Linux

I am on the horns of a dilemma. My Dell Studio XPS  machine – which will be 4 years old in May – is suffering from applications not playing well with the Operating System. Some of this is the result of installing and un-installing a multitude of applications over the past few years and a contributing factor is having forgotten applications still hanging around long after I stopped using them. That is, of course, if I ever did use them in the first place. Even the best PC clean-up utility available will still fail to get everything. Believe me, I’ve tried a number of them over the years.

[stextbox id=”Information” float=”true” align=”right” width=”300″ mright=”10″]Nuking is a technical term used by trained professionals to describe the process of wiping the hard disk and re-installing the Operating System.[/stextbox]A PC which has been around a while can definitely benefit from nuking the system and starting over.  One of the advantages of doing this  is that you have the opportunity to inventory your software applications, determine which ones you don’t like/need/want and vow not to re-install them on the pristine copy of the OS you’ll have after you’re through. This, of course, gives you the freedom to install new software applications that  you don’t like/need/want.

I am on the cusp of wiping the slate clean and starting over and my dilemma is that of deciding which OS to install once the hard drive has been sanitised. I have my choice of installing:

  1. Windows 7 – I currently use this OS
  2. Windows 8 – I’ve got this on my test machine and have found it not to be quite as bad as anticipated
  3. Linux – I have Ubuntu dual-booting on my test machine and Mint running as a virtual machine on the Dell Studio XPS

So which one should it be? On one hand, Win7 works for me. On the other hand, I hate to get Win 7 all set-up, configured & applications  installed only to have to do it all over again in 12 to 18 months time because of Win 8.

I could just go ahead & install Win 8 since there are work-arounds for most of the major interface complaints but there are still a few “why in the hell did they do that?” items – like scroll bars -that I am somewhat loathe do deal with on a daily basis. Hopefully, someone will cobble a work-around for those.

[stextbox id=”Information” float=”true” align=”right” width=”300″ mright=”10″]Dr. Data tried this approach on his test machine and – after hours of trying to make things work the way that they ought to – wound up Nuking the system and starting from scratch.[/stextbox]Before you say “Why not save time and trouble by upgrading Win 7 to Win8 and thus avoid having to re-install the world?”, I should mention that such an upgrade also migrates the bad settings, misconfigured applications and other gunk  from Win 7 to Win 8, often with less than desirable results. So much for the ease of migration between Windows Operating Systems.

[stextbox id=”Information” float=”true” width=”150″]WINE stands for “WINE Is Not an Emulator”. [/stextbox]Finally, I could do exactly what I’ve wanted to do for many moons and make the move to Linux. The problem is that I’ve got plenty of $$$ invested in Windows applications for which there is not a Linux version. Even when there is a version of, say,  XYZ available for Linux, I would most likely have to buy the Linux version as if I was buying the software for the very first time. Linux does have WINES which allows one to run things like MS Outlook in an X environment but it does not get along well with the Windows software. It’s dollars to doughnuts that Dr. Data has a bunch of applications that fit into this category.

Where will all this end up? It’s hard to say right now but sooner or later, Win 7 on the Studio XPS is going to get to the point where Dr. Data’s hand will be forced in one direction or another.

How About Some More Pi?

Back in April, I wrote a post entitled “How Small The Computer?” The focus of this article was that you can get full-fledged PC’s and servers for between $25 & $100. One of the featured items was the advent of the Raspberry Pi; a real PC running Linux that is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. An article in TechRepublic states that the Model B is now available and selling for $35.00. The Pi – B now sports 512 MB of RAM so there is even more room on board to have fun with.

The Raspberry PI is being used to pilot Drones and as a lighting and heating controller for homes. One experimenter is using the PI as the basis for a tablet PC. Another Tech Republic article includes a slide-show which explains some of the many uses that the Pi has been put to already.

Admittedly, the Raspberry Pi is still in the realm of hobbyists and experimental applications. Nonetheless, if you like to fiddle with new technology, you can’t go wrong for $35.00. To learn more about the Raspberry Pi, see:

Say “Hello” to Quantal Quetzal!

It’s the semi-annual high holy days for Ubuntu Geeks as version 12.10 is released. Ubuntu is the third most popular distribution of Linux according to Distro Watch. Number 2 is Mageia and number 1 is Mint Linux; both have gained increased popularity since Ubuntu implemented its Unity desktop shell. As far as Dr. Data is concerned, Ubuntu does what he wants it to do: Work. The interface is not that critical to him. Just about every Operating System or Interface has two groups of followers:

  • The Cheerleaders – These are the folks who equate their interface/OS with the second coming. Those who feel otherwise are Infidels.
  • The Jeerleaders –  These are the haters; the Apostates. No cute uniforms or bouncing up and down on the sidelines for them; they are more like the hordes of angry peasants with torches and pitchforks.

