The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hope and Change Inside My Computer - Part II

Prologue:  I can't tell you exactly when I made the decision but somewhere between playing with LibreOffice and the webcam software, I found myself dropping and dragging important files from my Windows world onto a portable hard drive.

It was about 6 PM that evening, roughly 9 weeks ago, I double-clicked the "Install Linux Mint" icon.

I will not bore you with the installation experience except to say that I hesitated for a while as I pondered "partitioning".  Since I was going to use the entire 120 gig hard drive anyway, the instructions were straightforward and understandable.

However, since I was seeing the graphical representation of my hard drive, I wanted to see what my options were.  It took me a short time to really understand the bars at the top of the partitioning program as they related to the partition on which I was focused.  Later, when I experimented with other Linux distros, I learned how to build partitions on which to install them.

For reference to anyone developing partitioning software for installs.  Try to find a way to let people know they have multiple partitions installed.  The drop down menu I saw only showed my primary partition of sda something-or-other and I didn't realize it was a drop down menu.  It was only a month later when experimenting with new distros that I discovered clicking the arrow showed me all my partitions, where as before I had only one.  It's just an idea for what it is worth.

 Honestly, I can see where this would intimidate the uninitiated.  I am the youngest of four kids and all of my older siblings are brothers.  I learned a long time ago, never let them see you sweat.

Speaking of worry, thanks to those who create Mint and other distros for reminding me that I am proceeding without a swap partition.  That halted me long enough to scratch out a note for research later.  I ended up doing the install, then when finished, finding out what a swap partition was.  I found the partitioning tool and resized my partition to include it.  During the install, there was nothing telling me how important it really is.

 Since my initial exposure to Linux, I've seen a few different representations of the partitioning process, different tools and different ways to represent the space that is or will be partitions.  In my opinion, PCLinuxOS and Mandriva have about the easiest partitioning tools for the new user, but given most any of them, a bit of caution and careful reading should get even the most timid to the next screen without hosing messing up their existing installs.

It was less than 15 minutes later, the monitor screen told me my install was done.  Yeah, right.  How many more reboots, question fields and more reboots until I was really finished?

I clicked restart and less than 10 seconds later, my DVD drive slid open and I was instructed to remove the disk and hit enter.  How cool is that?  The DVD drawer actually closed shut after I hit enter.  Less than a minute later, I was a Linux user.

I understand this is old hat to most of you.  To you, a Linux system installation is a matter of course, but this girl has battle scars from Windows installs and on more than one occasion, it has taken in excess of 6 hours to get the system to a usable state.  The fact that I had a connected, fully functional, ready-to-go system in less than 30 minutes amazed me.  It still does today.

One thing that I noted as I explored my new system; there was nothing there that wanted me to sign a trial offer, remind me that a subscription would be needed in 90 days or offer me software that I didn't need.  Sure, there is a TON of programs in a Linux DVD that I would probably never use, but there are many included that I  look forward to using, or at least give them a measure of experimentation.

I truly appreciate the lack of pop-ups and circus-like pages that try to entice me into their software tent.  No, I do not like trialware.

Please do not get me started on wireless drivers in Windows.  It has been explained to me that this used to be a source of great angst for Linux users but installing a distro called Pinguy on my laptop produced immediate connection ability for my ancient Thinkpad.  It is dependent upon a USB dongle wireless device and I take a deep breath of fresh air when I realize I don't have to dig through a pile of disks and flash drives to find those drivers anymore.

For me, my initial install of Linux Mint had everything I needed to get to work.  As a Microsoft Office user, I found LibreOffice to be competent but different enough to have a modest learning curve.  The word processor is smooth as silk.  The spreadsheet solution was an entirely different story.

It is vastly different than Excel.  Once I got the hang of it and began learning the differences in how to do things, I stumbled along until I was able to use it but it's not intuitive at all, at least for me.  It took me forever to figure out how to get it to simply keep running tabs on an ultimate total for an invoice.  I have also learned that conversion between file formats can be greasy if using complex tables or graphics.

My Editor called me and said that it looked like the document had "been under a terrorist attack".  It looked fine on my machine as an .xlt file, but the email delivery fairies must have decided to rearrange it prior to it arriving in the Editor's email box.  It was truly a mess.  I had to come into the office and redo it on Microsoft Office.

