Another Reason to Drop Windows

FedEx was among many companies disastrously affected by last week’s global ransomware attack. It was completely stupid and unnecessary. The shutdown (a desperate attempt to halt the spread of the attack) caused big dispatch problems for drivers and tracking issues for customers. I did all my documentation on paper yesterday and the package scanner was useless.

A multi-billion dollar company still using WindowsXP (unsupported, even with security updates for most people, although some corporate customers have been able to extend support – for a big fat fee) and that doesn’t even have backups in place?!? There’s no excuse for that. Yesterday’s chaos was completely unnecessary.

Y’know I’m a Linux fanboy and would love to “convert” my company to Linux, but that’s obviously not going to happen. If FedEx is stupid enough to use a long-unsupported legacy Windows OS and not even back their stuff up, they’re sure as heck not gonna be smart enough to take the necessary steps to avoid another hack by switching to Linux or BSD. Maybe they’ll be smart enough to have backups in place, but my experience with the company has demonstrated some particularly foolhardy nonsense at the corporate level.

But the rest of us can learn a lesson from this! Most readers of this blog are just casual, “ordinary” desktop and laptop computer users (students, home users). WindowsXP was the best Windows OS ever! It’s only gotten worse since then, and that’s why a lot of people are still using it. The later versions of Windows got bloated and resource-hungry and kept interrupting users with notifications, updates (always in the middle of writing a term paper or something), and other stuff that demands the users’ immediate attention. A lot of the software that “comes with Windows” isn’t for the user at all, but for the OS! Just to keep it running and stable and reliable. That’s bloatware and hogs even more resources, slowing everything down.

If you’re one of those folks hanging onto WinXP because you have an old computer that still runs it fine, or the newer versions of Windows are confusing and even a little terrifying, take a lesson! Don’t be like FedEx. There are Linux distributions that even technophobes like me can use, that are fully updated and supported, free of bloatware (so it stays out of your way when writing that big ol’ term paper), and that cost nothing to get and install on your computer!

For newbies I really like Linux Lite. It’s made for novices just like Linux Mint and many other “newbie-friendly” Linux distributions, but it works very well on those older machines that ran WinXP so well! I could also recommend LXLE because it’s made for older hardware, but it is not designed for newcomers to Linux. Neither is AntiX (MX), or Salix, and neither are many of the other “lightweight” distros aimed at older computers. Linux Mint is great for novices, but it’s so heavy it doesn’t run well on those perfectly good but modest older computers.

LXLE on an Ancient Spare Desktop

Her computer is even older than mine, with even less RAM. I thought Puppy Linux or AntiX would be the only choices, since my previous experience with SalixOS was so disappointing. But just for grins and giggles, I put LXLE’s newest 32-bit version, Electra (16.04) on it. It’s Dell Dimension with an ancient Celeron processor and 512 mb of RAM. WindowsXP was brand new when this computer was new (still the best Windows version ever in my opinion).

Maybe Lubuntu would have just as good as LXLE or better, but I have a special fondness for this spin-off, partly because it’s choice of default applications is better, but it offers a downright luxurious experience for most users.

Four things disappointed me this time around. The installer took forever to successfully install this distro, much longer than I’m used to. Notification windows refused to close, slowing it down even more. Whatever, I chalk that up to the computer’s age and lack of resources. But the other three things that bother me this time around are:

Adding a new panel to the bottom is not possible. The panel has to go on the right or left side, period. I don’t think that’s an LXDE thing, since it has always been possible to put a panel anywhere I wished before now. My desktop has a wicked-kewl Xfce panel on the bottom with just launchers, analog clock (unavailable in LXDE) and weather applet (also unavailable in LXDE).

The weather applet is LXLE is unsupported and doesn’t work. I think I read somewhere that it has been forked, and the new one might work, but it isn’t included or listed among available applets for the panel. Not a deal breaker, as the user doesn’t even care about that since she goes to the web for weather and stuff anyway.

Whatever they did to Seamonkey – in my opinion the best web browser – on LXLE rendered it impossible to use on this ancient relic. The visible browser screen takes only a third of the screen and won’t expand to a viewable area. It’s faster than Chromium, which is what I installed after experimenting with Epiphany for a bit. Midori is still buggy and crashy, and Epiphany is just okay. Soooooo… I dropped all the extensive and abundant modifications and reset Seamonkey to the ordinary defaults from Mozilla, and bingo! Zips along faster than Chromium or Firefox, and it’s more reliable than crashy Midori and just-okay Epiphany.

Seamonkey is still the bestest, most wonderfulest and awesomeful internet suite in the history of ever!

I completely disabled screen-blanking, since when it “wakes up from a nap,” it’s all oversized and pixelated. Graphics driver issue, I think. Now set up to auto-detect and never blank the screen.

