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Taking the Plunge into Linux

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I first came across Linux some seven years ago. A technophobe friend had been persuaded to buy a Windows PC and was spending many a happy hour tinkering with its settings as he is wont to do (he's also a Harley-Davidson enthusiast, which may explain things).

One night, he casually mentioned that he was trying out Linux. As I had spent the previous four years learning the ins and outs of Mac OS as well as Windows (I cut my journalistic teeth working on tech mags) I couldn't see what the fuss was all about. Linux looked extremely clunky and very hard to use. Moreover, it also seemed completely pointless.

After all, my home PC already had Windows 98, MS Office and all the bells and whistles pre-installed. At work, I used a Mac, so I really didn't need another operating system, particularly one that seemed like a leap backwards in terms of usability Latest News about usability.

Worth a Look

So I forgot all about Linux for a while. Then earlier this year, I returned to the UK and visited the same friend, still tinkering and still enthusing. He had, he told me, switched to something called SuSE Latest News about SuSE Linux and was rarely using Windows. Of course, in the years between these two events, the background chatter about Linux had gotten more audible and I had gotten more and more disaffected with Windows. So I took a look at my friend's system, and what I saw rather impressed me.

Gone were the command-line interfaces of old (a command line is when you enter an instruction at a cursor rather than using an icon-based system like Windows) and gone was the home-made feel of the thing. In its place was a sleek system that looked and felt like a Windows/Mac hybrid.

Clearly, this was something worth exploring and some months on, I am happily using SuSE Linux 9.0 in place of Windows. This article is intended as a warts-and-all account of how I got to this stage. It is definitely not meant as a guide to using Linux and nor as an exhortation to ditch Windows. I certainly wouldn't recommend Linux to a PC novice and, if you choose to try it out, neither myself nor Post Database will be held responsible for the consequences if parts of your hard drive disappear. Don't scoff -- it happens, as you will read later.

Fact or Fiction?

In addition, I am no Linux expert -- I just decided to take the plunge and these are my observations. Not all I note will be applicable to every version of Linux and its associated software, so please bear that in mind.

In the first part of this feature, I'd like to debunk a few myths. First off, Linux is not just Linux. There's a whole slew of different versions, called "distros'' (short for distributions). One is SuSE, which I use; another is Mandrake and another is Red Hat Latest News about Red Hat. Secondly, Linux is not free -- not always. While you can download certain versions for the cost of a dial-up connection, and other versions come as cover-mounts on magazines, you can pay several thousand baht for a boxed set.

Then there's the myth propagated by Linux evangelists that it is the most stable operating system in the world and that everything Linux is logical and smells of roses. It's none of those. It took me some time -- measurable in days -- just to get my printer to print a test page, for example. Then there's the fact that at one time I managed to make the system so unstable that I couldn't boot up in Windows or Linux and had to use a rescue installation. It worked, but not without me developing several grey hairs in the process.

Ease of Use

Now to Apple Latest News about Apple. I love Macs, but I'm not going to pay twice the cost of a PC just for the privilege of having a shiny new Mac on my desk. Plus, as far as stability goes, I would argue that Mac OS X variants and Windows XP are about level now. That's not necessarily good, mind you -- just level, although I would argue that all Mac operating systems are more user-friendly than any of their Windows peers.

Speaking of being easy to use, there's also a lot of fiddling required to get Linux to the stage where it's usable for the average user's needs. A branded Windows PC usually comes ready-to-use out of the box with helper programs to get you started. While these things irritate the heck out of me and get deactivated as soon as possible, they are great for the "mum and dad" user or beginner.

Given all this, you're probably wondering why in the world I've chosen to use Linux. Well, first it was out of curiosity. Having seen it in action, I really wanted to try it. And now that I have, I'll stick with it. Why? Well, despite the cons mentioned above, there are quite a few pros, and we'll be exploring them next week.

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