I am not a database person so I am completely unqualified to remark on the LibreOffice database.  I do however find the presentation tool completely competent and have used it twice and saved it to Microsoft format without problems.

I am almost enamored by the clean, professional look of most Linux distros.  The clarity and crispness of both visual representation and physical response is, to me, far superior to Microsoft Windows.  My friend Mark has since explained to me that the quickness of the system, even in a full Gnome desktop can be attributed to not having any antivirus software running in the background.  That is another glorious freedom I enjoy.  That is until a friend or relative sends me something "I just have to see" as an .eml file.  I have not found a way to open them.

In Windows, I used Windows Media Player to play my music and VLC to watch clips and movies.  At first I was a taken aback slightly by the choices of media players for Linux.  I am not particularly thrilled with Rhythmbox or Amarok.  I have since settled on Clementine for my music collection.  It just seems to be a cleaner, more productive and easy interface.

Speaking of interfaces.  Even though I have only used Linux for a short time, I could not help finding myself bogged down by the hurricane of dissent concerning things like Gnome, Ubuntu Unity and KDE.  I have spent some time in each type of desktop and find strength and weaknesses in all of them but I will admit a bit of confusion over Ubuntu Unity.

I use dual monitors and for the life of me, Unity refuses to work with them.  As well, it seems to take forever to click through to what I want to do.  I personally find it a hindrance more than a help.  I cannot see myself using it much at all.  I do not understand how clicking two to three times in Unity is a better choice than having to click something once in Gnome or Xfce.  Possibly if I had a small laptop or netbook it might work, but for my two big rigs, it fails immediately.

In all, I suppose I prefer the very first desktop I used and that is the Gnome desktop in Mint.  I hear the roar of the crowd concerning the new Gnome and downloaded Fedora 15 to see what the fuss is about.  In my opinion, all the fuss is about an under cooked chicken.  If the developers have put it out there for ongoing user improvements or "further cooking", then I understand.  If they think that is the finished product, then I will stay an old Gnome user.  Xfce is something I have on my list to use should the old Gnome go away.

In my travels down the Linux Path, I also developed a curiosity to explore KDE.  It is my understanding that there has been a major change within the past couple of years within KDE.  I downloaded the live DVD of Open Suse and took some time to work with it.  KDE is stunningly beautiful but complex.  It has components to it with names so out of sync with what they do, that it was difficult for me to understand their purpose within the environment.

The first time I encountered the Akonadi server, my initial reaction was to ignore it because I didn't need a server on my desktop machine.  I had no idea how important it was to KDE as a whole.  There were others that left me scratching my head as well but I cannot bring them to mind at the moment.  I for one like the "K" naming scheme within KDE.  It lets me know during software searches via Synaptic that it is a KDE application.  On the whole though, KDE is a bit complex for my needs.  There seems to be too many ways to accomplish the same task within that environment and it can be confusing.  Again, this is from a complete new user.

It used to be that I would turn off my computer every night.  I would prefer to leave it on simply for convenience but even Windows 7 has a habit of degrading in performance rapidly if I left it on more than three days in a row.  Sometimes I would have to do a hard shutdown because it would not respond at all.  I would always end up rebooting it to get a "fresh" desktop, and then it seemed to take forever.  I think the last time I turned my Linux computer off was three weeks ago and its performance is as crisp and sharp as it was the day I installed it.

There is a lot to like about Linux.  I am now an official convert.  Fortunately, my co-worker and friend Mark has about half the staff using Linux at the office.  Do not get too excited, there are only 11 of us.  As I understand it, all of our server software is Linux as well.  As I hear it, we are an anomaly in the business world.  At least our anomaly does not crash minutes before a deadline.

In retrospect, I have recently read a large amount of comments and articles on how Linux is not ready for prime time.  Honestly, if I had read even a fraction of these articles, I doubt I would have installed it, even with Mark's endorsement.  In the past two months or so, I can honestly say I can not understand how these writers came to such a conclusion.  Linux works extremely well for me.

With that being said, there are things in Windows I miss.

part III and the final entry to Chika's notes will be posted late tomorrow. - HeliOS.


Scott-Gto286 said...

i'm happy to read articles like this.
glad the nay sayers was ignored.

we welcome you to the linux world table,
please pull up a chair & have a drink,
we welcome you! Look forward to your future contributions & opinions

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, all the fuss is about an under cooked chicken.