So LXLE – with modifications and un-doing some of the “improvements,” will probably keep her old relic going for months to come!

Linux Vs Windows

Most of you know I’m finally going back to school after more than 30 years. I don’t mind telling y’all that I’m not a little scared about it. My first class is Freshman English Composition 1. It made sense to me to take that one first so I’ll know how to write papers for all my other classes.

This is my second essay, a “comparison & contrast” essay. It’s probably not hard for my readers to guess what I wanted to compare and contrast, since I think the majority of my posts here have been about my desktop operating system. Borrrrrinnnnnng for most people, I know. And for this essay we were instructed “to inform and entertain,” which means I really couldn’t write a boring, technical comparison. I think I succeeded – a little late in the essay though – in making it “entertaining.” We’ll do peer reviews of each other’s work next week, but I’d like to start mine early, so please, offer some feedback as to how I can make this essay better, and especially more entertaining!

Desktop Operating Systems

Linux vs. Microsoft Windows®

Most computer users are content to use whatever operating system “comes with the computer” when they buy it, never giving their operating system a second thought – until it slows to a crawl, gets a virus, or freezes. They think about the operating system when the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) appears in Microsoft Windows®. Then the only operating systems most people are aware of are Windows and Apple’s Macintosh system. Now with support for Windows XP ending next month, many users have resigned themselves to buying a new computer that can support the new versions of Windows. That, however, is not actually necessary, because most Linux desktop and laptop operating systems support older, modest hardware and are available to most PC users free of charge. For most users Linux does everything that Windows can.

Home users use their computers for writing, spreadsheets, web browsing, e-mail, sharing music and pictures, and keeping up with Facebook. Since many Windows users are heavy gamers, Linux may not fully satisfy their needs, because the majority of people who write computer games have Windows users in mind when they write them. Yet players of many popular Massively Multi-Player Role Playing Games (MMPRPGs) are able to play World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy on Linux machines. Non-gamers are likely to have an even more satisfying experience on Linux than they had on Windows.

Almost all Linux desktop operating systems are available at no charge! Released under the General Public License, Linux and most of the software it uses are Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). Thousands of coders from all over the world collaborate continually to maintain Linux and keep it updated. This is in stark contrast with Microsoft Windows®, which is proprietary and closed-source, and lavishly expensive; as is the “bloatware” needed to maintain it.

The term “bloatware” refers to software that is not intended for the user, but just for the operating system (OS). Anti-virus / security software, registry cleaners, and other optimization software is considered “bloatware.” Linux, by contrast, has no registry to clean and has virtual immunity from known viruses, spyware, and other forms of malware. One of the reasons for this difference is simply the fact that Windows users ordinarily operate with “Administrator” privileges, while Linux users have to enter a password and log in as “root” (Administrator) to access the vulnerable bits of the system. No need for “bloatware” whatsoever. It is an easy choice: Pay lavishly for an expensive, resource-hogging system, and for expensive “bloatware” to keep Windows happy and cooperative, or pay nothing for a virtually virus-proof system, saving your hard drive space for your pictures, videos, documents, and favorite miscellaneous digital treasures.

FOSS offers free (as in cost) alternatives to most applications that Windows users pay big money for: Evince does what Adobe Reader does; Firefox, Chromium, Opera, and Midori do what Internet Exlporer does. Thunderbird and Evolution do what Outlook does; and Open Office and Libre Office do almost everything that Microsoft Office® does. GIMP does what Adobe Photoshop® does. Pidgin is an all-in-one FOSS application that replaces AOL’s Instant Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Instant Messaging, and Skype®. Most of the 300-plus free Linux distributions include all this software on their free and downloadable installation CDs and DVDs.

Linux users are able to keep their older hardware out of the landfills and lend their computers years of new life simply by switching from Microsoft Windows® to one of the completely free distributions of a Linux operating system. It makes good ecological sense to use Linux rather than to discard a perfectly good computer simply because the operating system has become obsolete. Linux is also more energy efficient, making full use of the computer’s resources without needing to run a half-dozen instances of “bloatware” in the background, robbing the user of the use of those resources for applications. Computer users want to run applications, not the operating system! Linux lets users do that, staying out of the way; while Windows is a resource hog that reserves vast resources for itself, keeping them unavailable to the user. In an interview with PC Magazine, the inventor of Linux, Linus Torvaldes, put it better than anyone before or since: “Computers are like air conditioners,” he said. “Once you open Windows, they’re useless!”

