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Top 10 Linux FUD Patterns, Part 2

Linux FUD Pattern #1: Linux has a steep learning curve

The #1 item on my Top 10 List of Linux FUD Patterns concerns its learning curve. This pattern is probably the most prevalent and primarily appeals to fear by attempting to convince you that Linux is too hard for the average person to use or that it is simply not user friendly. There are many variations of this pattern, from the straight-forward “Linux is for geeks” assault to more mature, logical arguments, such as “if Linux can do everything the fill-in-the-blank OS can do, why bother with the hassle of switching?”.

To be honest, as with every convincing piece of FUD, I think this line of reason has…or should I say, had…a glimmer of truth behind it. Back in the day, when I was casually messing around with Linux as a hobby, I spent many hours on “administrative” tasks, such as installing Slackware from 30+ floppy disks on old retired hardware and trying to configure the RedHat-bundled Metro-X server for specific video cards and monitors. Looking back, these tasks were difficult enough for a seasoned PC tech like myself, let alone for the general public. But today, it’s a different story, especially since Ubuntu makes it so easy.Nonetheless, web news headlines asking “Is Linux Ready for Prime Time?” still appear frequently. What makes Linux so difficult anyway? A quick look through screenshots and how-tos for modern Linux distributions tells quite a different story, does it not? I believe its close association with Unix is the primary reason.

The X logo.Unix in general has a “bad” reputation for being a command-line-driven OS. It was written in the late 1960s and the graphical ‘X’ windowing system was not introduced until the mid 1980s. In contrast, Linux was first released by Linus Torvalds about 1991 and the development of the XFree86 windowing system for PCs began about a year later. Therefore, one could argue that Linux had a graphical user interface “from the start”. Moreover, Ubuntu and others have done a great job in reducing the user’s exposure to the system console altogether. The need to log into the system on a character-based screen and manually run ‘startx‘ is no more. Of course, you may forgo an X session and boot directly into a prompt if you wish, but that is not the default.

First impressions count too. Despite the availability of X, my first serious exposure to Unix was in university in the mid 1990s and took place, not on something as fancy as a Sun SPARCstation, but on an amber-on-black dumb terminal in the school’s computer lab. To me, Unix came to mean a terminal screen, often accessed via telnet over a dial-up connection with the host computer. It was not until several years later that I discovered X.

Case sensitivity is another classic example. Unix and its kin are case sensitive in practically every respect, and most visibly when saving and opening files. This can be a most obnoxious feature when working from the command line, especially for the occasional user; however, the impact is minimal in today’s point-and-click Linux world. I have heard the concern expressed more than once that having two or more different files in the same directory, each with the same name, differing only in case, would be too confusing. My usual response is in the form of a question: why would a person have so many files named essentially the same thing to begin with? Just because it can be done, doesn’t mean that it should be done.

Other differences exist, such as installation methods for both the OS and software applications, but I think I’ve made my point: Linux is very much like Unix, but it is not the same OS. Linux was made for the x86 PC platform, though other platforms are supported as well. It was written with the end-user in mind, knowing that the everyday user will demand a slick windowing environment, web browsers with plug-in support, and the like. Contributors to Linux and its applications are everyday users too, you know.

How can these negative perceptions be overcome? The concept that Linux is very similar – but not the same as – Unix is too academic, too logical and would take far too long to adequately communicate to the masses. It just doesn’t make for good marketing.

Nothing, however, beats seeing it in action! Remember what I said about first impressions? Live CDs are very useful weapons against FUD. They allow potential users to test drive the OS, to try before “buying”. This helps prove to some that Linux has come a long way in terms of automatic hardware detection and other features that make it user friendly. It’s also much easier than going to the extent of configuring a dual-boot system. The downside is, they can be a bit slow under certain conditions. If a friend has a Linux system already installed, it may be better to try that out instead.

It is also fortunate that the academic community has shown an interest in Linux. Of course, this stems partially from the never-ending need for schools to save money, but there are also purely-educational reasons for using Linux as well. For example, Linux provides an open platform for programming classes and many math- and science-based applications have been developed. Early exposure to Linux means that kids will “grow up” with it and its “peculiarities”.

