Monday, June 25, 2012

Let's Talk Computers

Today, Microsoft announced the launch of their new Tablet, and a new Windows system to go with it. It looks nice, but then, all Tablets do, don't they? I'm not going to judge the effort at all, because I've not yet seen this machine of course. I notice one rather nifty feature is the way they've integrated a "real" keyboard into the cover. This may be the big differentiator, because although every other tablet out there today has a provision for a real keyboard, I think it's always some kind of added cost optional arrangement. This looks like a nicely designed "next-gen" Netbook-becomes-Tablet computer. The real  tale will be told when we all get to see the Windows that's running on this little gem. Unless Microsoft has finally, after all these years, really figured out how to make a good Operating System, it's going to be hard for this Tablet to compete against Apple and Android devices, because I can think of three huge reasons why Windows is the worst of all OS's:

  1. It is always prone to computer viruses and malicious attacks, and always requires some 3rd Party security software, as well as expensive "Microsoft Partner" action on the part of your internet Service Provider to maintain overall security.
  2. Windows, in it's attempts to "bend over backwards" to make a positive computer experience for first time users, always ends up with an extremely bloated system that when combined with all the 3rd-Party extras needed for security, stretches the computer's hardware resources to the extreme limit. As far as I know, there is not much an experienced computer user can do to "unbloat" the system. Also, Microsoft has yet to figure out how to keep Windows performance from degrading over time, with the requirement for periodic maintenance.
  3. Although Windows itself is "free" (built into the price of the computer) for photographers, as well as anybody who requires a computer for intensive real world applications, all of the good software costs a lot of money. I'm talking about programs like Photoshop and Lightroom, but also included are Microsoft Outlook and Office. 
Fortunately, there is an answer to all this - one which keeps getting better all the time, whilst Microsoft at the same time keeps getting worse and worse. The solution is Linux, at least with respect to the above three objections to Windows -

  1. Linux is impervious to every kind of malicious attack, as long as you install one of the major "marketed" distributions such as Ubuntu or Fedora, among many others. The reason for this is because these Distributions (Distros) maintain very tight control over the software packages that can be installed, not allowing anything into each Distro Universe other than what has been tested and approved. Also, you as the end user must give a password authorization for every change request that comes in.
  2. Linux has many ways to make the computer experience user friendly. For those of you who still think that Linux is "just for super-geeks who still live in their parent's basements who take extreme sadistic delight in doing everything with a Command-Line", well, that ended years ago. Linux tends to build custom systems (Sub-Distros, or "Forks") that depend upon what the user wants to do with a computer, as opposed to Microsoft's way of trying to please everybody, and ending up pleasing nobody. If you want something that's basic, user-friendly and lightening fast, there are plenty of Forks available that are exactly that. Also, every Linux is designed exactly the same way under the hood, and that design NEVER slows down over time, NEVER requires maintenance, and even the most heavy Distro is NEVER as bloated as Windows. 
  3. Linux offers many very serious Software Packages (Apps) that rival the big commercial players in capabilities, absolutely free of charge. I've mentioned GIMP many times here before as a free alternative to Photoshop. Although not exactly the same, if you've had a Photoshop course, then you'll very quickly adapt to GIMP - they do exactly the same things, just in slightly different ways. And yesterday, I discovered a Linux alternative to Lightroom called "Darktable" - they do a workflow with RAW files in almost the same way.
There are still some caveats to Linux - nothing is perfect. The biggest reason for Windows Objection #1 above is that Linux is impervious to virus attacks for another reason than the one given - that is because Linux is still used by less than 5% of computer users, so malicious targeters are not bothering with it. Case in point, it's now a whole different ballgame with Tablets and Smartphones that use Google's Android system. Android is Linux based, and because of Android's huge market share, there are some big security concerns that are beginning to emerge. The same goes for Apple, which is also built on Free BSD, another Linux Distro. However, for Desktop and Laptop users, Linux is still your safest bet by far. 

I've been a Linux follower for about ten years now, and at first, I found it impossible, simply because back then, it was still for the "super-geek", and also, my computer skills were not like they are now. But at some point about four years ago, something just clicked - Ubuntu had developed into the most user-friendly Linux Distro available, and at about the same time, I just "got it" - I kind of clued in to the way computers really work at about the same time that Linux was making huge strides toward user-friendly computing.

Here is a screenshot of my latest most favourite Distro, called Ubuntu Studio ver. 12.04:

I think it looks incredibly attractive, and it's all so highly intuitive and functional. The top panel is the combined Application Launcher and Controller (just like Windows used to be), with the ability to view four different screens on the far right (Windows never had this, Linux always has); the Icons on the left of the screen show all devices that are attached to the system, with mouse-clickable access for exploring / mounting / unmounting each one (something extremely useful which Windows never had), and the bottom panel is a very Mac-Like totally customizable bar which I've set up like a System Tray. In the middle you can see two windows open where I'm transferring all of my pictures from my upstairs computer to my downstairs computer over my home network.

This is by far my favourite Distro yet.


  1. Nice post Dave! I LOVE Ubuntu. I switched to it for several months around Ubuntu 10.04 and I really liked it. However, ultimately I switched back to Windows because most of what I enjoy doing (besides general web surfing) is playing games, which although I *did* have it working under Wine, it was just a little more painful.

    I do not see myself going to Windows 8, I think it's going to be a train wreck along with their tablet efforts. I love your screenshot, that looks fantastic!

  2. Thanks Gary!There certainly are some things that you need Windows for.. with me it is downloading music from, so I keep both systems on my computers in a dual-boot arrangement (GRUB bootloader).Also, as I mentioned in a previous post, Linux has full read-write access to your whole Windows file system, and although it's a bit cumbersome, I save all of my files under Windows while using Linux.

    I forgot to mention, Ubuntu Studio uses a Low Latency kernel for Music Production, as well as the XFCE Desktop, so it's super lightweight and super quick. I'm thinking maybe you could run your games using Virtual Machine to Windows, because this Distro is so light on reources? Might be fun to try.


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