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shameless pleading





January 2009 Issue


Hey, you know what’s fun?  As you page through this site, try to discern the logical connection between the subject matter of the columns and the little ads at the end of each one (and the large ad in the left column too, actually).  There almost always is one, but it can be fairly surreal.  My use of the word “constructions” in a column, for instance, apparently prompts ads for Carhartt work clothes.

Onward.  It occurred to me the other day that it has been almost four years since I switched from Windows XP to Ubuntu Linux.  What brought this to mind was this article in the New York Times last week, which is a decent overview of Ubuntu and its founder, Mark Shuttleworth.  Not to quibble, but the Times writer, as is drearily the norm in the mass media, filled his article with not-so-subtle signals that you really don’t wanna stand too close to this weirdo operating system.

But Ubuntu is not, as the Times writer says, “relatively easy to use for the technologically savvy.”  It’s incredibly easy to use for just about anybody, period.  I do my work on two very old computers (2004 vintage low-end Dells, which I got four years ago for less than $300 apiece on eBay).  One of them is set up to dual-boot, giving me a choice between Ubuntu or Windows XP Professional when I turn on the machine.  (I need XP to run various dictionary CDs.)  Every time I have occasion to boot into Windows, I remember why I dumped it.  The dorky, inconsistent interface.  The weird delays, freezes and crashes for no reason.  The endless emergency updates,  invariably futile attempts to plug the latest hole discovered in the sieve that is Windows “security.”  The choice between being vulnerable to trojans and viruses and running buggy, bloated anti-virus software that slows your computer more than a virus would (a choice I dodge by not allowing Windows to connect to the internet except to get updates).  Running the same computer under Windows and Ubuntu is a real eye-opener.  Under Ubuntu it runs faster, feels far more stable, and has never, in four years, frozen or crashed.

I can honestly say that I have never, not for a moment, regretted switching to Linux.  And in four years I haven’t paid a dime for software.  Firefox, Thunderbird mail, Open Office and all the other apps that come built into Ubuntu are better than their Microsoft equivalents, in the case of Firefox far better. There is no need to run an antivirus program.  Updates are automatic and drama-free.  Best of all, it really does just work, and I never think about it, which is how a computer is supposed to work, right?

Give it a shot.  You can download it for free and try it on your PC without installing anything or disturbing your Windows installation.

Onward.  With the apparently imminent collapse of the newspaper industry, I’m expecting to lose a big chunk of my already minuscule income in the near future.  I will, of course, continue this column even if there are no newspapers to print it.  Unfortunately the publishing industry seems headed in a similar direction, so doing another book in the near future seems unlikely.  Given the progress of my ms, on the other hand, even producing these columns is taxing my limited energy, so that’s a bit irrelevant.  In any case, if you have any spare doubloons kicking around the house, they’d be greatly appreciated.

And now, on with the show…

6 comments to January 2009 Issue

  • Great argument. Now, for a little thought about why your system is so small, simple, and isn’t constantly needing security updates – Nobody Uses It.

    If everyone used it, then those punks who spend days on end poking at their keyboards in dim rooms, trying to write a virus that could spread worldwide and cripple all… would start writing them to cripple Ubuntu.

    However, as it is, what would be the point of finding an Ubuntu weakness? How would it spread? From Ubuntu system to Ubuntu system? Nope. You are safe, for now, because there are too few using it.

    Sadly, that’s also why so few programs are available to you – who would buy them? I note that you still need to use Windows for some apps – well, sure, what value is there in writing a whole version for Ubuntu users? None.

    So, Windows, for all its admitted faults, would frankly not be so bulky if not so popular and would also, by the way, not be so unstable if you were not using a “vintage” pc. ;) On the other hand, if Ubuntu became as popular as Windows, it would be a matter of time before the same vulnerabilities would be uncovered in its code, which would have to be built up with massive amounts of security code it doesn’t need now, which would open it to the same sorts of problems that Windows-haters cite.

    Bottom line…. shhhhhh…. don’t tell anyone about it. If it becomes popular, you’ll lose what you love about it – see?

  • words1

    The “security through obscurity” argument has been kicked around for years in regard to Linux, and, while there is a measure of validity to it (Linux systems are not absolutely bulletproof, not by a long shot), there are key differences between Linux and Windows (and between OSX, which is based on BSD Unix, and Windows) that make Linux (and OSX) less vulnerable to attack and subversion. Just the fact that Ubuntu ships with a number of ports closed that are open by default on Windows helps, as does a better separation of admin and user accounts. The use of dedicated software repositories, where you can download and install vetted programs without dodging spyware-infested crapola out on the net, is also a big plus.

    As for the selection of software for Linux, while there are a few proprietary programs I need that only run in Windows (the OED CD-ROM and Merriam-Merriam Webster’s Third Intl. dictionary mostly), the range of high-quality open-source free software available for Linux more than makes up for the dubious “variety” available in Windows. You could not pay me to use MS Word or Outlook today.

  • pixie

    i don’t know how so many people had bad experiences with XP. Don’t get me wrong, I’m usually against big corporatist software companies like Microsoft, and i must admit that I never payed a dime for software (i live in Romania, btw)Anyways, XP looked to me as a very stable and robust OS, the single microsoft’s os witch can be described with those words. As a personal top I like better macos X, based on a unix flavored darvin and excels on secureness, reliability and easyness. I use linux but only on server purposes. Kde or gnome may look well, but it does crashes quite often, good software lacks, driver support isn’t always good and you must buy equipment with linux support in mind. Kernel or software compilation isn’t a fun job, especially when it comes with a bunch of ambiguous error messages sometimes too technical for a programmer, missing libraries, versions incompatiblities and so. If you use a linux box and you don’t know anything about shell scripts, 50 or so command line names, editing config files, compiling, resolving dependencies, read specific logs in specific directories you are verry verry luck (yet). And, for making things worst, each distro comes with different paths, init scripts, packing systems, and so on. For using linux at full extent i had to read 3000+ book pages and 1000+ web articles regarding a multitude of problems i runed into, but i did this as part of my job. If I were an ordinary guy who needed a computer for usual stuff, in don’t know….

  • Leslie KiKer

    i have no idea what any of this means….

  • Anne

    Now why’d you have to go and say that thing about the ads? I can’t stop trying to find the connection now.

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