Hopefully, this treatise will help you keep an open mind the next time you read an article on how Linux could dominate the market “if only it were easier to use”, or help you form an appropriate response when someone expresses the same sort of sentiment in conversation. Always seek out the reasons used to support these opinions and remember that experience should provide more convincing evidence than the rhetoric of FUD.

Cheers!
-Brandon

<< Go To Part 1 Go To Part 3 >>

Happy New Year: A New Contributor Joins Linux FUD

Ok… I know, I know… it’s been over 7 months since my last post! I have been busy with my personal life, work, and Visual Basic .NET night classes that I’ve been taking for work, which barely left me with a social life, but classes are done now and I think I’ll have more time. I have been commenting or replying to others as much as I can, though.

Oh, and Happy New Year!

With the New Year comes a new thing: a new writer joins this blog in my quest to squash FUD towards Linux. Brandon lives in the Dallas Metroplex in Texas and has much more experience than I do in Linux… and lives much more south than I do! ) We have very similar technical backgrounds and I’m sure we’ll work well as a team. He will post whenever he can on no particular schedule… like me! )

So let’s welcome Brandon to the team! And if you are interested in joining us as a part-time or occasional writer, contact us.

– Kevin Guertin

——

Greetings all! My name is Brandon, I use Ubuntu exclusively for my personal computing, and I’ve volunteered to assist Kevin in maintaining the Linux FUD blog. By way of introduction, I would like to share my own conversion story.

My experience with computing began in the era of the Commodore 64 and the Apple IIe. I never had to use punch cards, but I do remember saving data to cassette tape. I learned how to program in BASIC on our home computer, which ran on MS-DOS 2.1! Over time, I migrated through the various releases of DOS and graduated from BASIC A to the more procedural QBasic. I tinkered with assembly language, removed the sound commands from gorilla.bas on the school computers (my apologies, Mrs. Hanes), and even learned how to add mouse support to a batch program.

In a nutshell, I “grew up” on DOS and BASIC. I was not a fan of the early members of the Windows family, however. Windows 3.x was slow and Win95/98 was buggy. The stability and security of NT 4.0 won me over and I became a huge fan of NT. For a variety of reasons I continued to use it without major upgrade for nearly a decade.

My interest in Linux began around 1996 or so, when two individuals, a coworker and a schoolmate, independently tried to convert me away from NT. I was vehemently resistant at first, but the more I read about it, the more I entertained the thought of switching. I eventually bought (yes, actually paid for) a copy of Red Hat Linux 5.0, but my experiments with it and subsequently with Slackware were less than successful. Though I was unconvinced that Linux was good enough for daily use, I did see its potential value as a platform for computation-intensive applications.

A few years later, a work assignment presented the perfect opportunity to show off some of those QBasic skills. To my surprise, beginning with Windows 2000, QBasic was no longer being bundled with the OS. To complete my project, I gained access to one of the Solaris machines and learned Perl as a replacement language. Though this had nothing to do with Linux per se, I became much better acquainted with Unix in general and eventually traded my Win2K work laptop for a shiny new Sun Station…ok, the “shiny” part was a joke, really, but it was new. Besides Perl, I started making heavy use of awk, sed, and other utilities. I finally had my command line back and with some very powerful tools to boot.

The more I read about the state of Linux over the years, the more I was impressed and I started running Knoppix to try out the new OS before committing to it. After that, there was no question left in my mind that Linux would be my next platform of choice. I was still not impressed with Red Hat, however, so I narrowed my short list to Suse and Ubuntu.

When I purchased a new laptop in 2006, I decided to try Ubuntu first. I thought that I would end up with SUSE in the end, but Ubuntu was making serious headlines and, true to its word, everything “just worked”. I never did install SUSE. Since then, I’ve converted my wife and my parents to Ubuntu and have had several friends express an interest in the recent past.

