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Linux Strengths flipside, the positive

#1 User is offline   brainout 

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Posted 10 February 2013 - 11:28 AM

Linus Torvalds gave a remarkable interview (click here), speaking frankly about why Linux wasn't catching onto desktops, versus MS and Apple. Put simply, he said that the desktop ecosystem is too diverse for the way Linux needs to be used. He gave the example of how, in a business, a Linux consultant will key the hardware to Linux, and the company buys the hardware based on THAT printer, THAT scanner, etc. But the individual joe doe goes to Best Buy or whatever, and his machine is first, not the software. So it might not work together, given the diversity of computers and peripherals. In short, you have to be a commercial house like Microsoft or Apple, to justify the expense of making the OS work with every tom-dick-harry piece of equipment, 'out there'.

But as we all know by now, neither MS nor Apple products really do work with everything. So considering that Linux is a composite result of millions of dedicated users posting their programs up freely in order to 'make a go' of the OS, Linux has come long and far, and yes is a competitor. But for all that, certain shortcomings remain. Chief among these are the lack of drivers for peripherals, though the lack is shrinking daily. More importantly, the way files are organized and displayed so that the user can manage his disks, is not yet ready for prime time. But is improving. Most importantly, maybe because Linux has such a strong place in IT and the desktop is designed to be an outgrowth of it, the issue of what PERMISSIONS you will have to see and use the operating system files, is to some, a Linux strong point. To me, it hamstrings the individual user, far more than Windows does. So much for the negative.

On the positive side and outta da box, Linux can well do certain things Windows and maybe Apple, cannot do.

*RESCUE WINDOWS. This is by far the most important thing Linux does better. There are dedicated Linux programs like Clonezilla and GParted, and many kindred, which will actually rescue your machine when Windows inevitably won't boot. I've had occasion to use Linux to rescue my Windows machines maybe six times since last May. When Win7 failed to boot in November, I fortunately had cloned that hard drive just prior to the crash, and used Clonezilla to restore it; for the restoration WINDOWS programs wouldn't work. So too, back in May and June when hardware then registry crashed, it was GParted to the rescue, to back up the machine so I could give it to my repair guys. You need a version of Linux for this reason alone. These 'packages' of programs in many Linux flavors, all can include by download, both Clonezilla and GParted, or kindred programs. And they download easily and well. To use them, you just put your pen drive or CD of that Linux flavor in the computer while it's off, then turn it on. The interface for accessing programs is usually intuitive, and not overly complex. You don't have to use a command line, these days.

*Partition flash drives, and format them in non-Windows ways which tend to be very efficient.

*Operate smoothly on much slimmer specs (cheaper, older machines which don't run well in Windows or Mac).

*Format DVDs and write to them so that any computer can use the results; which XP cannot do, and Windows 7 cannot do all that well all the time.

*Surf on the internet more safely than other OS, simply because the system lacks the kinds of openness and identity which the average hacker or thief, would need.

*Exist on a 'stick' (though with variant success and difficulty, varying with each stick and distro) -- so you literally take your computer with you on a pen drive. This is very important for preserving privacy, too, as the system is alien to most other computer OS, so you don't leave any traces behind. The ability to take all your files in a pen drive and then RENT a computer or sit in a cafe, is very nice.

*Most music and movies you'd watch in Windows or Mac, you can also watch in Linux, and the streaming, cookie handling, etc. can be better. Plus, your usual Firefox or Chrome browser will still sync.

*Contrary to popular opinion, there is good commercial MS-Office-type software written in Linux which also is readable directly in Windows: WordPerfect. It's always been used to convert back-and-forth to MS Word, for as long as I can remember. There isn't 100% compatibility, but frankly many in the legal profession prefer WordPerfect over MS Word; only WP can write truly long documents well. And therefore, if you're on Linux, whatever you compose in WordPerfect can be read in the Windows WordPerfect without 'translation'. So you don't have to settle for the 'free' MS Office clones like Libre Office (which is the best among all the OpenSource versions out there right now). Just google for (usually used) copies of WordPerfect for Linux. Or call Corel, see if they have the latest version for sale. They probably do, as Corel is always big for big business.

