Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Ubuntu Linux 2006.10

With Windows Vista hitting the streets and users cringing at the hefty hardware requirements it is appropriate to look around to see what other choices are available. Apple's OS X is a highly polished, well respected, and too expensive alternative by now but at 2.5% market share or less, it isn't even an afterthought at Microsoft. Linux has failed to gain control of the desktop too, not because it lacks features, polish, performance, or software, but because few hardware vendors offer Linux drivers for their printers, scanners, cameras, wireless cards, and other PC accessories.

If your old PC is running anything prior to Windows 2000, you should seriously consider trying Linux for security reasons if nothing else. I think you will be pleasantly surprised. There are many flavors of Linux which is both good and bad. It is bad because there is no consensus among Linux users so they can't get a significant enough market share to draw the attention of hardware vendors. The upside is that with so many flavors, you can probably find one that best meets your needs and likes. It also prevents anyone from developing a Linux virus that can spread very far. The support community is generally better for Linux as well, out of necessity, so you will find lots of free help getting started and may even enjoy helping others follow the trail you help to blaze.

I've tried many different versions of Linux over the years but I believe mainstream PC users should make the transition as easy and painless as possible until you get more familiar with the terminal (command line) and find a support community you really like. For those reasons I suggest you download the single Live CD of Kubuntu Linux (Ubuntu with the KDE desktop environment). This one CD kubuntu.org/download has everything a beginner will need and you can even mail order one for about $3. While you are trying single CD distros, PCLinuxOS 0.93a is pretty smooth and has a great Mandrake installer to partition your drive or setup multi-boot menus.

Those with more time and a good broadband connection may want to try the five CD distribution of Open Suse 10.2 on an old PC or spare partition of your regular PC. It shares the KDE desktop but is not a Debian based Linux. It is closer to Red Hat's Fedora Open Source version. Mandriva is a third choice you may want to consider, especially if you are buying disks. It is cheaper that SuSe, with fewer disks, and very user friendly. If the distro you try is from October 2006 or later it will include Firefox 2.0, the best new browser available. Check the feature versions at Distrowatch.com

If you go with an Open Source (freeware) distro, you will have to add-in support for proprietary formats like PDF, Flash, DVD movies, etc. There may be an entire CD available with most of these on it that can bring your OS up to an approximation of the retail version.

You will have to download and install extras via the package manager that comes with your distribution. Ubuntu/Kubuntu uses the Synaptic GUI for the Debian APT installer, while SuSe uses it's own RPM package manager in the Yast Control Panel. Even a newbee shouldn't have much trouble downloading and installing software in these newer Linux distros.

Like Vista, all the new Linux operating systems assume you have a network connection to the internet. If you are still a dial-up user, there is no good news (except 550Access.com ...referred by STRAPANE). I managed to get Ubuntu working with my full external modem, but the OS didn't see it or my serial port. Kubuntu has the KPPP dialer which should allow full modem users to avoid the terminal window entirely. If you have a WinModem, SuSe is your best bet, but even it is unlikely to have drivers for any but a few Intel or one Motorola chipsets. Most major video cards by major vendors like ATI and NVidia have Linux drivers and you might even be able to print with the CUPS printing system or using TCP/IP.

Linux is not the perfect desktop replacement for Windows and won't be without some major changes in the industry, but it can be a rewarding alternative to dumping a perfectly good PC to buy one that runs Vista. I suggest most users can run it dual-boot with Windows 2000 or XP and enjoy the best of both worlds. Here are some places to order CD's.
on-disk.com Kubuntu
osdisc.com Ubuntu Edgy 6.10
osdisc.com Open SuSe 10.2

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Firefox 2.0

Here's a brief overview of the newest, best web browser and why it is better than Internet Explorer. http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/features.htmlThere is a link to download it at the top of the page.

It is easy to download and install, even with a dial-up connection, and won't interfere with Internet Explorer. You can use either or both. Just leave the box to always ask checked in the preference dialog that pops up and you can easily make either your default browser. Even your bookmarks (Favorites) and homepage can be migrated automatically, if you wish.

I've tried the new Internet Explorer 7 and find it a poor copy of Firefox 2.0 that has obvious bugs. I'm really disappointed that Microsoft rushed the release of IE7 just to get it out a few days before Firefox 2 and left so many bugs in it. I couldn't even resize the browser window by grabbing the borders. That means IE7 isn't written to basic Windows standards, but Firefox is. Also, there are far more useful add-ins for Firefox than IE, not that you need them. With built-in phishing (bogus web domain) warnings, easier to use tabs, and a cleaner interface on Firefox 2, I think you will agree with me that Microsoft has lost the right to claim they have the best browser. Just having RSS feeds built in is a welcome addition. Don't miss the weather add-in that sits on the status bar.

Experts recommend switching from IE6 due to the numerous security problems it has. If you are switching to a new browser, give Firefox serious consideration. Generally, most users will find Firefox 2 easier to use than IE7 and it has options that are easier to figure out and select. The only shortcoming I see so far is the lack of zone security control. But the Noscripts add-in with icon options to temporarily allow scripts for a particular website for example is much easier and faster to use. This add-in allows everyone to run with higher security by default than with IE.

There seems to be fewer security issues for basic browsing with Firefox so that offsets the ability to lock down the browser (disable most features) for most websites as you must do with IE6 using zones.

Both issue security patches promptly and regularly and update automatically or manually (from the Help menu in Firefox). But security issues in IE are exploited much more often and much faster.

It is much easier to remove personal data stored by Firefox than Internet Explorer 7. As Martha says, that's a good thing!

Overall, I don't feel like I'm missing anything by using Firefox 2 which also has Adobe extensions and there are lots of add-in features not available in IE7 (I love the forecastfox add-in for the status bar along the bottom). If I do come across a website that simply won't work with Firefox (Microsoft's hotmail.com requires scripts normally not allowed by the Noscripts add-in), I can make a temporary or permanent website exception or even use Internet Explorer. The two are mutually exclusive.

Try Firefox 2 and decide for yourself. I'd like to know what you think.