I do not think my conversion story is all that unique and it is certainly not entertaining or inspirational. No, I wanted to tell my story because it illustrates fear, uncertainty and doubt at various levels. Fear that Linux will not survive long-term. Uncertainty that it will suit my needs. Doubt that I will be able to see my data later if I decide to switch again. The decision to convert 100% was neither quick nor easy. When I look back on it, I recognize that the decision was swayed in both directions by the articles I read and the people with whom I spoke.

Therein lies my interest in contributing to this blog, to help eliminate FUD, both intrinsic and intentional. More on that to come.

Until next time, Happy New Year!

I’m Still Alive…

I would like to apologize for the lack of blogging here on Linux FUD. I can’t seem to find the time anymore to write anything with a full time job that requires traveling and other personal commitments. My priorities have changed drastically this year. I haven’t given up entirely… I will post whenever I can fit it in and whenever I have something worthwhile to write.

If anyone is interested in joining this blog as a writer (you don’t have to be an Ubuntu-only user, any distribution will do), you are more than welcome to join. Send me an email (see the Contact section) and we can work something out. This blog averages about 600-800 pageviews per day.

Thank you for understanding and here’s to hoping someone will be interested in becoming a writer for Linux FUD… pass me my beer.

Geeky Distractions: Falling Into the Pits of Geekiness

Two months and eight days. That’s how long it has been since my last post on December 3, 2006. There’s no excuse, but there are reasons. Not that these reasons are justified.

I got distracted. Well, to be honest, I got geekier… and distracted.

First, I got sucked into this massive multiplayer online roleplaying space game called EVE Online: Revelations. I even had a promo on here for a while. It’s a great game. EVE OnlineI’m not a gamer, but I’ve been fascinated with the cosmos of late and when I saw the screenshots and trailers, I had to give the 14-day trial a go. For 2 weeks I was immersed in travelling the universe. And when I mean travel, I literally mean over 30 minutes of real-time gameplay just to travel from one point to another at hyper speed with brief stops. This game universe is IMMENSE and awe-inspiring! It’s quite odd travelling the universe without a real sense of up or down. Anyhow, once my trial was done, it satisfied my curiosity and quenched my fascination and I let it go.

Second, I once again screwed up my computer by installing Windows Vista Ultimate… legally, I might add (MSDN Subscription). Windows VistaAlthough my main system is Ubuntu, I’m a true geek and I really wanted to have Vista, despite all the warnings. It’s a new toy to play with. I tried installing it in a dual-boot configuration with Ubuntu, but it seems Vista’s boot-loader has changed and it now takes over your system – in a true Microsoft way – and no matter what I would do, I couldn’t get a GRUB menu. Nevertheless, Vista doesn’t work well with my audio card and crappy ATI Radeon 9200SE card so I did a clean install of Windows XP, preserving my Ubuntu. I’ll try again later once I have better hardware and research.

Third, the Christmas holidays happened. No time really to be blogging.

Fourth, with my fascination with the Cosmos still strong and vibrant, I started watching Stargate SG1 from Season 1 to Season 9 and Stargate: Atlantis, enthralled with the idea of travelling to billions of other solar systems and planets. I started watching it New Year’s day and I’m currently halfway through Season 9 of SG1 and Season 2 of Atlantis. That’s a lot of Stargate! There’s no soap in the world that will wash the geek out of me now! (And no, I don’t live in my parents’ basement. I have my own home, thank you.:))

World of Warcraft LogoFifth, I got distracted by trying out World of Warcraft for a week. Again, I’m not a gamer, but I’m captivated by the whole concept of massive real-world gaming worlds.

Sixth, I got a brand-new 20.1″ LG LCD monitor (L204WT) to replace my failing Samsung 19″ SyncMaster 955DF CRT monitor, and it was only 2 years old. l204wt_lrg.jpgWhy is this a distraction? Well, my old CRT monitor was getting very blurry (common problem with this monitor – don’t buy one) and I had to reduce the contrast to make the screen darker so I can read the text on it… and the colors weren’t vibrant. So when I got the LCD, it was like a whole new world for me. I am now able to theme my OSes with darker themes and still read the text. I’ve been playing around A LOT with my themes in both Ubuntu and Windows XP. I will have screenshots of them posted here soon. Ubuntu looks so much better than I’m used to now. The only gripe about this monitor is that it has an odd resolution of 1680 x 1050 and it makes it difficult to find wallpapers that fit without having to edit them.