When these two groups interact, the result is quite similar to a holy war. But, I digress.

ZDNet has a number of articles about Ubuntu 12.10.:

Holy wars aside, one of the great things about Linux is that – except for commercial/enterprise distributions – it’s FREE. If a distribution doesn’t work as well as expected or if you just don’t like one or more things about it, you can easily switch to one that suits you. Try doing that with Windows! Since in most cases, the software applications are FREE as well, you have a minimal investment in Linux.

So, before you send that older, unused desktop/laptop PC off to Goodwill, give Linux in general and Ubuntu in particular a try. If you’re dissuaded by the idea of interface holy wars, just keep in mind the fact that the very same thing is going on right now with Windows 8. To get your very own copy of  Ubuntu- for FREE – go to Ubuntu.com.

Those who develop operating systems usually like to give each release a code name. Other than Longhorn, there is little that is truly memorable from Microsoft. Apple has a penchant for using cat names like Snow Leopard, Lion and Mountain Lion to tag releases of OS X. So far, they seem to resisted the urge to give code names to releases of iOS which drives the iPhone & iPad.

Google’s Android operating system releases have been code-named with sweet treats such as:

  • Honeycomb
  • Ice Cream Sandwich
  • Jelly Bean

Does this mean that the next release of Android will be named “Kit-Kat bar”?

All this leads us to the code names for Ubuntu Linux.  The UK-based company, Canonical Ltd. which is owned by South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth, likes to give alliterative  animal code names to releases of the Ubuntu OS. For example, recent releases of Ubuntu Linux have been code-named:

  • Lucid Lynx – Version # 10.04 released in April of 2010
  • Maverick Meerkat – Version # 10.10 released in October of 2010
  • Natty Narwhal – Version 11.04 released in April of 2011
  • Oneric Ocelot – Version 11.10 released in October of 2011
  • Precise Pangolin – Version 12.04 released in April of 2012

Early this week, Steven Vaughan-Nichols of ZDNet revealed that the code name for Version 12.10, due sometime in October, will be Quantal Quetzal. Dr. Data had predicted that the code name would be “Querulous Quetzal” but he’s more than happy to be even half right on anything. (Thirty-seven years of wedlock will do that to you.) Nonetheless, Dr. Data stands by his prediction that version 13.04, scheduled for April of 2013, will be code-named “Rabid Raccoon”.

To learn more about the upcoming release of version 12.10, including five great enhancements, read Steve’s article on ZDNet.

While you’re on ZDNet, take a look at Linus Torvalds’ take on why the Desktop version of Linux has been slow to gain acceptance amongst the user community.

Whether you’re ready or not, another release of Microsoft Office is in the offing. Tech Republic recently posted a slide-show giving consumers a first look at Office 2013. Yet another new version. Yet another reason to open your wallet. If you’ve just installed Office 2010 on your system then you most likely will be good to go for a while and can wait until Office 16 or 17 arrives. If you’re using Office 2007, it may be time to upgrade and if you’re still using Office 2003, it most definitely is time to upgrade and pony up big bucks for the privilege.

But why should you have to spend so much for the ability to read, edit and create Word documents or Excel spreadsheets?

As it turns out, you don’t. Enter the LibreOffice suite, a set of productivity tools that are 100% compatible with Microsoft Office and are free, Free, FREE.

C|NET offers a highly positive review of Version 3.4 as well as a download of the software and Infoworld calls Version 3.5 “The best Office Killer yet.” If you’re wondering how you’re going to read or create MS Word & Excel documents, the LibreOffice suite is capable of saving files in the various MS Office formats (*.doc, *.docx, *.xlsx, *.xls, etc.) as well as reading them.

The only thing that the LibreOffice suite does not offer is an analogue to Outlook.  If you’re contemplating a move to Linux thus saving scads of cash in operating systems, hardware, etc., there is Evolution – another freebie – that can serve as an excellent replacement of Outlook. There is an experimental Windows port of Evolution available but this project has been an on & off thing for a number of years now. The blog for Win Evolution has not been updated in over 2 years though the latest download is, as of this writing, less than a year old. If you’re committed to Windows, there are other substitutes available such as  Mozilla’s Thunderbird or the Opera e-mail client. There is a review of 11 FREE e-mail clients on About.com.

Returning to the topic at hand, LibreOffice is available on the following platforms:

  • Windows
  • Mac: Intel or PowerPC
  • Linux (deb): x86 or x86_64
  • Linux (rpm): x86 or x86_64

For Windows or Mac users, this is a way to experiment with your business tools before telling Microsoft or Apple to buzz off.

