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Moving Away from Windows

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Moving Away from Windows

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As my students learn very quickly, I have no love for Microsoft software products. In exercises, quizzes and exams, I use many sentences that make fun of Microsoft and Bill Gates. Since my students are mainly computer programmers, they understand and sympathize with my disliking of the giant MS Ogre. However, many of them think that there is nothing much you can do about it. To which I have to answer, sure there is you can stop buying Microsoft products.

The first thing you have to do, is to move from Windows 9* or NT to Linux. The pros for using Linux are well known: it is stability, speed, and computational power. However, many of my students have argued that corporations and end users will not leave the "comfortable" Windows environment for Linux for the following reasons: 1.)Linux is hard to install; 2.) Linux lacks costumer support; 3.) Linux lacks "professional" programs; 4.) Linux lacks a good graphic user interface (GUI pronounced like the word gooey). Let`s tackle these arguments one-by-one.

I do not think that either Linux or Windows 9* are very hard to install. However, I would not ask my 70 year-old mother to try to install either them. For professionals in the information field or knowledgeable end users, both are easy installs. Yet, the RedHat Linux 5.2 installation is more convenient than the Microsoft one. If you are not an "expert" or Linux guru, you can pick whether you want a workstation or server install with RH 5.2, answer a few questions, and walk away from the machine. That`s right, walk away--go fix supper, visit your friends at a coffee house, etc. When I installed RH 5.1, I went to teach, came back an hour later, and the installation process was over. All I had to do was set-up the X-Windows GUI environment and start her up. With Windows 9* installations, the computer is constantly asking you questions. RedHat does all the question asking at the beginning. When installing Windows, you need to stay near the computer, because you never know when the next question is going to come.

If you have read the many articles linked at the RedHat WWW-site, you will have seen similar stories. You will also hear about how RedHat`s disk druid helps with the "dreaded" disk partitioning that you have to do in Linux. Well, if you are a professional in the information sector, partitioning a disk drive should not be that scary. If you are not going to use the computer as a "duel" machine (Linux and Windows partitions), then there is nothing to worry about, since the main fear is destroying your VFAT (or NTFS) partition and losing data for MS programs (a simple back-up would help to relieve this fear also).

What the reviewers (whose audiences are mostly Windows end-users) fail to mention is that you can assign the mount points to each partition. By telling the computer what part of your directory tree resides on which partition makes upgrades and reinstallations simpler.

Here is a typical partition:

Partition                                   Mount Point

hda1 (hard drive a; 1st partition)          /                   [*aka "root"*]
hda2                                        /home
hda3                                        /usr/local
hda4                                        /opt
hda5                                                            [*swap space*]

This is a great benefit (and should be emulated in Windows, but, due to the nature of storing *.dll files in the Windows directory, it can only be done with limited effectiveness). The root directory is the home of the operating system and the programs that are necessary for the system`s functionality. User data is stored in the "/home" directory, so this is where you put your personal and work files. WWW pages, FTP files, etc. are also stored here. The next two locations are where programs such as WordPerfect, NeXS and other "professional" titles reside. Think of them as the "Program Files" directory in Windows. The final partition is a special partition that is not part of the system`s directory tree; instead, it is used only for virtual memory ("swap files"). The primary benefit of this layout should be obvious, if something goes wrong and you must reinstall the system, you do not have to reinstall the programs in /opt or /usr/local (maybe you will have to relink or copy the executable to the /usr/bin directory, but that is not a big deal compared to reinstalling ALL programs like you must with a Windows reinstall). Your personal data also remains untouched during the reinstall. Finally, you don`t have to worry about system performance decreasing as your hard drive fills up, since the swap space is permanent and is not accessible for "normal" file storage. In Windows, if you fill up your hard drive so that there is only 1.5 MB left, guess what, you only have 1.5 MB of virtual memory (since Windows uses virtual memory all the time, this is a major concern).

The next concern that my students have mentioned is that Linux lacks customer support. Again, many articles have already been written about how RedHat and Caldera offer customer support for registered users (i.e., people who bought the $50 or $59 CD, instead of downloading the programs for free via the `Net). I will grant that this is a good thing; however, my experience with customer service in the computer industry is not very good. Usually, you have to call an expensive 900 (instead of a free 800 number) number and wait on-hold while some "idiot" tries to figure out what is wrong. On time I walked into the engineering department of a company I worked for while the head engineer was on the phone with a Microsoft customer service agent. The engineer had just switched all the computers on his network from Windows for Workgroups 3.11 to Windows 95, but not all the computers were "talking" to each other. He had been on the phone for over an hour and a half, when I looked at his computer and told him simply to change his netmask from 255.255.0.0 to 255.255.255.0. I never asked him how much that phone call cost, but I do know that he was very thankful for my 30 seconds of help. Here is where the Linux community`s support is superior to many proprietary software companies` support. You can join a local user group and asked people for help, you can join a usenet newsgroup and ask the world for help, or (in some cases) you can e-mail the author of the program and describe your problem to them--no expensive phone calls, no long waits on-hold, and no poorly trained customer service representative acting clueless on the other end of the phone. All three of these non-traditional support systems are generally faster and more reliable than the traditional practice. It is time that corporate managers change the way they think about customer service (both for providing it and for the products they buy).