I don't think I could ever offer a better description in so few words.

PV said...

This article has taken me to a dream world — I'm that happy to read this. It's basically the dream come true for any Linux user who wants to see a newbie struggling with Microsoft Windows painlessly switch to Linux. I mean, you point out the flaws in Linux, yet you're able to point out your own inexperience where appropriate as well (I would even say you're blaming yourself too much at times).
a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

tracyanne said...

quote::In retrospect, I have read a large amount of comments and articles on how Linux is not ready for prime time. Honestly, if I had read even a fraction of these articles, I doubt I would have installed it, even with Mark's endorsement. In the past two months or so, I can honestly say I can not understand how these writers came to such a conclusion. Linux works extremely well for me.::quote

One has to wonder if perhaps those writers have something to gain by turning people away from Linux.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic series of posts! This is really a great description of a journey into Linux. I commented on the first instalment on Facebook and will be commenting on this one too! I think it's well worth a few Windows users reading it.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the Linux community. As we've seen before on this site, the community is a very important part of the whole newb Linux user experience.

Shawn H Corey said...

I work as a computer consultant and I don't use Windows unless a client absolutely insists. But I found one trick: reboot the machine just before you go home. That way you don't have to wait for it and you'll have a fresh session to start the next day.

Anonymous said...

Partitioning is probably the biggest stumbling block in any new user's installation experience. For one, the language is foreign to them and in itself is intimidating. I agree with your assessment of the partitioning listings. I think every one of them should immediately show how many partitions exist and what they are.

But as the Gnome Project has shown us, many developers don't really care about the new user expereince OR they have a poor idea of what that experience really is.

Your rejection of Unity should serve as a warning.

John Hardin said...

It used to be that I would turn off my computer every night. I would prefer to leave it on simply for convenience but even Windows 7 has a habit of degrading in performance rapidly if I left it on more than three days in a row.

I've said for more than fifteen years: "I'll start to respect Windows when I see Windows admins getting into uptime" (... uh, remember, PG-13 ...) "nose-size wars in Usenet."

I suppose that needs to be updated to Facebook or some such...

Jonquil said...

I really enjoyed reading this. It's nice to hear the opinions of new users about Linux.

Anonymous said...

An extremely rich and refreshing article. Keep writing.

Anonymous said...

I hope these intelligent observations will be passed on to & taken up by the relevant developers - quality stuff

Grant Wagner said...

Congratulations and welcome to the club.

When it comes to music players, I really like Audacious. It's a direct descendant of the XMMS player, which at the time was a shameless rip of WinAmp 2. It even uses the same skins. Very nice for something simple with a very clean interface.

Anonymous said...

Articles like this are wonderful in that they truly depict through honesty and some level of competence greater than the usual Win user, the real world experiences of what I am frequently hearing from the Win-world user as the be(a)st OS that M$ have produced so far. Since I'm a long time user of Nix (and any brief encounters with a Win OS leave me flabbergasted over its engineered structure and level of interference), I am always at a loss to point out any knowledgeable-user experiences which refute these short-sighted claims. So thankyou. The comments about Win7 slowing down, six hour, multi-boot installs, driver woes etc, are duly noted. NB Typed on a new notebook which runs Mint without ANY issues & 100% compatibility (Broadcom chip issue resolved in 60secs post-install update). Why the manufacturer recommends Win I can only assume comes from what I perceive as shallow bean-counters with no integrity, draconian contracts with bullish BS firms, and some level of utter contempt for the user with more than half a brain. Note to other users considering that this is my first encounter with the Broadcom chipset- keep the Broadcom source file handy- every time you update the kernel, you'll need to re-run the package to re-compile the kernel module and initialisation file. Is this why Mint doesn't install the generic kernel deb package that keeps the kernel up-to-date? BTW had a brief play with Win7 Starter (starter spelt c-r-i-p-p-l-e-d) on the same model notebook recently... it was way slower, used more memory (I laughed when I saw that it was also already using half the 2G pagefile), battery use by the OS was a lot less efficient... I probably could go on, but I only had a half hour play.

NotZed said...