In the blockbuster film The Matrix, one if it’s major characters, Morpheus, describes the Matrix’ grip on the minds of its victims in terms that exactly and perfectly describe the majority of computer users victimized by Windows:

“You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.” Microsoft counts on that sense of dependency and fosters it by discounting their system to original equipment manufacturers who agree to sell Windows and other Microsoft products on their new computers. Windows has become an institution in itself: The default format for most documents is .doc and .docx, used in Microsoft Office®. Drivers for printers, monitors, and other peripherals are written overwhelmingly to operate on Windows. The grip of Microsoft, both on manufacturers and users is almost palpable. Yet as the most-used operating system worldwide, Windows XP, reaches the end of its life, more and more people, institutions, and governments are switching to Linux and saving millions by doing so. Among the most notable of these, according to Wikipedia, are the city government of Munich, Germany, which chose in 2003 to migrate its 14,000 desktops to Linux. The United States Department of Defense has switched all the servers for the US Army to Red Hat Enterprise Linux, the Federal Aviation Administration is currently making the switch, and the National Nuclear Security Administration is using it. The city of Vienna, Italy scrapped Windows for Linux. The French Parliament has switched its desktop computers to Ubuntu Linux, as has their police force, the National Gendaremie, and France’s Ministry of Agriculture as well. The federal employment office of Germany has switched to OpenSUSE Linux. Several school systems in the United States and abroad are saving thousands by switching to Linux, and Daytona State College / University of Central Florida’s Writing Center is promoting Libre Office in place of Microsoft Office.

Put side by side, the two operating systems are so unevenly matched for cost, security, availability, support, and ability to function speedily on modest hardware that in the years to come, the Microsoft Matrix-like grip on the desktop computer may be loosened. One computer and one user at a time, a new standard may emerge to dominate the desktop.

My Technophobia

Any fan of the Star Trek movies will remember this little guy from the movie Star Trek – Insurrection:

That’s Artim, of the Baku. His ancestors came from a planet where technology had developed weapons that threatened to destroy all life. Determined never to allow that to happen again, some of them decided to colonize a new world where most technology would be forsaken, and to build an agrarian society where machines do not do all the work of the people, leaving the idle to make mischief. Despite being technologically advanced, Artim’s people have rejected technology.

“Artim” is the moniker (and image) I chose to identify myself by in the wonderful forums they have at PCLinuxOS. Because I’ve always been pretty scared of technology. I’m an artist, and the last thing I ever imagined I’d be doing would be repartitioning a hard drive and installing and configuring my own operating system! “Linux is only for techno-geeks,” I had always assumed, and whenever I had computer problems I simply took the machine to a Microsoft Certified repair geek and paid whatever ransom was required to get my computer running again. I didn’t want to have anything to do with fixing my own tech stuff. I was scared to even open the tower cabinet to blow dust out of it! When the new smart phones came out, I asked for a “regular” phone, preferably one like this:

Please, just keep it simple! I don’t want a fancy one that can track the orbits of planets and comets, or predict the weather, or tell me what my dreams mean and whatever else those “smart” phones do! I just want a mobile telephone for goodnessakes, can’t I just have a phone? Noooooo. They don’t even make those anymore. And the old bricks that once served only as phones won’t work anymore with the current technology.

I really do get freaked out by technology. But like Artim’s people in the movie, technology was imposed upon me by outsiders, and I had to overcome my fear and distrust of all things technological. When I joined the fire department it was all techno-stuff. In college it was techno-stuff. Lifesaving techno-stuff, good and beneficial techno-stuff. But no less frightening to me than the walking, talking android Starfleet Commander was to little Artim at first.

So am I some kind of tech guru now? No way. Have I lost my fear of technology? Not entirely. I’m still just an ordinary reluctant user of computers and smart phones and technology by necessity. And frankly I still fume at having it imposed upon me. I am far from embracing this new world I find myself in now, where – like Artim’s ancestors – technology threatens to destroy all life. “When you build a machine to do the work of a man, you take something away from the man,” Artim’s father explained to Captain Picard.

Linux is not the fearful technology I imagined, though. It is simply the means by which I have overcome the tyranny imposed by Microsoft, just as the Enterprise’ technology liberated Artim’s world. In fact, Microsoft’s operating system is a lot more complicated, confusing, and bewildering than desktop Linux is. And look at the prices! Microsoft’s bloated, high-risk operating system: Two to three hundred dollars by itself, plus the cost of all the bloatware needed to maintain it (antivirus, anti-spyware, etc) and the cost of whatever software you need (Microsoft Office – $100 or more), and of course, the repeated cost of having a Microsoft Certified techno-geek repair the damage of ordinary use. Compare to Linux: Free. Completely free of charge for the operating system, no need for bloatware to maintain it, and free, open-source software like LibreOffice to do what others charge big bucks for. Maintaining it is also free of charge. Safe updates from software repositories maintained by volunteer developers, packagers, and maintainers. My Linux installs effortlessly in about 25 minutes. Try that with Winblows or Mac! I point-and-click my way through easily navigable screens, choose a name and a root (administrator) password and presto, done.