*Mail can be POP3 or IMAP, through various email clients on Linux, and you can print to pdf, so can port the mail over to your Windows/MAC later.

*Backup programs and other 'housekeeping' is very much simpler in Linux versus the others.

*Downloads for what you need are very well done for you, via a great program called 'Apper'. And the downloads are MANY. In fact, the problem is in picking what you'd want, there are so many choices. If what you want doesn't work, or the download isn't successful, the Apper wizard knows it and makes all kinds of smart observations, adjustments, queues up what didn't work for a later time when it will. Really smart program, far superior to anything in the Windows or Mac world.

Each flavor of Linux specializes in certain of these things: Slackware, Mint, Ubuntu aim to focus on the content consumption side, though Ubuntu also specializes in the IT side, connectivity to your home office and the cloud. Fedora also is more business-oriented. The latter two are more 'current' with later hardware you'll likely have on your machine. Then there's Zorin 6 Ultimate (which you pay for, but very little), which tries to suit gamers as well as business. CentOS is well known in business. Then there are the petite Linux flavors designed to work on little netbooks or even older machines that still run Windows 98SE. Just Google based on your needs, and see which Linux 'answers'.

These are significant advantages. So if you are willing to tolerate the subpar file management and file access/calculation, these advantages make Linux a good buy. And yes, it's technically free, but cost is in use, not purchase price. And of course, if you're benefitting from the use, do pay for it. That way you help insure that those advantages, continue. Free is never free...

This post has been edited by brainout: 10 February 2013 - 11:52 AM

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#2 User is offline   brainout 

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Posted 10 February 2013 - 09:12 PM

Linux on a stick: the only version which has worked thus far out of 10 distros tried, is Fedora; and that doesn't work too well; it imposes internal limits on what it will 'count'. None of them give you the option of where to store your 'home' folder'. So it won't write to the casper-rw partition no matter what I try. So it's pointless to have Linux on a stick bigger than 4096; the leftover portion you may as well format in NTFS, and use for other stuff. That's what I just did, now: since the casper-rw partition allegedly used to increase address space beyond the 4096 doesn't work, I reformatted the Patriot pen drive's leftover casper partition as NTFS, using GParted, within Mint, on the Fedora pen drive. So click here for a photo of the (dual-monitor desktop) Fedora 'Dolphin' File manager, showing its structure (and shortcomings; the other file managers I've seen so far, are similarly constructed, but less user-friendly). IMPORTANT: Linux is slower at file transfer. TEST a copy you made to external media before you withdraw it.

Notice several important things: the drives have no letters, and the names are native to Linux, where a Linux drive. The '3.0 GiB HARD DRIVE' trebled entry, is not really three different drives of that size, very misleading. Instead, these are virtual drives, each given its own 'territory', and they house Linux operating files in a kind of 'loop'. Notice also how you can't see the size of the folder, unless you click on Properties (right click), just as in Windows. You can't transfer files to or from anything but your own home folder, unless you have 'authorization', which means you have to do two things:

1) At installation of the software or soon after, create a user account named 'root' (you can do this more easily in the terminal mode, but here we're sticking with the GUI for Windows folk). Not all Linux distros will allow you to do that, but Fedora does. This creation is very time-consuming. Go through every single tab and check box.

2) Set up your own personal account the same way, same password, etc., but call yourself 'Administrator'. UNLESS YOU SET A PASSWORD, you will not be able to do anything of importance, except with respect to your own folder. This hamstringing is great for home networks or child protection, but awful for the more-typical, individual user. For me, it's a deal-breaker. Maybe not, for you. 3) after you've done all this, if you're afraid of what damage you might do to the OS, set up a third account as a regular user; or, just let it go through the normal booting process every time, which defaults to 'liveuser'. You will have to use a password and user name every time you boot, if you want to get at a particular 'user' set of files. Again, many consider this a boon in Linux. I hate it.

