Sunday, July 8, 2007
Confessions of a Linux Fan: 10 Things You Might Want To Know Before Switching Over To Linux
Linux fans (myself included) love to argue to Windows users how much better the Linuxes are than Microsoft Windows. Now don't get me wrong, I am not posting this to disprove that Linuxes, BSD's, or any of the *nixes are better than Windows, they really are. However (and there's always a however) we tend to be very selective on what we tell you when it comes to the minor details. Take this as a confession, as an admission of those details you might not necessarily like about Linux.
1. The basic installation of most mainstream Linux distributions is very easy, but a first time user might run into trouble when trying to depart from the defaults.
Some Linux distributions have Live Cd's, others have very user-friendly GUIs. However you might find that sometimes the Live CD installer, or the pretty GUI does not work because the installer does not have the right graphics drivers. In that case, you either need to find an alternate installation CD, or change the options at the boot screen. We don't tell you that this might happen because 90% of the time, the installer will work fine out of the box.
2. If you want a proper Linux installation, you are going to have to mess around with the partition table.
I see a partition table, and I know how to read it, for a new user, it might as well be written in [name exotic language of your choice here]. Yes, there are tutorials out there, but if you miss a step, for example forget to flag the /boot partition for booting, you might find yourself with a Linux install that does not want to boot up. We forget to tell you this because most installers either create a partition table for you, or just install everything into one partition, and Linux will still work either way, and chances are you will not be able to tell the difference.
3. You will have to learn how to use the command line.
Regardless of how GUIfied Linuxes have become, a lot of operations still require the command line, so you better be ready to learn how to use it. Besides, in the strange occurrence of a system crash, chances are it will revert to a stable command line interface. We don't tell you this because we, hardcore Linux users, *love* the command line, and the power of the command line is one of the major appeals of Linux. We truly believe everyone should love the command line as much as we do.
4. All those pretty effects of wobbly windows and cube desktops require some work from the user.
In most distributions, you will need to install Beryl/Compiz/Compiz Fusion in order to get those effects. Ubuntu Feisty comes with a slightly-watered-down version of Compiz, with wobbly windows, transparencies and a cubed desktop. For burning window plugins, active corners, etc, you will need to install Bery/Compiz Fusion... which will require some command line and some configuration. I believe the next version of Ubuntu (Gutsy Gibbon) will indeed come with Comiz-Fusion.
5. Yes, more hardware works with Linux than with Windows. No, not all hardware works 100% like it's supposed to.
This is specially true with some mainstream peripheral manufacturers. They have the bizarre notion that Linux users do not need/use peripherals so they do not publish drivers for Linux. Luckily we have a huge base of very capable programmers that are willing to reverse engineer drivers to make the peripherals work with Linux. Unfortunately, because they are not the manufacturer's drivers, the hardware might not work 100% as intended all the time. Infamous for this is Logitech, to name one.
6. If you need/want to install a package not included in the repositories, or install from source, you might need to do some research.
Because Linux is very modular, not all dependencies and libraries are installed by default. If you install an application from the repositories, the install application will automatically figure out the dependencies that need to be met. If you are installing an individual package, or from source, you might need to do some research or read installation instructions and READMEs and install the required dependencies prior to installing the application.
7. Most mainstream software manufacturers forget about Linux.
You will not find Photoshop for Linux, you will not find Microsoft Office for Linux, you will not find iTunes for Linux. This is especially true for the gaming industry, which has completely overpassed Linux. This is a blessing in disguise however. Once again, Linux developers/knights in shining armor have developed native programs, most of them open source and free (as in beer and free as in speech), to substitute their commercial cousins. Once again, some are better, some offer the same functionalities, and others are just mediocre. Luckily, we also have Wine, and its commercial cousins, Cedega and Crossover Office, which offer a port to a lot of Windows programs. This solution, however, will require in most instances, some work (read command line) from the user.
8. Linux is not for the meek of heart.
Linux is about being free; about having options. There are literally thousands of options for every single aspect of Linux, beginning with your distribution of choice. When you've picked out a distribution, you will want to choose window manager (Gnome, KDE, XFCE, Fluxbox....). Once you have that, you will want to customize your desktop theme: wallpaper, icons, window border shape, color and size, panels, launchers.... Last but not least, you will have tons of options for every program (for internet browsing for example, you might want Firefox, or SwiftFox, or Opera, or Konqueror, or ie4linux...you even have command line/text based web browsers). Basically, if you are an undecided person, you will be overwhelmed with choices.
9. Linux is almost entirely virus/trojan/spyware free, but you will still need some kind of protection.
Protection for Linux usually means a firewall, either installed in your computer, or in a router/hardware firewall. This, of course, implies a little bit more work for the user.
10. Linux assumes that you are an intelligent person.
As such, it assumes that if you log in as administrator, you know what you are doing. You can do a lot of damage as administrator. You can literally screw the whole darn system with a single mistyped command on the command line. Luckily, for the most part, you will be logged in as a lowly user.
Assuming that you are intelligent also implies that you can customize everything, and if you break something while customizing the system to your needs, you will know how to fix it, or be willing to work hard and learn how to fix it.
As a final thought, i guess what we, the Linux fans, do not tell you is that for the most part "Linux is for power users, and Windows is for n00bs" (I've seen this posted somewhere). So think about what I've posted, and if you are not willing to "geek" around a little, Linux is not for you.