So, whether you’re sticking with Windows, OS X or moving to Linux, there are definitely some good substitutes for Office 10, 13 or whatever. By the way, did I mention that they are FREE?

A number of my recent TechnoRants© have dealt with computer security. This latest threat deals with the Domain Changer virus which will impact PC’s , MAC’s and probably Linux machines as well so listen up!

The FBI recently broke up a hacker ring based in Estonia that was responsible for unleashing the Domain Changer virus. The concept for this new bit of nastiness originally turned up in January ’07,  has been perfected in this most recent release and is based on a long-postulated threat to Domain Name servers. So, what does it do?

First of all, I’m not going to try to explain Domain Names. Instead, have a look at the Wikipaedia article on the Domain Name System. The Domain Changer virus has infected at least 86,000 computers and is lying dormant until July 9th of this year. On that day, it will “wake up”,  redirect your browser to “fake” versions of actual websites, slow down your internet speed and disable your anti-virus & other security software. The hackers would then make money from ads on those fake websites, many of which are probably for software to “clean up” your PC and get rid of whatever is slowing it down. The hackers would win two ways:

  1. They would obtain your credit card information
  2. The “software” would load more viruses/malware on your system.
In other words, this is the internet equivalent of “Thank you sir! May I have another?”
How do you know if you’re infected? Go to the Domain Changer Working Group website and read the brief information about the Domain Changer virus. There will also be a link at the top of the home page
that will direct you to instructions on how to Detect an infection. The detection bit is all done via the internet and you won’t have to download any software, etc. There are instructions for Windows XP, 7 and MAC OS X.
If you are infected, there is information about tools  to disinfect your system. Finally, there is general information on how to protect your system from being infected.
If you’re a Windows user and have questions, need additional help, etc. Drop Dr. Data a line and I’ll try to give you a hand.

 

The first computer I ever encountered was the SAGE system (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) used by the 33rd Air Defence Command at Fort Lee, VA. This 1950’s behemoth consumed as much floor space as offered by an average-sized ranch-style house. This thing used vacuum tubes and each tube was individually air-conditioned. You did not just walk thru the computer room, you also walked through the computer.

Earlier this year, I purchased a TonidoPlug2. This is a Linux machine that fits in the palm of your hand. It runs on a trickle of current and can be connected to your router via either Ethernet or Wi-Fi. Mine has a terabyte of storage and is essentially a file server that I can access from anywhere . . . including my tablet.

Then there’s the Raspberry Pi, a pocket-sized PC that costs $35.00. Like the TonidoPlug2, you have to supply the storage – in this case, an SD Card – and uses the Linux operating system. Of course, you’ll need a monitor but it has a HDMI connection so all you need there is a TV w/ HDMI. Add a keyboard and you’re good to go.

Tech Republic has a gallery that documents the unboxing of the Raspberry Pi from the shipping folder to being hooked up and ready to go. They also have a gallery with 5 alternatives to the Pi. Even if you’re not interested in owning one of these puppies, the photo galleries are worth a look!

This post concludes my short series on Linux as a possible post-XP use for your PC. OK, so you’re convinced that you want to give Linux a try. What next? You could, of course, download a copy of  Ubuntu or some other distribution, burn an installation CD, wipe your hard drive and start over fresh.

The problem with starting with an empty hard drive where your XP (or Vista) installation used to be is that you lose everything to do with Windows: all your software, all your data, everything. Most of us like a phased-in transition where we have a foot in both worlds – at least for a little while.

There are three possibilities here:

  1. Install Linux – in this case Ubuntu – within windows. Once you do that, you’ll get a menu every time you boot your machine asking if you want to start up Windows or Ubuntu.
  2. Install Ubuntu in a virtual machine so that you can run Windows and Linux side – by – side at the same time. There are a number of free virtual machine programmes that will handle all of this. Just keep in mind that your PC does need to have enough horse-power to carry this off.
  3. Finally, you can try what I did which is to buy a second hard drive, install Linux on that drive and make adjust your BIOS so that it goes to the Linux drive first when you boot. Linux is smart enough to realize that there is a Windows installation on the same physical machine and will present you with the boot menu mentioned above. This way, you can use Linux or Windows on the same machine. Once you’re done with Windows and comfortable with Linux, you can wipe the Windows hard drive and use it as additional space for your machine.

The first 2 are explained in an article from PCWeek. If you’re still a bit leery about switching from Windows to Linux, you can burn what is known as a “Live CD” and boot your machine from the CD rather than your hard drive. You get to test drive Linux but you will lose any applications you install as well as any files you create. You can get around this last bit by saving your data to a flash drive. This approach is also described in the PCWorld article.

