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October 2007 - Posts

Life in the Land of Linux

A couple of weeks ago I took the plunge, wiped my hard drive and installed Linux. After having backed up roughly 50 GB of data I was ready. One thing I had to get accustomed to rather quickly was choosing which flavor of Linux I wanted. Like how Windows has 98, XP, Vista, Linux has several distributions; a distro for short. All of them have at their core the Linux kernel, which is the OS proper, but what programs they package around it -- and even which kernel features to include -- make up a distro. The site DistroWatch has listings of virtually all the various Linux distros out there. Among the most popular however are the easier to use distros such as Ubuntu, PCLinuxOS, SUSE, and Mandriva. So while you can have Linux that's all text-based and you have to enter arcane commands to get things done, you can also have pretty graphical systems that rival Windows and Mac OS. Seeing that I was interested in a Windows replacement I tried out the GUI-based distros.

Probably the coolest thing about most, actually all of the distros, I tried is that they come as live CDs. What this means is that you boot up from the CD and instead of installing you actually boot into Linux from the CD. Once it's done booting you have a fully-functional desktop: you can browse the Internet, write papers, check email, etc, all from the CD! Let me tell you this makes it pretty easy to test drive the various distros that are out there, because instead of having to mess with your hard drive installing them you can just boot from the CD and try them out. Don't like it? No harm, no foul. If you do decide to install then there's usually an icon on the desktop enabling you to do so.

After checking out the various distros I listed earlier I finally settled on PCLinuxOS (PCLOS). Ubuntu is far and away the most hyped and popular distro at the moment but I found PCLOS easier to use out of the box. It seems a lot of the Linux crowd live by the credo "Live free or die tryin'" and only include open source software in their distros. In my case that meant no listening to MP3s because there's a patent on it, oh and no Flash either because Adobe won't release the source code... Thankfully PCLOS isn't that persnickety about the legal status of the software it includes so straightaway you can just use it, which is nice.

Now, even though some distros are particular about legalities they do offer ways to install non-free software. And this leads into another cool feature, and a gripe as well. The distros I tried all have package managers that you use to install software. It's akin to Windows' Add/Remove control panel but the software you can add is from virtually the entire Linux softwareverse. So you can type in MP3 in a search box and get back software that provides playing back MP3s. It's actually pretty darn neat. Now my gripe with this is that it's even needed at all, and it is needed. See, since there's no singular Linux system the way there's just Windows, all of that neat open source software comes as source code and not installable executables like with Windows software. So if you're just browsing around on the Net and find some cool software you want to use don't be surprised when you're unarchiving C++ files and shell scripts from that download. Nothing you can just double-click to install. Because of the popularity of various Linux distros however thankfully you can often download packages for various distros that you can just double-click.

Enough gripes though, one absolutely cool software package available is Compiz Fusion or its earlier incarnation, Beryl. This is a composite window manager, the thing that actually displays the windows you use. The composite part means that it can draw various fancy effects. Like when you move your windows around the screen instead of just moving in a straight line they'll wobble, like you're literally dragging it across the screen. Words can't really express how cool this looks, so check out a YouTube video. The part of Compiz Fusion I found the most useful though were the Scale and Shift Switcher plugins. Scale acts just like Mac OS' Expose feature in that all your windows zoom out so you can see them all at once and choose one. The Shift Switcher is an improved Alt-Tab of sorts and acts like the iPod's cover art browser where it flips through all your windows, it's hella cool!

Shift Switcher

There are some other cool plugins too like being able to use your mouse wheel to zoom into and out of your desktop and rotating your desktop like it's a cube. Now the cube thing is really neat, and it's advertised everywhere, but I never found any use for it really. I guess I just don't get the need for multiple desktops. This is an ever-present Linux feature, a carryover from Unix actually, and even when I was in college I never found a use for it. I keep most of my windows maximized so moving one to another virtual desktop doesn't do me any good. And for the windows I don't maximize I can just as well use the taskbar to get to them. I guess I can see a point for virtual desktops when the concept of a taskbar hadn't yet been adopted, like when I was using Unix in college, but the innovation of a taskbar obviates the need for many desktops in my opinion. Then again I'm a person that only has one icon on his desktop, the Recycle Bin :P, so maybe they just don't fit the way I work.

Having used PCLOS for a week, and dabbling with other distros, I'm now back to Windows XP. :) My primary reason for giving up my Linux experiment was the inability to get any distro I tried to successfully put my computer to sleep. (Instead of sleep and hibernate these modes are called Suspend to RAM and Suspend to Disk respectively on Linux.) Some outright just would not do it and gave me some error. Some would but when I resumed my session had been killed and my keyboard stopped working right, necessitating a reboot and eliminating the benefit of sleep mode. Being able to do this is a must have feature for my power sucking computer so back to Windows for me.