So that makes 5 pits of geekiness (not counting the Xmas point) that I fell into that distracted me from this blog. Someone throw me a rope. Well, this blog could be considered another geek pit. Hopefully now I’ll steer clear from these attractive pits of geekiness and concentrate on this blog a little more. 😉

Stay tuned…

Ubuntu Tool Highlight: StartUp-Manager – Configure GRUB and Usplash

While perusing the Ubuntu forums for a way to fix my disappeared bootup and shutdown usplash, I found this great new tool for Ubuntu 6.10 (Edgy) called StartUp-Manager or SUM.

StartUp-Manager Boot Options TabStartUp-Manager Appearance TabStartUp-Manager Security Tab

UPDATE (2007.02.12): Updated screenshots of the newest version of SUM can be found here.

SUM is a python-glade GUI tool for configuring the GRUB bootloader options, changing its appearance (like colors and background), and adding password protection to edit your GRUB menu.

SUM also allows you to configure your usplash and install new ones. This was great for me because I lost both the boot-up usplash and the shutdown usplash when I was trying to configure it. This fixed it in a cinch!

–> To download and install StartUp-Manager, download the DEB package attached to SUM’s official spot on the Ubuntu Forums here. UPDATE (2007.02.12): Homepage can be found here.

BUT A WORD OF CAUTION! It’s only for Ubuntu 6.10. It will NOT work with other Linux distributions!

The author warns:

If you are unlucky, this tool could make your system unable to start.
USE IT AT YOUR OWN RISK!

It is only tested with Ubuntu 6.10 (Edgy).
It might work with other versions of Ubuntu, but it is not recommended.

It will most certainly NOT work with any other Linux distro.
It will also most certianly NOT work with Ubuntu if anything else than the Ubuntu installer created your GRUB config files (ie some other distro is installed after Ubuntu and has overwritten the MBR).

Since my system is Ubuntu 6.10 (Edgy), I didn’t encounter any problems. All I had to do was install the deb file and that was it. No long installation process. Once installed, it can be accessed under System > Administration > StartUp-Manager.

Color Scheme Designer for Gnome Desktop

In Thomas Wood’s blog post about supporting color schemes in the gnome-theme-manager, a reader named Drew Kerr pointed readers to a nifty little tool that helps users and designers (even painters!) to select color schemes.

Agave ScreenshotAgave “allows you to generate a variety of color schemes from a single starting color.” It is free software licensed under the open-source GPL License.

Agave allows you to generate 6 different types of color schemes: Complements, Split Complements, Triads, Tetrads, Analogous, and Monochromatic from any base color you desire. It supports Drag and Drop between Agave and GIMP, as well as many other programs.

Other features allow you to save your schemes as favorites, generate random schemes, selecting colors outside of Agave with a dropper, and more.

Gnome-Theme-Manager to Support Color Scheme Customization

Gnome Theme Manager to Support Color Scheme CustomizationOne thing lacking in Gnome is the ability to change the color scheme of your chosen theme. More precisely, gnome-theme-manager doesn’t currently allow you to customize your colors. You can change your icons, window borders, and controls, but you can’t change the color scheme. The color scheme is set within the chosen Theme itself and currently cannot be easily changed/edited by a user.

This is about to change, and I, for one, will be one step closer to be fully Microsoft Windows-free!

Thomas Wood, the developer, also tells us:

“My current plans include the ability to specify a number of different color schemes in the theme itself (including translations of the colour scheme names). If you set your own colours, you will set the current colour scheme to ‘Custom’, and will always be able to pick one of the schemes from the theme again.”

Just like in KDE. Wicked sweet! That is one thing I love about KDE, though. Highly customizable. 🙂

Thank you, Thomas!