Finally, there is the problem with your MS Word & Excel files. There are some very good office suites for Linux such as OpenOffice and Libre Office that will read and create documents that are compatible with the Windows analogues.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this very brief introduction to Linux and that you will at least consider it as an option when Windows XP goes the way of all operating systems.

 

Yesterday, I discussed what you can do with your perfectly good PC after Windows XP goes away. Today, I’m going to rant a bit about why you may want to give Linux a try. Keep in mind that I’m no “Fanboy” of any particular hardware or operating system. If it works for you, then it’s probably just what you need.

If you have an older PC, then Linux maybe just what you need. One reason why we keep having to buy new PCs is because the next release of Windows outstrips the capabilities of your hardware. Even though Vista came out (Hey! It wasn’t bad  after the 1st service pack was released.) was released to the entire world on January 30, 2007 – my 55th birthday – and Windows 7 was released in July of 2009, thousands upon thousands of XP users stayed right where they were because XP worked for them and they didn’t have to buy a new PC.

Linux has less stringent hard ware requirements. If your machine could run XP, it will most likely be faster under a Linux distribution like Ubuntu whose requirements are basically:

  • A 1 Gigahertz processor (Pentium 4 or better)
  • 1 Gigabytes of RAM (memory)
  • 15 Gigabytes of hard drive space (I have a 12 Gigabyte hard drive on my shelf that came from a client. It is considered to be an antique.)

In fact, Linux will quite well (read faster) on a machine with somewhat less than the above requirements. Indeed, the distribution called Puppy Linux only requires 256 megabytes of RAM.
Now before I go further, let me explain just what a Linux “distribution” is. To quote Wikipaedia,

A Linux distribution is a member of the family of Unix-like operating systems built on top of the Linux kernel. Such distributions (often called distros for short) are operating systems including a large collection of software applications such as word processors, spreadsheets, media players, and database applications. These operating systems consist of the Linux kernel and, usually, a set of libraries and utilities from the GNU Project, with graphics support from the X Window System. Distributions optimized for size may not contain X and tend to use more compact alternatives to the GNU utilities . . . There are currently over six hundred Linux distributions. Over three hundred of those are in active development, constantly being revised and improved.

The thought of 300 active distributions of Linux is simply mind-boggling. So which one should you use? I am going to recommend Ubuntu. Of course there are other distros that are just as good and have their own legions of fans but I am trying to keep things simple for you. Once you get your feet wet with Ubuntu, you may wish to try additional distros to see whats out there.

Most Linux distributions are F-R-E-E. Free. There are some specialised ones with specialised  software written to fulfill some need but most of the ones we are concerned with are free and the company or organisation behind it charges for things like support services. In addition, most of the software for distros is free as well. Hey, you can’t beat that!

Many of the common software applications that you use on a daily basis have a version for Linux or at least an analogous application in the Linux world. If you are seriously attached to a Windows application like Quicken, you can still run it on your Linux system via a software application called WINE.

So, before your eyes glaze over, I’m going to give you a couple of links and let you go. (My goal is to explain the basics and give you a taste of what Linux can do for you). These links are all related to Ubuntu.

OK. I’m going to get the important bit out of the way first. If you’re running Windows XP – any version – on your work or home PC(s), you have until April 9th, 2014 to move to a new operating system because XP is going away. Oh, it will still work on April 10th, 2014 but Microsoft will end it’s support of XP on the 9th. That means that there will be no more patches, no more security updates, etc. If one of the baddies out in cyberspace – and they are legion – decides to release some virus/malware/scam directed specifically at Windows XP on April 10th, Microsoft is going to say “Too bad. You should have moved to Windows 7 or 8 before now.” In other words, you are going to be S.O.L. and I’m not talking about “Standards Of Learning” here.

The trouble here is that there are plenty of PCs/Laptops that are still working just fine – whether at home or in the office – but lack the horsepower to run Windows 7. Some of those machines cost a fair chunk of change back in the day and people don’t want to get rid of them while they still work and work well.

One theoretical solution would be for Microsoft to release XP to the world of Open Source software. In other words, XP would be supported by the enthusiasts and organisations that like working on old software and operating systems. Mark Gibbs from PCWorld makes this case but comes to the same conclusion as I did: There’s not a bloody chance that Microsoft would ever do something like this.

So, in one sense, you’re back where you started with a good PC & an unsupported operating system. There is, however, a more practical, existing solution in the Open Source community: LINUX. This operating system has been around since 1991 and has lower disk and memory requirements than Windows and has breathed new life into many a PC. What’s more, you can still run those legacy Windows applications under Linux and best of all it’s Free!!!

Tomorrow, I’ll rant a bit more about Linux.

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