The only confusing thing for me has been all the different “flavors” Linux is available in, and the different desktop environments to choose from. But trying them all out costs nothing, and one can’t help but learn along the way. It took me a year to finally choose a favorite desktop, and two new ones have come along since then! Such wondrous variety, and all free.

More Reasons Not to Fear Linux

Linux has no “registry,” and thus no registry errors to slow it down to a crawl and no need for more software to “fix” it.

Linux is not susceptible to most viruses and malware like Winblows is, for two reasons: First because there aren’t many ‘Nixers as compared to ‘Dozers, so not much malware gets written to attack this “obscure” operating system. But second, because executable files don’t run in Linux like they do in Winblows, and the user doesn’t ordinarily operate in Linux as “Administrator” like Winblows users do. Viruses simply don’t have access to the system, and even if they get it through some act of deliberate stupidity on the part of the user, they may not even be executable there.

Linux works on just about any hardware nowadays, and it’s ideal for keeping older computers running better than new instead of replacing a perfectly good computer because Winblows doesn’t support the version that was installed when you bought it. Did you get that, WindowsXP users? Next April you don’t have to spend big bucks for a whole new machine just because support for WindowsXP is ending! There’s a completely FREE alternative that should not scare you like I was scared at first. Like Artim was.

I’m no Linux guru or techno-geek. I’m not running off to join Starfleet. I’m just an appreciative Baku boy with a better perspective of technology (and a new android friend). A little less bewildered and scared of it, and better able to help others just like me, who try to avoid technology and have been willing to pay tribute to a tyrant (Microsoft or Apple) rather than live free and on their own terms. Technology is meant to serve us, not the other way around! Remember Artim when April gets closer and your XP machine is about to become obsolete and more threatening than ever. Even a little sidekick can handle most desktop Linux distributions without any special geek-training. You can too. Don’t be scared.

Linux for the Future

WindowsXP will reach the end of it’s supported life shortly. Millions of people will dump their old machines and buy mass-produced cheap-as-possible new computers with Windows 7 and 8 on them. Millions more will probably just keep using XP – unsupported – for as long as they can.

Once upon a time, Linux was “the answer” for older hardware, but have you looked lately at the big popular distros? I’m talkin’ ’bout Linux Mint, Ubuntu, PCLinuxOS, etc. They won’t exactly fly along on that old hardware either! So you look for the popular “lightweight” Linux flavors like Linux Mint Xfce, Xubuntu, Lubuntu. Maybe they’ll run okay even on older hardware (I love my Xubu on the old Dell), but here’s the thing: When the current Long-Term-Support editions reach end-of-life, good luck finding any of them that still fit in a CD.

The most popular distros are great, but most of the newest versions will simply not run very well on machines that presently run WindowsXP.

My old Dell runs pretty okay on Linux Mint Xfce and Xubuntu, but here’s the thing with them now: The newest editions no longer fit on a CD, and my old machine can’t burn DVDs. And as the last of the top distros that still fit on a CD (“LTS” editions of “lightweight” Mint and the ‘buntus, for example) reach their end-of-life, there will be many more users like me looking for a stable, reliable, well-supported Linux distro that we can actually burn to a CD instead of ordering a DVD and waiting for it to arrive in snail mail.

There are other “light” distros, but very few that are Debian-based and still fit on a CD. Not even the venerable and ultralight Crunchbang Linux fits on a CD anymore! Coming from Xubuntu, Crunchbang was the first place I looked because I wanted a Debian or Ubuntu base, and Lubuntu totally misbehaves on my computer. But alas, it too is too big for a CD. And again, my old computer won’t burn DVDs. OSDisc.com sells Crunchbang DVDs, but their information is so out of date I don’t really trust it anymore. And don’t tell me to use Plop Linux to make my computer boot from a USB port. It has never worked on this old faithful box. Nor on two or three other computers I’ve tried it on. Next up: AntiX.

Bingo! Easy 45-minute installation from a slender little CD followed by warp-speed performance. With Debian’s rock solid reputation for dependability and stability, too, not to mention it’s huge repositories.

AntiX is on it’s way up the “distro chart” in a big way. It’s only a matter of time.

 

PCLinuxOS’s superb LXDE edition still fits on a CD and flies along on my very modest 10-year-old Dell (Celeron, 512 RAM).  And it’s a heckuvalot easier to install and configure than AntiX.  So for the technically challenged, it may be the better option.  PCLinuxOS just celebrated 10 years, by the way, and it sure looks like they’ll be around for at least another ten years.