I asked a friend who has recently bought her first Mac if she considered Linux? As this was over Twitter, I replied with a couple quick links (including one to In The Beginning Was The Command Line, which is really the wrong place to begin) and followed with an email:
Twitter’s not really the place to go into what Linux is in any kind of detail and directing you to a somewhat oblique 100-page article on the history and such like of Linux isn’t really fair or helpful.
Suffice it to say that it’s an operating system in the same way that Windows and Mac OS are operating systems, and uses the same WIMP (Window-Icon-Mouse-Pointer) user experience. Mac OS about 10 years ago rebuilt their OS based on UNIX (a 60s-era OS developed by AT&T). Linux is also Unix-based, but is generally released with some kind of GUI on top. The core of Linux (the kernel) open source, meaning anyone can look at and manipulate the code, and is available for free under a public license. If you delve into the subject, the phrases FOSS (Free Open Source Software) and FLOSS (Free Libre Open Source Software – the Libre indicating that there is no patent encumbrance) are common.
On top of the kernel there are several layers, the top of which is the desktop environment. These come in several flavours including KDE, Gnome, Xfce, Fluxbox, and more recently Unity (put forth in the latest full release by Ubuntu – very user friendly, I gather, but limiting).
But, of course, the OS only gets you so far. You need software. There are two major office suites Open Office (formerly a Sun Microsystems offering, now a project of the Apache Foundation), Libre Office (this was forked from Open Office when Oracle bought Sun – the Open Office code was sloppy and hadn’t been well managed – there’s been a lot of cleanup in the year since Libre Office first came out and it’s overtaken OO as the office suite offering in most distributions.
Music applications, games, internet access, networking, and just about everything else you do with Windows or Mac can be done in Linux. There are problems however. The biggest ones I’ve found include printing and iTunes. There is no Linux equivalent to iTunes, though there are a couple tools that are trying. If you have iTems*, then working with them solely under Linux is an arse. Printing is mostly smooth sailing, though WiFi printing is still rather complicated. Theoretically less so under the recently released v3.0 of the kernel. I’ve not installed a Linux Distribution with a 3.0 kernel.
It’s not nearly as complicated as I’m making it sound. Really. Linux enthusiasts always run up against a wall. I’ve not been able to convince Rachel to give it a try, mainly because she does 2 things with her computer – photo editing and iTunes. There are many Linux-compatible photo editing suites available, but are they up to the standards of Lightroom? I don’t know. But she’s heard me do nothing but bitch that I can’t fill my iTouch from my own computer. And suggests that with the money I spend on Linux magazines (about €15/month), I could afford a Windows license.
Fair enough, but…
As a writer, I’m much happier using Abiword and Write Or Die than MS products of any stripe.
I think I’m still failing to convey what it is I love about Linux and why I prefer not to use Mac/Win if I can help it. As one who is trying to lead a Linux User Group, I find this is a double fail. Her reply was that it all seems too complicated. In theory it is; in practice, generally not so much.
*iTem is the term used by Kate Harrad in her very amusing novel All Lies and Jest.Advertisements