It's not surprising that excel is the hardest to let go. I was forced to use it to do some data clean-up a few years ago and I was surprised at just how clunky and ancient it is - it shows it's heritage as being one of the first windows programs ms wrote. I found calc pretty crap too - partly because it was too similar (and mostly because of the modal toolbars which wouldn't stay where i put them).

This just confirms the reason I guessed it is like it is - updating any of the behaviour to match more modern standards, or even changing it in the slightest would alienate too many users. Too many people live in that thing, even though it's a really horrible bit of outdated legacy software.

Gavin said...

John Hardin - "I've said for more than fifteen years: "I'll start to respect Windows when I see Windows admins getting into uptime" (... uh, remember, PG-13 ...) "nose-size wars in Usenet.""

The problem with this argument is that Windows admins do not care about uptime. It is like the old Windows fanboy argument that says "Linux will never take over the world doing that!" Again, Linux users do not care about taking over the world. Linux is about choice. Same thing with uptime - when you can reboot after hours and not upset anything, who cares about uptime?? Add in virtualization and most admins actually get paid to reboot servers after hours!

So if you are looking to respect Windows admins... not gonna happen. I am afraid that they care as much about you as you do about them.

And just for a disclaimer here, I am a Windows/Linux/Apple admin, so by all rights I should hate myself! ;)

Kristijan said...

Export files from Libre in PDF and you will not have problems with layout and printing on MS pc.

And swap is not really needed specially if you have lot of ram memory. And you should be avoiding using it. Swap slow down pc because is using hard disk instead of ram memory

Micro-Shock said...

Fantastic and well Written Article --Micro

Michael Glasser said...

I think it is great that desktop Linux is growing and improving, and I have installed it in a number of places.

With that said, it still only serves people with fairly minimal needs and people who are programmers. There are a *lot* of things in the middle it does not serve well... here are just a few of the the things I do on a regular basis where Linux falls short of my preferred OS (OS X):

1) Screencasting: I do a lot of this. I need to be able to record the screen and edit it, including changing the cursor in post processing (mentioned because this is fairly rare in such software), adding arrows and shapes of my own making (PNG images with support for transparency), being able to speed up and slow down clips and do trimming and the like. Multiple tracks are also needed as well as transitions, etc. The software I now use is ScreenFlow on OS X: . Camtasia is a fairly distant second... I know of nothing on Linux that comes close.

2) Presentations / presentation-style videos: sorta "PowerPoint" style, but better: more professional transitions, easier to control movement, etc. I use Keynote on OS X - nothing I know of on Windows or Linux comes close. No: OpenOffice and MS Office will not do here (they would be distant seconds, at best).

3) Web development: Any OS can offer a decent text editor, so that is not really that "special" with OS X (I use TextWrangler). But I also use Dreamweaver - and this is the most advanced WYSIWYG-ish web development tool you can get. Not only does it serve me well, but given that I teach students to use it, I need it for that as well.

4) Reading text on screen: there is nothing like Tofu on any OS other than OS X... not that I know of anyway.

5) Image editing. I use Photoshop and, frankly, GIMP will not do. No smart objects is just a starter as to why. I can give more details to those who care.

6) Integrated color selector: so I can have swatches that I can share between programs as well as having multiple color selection techniques... and add my own if needed / desired (I have).

7) "Advanced" window controls: ability to get a path from almost any file (makes it easier to find... and move up the path on websites), proxy icons with their ability to move files as well as attach them to emails, etc.)

8) Better email program: including ability to quickly view attachments without saving and opening them, even having a slideshow of images if you want.

9) Relatively consistent hot keys and menu items (for common items!). For example, I can quickly get to the prefs of any app from the same place. Even a new app I have never seen before. Linux distros cannot even get consistent on if they want to use the term "Quit" or "Exit".

10) System services: ability to do ROT13 or all-cap and a lot more from almost any program.

11) PDF Services: I can easily "print" a PDF to a receipts folder or a recipe folder or my desktop or whatever without having to even dig through files... just set up my common areas. Can also "print" like this to other programs or even over a network.

12) Easier troubleshooting: pref files in a easy to find place with a common file format, can be tossed and recreated without hurting the program. Simple program like YASU to handle almost all maintenance tasks.

13) iWeb - for super-simple and quick sites.

Desktop Linux has a long way to go in terms of providing a good, consistent, unified environment and in attracting many commercial developers.

