windows market...

Lou Gascon
September 2, 2006 2:23 PM

Leo (Hi Fella)
As an older user on your forum, I find it interesting that you should bring up ‘Linux’ at this point in time…
MS Windows XP sp2, works fine for me and at the turn of a switch or the click of a button I have just about everything I need…
It was a bit different of course during Win 98 &98 se days, when I regularly experienced crashes, blackouts and just plain not starting, requiring me to get my hands dirty messing with the bios etc. Oh! How I wished then that I had been younger, and had had some experience at school with such technological wizardry…
However, the problems at that time were eventually solved when my comp builder man wiped the old thing clean and made a new install which was tweaked to some degree – don’t ask me how…!
At that time, I seriously considered ‘Linux’ ~ RedHat Linux to be precise ~ as an alternative to Windows in the hope that I could actually open my machine and use it without fear of the gremlins interjection… But, when I got my OS installation pack, and upon reading some of the guff that came with it, I quickly realised that without a crash course in the workings of etc, installing and running a Linux operating system was far too advanced for little old me. And Oh dear, it’s still here in its packing virtually untouched…
However, here we are six to eight years later, and having decided to return to the UK from France, I have had to consider at my time of life what it is I might do to raise a little revenue. And not wishing to take the obvious choice ~ refilling shelves of some well known supermarket ~ I have seriously considered building computers for the discerning ‘less in their pocket brigade’ and possibly for small and local schools, where of course I might sell more than one at a time…!
To that end, I am considering the use of a ‘Linux’ system, solely because it would allow me to build machines a good deal cheaper than by using Microsoft stuff, and as I understand it, ‘Linux’ would use far less resources from the machine…?
And so, over the past few months I have been receiving ‘Michaels Minutes’ newsletter from ‘Linspire’ to help improve my knowledge about ‘Linux’. This of course has led to one or two conversations with the few English speaking friends that I have here, giving rise to some alternatives such as: Debian, Suse, Red Hat, Fedora, Xandros, and now your intro to Ubuntu…
I read with earnest your investigative remarks and findings which leads me to writing and to suggest that perhaps you should start a ‘Castle Cops’ type forum where you might consider the opening question: Which System…? And Why…?
This of course would lead to the best definitive answers being saved for new users, and with the ability to update answers as thing move forward. This kind of forum can only aide the ‘Linux’ movement, and as it is ‘Open Source’, assist the variety of OS compilers and software manufactures in responding to the needs of the market…
I can see it now: Leo on Linux or Leo’s Linux…
Well, c’mon man, have you started yet…?
With Kindest Regards
Lou Gascon

mp
September 6, 2006 1:44 AM

I started with Linux when I became so frustrated at Win 98 routinely crashing. The good news was that Linux was stable, the downside was that very few things "worked" right out of the box. Now, years later, I've grown accustomed to using Linux, and cringe whenever I have to use a Windows machine.

One the other hand, when friends are fed up with spyware, worms, virii, etc, I tell them to get a Mac. For the average non technically inclined user Linux still poses challanges. It is hopeless to tell a casaul user to download an installer, open a virtual terminal and drop down to run level 3, navigate to the installer and run the script, then restart X, just so they can run a 3-D screensaver.

I think some of the few box sets out there (Mandriva comes to mind) have all these proprietary software on the disks. That is probably the best way for a newcomer to go.

Stomfi
September 6, 2006 2:15 AM

Hi Leo,

Ubuntu, whilst having a progenitor who is really cool (Bill will have to balloon round the world), is still a hobbyist distro.

For example, one has to look on the web and follow a tutorial to get Internet sharing to work.

I've been trialing SLED 10 for Linux newbies and think this distro is definately easy for the home user.

It has everything they want out of the box. iPod and camera connectivity. DVD playing, The wonderful Beagle search tool. The outlook and office clones, and Firefox which many have already used.

And with a 3D video card and some software installation through the superior Yast administration tool, the amazing and very productive XGL/Compiz virtual desktop manager.

The menu system is different from Windows and very usable for the newbie.

I think the differences from the Windows interface this distro supplies, helps newbies to migrate, as they don't seem to expect it will be the same, something the other distros might benefit from.

Out of 11 SLED 10 installs, no one has complained so far, something I have not experienced with Ubuntu.

And really, what is $50 for someone who wants a workable free software system.

So move over Ubuntu and make way for the new kid on the block.

Kind regards,
Stomfi

Sami
September 6, 2006 4:24 AM

I agree with Stomfi, personally i can't understand this hype around Ubuntu, i've tested it and noticed it to be years behind SUSE in every aspect. And this Windows-like thing with root permissions, why in the world it must be like anyone can do anything with root permissions? Just waiting Ubuntu-spesific linuxmalware...

Wim
September 6, 2006 4:43 AM

Hello,

Nice article, I agree with most of what is being said. But I also think that Ubuntu is not the best distro for newcomers (at least at this moment). It has far too little tools for configuration and system management. That's why I would really recommend Mandriva or SUSE who help the user through wizards (Mandriva Control Center and Yast respectively) with these tasks. This takes away the need to dive down into configuration files and command line stuff, while still allowing to do a lot with the PC. You can find an article on Mandriva Linux for home use on my website here: http://coulier.org/CMS/MDV_2006_homeusers_1_EN.html
As a long time Mandriva user, I wrote about Mandriva, but I have some experience with SUSE as well, and must say that SUSE rates almost as good in my book.

Honestly, I think that Ubuntu is mostly popular with more experienced Linux users that have to habbit of editing configuration files and using the command line. Hence the popularity in the EXISTING linux community. But that does not make it the best choice as introduction to linux for windows users.

