Tony's Tech Tips!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Linux, not just for geeks anymore.

Linux, the little OS (Operating System) that could has been making improvements by leaps and bounds. Do you have an old machine laying around and think it's useless? Head over to and download their Live CD. Set your BIOS to boot off the CD and get ready for an operating system install thats as unique as it is enjoyable... for a change. There are many different flavors (distributions) of Linux out there, Debian for the more geek inclined, Red Hat, one of the more common flavors that has something for everyone, and Novells SUSE Linux for server/enterprise solutions, just to name a few. Ubuntu (Heavily based off of Debian) seems to be the best option for both the uber-geek, and the casual Windows or Mac user. From the moment the CD boots, you'll know you are in for a treat, it actually loads the OS from the CD, so not only can you start installing Ubuntu to your hard drive, but you can load up firefox and start surfing the web... WHILE IT'S INSTALLING!

Bring new life to old systems!

I had a couple stray computers lying around, an old 233mhz PowerMAC, and a 500 mhz Dell. These two machines were doing nothing but taking up space, so one day, I decided to see how they ran Linux. I had to install Debian on the PowerMAC, as ubuntu did not have a Mac version available. Now, I got Debian to work fine on my PowerMAC, but it took a LOT of searching around some old mailing lists to learn the best way to do it, and being the tech head I am, had a fun time with the challenge. For now, I'll stick with talking about the Dell. I scraped up some RAM I had laying around so that I'd have 256 meg to work with, no matter what OS your working with, you can never have too much RAM that is for sure, but even with just 64 meg, it still ran way better then I had expected. The install was totally painless and after a reboot I was ready to rock and roll.

Okay, now what?

One of the best features of Ubuntu, (or any Linux flavor) are the software repositories, imagine the Add/Remove Programs panel in windows, only instead of just listing the software installed, it categorizes all the available software into nice little sub-catagories to help you find what you're looking for. When you find a program that looks worth messing with, just click on it and mark it for installation, when you're done poking around, it will download and install all the software you marked automatically. It truly is a beautiful thing. I set the Dell up with Apache (Free web server software) and a copy of Rawdog (An RSS feed aggregator) as well as all the cool screen savers I could find. One of which was an old style terminal type screen saver that would read a text or html file and display it's contents slowly, kind of like the old Wargames movie when the computer was talking back to the kid... I set Rawdog up to get the news feeds I wanted, when I wanted, then pointed my screen saver to the html file rawdog generates and now I have all the latest headlines flying across my screen in true 80's hacker movie style! Not only that, but I also made up a quick website for some friends of mine, totally painless, and runs super fast.

What's so great about all this?

Well... First off it's FREE, second, it's POWERFUL, and third, it's FAST. I'm totally blown away by how fast I can surf the web on this old clunker, it plays all my XVID's, mp3's, even youtube for crying out loud. It's so reliable one wonders how we put up with random lockups and BSOD's (Blue screen of death) for as long as we all have. Linux has a great little command called "Uptime" that tells you how long it's been since a crash or reboot, I had mine up to 1 month, 2 weeks, the only thing that stopped it was a big storm that knocked out our power, but when the power came back on, she booted up right away and was right back in the swing of things without me even having to hit a single key. Sick of rebooting every time you do a windows update? That's a big rarity in the linux world, the only time you'll need to reboot is when a new kernel comes out, maybe 3 or 4 times a year at most. If you have a newer machine, with a half-way decent video card, you can get Compiz Fusion running and make some OSX and Vista users foam at the mouth with jealousy at all the awesome 3d features that not only look cool but can actually boost productivity. There are so many neat little tools and programs that people have made you're sure to find something out there you didn't even know was possible.

Viruses, Spyware, Malware? Never seen 'em!

Finally, and probably best of all, is the total lack of nasty infectious software you run into all the time with Windows machines. While there ARE viruses for Linux, you'd probably have to manually infect your own machine to find them. This makes it a great solution for your childrens computer, as you won't have to worry about them clicking around randomly on websites and wrecking your machine. You can also run Linux and Windows on the same machine, using GRUB, the almighty boot loader. The only thing that Linux NATIVELY lacks is support for all the awesome new games that are coming out nowadays, but there is software out there that will let you run many of these games in Linux, it just takes a little tweaking to get them running, optionally, you can pay for a service that will do the tweaking for you for each game you're interested in. The bottom line, is that this is the OS that could save the planet from being overfilled with old computers lying in the dump. If you have an older machine, some spare time, and an interest in learning about new and exciting things in the computer world, you really should give Linux a try, it might just open your eyes to a whole new world of endless possibilities, even on machines that are 10+ years old. That's all for now, next time I'll answer the question I hear the most from everyone, how do I download free stuff on the internet?

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