If using Linux on a stick, don't set up too many users. Each user account 'costs' 20 MB of space, even if you have no data files; that's equivalent to 150 full-screen wallpapers of landscapes; to 20 copies of all Shakespeare wrote (Google doc size of all his works is about 1MB). Since you're effectively limited to 4096 MB total, by the time you download all the many essential Linux programs, your stick's 4096 will be quite full, as shown in the picture of the dual-desktop. To even get that 235MB free, I had to forego installing Firefox, and had to delete some Linux programs like instant messaging, note-takers, the KDE file manager. But I do have Wine (the Windows virtual desktop) within the group.

The total size of the Linux files on the drive is only 4.9 GB (.9 for the real OS itself, the balance for the amount of the casper partition it actually would use). It claims that there is '235 MiB' left, which was not true. The first go-round, the whole 32 GB stick after the OS, was formatted to be casper, so to allegedly be addressable. I used three different USB converter programs and all three times had the same result. On the internet, you'll see various videos and webpages alleging different tweaks, i.e., that in GParted you then partition and reformat the excess (beyond what the OS uses) into an ext2 or ext3, claiming then that Linux will address it. That doesn't happen. Now, most of the material alleging this result is from 2009-2011, and maybe back then, it worked. But not now. So whatever changes in Linux distros made it not work now, the workaround is to instead partition but reformat as NTFS, for it cannot be written-to in Linux, as ext2 or ext3. Once reformatted, that additional space is usable just like any other drive. NTFS allows you to go beyond the 4096 (4 GB) FAT32 barrier, per file. You cannot create a pen drive for Linux except in FAT32. There might be other ways to create it without USB conversion software, but I don't know of any, just yet. Fedora has a built-in USB converter program which I used to create it, but the other Linux distros either don't have such a program, or their programs don't work (the 'persistence' of remembering settings from session to session, is really zero or limited to 'remembering' user accounts and passwords).

Like other distros, Ubuntu and Mint can't hack being on sticks. They don't 'remember' your settings. Ubuntu 13.04 will remember files you copied, but again to what size? Probably some internal limit. Problem is, there is much misinformation; utilities alleging to create extended casper partitions in order to enable them TO 'remember' -- don't work. At least, not now. Maybe in earlier Linux versions they worked. Why not now, I don't know. I don't have the time to sift through all the earlier distro versions to find out which one works. It's a flaw someone needs to address, but after three years it's not been addressed. Pity. For solving this problem, would make Linux a hero on every desktop and laptop, given the * advantages enumerated in my first post of this thread.

PS: I'm sure there is a workaround, but can't find anyone who's written about it. In short, if you're adept at Linux code you can tell Linux where to store the home folder at setup, and other things. But the canned GUI material doesn't enable it; the USB converter programs don't enable it, either. This need for Linux on a stick that will address itself beyond what seems like a 4GB barrier (probably related to FAT32 limitations), is an opportunity for someone in the Linux community to make something which will work.

This post has been edited by brainout: 10 February 2013 - 10:03 PM

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#3 User is offline   brainout 

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Posted 10 February 2013 - 10:23 PM

Some Linux distros come with GParted and other important disk management utilities, by default: Ubuntu 13.04 and Mint 14 are two of them. Fedora's can be downloaded, isn't prepackaged. Each of these distributions works a lot like Windows in graphical interface, so you won't find them hard to learn. They are time consuming to set up, only because you will have your own preferences for what icons you want on the desktop 'panel' (their name for 'taskbar'). Fedora is the most configurable. Ubuntu is the least configurable. All offer substantially similar software in a dizzying array of categories.

Unlike for Windows, desktops are like clothing to the Linux OS; so you can choose different desktop themes, but not all are easily used. So to make it easy, test drive each distro (version of Linux), by means of the desktop. Mint 14 comes with three different desktops, from MATE (which is a version of the very popular Gnome 2.x), to Cinnamon (its native product, much like the popular KDE), to Xfce (Linus Torvalds' favorite, a minimalist desktop which isn't too intuitive for Windows users). Ubuntu doesn't have that flexibility. Its desktop is 'Unity', which a lot of Linux people dislike (and I find it unhappy, too). You want the latest version of Ubuntu, not earlier ones. Some prefer Mint 13. Fedora 17 is better than earlier versions, though now 18 is out, and 16 is loved by many. I'll try the other versions. If you want maximum configurability and dependable Linux on a stick, get Fedora.