Anonymous said...

With that said, it still only serves people with fairly minimal needs and people who are programmers.

In the first place, your use of the word "only" is a weapon to try to validate your point. It is "only" about half the computer users in the world that have "minimal" needs.

Second of all, everything you use to back your argument up comes back to the fact that you are in a professional niche and that you need or like Macs. Usually the Mac fanboys hit much sooner in these comments than you did. Yayyyy, you like Apple stuff. Sheesh.

Third, I work at the Appliance Sciences Division at Stennis and I can guarantee you that there isn't one Windows or Mac desktop or server in our division. Every desktop runs Redhat Linux as does our servers. Any operating system outside of Linux is forbidden within the Division, to include carry-in laptops.

So your profession requires Mac, mine demands Linux. Outside of our two fringes sits billions of computer users who just want to check email, look at their grandkids pictures and fool around on faceplant. Linux is indeed good enough for those billions.

There, fixed that for ya.

Ahem, without the cost of specialized hardware or software.

Michelle Minkin said...

@ the last anonymous. Thank you. I do not suffer pretentious people at all. You said what I would have said but I would have been un-lady like doing it.

Mac fanboys and 22 year old BMW drivers, often one and the same piss me off.


Gavin said...

Michael Glasser - "With that said, it still only serves people with fairly minimal needs and people who are programmers."

Any modern OS can serve people with minimal needs, actually; Linux is not unique there. However, I doubt that Linux could really address the needs of .NET programmers! ;) Just throwing that out there.

Oh, and servers. Linux is pretty good at that.

As to your other points...

Yes, Apple has seriously tight integration. One of the benefits of building proprietary software on top of BSD. Even more impressive is their command over the hardware, although technically OS X supports fewer devices than any other mainstream OS, so it is really about concentrating the same dev work on fewer devices. OS X supports just as many peripherals, though. But with tight integration comes external limitations. If you have ever had to deal with Macs at the server/network level, you understand what I mean.

iOS, of course, is different, and I find it amusing that MS is following Apple over to ARM considering that Apple followed MS over to x86 (even if only Intel). Linux has been everywhere for years now, but I do like this ARM trend lately. Linux has the chance to really benefit from the battle in ARM land. I am most excited about the graphics available in ARM land, though, especially as it relates to 3D GUI acceleration and possible OpenCL support on handheld devices. There is no excuse for the horrible 3D performance of integrated GPUs these days! Pushing 20 million triangles per second with 50 Megaflops of GPGPU performance can be done with just a handful of Watts!

Coming from a Windows/*NIX perspective, the world of OS X software is truly fascinating. As a whole, it is unique. In spirit, I would have to describe it as part Solaris and part Windows, if you follow me. But then I have always thought of Apple as the consumer equivalent of the spiritual successor to UNIX systems (Solaris, AIX, HP-UX, etc). Back in the PowerPC days, it really felt like Alpha-at-home, you know? (I still want some real big endian in my PC! SSE is taking too long!)

Your point number 8 is taken to heart. After Mac Mail, I cannot go back to MS Outlook! Not that Outlook was ever really in my heart... Even so, I have yet to find a mail client that is any good in the GUI world. Mac Mail hits closer to the mark, but what I want is the equivalent of a GUI terminal program. Is there nothing that allows me to use REGEX in addition to vector graphics previewing!? Why must it always be one or the other??

And number 9 - I think you are actually barking up the wrong tree here. Consistency is not what Linux does. It flows too quickly. I would suggest taking a look at BSD if you are on a computing journey. You are already using it, so it would not be a huge change if you have ever used Terminal before. Just a thought.

But your point number 6... That one is profound. Perhaps more so than many realize. Pantone is a for-profit company, which explains a lot about its relationship with free software (look it up if you want some insight into why Linux is legally disallowed from following Apple in this respect) which is why I really hope that Pantone gets turned into a pure standards body in the future. However, their research into color spaces is very important for computing and for pure information. I feel that color theory will become integral to computing in this century, especially as we shed our color-killing twisted nematic displays. The technologies in the pipe right now will finally bring the long-awaited demise of TFT! Finally bringing color salvation to the masses! (Charlton Heston, The Ten Commandments, 'nuff said) In the mean time, I am sticking with IPS at home.