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Monday, December 17, 2007

Definitive proof that Linux is ready for the masses

Bear with me... this article has a long introduction, which sets the stage for my two conclusions, which are that Linux really is ready for mainstream uses, and that there are still reasons to install Microsoft Windows OSes.

Yes, my preamble goes back a long way... way back to when I was learning to program, when I was 9. It was on a coleco-vision, with an Adam expansion module. The kind that loaded cassette tapes. My older sister was learning to program, and, being an arrogant punk, decided that I had to try it myself. It wasn't that hard, since I never really got past control loops, and the like. Still, it was a good exposure to computers and programming (and it was a skill that got me hired for a job programming in basic, back in the Y2K days.)

When I moved in with my father, 4 years later, he had just purchased a brand spanking new 386/8SX. It was blazing fast, had a 10Mb hard drive and 1Mb of ram. It was my father who showed me how to use DOS, Windows 3.0, and to create batch files as well as use many of the early programs available at the time. I was a big fan of windows, and I was the one who pushed hard for us to upgrade to 3.1, when it became available. Still, my father was the trailblazer, and the one who taught me how to use computers and to tame them when they were misbehaving. For years he was my computer mentor.

Somewhere along the line, however, my father decided to stop following computer technology and forgot most of what he'd learned. So long as I was around to help, that worked out pretty well. He left it to me to install the whopping 4Mb upgrade, the modem, and he didn't even watch when I added the sound card. Help was never more than a phone call away - even after moving 5000km away, long distance is a lot cheaper than professional support (and I'd like to think that the quality difference isn't that great.) (-;

Personally, I switched full time into Linux in 2002 (Slackware), and haven't looked back. Slowly, I became out of touch with the windows world, which made my support somewhat less than ideal. The distance meant that smaller problems were often saved up for months at time, with the occasional bi-monthly crisis phone call, so that my 1 week vacations to visit my parents took 3 days of support work - virus removal, upgrades, staring at odd bugs in programs. The usual windows oddities. (My father used to keep a list of "weird occurrences" by the computer to ask my about on my vacations.)

To stop this flood of annoyances, I moved my father to (Fedora Core) linux (dual boot), in 2004, which stemmed the tide of viruses, and changed the nature of the support calls. (Invariably, it was either a modem or printer problem.) There were weird things happening - substituting random windows errors for random Linux errors. The following year, I upgraded to an Ubuntu distribution (breezy), which had just come out. Touted as a much more friendly distribution, it fit my father's work style pretty well, and had fewer bugs. That OS lasted 2 years - and my father tells me he liked it.

Of course, that translated to fewer support calls. And this year, I just upgraded Breezy Badger to Ubuntu 7.10, Gutsy Gibbon. All of the weird printer bugs appear to be gone, networking was easy to set up, wine was able to run his last Windows program (Quickbooks) in Linux, and the new vista computer was upgraded so that Vista was removed entirely. Both computers boot to Ubuntu Linux by default and my father even asked me to remove the old Win2k partition from the older computer: He claims he doesn't need it now. (I figured we should leave it there for one more year, just in case.)

My father actually started pushing for my step-mother to switch to Ubuntu.

What prompted this story, though, is the support call I got from my father this morning - the first in months, really. Just so you don't think my father is a computer guru or anything, the question from my father went something like: "I'm in windows, and we'd like to attach an URL to an email... after I click on attach, what do I do?" (The solution: copy and paste the link from the email I sent him the other day.)

Anyhow, that brings my to my last point. The value of Windows: Now that I have my father running Linux, I don't hear from him so often. I'm going to leave my step-mother running windows, just to make sure I get a few more phone calls, now and then. (-;

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