So how do these differ? Mint is best if you spend most of your computing time emailing or playing videos, songs, etc. Ubuntu, by contrast, seems to focus on business connectivity and personal social life, with stress on the latter (i.e., you're on the road and you want to connect to the office, else are usually talking to people via your computer). Fedora provides a comprehensive set of tools which are a little better organized and more configurable, with a business and people-connectivity bent, though it also provides some multimedia tools. Even so, most of what you get in Fedora, you can also download into Mint or Ubuntu. So again, it boils down to whether you like the graphical interface/desktop the distro provides. Which, you can tweak and change, as you learn Linux. That's a big difference, versus Windows. You can access the code, but you have to learn the OS as if you were a programmer, to do that. Still, you CAN do that.

Some versions of Linux will work well with nVidia graphics cards: the three above all do. Many versions of Linux can't work with those cards. Another problem is ATI. All these worked with ATI on my machines.

32-bit restrictions: I didn't test this, but was amazed to discover that the distros above all recognized the 8 GB RAM on my Dell 6510 laptop, despite the fact that the laptop used 32 bit, and despite the fact that the Linux OS I was running, was also 32-bit. Tempting idea to test whether it will use the extra RAM anyway, somehow.

Peripherals like printers are another issue. Brother MFC printers almost always have Linux drivers you can download. I believe the Fujitsu scanner has Linux drivers. Basically, you want to select generic peripherals or very common name brands; so Patriot or Verbatim pen drives, generic external DVD writers, Western Digital external hard drives (I didn't test eSata), etc. Internal drives also need to be relatively big-name or generic to be recognized, but most internal drives are already like that. I tested Linux on Seagate Barracuda, Hitachi, Dell, Western Digital, and I forget the other one. Rule of thumb: if big business uses the product, it probably has a Linux driver.

UPDATING THE OS is often straightforward, though if the change is major, you might have to uninstall the old OS. Fedora 17 recommended uninstalling 16 prior to its own installation, and my immediate reaction was 'how? Won't that destroy everything on the machine?' I don't see any option for uninstalling, within the menus; so presumably that's a command-line function. If you won't learn the command-line lingo, then find out how the OS updates work for your distribution, or only use Linux on a stick. You can download the 'man pages' (or might have them already) to learn the command line structure. You can also buy all kinds of tutorial info (or get it free) on the internet, though I've not yet found anything which reads well. Lots of jargon to learn. You can ask questions in the many Linux forums, but with mixed success. Some of the replies are cryptic and terse, even rude. Others are more helpful, because after all it's a 'community' of users, not a company you can call for support. With Ubuntu, you can sign up and pay for support 24/7, for the cost of $105 per year per desktop.

This post has been edited by brainout: 10 February 2013 - 11:03 PM

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Posted 13 February 2013 - 08:17 AM

GOOD NEWS: Linux Mint 13 and Ubuntu 13.04 can be put on a stick with persistence up to 4 GB, but you can't tell how to do it rightly, from descriptions given. There's a sequence, maybe, too. You have to do ALL of this in one session, or your changes won't be remembered. Here's what I did:

1. Use Unetbootin (from sourceforge) to make the Ubuntu stick, but use Live USB Installer (from pendrivelinux.com) to make the Mint 13 stick. (Mint 13 is better than 14, much more customization and user freedom from 'permissions'.)

2. FIRST thing you do when you use the stick to boot your machine, is to access Terminal, so the machine will 'know' you're the superuser. In terminal type:

sudo su
passwd root
(then type the password, be careful as you cannot see it)
(retype same password)
exit
exit
exit (not always necessary to type the third exit)

In Mint, you have to go through another step, of repeating the above, but instead of 'root', the superuser is 'mint'. KEEP THE SAME PASSWORD.

