Current views on Linux


As my experience with Linux develops. The way I view it, and use it evolves. When I first started using Linux, it was as much for the novelty factor as anything. I liked the idea that it was free, and had a range of software that cost nothing to install. Initially I was hopeful that it would be a good alternative to my then standard MacOSX Macbook, for using the internet, viewing websites and email. Viewing websites was straight forward from the beginning, though email took me some time to work out. The breakthrough came with an update to Thunderbird, which automated the setup for Gmail accounts. Since then I have learned more about email, and can now do more with it than I was ever able to do on OSX. As I started to explore some of the other software available on Linux, I found some of it to be of comparable quality to the commercial standards I had been using on OS9 and OSX, though some of it was on the clunky side. Open Office being a good example of the later, though this has been well and truly rectified since it was forked into LibreOffice. How does LibreOffice compare with Microsoft Office? I don't know, as I haven't used MS Office beyond the 2004 version for Mac. I do know that it is very functional, stable, and apart from some formatting differences, has no problems working with even the latest docx files. In other areas of software it is like comparing apples with oranges. Take for example, Photoshop. The nearest equivalent is generally considered to be GIMP. Detractors of the GIMP will often point to the fact that Photoshop offers 16 bit floating point, where as the GIMP only does 8 bit. As I said apples and oranges. Photoshop is layers based, where as the GIMP is node based. While you can actually do much the same thing with both programs, how that is done is quite different, and as to the 8 bit, 16 bit thing, well Cinepaint (a GIMP fork) is quite happy doing 32 bit floating point. For the most part I now prefer using GIMP (it does work better on Linux systems, than others) and occasionally use Cinepaint when I want to do something in 32 bit.

In the same vein, I found setting up Linux for audio recording/production to be a very steep learning curve, but now have a production environment that is an order of magnitude beyond what I had envisioned possible on a Mac environment, it also required a very different approach.

When I first started using Linux, I was fortunate to start with Ubuntu. Ubuntu is, I think the very best distribution of Linux for beginners. It is probably also among the best all round distributions for general use. That said I became interested in some of the other distributions, particularly Debian, from which Ubuntu is derived. I started trying out some other distributions as virtual machines in Oracle's VirtualBox software, which while giving a small taste, just wasn't the same as running the distro's on their own partition on my computer. Due to the fact that my computer is much more powerful than the average home computer, and on going developments with VirtualBox, I now feel much more comfortable running virtual machines, but also run five different Linux distro's natively on my computer.

Currently I have 1: Ubuntu 10.04LTS as a bloated general purpose OS, though I rarely use it now.

I also have 2: Debian Squeeze (stable) set up for audio and video production. This is a very stable and powerful system.

My favorite system until recently was 3: Debian Wheezy (testing) which is generally a fun system to play with, though with the nature of it being a distro in testing phase it can and does develop some odd traits and I am currently waiting for one of those triats to be ironed out before I go back to regular usage.

I'm currently favoring 4: Fedora 16 for general internet and graphics usage. I don't find it as versatile as the Debian systems, but it seems to excel for graphics.

This post is being written on 5: OpenSUSE 12.1. I installed and started using this distro as part of studying towards LPIC-1 certification, and as the favored distro of the text book author, it is easier to do some of the exercises on. My current opinion of it, is that it makes an excellent distribution for use in an office, but has limited appeal to me beyond that.

I think my next project will be to build a NAS system, most likely running FreeNAS (FreeBSD variant) as the operating system.

Final thoughts: Linux is a Posix compliant operating system. Many people who don't know any better belittle Linux, stating that it isn't up to the level of Microsoft Windows. Consider this, Posix compliant systems (Linux, OSX, BSD, UNIX) going back to the original UNIX operating system, have over 40 years of commercial use and continuous development by people in such high numbers that Microsoft could only dream of being able to employ. In comparison to the length and depth of Posix development, Windows is still only an adolescent. This website, as are about 90% of all websites, is being delivered to your computer by a Linux server.

PS, Linux is infinitely customizable. If you don't like, or find the desktop of a Linux distribution unpleasant to use, you can simply change to a different desktop on a given distribution. Personally I don't like using KDE, Gnome3, or Unity, so instead I use XFCE, which works very well for me. There are also many other desktops to choose from too. I have recently installed Xubuntu 12.04 (Ubuntu 12.04 with the XFCE desktop) as a virtual machine, and so far it looks very impressive. I like to wait around six months after the release of a new Ubuntu version so it can stabilize.