Even if I had gotten sleep and hibernate to work I'd probably be back with Windows anyway I feel. I just could never feel "at home" for some reason. Sure I had a visitor mentality so that had a large part to do with it, but things like the fonts on web pages being off got to me, having my back and forward mouse buttons not always work right annoyed me. Minor gripes really, and fixable if you invest the time to customize your computer. (And I could argue the ability to even be able to fix things is a key Linux feature. Unlike just living with bugs with Windows.) There's also a general lack of polish to a lot of apps out there. It's hard for me to put my finger on it actually but I just had a constant impression of cheapness while using Linux. I'm only complaining about aesthetics really so no flaming over this please.

All in all though I was mightily impressed with my test drive of Linux. I've tried it out before and there wasn't even a thought in my mind of using Linux as my desktop OS then, now though I'd say I'm about 95% ready to make the switch. Compiz Fusion puts Vista's visual effects to shame, seriously. Why pay all the money for Vista, plus the hardware upgrades, when you can get basically the same thing or better, for free! Microsoft is really going to have to start innovating if they want people to stay on the Windows platform.

Posted: Mon, Oct 22 2007 10:05 PM by Humpty
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It hurts to let an opportunity slip through your fingers. There was a girl, woman, I was talking to online who lives hundreds of miles away and I felt there was an opportunity to move into more intimate territory; Internet dating I suppose you'd call it. But I didn't bite when she subtly introduced the idea once. And now she's dating someone else she says. :)

Ah, it's cool though. Hurts, but still cool. It's that old feeling of wanting what you can't have -- and not wanting what you can. It's interesting, now that I think back on my behavior. Even though I wanted the possibility I played it cool, too cool I guess, lol. I am learning something which is new to me. Well, not new in that I never knew about this, but just new in the sense that it's sinking in. And this mystery thing is that I should just be myself. By this I mean just act, do, and say what I want even if it's not "correct" in some fashion. Trying to do the "right" thing isn't always the best thing. Trying to figure someone else out, trying to be smart, trying to predict. Just do what you want. I mean, if things blow up in your face...well, it was what you wanted to do anyway so take comfort in being yourself. And if things don't blow up in your face...well. :)

Today when I was driving home from work I felt that it was indeed autumn, the summer heat is officially gone. Every season has its charms. For me I love the sounds of summer. Hearing the cicada bugs -- or whatever they are -- constantly buzzing. That's the one thing, the single most thing, that I associate with summer, until I hear their song I don't feel it's summer. Can't walk outside at night in shorts and feel fantastic, lazying around on the patio. Autumn is my birth season, technically, so it's special for that reason. Today illustrated for me why I love it so much though. There's still the lingering summer heat around so when it rains, however lightly, like today there's a nice moist humid air that remains after it stops. It feels really nice on my skin. Marching through piles of colorful dead leaves is always nice. Winter. Hmm, that's actually a rather tough season for me to enjoy, but it too has its charms. I like winter because everything feels still, crisp, and clean. The sky has wispy thin clouds, if any at all. The wind blows and makes your nose turn red and water. I like the winter wind oddly enough, as cold as it is. It's rarely white on the ground where I live, but it's nice on the one or two days we get that. Now spring is a nice season. Warm, but not too hot. The chill winds of fall and winter give way to warm winds which feel wonderful! It can be warm in autumn but the winds always betray the fact that it's getting colder because there's always a hint of chill in them. But not spring winds, they feel warm. The days get longer; it's so neat to notice more and more daylight every day. Spring is when flowers bloom and colors blossom, it reminds me of the awesome potential available in each and every moment. In a sense spring gives birth to ideas and enthusiasm for me.

We live and die much too soon. Here I am, 30, and still wrestling with things others have long since moved past. Shame really our bodies age while our minds mature. I notice my body changing on me, ever since I was 26. My skin isn't as smooth as it used to be, not much really, but I can notice. Laugh lines are settling in. Yep, I'm getting older. You have to act fast in our lifetimes, have to do things on a set schedule predetermined before you're even born. If you don't, if you go against the grain and do things your own way you might find opportunities dry up for you.

That's one way of looking at things, the glass half-empty. You can look at it as half-full if you want, it's all a choice, a matter of perspective. Every season has its charms, every situation we get ourselves into, every feeling that recurs. Half-full, half-empty, it's just a choice. Me, my life, well, it's my choosing. Through my actions I've brought myself to the point I'm at now. This is the life I've chosen to live, whether I'm always actively aware of my choices or not. I'm not mad, not as much as I may have been in the past. This is me, and my life. And I'm happy.

Orbital report: Light will shine over the horizon in T-...

Posted: Thu, Oct 4 2007 10:42 PM by Humpty
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