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Happy New Year - 2009

Happy New Year to all my family, friends and visitors to my websites.

My first New Year resolution is to use the Wii Fit more!

My second is to look for more "Free" (open source) solutions to my computing needs to reduce my dependence on proprietary software even more. Let me explain ...

Linux is finally ready to take over my life

I can't remember exactly when I first tried Linux. I'll try and figure it out some time. I can probably work it out from release dates of distros with a bit of research. It was about 10 years ago (or perhaps a bit longer), so it's an appropriate time to take a look back. More significantly this has become the year that my usage of Linux has significantly shifted over to Linux and Windows has become the "I sometimes use" operating system. I now have a Linux only machine (Server / Firewall / Web Access) in my study, a Linux only machine in my bedroom (Media Player / wireless music to the lounge) and my main laptop is dual boot Linux and Windows Vista, but spends most of it's time in Linux. In addition to this my websites are all hosted off Linux based servers.

Actually I also use Windows for "Work", but that doesn't count as that's what we are forced to use there! This is about my home, hobby and website use.

Windows has changed a lot since the 90's as well, so where appropriate I'll also give reference to the "other" operating systems.

Installation

Back in the 90's Linux was considered a geek operating system. One of the reasons for that is that it was so difficult to install. This actually applies to most other operating systems as well, although they get over that by pre-installing with all the appropriate drivers pre-loaded. I know there are lots of Windows Users that would not be able to install Windows from an original install CD and getting the appropriate drivers installed and sorting out their network / printers and other peripherals.

This has completely changed today. Firstly it's now possible to get Linux pre-installed by some suppliers. As well as the Eee-PC that has brought Linux to the masses some of the traditional Wintel supplies such as Dell are now offering PCs with Linux.

In fact Linux is no becoming so prevalent that many people may have a Linux machine and not even realise it. There are some routers / firewalls / home networking devices that use Linux or other Open Source software as the basis for their operation. We are also now seeing PCs with an "instant on" feature allowing basic computer operations such as media player, web browser and email in an instant boot state powered by Linux, with the option to boot into Windows when they want to do something not covered by the instant on software.

For those that want to try Linux on a computer with Linux installed then there is the option to use a CD in a live mode, and to install on the hard disk along side windows the installers are only slightly more complicated than wizards used by some other software. As far as install of the operating system is concerned Linux is now ahead of other operating systems due to the Live CD (try before you install) option and in how simple install has become. It's also ahead in the unique ability to install onto a USB flash disk (USB memory stick) so that you can take your entire operating system with you wherever you go.

This is a huge step forward compared with the text based installer than would ask complicated questions like "how much memory does your video card have" and it just keeps getting better.

Hardware Support / Device Drivers

The hardware support just keeps on getting better. In the past getting hardware to work was hit and miss, now almost all common hardware devices will install under Linux, often without needing to download any additional drivers or software. In fact it's now reached the state where all my hardware works under Linux, but I have hardware that doesn't work under Vista (old webcam, bluetooth adapter etc.)

Performance

Linux has always been ahead of Windows when installing on a low performance PC. One of the reasons for this was due to the less attractive user interface. This is still available for low performance machines, but with a high spec machine the graphical desktop special effects on Linux are in many ways better and work far faster.

One of the reasons I prefer to boot into Linux is that Windows Vista is so painfully slow. I have a fairly recent computer with a reasonable specification (1.8Ghz Dual-Core 64bit processor, 2GB RAM and NVidia graphics card) but Windows Vista is so slow as to be almost unusable. Linux just flies (Ubuntu 64bit with Gnome desktop with Compiz and many effects enabled), spinning cube desktop preview task switching don't even get the processor to switch to high-speed mode, and even 3D Windows has a small impact on performance.

Based on my experience performance on Linux is much, much better than Windows Vista.

Desktop Software Available

Back in the 90s the software that was available for the desktop was very limited and what was there was very buggy (early versions of KOffice was almost impossible to use). This has seen a dramatic change. OpenOffice.org is now an easy rival to Microsoft Office (including some features only available in the top-end version of MS Office).

Photo editing is provided by The Gimp with a few alternatives that are less feature rich, but more user friendly. The Gimp is difficult to learn, but once mastered it rivals most of the Windows Software. I still occasionally boot into Windows Vista to run Photoshop Elements, but that is only when there is somewhere that Photoshop is a lot easier to use (e.g. fancy borders when I created a photo book recently), but that is getting very rare.

One thing that has until now had me running back to Windows is video editing. This may well change soon - See my recent post on editing HD video in Windows Vista (Adobe Premiere Elements) compared with the tools available in Linux.

Furthermore much of the software that I have bought for Windows no longer works since installing Windows Vista.

I have also now got some of the Windows Software programs that I still use working on Linux using Crossover Office (e.g. Adobe / Macromedia Flash Professional).

Server Software

Linux has always been strong with server software. In particular the Apache web servers runs the majority of Internet sites (Web Server Installation with Linux).

Server software has got better and Samba is doing a great job of providing connectivity with Windows machines. In fact I installed Samba when I was using Windows a lot and now use Samba mainly for Linux to Linux connectivity.

If it wasn't for Linux providing a means to run a web server without paying for a license then I wouldn't have had a website when I did and the cost would still be far higher today.

Cost of operating system

Linux has always been, and will always be free. In the past 10 years there have been numerous different versions of Windows and I've "bought" a new version at least 3 times since then. If you think you got Windows for free (legally) then read: Windows is Not Free - as part of my Upgrading Ubuntu post.

Looking at the operating system and software I've bought I could have saved myself quite a lot of money.

Of course back in the 90's we were still on download. But it was possible to get a disk from magazine cover disks, either general PC magazines or from 2000 onwards Linux Format Magazine. Now if you don't want to spend a fiver on a magazine you can download it for free, or even get a free CD in the post from Ubuntu.

Upgrading

In the past upgrading Linux could be as painful as a Windows upgrade. With the latest versions of Ubuntu this is very straight forward. Computer upgrade Utopia - Linux Ubuntu upgrade to 8.10

Summary - how good is Linux?

It sounds like that second resolution shouldn't be too hard to keep. Linux is extremely good at the moment and just keeps getting better. I don't think I will be quite ready to completely get rid of Windows by then end of 2009 (after all I do very occasionally play the odd game), but I should be getting closer.

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