Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Eating My Own Dogfood

Hello... I'm a Linux admin and I have no love for Microsoft, so what the hell am I doing running Windows on my Laptop for home and work? Well I should say *ran* Windows as they have both been converted over to Linux when I made the resolution this year to kick the Microsoft habit. Sure it would be nice to own a Mac and use OS X but I can't justify a new laptop while my old one is functional.

It's been a long time in the making. I have had more problems with windows than I care to recount over the years. With my recent run in with WGA and IE7 I finally decided that it was time to jump ship. At the office we are using a RHEL rebuild, so I decided to stick with one of the RedHat flavors. For a complete outsider it might be just as easy to use PClinuxOS or Ubuntu. Linux has been more than stable enough for production use for years. As for desktop use the apps were there, but the "just work" "out of box" experience had until a few years ago still been rough around the edges.

I think what finally pushed me over the edge was the constant scanning for pirate software the MS does. On my laptop at home with a clean install of XP with SP1 ( that's all I got from the OEM almost 3 years ago ) I have to install, telephone activate, validate to download SP2, validate to install SP2, validate to download updates, validate to run updates, validate to download Windows Defender, validate to install Windows Defender, ... All behind a firewall. Checking every 5 minutes to make sure your customers are criminals does no breed trust or loyalty. But that was just the final straw there was data lost when I left my system overnight only to have updates reboot the system, pushing out of IE7 as a critical update when it's still very buggy, and a general feeling that customers not forking over enough money to Microsoft are under scrutiny.

This is not the first time I have gone all Linux... the last time was 1998 if you can imagine that. Netscape was the browser of the day and I ran NFS home directories off a file server with 10Mb hub networking. It was difficult to get setup, but ran effortlessly. When my girlfriend called me with a problem running Netscape I was able to fix it while I chatted with her and she was amazed.... "What, I don't have to reboot?". The hardest part of any desktop Linux setup is the initial hump of setting up and retraining the mind to think in slightly different terms. People trained specifically for MS Windows might have a little culture shock to overcome, but for everyone else who has the ability to adapt it's really not that monumental a shift.

This time I have the benefit of having 95% or more of my daily tasks being accomplished through software that was open source. The two biggies being Firefox and Gaim both of which run almost unaltered under Linux. I haven't touched MS Office in more than 9 months because I have transitioned most of my word processing over to Google Documents and Spreadsheets. It is a far from perfect solution, but it is terribly convenient and it's free to use. The one application that will be tough is iTunes. I have a 30GB collection that I manage through the interface, but only really listen to through the iPod. I'm working on transferring that to a VMware image so that I can run it off the server.

So how hard was it.... surprisingly painless. All modern distributions allow you to seamlessly repartition without data loss and install, but I already had a spare partition on both systems that I used for installation. For my use I chose Fedora Core 6 as it is similar enough to what we use at the office for all of my experience to carry over. Graphics were up in a snap without needing to configure the monitor and all hardware was auto-detected. It took a few minutes to download updates that installed in the background without a need for a reboot. I knew in advance that I would need to get the firmware from Intel in order to activate the wireless drivers; two downloads later I had the correct firmware and I was wireless.

Gaim and Firefox were easy enough to get set up. Under Windows I usually used Gaim for IRC, under Linux I prefer to use XChat. The default gnome desktop is spartan and functional. Windows users should feel at home without making any changes although they may have to search around a bit for some of what they are used to. On my Dell Latitude sleep even works properly, unfortunately it does not work on the Compaq X1000 laptop from home. All of my familiar web apps work just as well as they did under windows. Desktop effects work like a charm on my desktop, but appear to still have problems with the mobile ATI cards in the laptops. It's just a matter of time and it's not like the copycat effects are necessary for the system.

I just feel better having taken MS off as my primary OS. It just felt like the right thing to do. Living in a culture of materialism it's nice to know that I'm contributing to a community where it's share and share alike. Where when updates come out I don't have to give a DNA sample to verify that I'm entitled to the patch.

In the end Microsoft is the reason I'm here. I might still be a Windows user and recommend Microsoft products if they would just get their act together. I will post another update when I solve the iTunes issues and how it was accomplished. I'm hoping that VMware will run ok on the $400 1TB file server I just bought ( but that's an update for another day ).

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