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What Using Linux Means to Me

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By Lisa Miller

I was a techno-dinosaur, resisting the call of the computer with all my might. At the time, the learning curve seemed too steep and there was always too much to do. Finally it occurred to me that in a few short years it was possible that one couldn't survive without basic computer skills; even then very young children were being exposed to computing. Being 46 years old with a family history of living a long productive life would mean that many years of that life would effectively be 'out of the loop'. Finally on January 1, 2004 I took the plunge, bought a computer with Microsoft XP and taught myself how to use it. Not coincidentally, I stopped watching television at the same time and am a much happier person because of it.

Starting out with Windows XP was a fortunate coincidence. It's a fairly newbie-friendly OS. Vista is reviled by experts and scorned even by schoolkids. My 11-year-old nephew snorts about the 'crapware' packaged with Vista on his new laptop and whines about how slowly it runs compared to the older, refurbished PCLinuxOS machine his grandmother (my mother) is using.

I became relatively proficient in PaintShop Pro 8; the only time I use the Windows box is to use PSP8. If it were successfully ported to a Linux distro, I'd only keep the Windows box for reference, to help my friends who have questions or need assistance.

Since then, Don has become interested in building computers and spent all his leisure time (?!) taking donated and inexpensive old hardware and installing Linux distros on them and gives them to students or seniors who want them. He installs the most user-friendly distro that suits the machine and we offer free tutoring to get the recipients up to speed.

I played with several live CDs and PCLinuxOS quickly became my favorite. There is an icon for IRC on the desktop. Just after the install (at 2:30am) we had a question, asked for and got an answer immediately. I've never looked back. The desktop is clean, beautiful, functional and powerful. My HP printer and Vivitar camera were both simply Plug and Play. Since then I've evaluated a lot of Linux Distros and have had fun doing it, but PCLinuxOS is my distro. I'm currently using the 2007 release. It was built for the home user and in my opinion has no equal in that regard. I have no interest in looking at the innards of a computer and fixing it. I need a machine that will just do the jobs I need to do and be fairly difficult to break. I need to:

Kontact is a simple, easy-to use PIM, the first I had been exposed to, and a delight to learn and use. In its own words, 'Kontact is the integrated solution to your personal information management (PIM) needs. It combines well-known KDE applications like KMail, KOrganizer and KAddressBook into a single interface to provide easy access to mail, scheduling, address book and other PIM functionality.' You can use the system or any discrete part of it, choosing the features you need.

Surf the Web:
Preparatory to switching to Linux I downloaded and used Firefox for a few weeks. Most of what I do on a daily basis is surfing the web for links for our ezine and Googling for information on subjects that interest me. The switch to Linux was seamless. Recently a young lady who had been offline for several weeks used my computer to check her and her friends' MySpace pages. She was familiar with Firefox, accomplished what she needed to and said thanks. I asked, "You did know you've been using a Linux OS for the last half-hour?" She smiled and turned back to the monitor while I explained and demonstrated the concept of "free software". The kid is ours.

Process Photos:
I take a lot of photos; all the photography for our site and the websites I've built and maintain and the photos for our ebay auctions. Until recently I used PSP 8 for everything, and still do for images that require high quality results or artistic manipulation, but am now using ShowFoto, the image-editing engine of DigiKam. Practice with this tool has made processing photos fast and easy. Time constraints have kept me from investing much in the GIMP, but never fear, I'll get there.

My mother is in her late 70's and had no experience whatsoever with computers. We set her up with a system loaded with PCLinuxOS and Skype sent it to Florida. With coaching over the phone she set it up herself and was getting her first computer lesson, via Skype, in a little over an hour. The details are here in Lockergnome Nexus;

Nothing in the world is as satisfying as teaching. She now surfs the web by herself, plays games, writes emails,has downloaded free software and even advertised a rummage sale on Craiglist. We talk on Skype twice a week and have never been closer since I left home rather a long time ago.

It is difficult to explain how different the Linux Update process is from the Windows experience. I'm very...particular, I would say. Don would use another phrase. When you update Linux, they are actually updates-as in improvements-in the OS and all of the software installed on your machine, not continuous desperate efforts to plug security holes in an inherently defective system. Every single time I did a Windows Update I spent the next 3 days grousing that mysteriously, many of my settings had changed; the computer acted clunky and alien and my firewall, ZoneAlarm, insisted that Microsoft was trying to 'phone home'. For what, might I ask?

Free Software:
With very few exceptions, there are analogs to any software you can buy for absolutely no cost. Free-as in costless and free-to use as you please. Far too many people believe costless means worthless. Those of us with the Open Source mentality must go forth and proselytize.

I like to read manuals and learn very well from them. Every application in Linux has a Handbook or man page. Give me the book and go away for awhile. I love this!

FUD Antidote:
The genius of the Live CD is not to be underestimated. The average computer user has a mysterious, very expensive machine that they're afraid to break. They've been browbeaten into Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. As the so-called Ignorant Consumer, they are at the mercy of proprietary operating systems and merchants of bloated software. Despite their best efforts to keep their machines clean and lean, their systems gradually slow to a crawl while they dread taking it to an expensive repair shop. They are not about to do something so drastic as change operating systems unless there is a very good reason to do so. A Live CD with which they can see how well their computer will function without harming it is wonderfully empowering. The average user can see how well Linux works and make an informed decision about hitting the Install button.

When a user is using a new operating system they come to realize it's a tool and real people use many tools. Being OS-centric is self-defeating: why deprive yourself of choices? I recently was given an Apple Mac with OS X-Jaguar edition. No longer being afraid of new 'different' operating systems allowed me to enjoy myself, tool around, begin to get a feel for the OS and surf for tutorials on the web. Linux has spoiled me, though. I keep wondering "Where's all the free software?".

It's all about choices. I believe Linux does it best.

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