Kind Regards,

Wim

Rob
September 6, 2006 4:46 AM

Leo,

This is not an insult, but there's a term for people like you. It's called "locked in". I'm not blaming you for it, but I'd like to mention it so everybody can watch out for it. Vendors try to get customers locked in all the time.

You became addicted to certain features in Outlook. It's no surprise that Microsoft doesn't offer Outlook for anything but their own Windows operating system, is it? Years back, the same thing happenned when we all got locked in to VHS format video tapes. The result is that we continued to use a certain brand or format even though there might have been something better available.

I'm mentioning this so that other users can notice it and be careful about it. Do you save videos in Windows Media format (wmv)? That format is owned by Microsoft. Do you have a large collection of music bought from the iTunes store? When your iPod breaks, you'll surely be buying another one because no other portable players can play that music. Somebody commented on mp3 playback--did you know that it costs money to play mp3's? That's because the mp3 format is owned by a company that charges royalties to anybody who manufactures mp3 players.

The moral of my story is that if you're content to stick with Windows for the rest of your life, then go ahead and use all of Microsoft's formats. If you're sure you'll always want an iPod, then buy from the iTunes store. But if you think you might want to switch to Linux someday (or to whatever comes after that, or whatever comes 50 years from now), try to use open source and open standards. It'll make future migrations easier.

Open source is computer software that has no secrets. The source code is available for all to see. This is like the "blueprints" of a computer program. Open standards are used in file formats such as ogg (a superior alternative to mp3), odt (an iso-approved format for word-processor documents), and others. These formats are available to any individual or software company to use--for free.

There's a lot of discussion lately in governments about open standards. It comes down to one main concern: who owns your data, you or your software vendor?

Don
September 6, 2006 8:00 AM

Linux has had a role in my home for over 10 years now.

David F. Skoll
September 6, 2006 11:37 AM

I've been using Linux at home since 1996. My kids (aged 12, 8 and 4) use it. My parents and sisters use it. In fact, my parents have never used Windows, having gone straight from DOS to Linux, so they never had preconceptions about how things were "supposed" to work, and found Linux a breeze.

Right now, at my house, I even run the phones on Asterisk, which is a great way to avoid telemarketers (Google for "Zapateller") and do all kinds of cool things with your phones.

Justathought
September 6, 2006 11:39 AM

Hi,
I've been using linux for close to 8 years now. I started with a Slackware distro that a frien lent me. It installed from a set of about 20 floppy disks, but it was a lot of fun and worked very well. Since then I have tried many distributions and although I keep learning more and more about Linux, I seem to be gravitating towards the easy to use ones. I used Mandrake for a while, then SUSE for a couple of versions, but recently I decided to explore my options. I tried SUSE 10.1, including its very cool new 3D desktop. I know this 3D desktop is the future of Linux, but they need to still fix a couple of issues with it (3D acceleration is not available to applications). I tried Kubuntu, but to me it felt like a barely beta quality distro. SimplyMepis was recommended to me as "a better Kubuntu than Kubuntu", since it uses KDE and Ubuntu repositories. Now, this was much better. I was able to install the proprietary nVidia drivers for my graphics card without having to touch the command line, but I could see there was still some margin of error for someone that doesn't know what he is doing. I then tried a couple more that promised an "easier to use experience", Freespire and PCLinuxOS. Freespire is very good. Everything worked well. The fact that CNR (their package manager) is now free, makes it even more appealing. The only thing I don't like about it is their scheme of not having an active root account, but having users use su or kdesu to run applications that require root level permissions. To me, this creates more problems than what it solves. So, with one more distribution to try, I forged ahead to try PCLinuxOS. And, I am very glad I did. This distributions is the easiest way for a new Linux user to get going. Everyhting works. The proprietary nNidia drivers installed even easier than with SimplyMepis. Sound worked without problems (although I did have to disable the onboard sound card since I also have a Soundblaster card). MP3's and DVD playback was a matter of installing a single package from Synaptic (the package manager) for each one. And, well, I think it looks very nice. All in all, I think there are some very nice options for the new Linux user. SimplyMepis, Freespire, and PCLinuxOS are all easier to setup and use than Ubunto or SUSE, but I definetly recommend PCLinuxOS above them all at this point in time. Here is a nice review to check out:
http://www.tuxmachines.org/node/9123

RuCCi4/M0LD0V4
September 1, 2007 8:24 PM

I've been using Linux (Ubuntu) For 1 year now
and its a very simple OS for me..
I dislike the Microsoft Corporation ( For My Own Reasons ) Ubuntu has simple user interface.. I dont recommend a n00b to hop right on Ubuntu..
If you are about to make that hop, I would recommend Dual-Booting Linux With Windows ..
I said windows only because windows (XP) is the simple(st) OS for n00bs . i dont know how can you not know how to operate one, I used Windows XP 2 years ago but wasnt satisfied was looking for something harder.. I found Linux i thought it was a challenge at first but not after a while it was the best secure OS for me... But to all you n00bs
if you really want to Use Linux.. Get Linux XP Desktop search it up on google. Its compatible with alot of windows programs..

Well in conclusion Linux Rv13s..

RuCCi4/ Russian Member-
D0RiN

pieter cloete
July 20, 2009 3:46 AM

Do people not comment on Linux anymore (last comment September 1 2007 !) Linux Ubuntu 9.04 with standard interface, and the sister Linux Kubuntu 9.04 with the worlds nicest looking interface are now available. Load wine and you can now play many, many Windows format games on Linux. Even CAD and many other software trough wine are been converted for Linux as we speak. Magazines like PC Format recomend the change to Linux Ubuntu/Kubuntu 9.04.and most, after using 9.04 even say it is better than XP or Vista.
pieter cloete

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