The third argument against using Linux is that it lacks commercial software support. This too is slowly changing. I have recently downloaded Corel`s WordPerfect 8 and plan to order the full-version very soon. Corel is not the only major software company to support Linux; Oracle, Informix, Netscape, Wolfram Research, and Star Division all have major software products available for Linux (or they are currently in development of said products). When you add to this list some of the freeware Linux programs that are just as good or better then their commercial rivals (the Gimp and the Apache WWW-server), the argument that Linux lacks "professional" quality software just does not hold up.

The finally point raised by my students seems silly, but I know that many people do not like to learn commands and would rather "point-and-click" their way around the computer. These people do not care that typing commands (for those of use who know how to type) is much faster than moving the mouse to the proper place and then clicking. With command completion that most modern Unix shells offer (you can hit the [TAB] key to have the shell finish typing the name of a file or directory for you after you have only entered a couple of letters), typing commands and moving about the directory tree is much quicker then pointing-and- clicking in most programs (some programs do offer some nice shortcuts). You can even write shell scripts to execute multiple commands or commands with many attributes (like logging into a Samba shared directory on a Windows machine). However, all the arguments for the power and simplicity of a command line interface are utterly refuted by those who can only work in a GUI environment.

Yet, what many of my students (and other computer professionals who maybe tried Linux last year or longer ago) do not know is that Linux HAS two intuitive and beautiful GUI environments--one is called GNOME (pronounced "Guh-nom" with a long o) and the other is KDE. There is an excellent review of the history of the GNOME project written by Charles C. Mann in Technology Review. The GNOME project (when version 1.00 arrives) or KDE should give the "masses" what they want a simple GUI way to work in Linux. However, I did not like KDE`s Windows 98 look and feel or the huge amounts of memory that it required.

I still prefer to use old fashioned X-Terms (actually xi-terms), but not inside the ugly old fashioned FMWM (the "traditional" X-Windows manager for Linux). Instead I use a beautiful X- Windows manager called Window Maker, which is part of the GNUstep (GNU is pronounce "Guh-new") project to give Linux (and other Unices) a NextStep like environment. Over the holidays, I have played around with some graphics using the Gimp (a free graphics editor that can fight toe-to-toe with Adobe Photoshop or Corel PhotoPaint). I made some themes based on Ikaros (this was supposed to be part the Silvestr issue, but I was swamped with 1500+ pages of exams to grade-- ugh!) and the artist Jan Kristorfori. You can see and download my themes here.

What I really enjoy about Windows Maker is that it combines the best features of both environments (command line and pure GUI), and you can customize it to look and react however you want. One great feature that took me a little to get used to is the concept of a "workspace." In other window managers for X, you could have four, six, nine, etc. virtual desktops (one desktop usually equaled one "screen"). You could start Netscape in one virtual desktop, move to another and work on editing a text in emacs. I have always loved this feature and would fill my desktops full of programs and x-terms. Remembering which program was in which desktop became a problem, however.

Window Maker helps you organize your desktop clutter. You can name each workspace (mine are called "Main," "Graphics," "` Net," "Office," and "Games"). This way I know that workspace #2 is where I have the Gimp running. Window Maker also has an updated version of the Pager program for X called the Clip (think of it as a computer paper-clip to attach programs to a workspace). The Clip not only allows you to move from workspace to workspace (although I usually just type [ctrl] and the number of the workspace, instead of pointing-and-clicking on the Clip), it also allows you to attach icons of programs that are "unique" to a specific workspace. So in my "`Net" workspace, I have icons for starting Netscape, wxftp (a WS-FTP look-alike), and yagIRC (a graphic front-end for using Internet Relay Chat); while in my "Office" workspace, I have icons for WordPerfect 6, WordPerfect 8, StarOffice 5, and NeXS. This allows me to quickly enter a workspace and start a program that I would like to run there.

There is also a NextStep-like dock that you can attach icons to. The dock will appear in ALL workspaces; thus, you can easily launch the programs on the dock from any workspace. I enjoy the organization of Window Maker so much that I only have one launchable icon on my dock--the ubiquitous x-term. However, I have added some applications that can run inside the dock, such as programs to display my ethernet, CPU and memory usage, as well as, a calendar and clock.

For the new year, give yourself a treat--an operating system that is stable, fast, and beautiful. After installing the software (RedHat 5.2 is downloadable at the School of Informatics at MUNI; Window Maker is in the Power Tools subdirectory) and making Window Maker your X-Windows manager, download some of my themes, some of the MANY other themes for Window Maker at Themes.Org (or create your own themes!) and enjoy a year without Microsoft (or at least not as much Microsoft).

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Zatím žádné hodnocení
FULK, Ted S.. Moving Away from Windows. Ikaros [online]. 1999, ročník 3, číslo 1 [cit. 2020-09-21]. urn:nbn:cz:ik-10245. ISSN 1212-5075. Dostupné z: http://ikaros.cz/node/10245

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