2. Create one account for yourself as administrator. You MUST create a password, and you MUST specify that it's not autologin. I used the same password for my personal account as for root (and mint). Somehow the machine uses that fact to realize that you're all the same person. Then in Mint (you can't do this in Ubuntu's GUI), be sure to put yourself in the root Group, along with 'mint'.

4. For Ubuntu, Create an account in Ubuntu One, which is their online equivalent to Skydrive or Dropbox. It's a pistol to create an account, Ubuntu is very very buggy. Took me two hours to create, largely because it wouldn't accept my existing email (for I was already registered with that email in the Ubuntu forum, why should that be a hindrance, who knows). Its captcha is hideous, so that cost a lot of refresh time, too.

Then download a program which makes many changes (i.e., like a file manager, my favorite being Xfe). Idea is to integrate the program into the existing system. This helps Ubuntu 'remember' that a program was downloaded, apparently (it still 'forgot' a video player I downloaded, but remembered xfe).

5. For Mint, use its Software Manager to download a few programs. Somehow this step makes Mint recognize the stick as storage, and that you are using the stick, not the computer; this online step with either Ubuntu or Mint generates some kind of authentication, though nothing will tell you so. I know that because I did Steps 1-3 on Mint 14 and it remembered nothing. So Mint 14 might work, if you do this step.

6. To test whether what you did is remembered, change some Desktop settings, like the Desktop background, copy some files to your default user pictures folder, etc.

Then shut down: note carefully if it shuts down without reporting 'fatal error' or something like that. If it shuts down without error, the settings were saved on the stick. If an error at shutdown, maybe some settings were not saved.

Wait a few minutes, then turn on the machine again with the stick plugged in. If it worked, you should see the updated background and settings changes.

So Mint 13 is a winner Linux on a stick. Ubuntu works, but everything it does is clunky and buggy with no user customization. Mint's preinstalled packages are useful, intuitively arranged, and take up almost no space. Mint 14 is a nightmare by comparison, and Ubuntu is far worse.

Best thing about Mint 13, is that it's a cross between megabusiness Linux giant Debian, and Ubuntu, with far fewer bugs. So you have access to more useful programs. The Software Manager for both is annoying, nothing in alpha order, lots of jargon; but search based on what you're looking for, and you'll find it. Ubuntu's a lot worse than Mint, but somehow the Ubuntu selections Mint will show, work better. I don't know why.

Then, support these people with your money, as you can afford without harming your other obligations. For in essence you are buying something, and they can't work for free. Would you? So donate, k?

So then again, the main problem with doing anything in Linux, is this 'permissions' business -- stuff HIDDEN from you as a result, so you flail around trying to figure out how to do something simple. Many in the Linux community adore that; but someone like me who wants freedom FAR more than security, finds 'permissions' roadblocks, overly annoying. Honey, there is no security in this world. So if you run around being afraid of attack, then you'll be attacked. Freedom is worth the risk of being attacked. Of course, many would disagree with that sentiment, and many more, think they can't afford to have it.

Mint 13 is more freedom-oriented. So it and Fedora 17 are the best Linux versions for someone wanting freedom, with Mint offering a different prepackaged suite of apps (specializing in multimedia). So get both, donate to both, and then take your time to learn Linux like a geek.

We'll all have to learn it, one day. Too many third-world countries are already using it as the default desktop OS. So it will win, in the end.

This post has been edited by brainout: 13 February 2013 - 09:02 AM

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#5 User is offline   brainout 

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Posted 13 February 2013 - 04:01 PM

Crud, maybe I spoke too soon. Was rocking along installing software from Mint's built-in installer, when all of a sudden it wouldn't install two or three 'packages' I really needed to make Linux ready for prime-time. Wouldn't tell me that they weren't installed, the programs just flat didn't show up. Then all of a sudden, I need PRIVILEGES I already HAVE, to install? Okay, did the same thing I showed in my last post, over again. Seemed to work. But couldn't install. Same result no matter what.

So now I'm unaccountably locked out of my own installations, even when signed in as root? NO EXPLANATION for this. So here's a sentiment I found expressing the same thing, echoed all over the web: click here.
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