Monday, May 13, 2013

Why the change of Linux distribution?

In the last few months there has been a lot of progress in the linux world. As windows becomes both more feature rich as well as slow and buggy the more full featured Linux distributions have been released to both match and exceed offering from the MS camp (7,8,RT, etc).
I have been using Ubuntu Linux and installing it on most of the computers I work on for at least 8 years now, but now that Ubuntu has been mirroring windows by adding more features to it's OS at the expense of speed I am beginning to explore other options.
I still like Ubuntu for it's robust support and all the extras it comes with, as well as the ease of use for beginners, and the fact that it does not get viruses and still runs faster and with less issues than windows. However I often work with older equipment and as ubuntu grows, much of the equipment I work with does not.
Much of the work I do is on computers for ministries and churches where there is no budget, and people donate their old computers rather than new ones (AKA "Last Fruits")
I remember back in the days before Ubuntu was popular I used to use Puppy Linux a lot. The biggest issue I had with it then as well as now was support for wireless cards. More often than not it was a nightmare to get all the hardware to work. On the plus side it was screaming fast so fast it made XP look silly even when puppy was running on a computer with 1/4 the ram and 1/16th of the CPU speed.
But lets return to current day. After nearly 8 years of ubuntu and it's derivatives like Mint, lubuntu, kubuntu, and others have made it so that you can install on almost any system and it just runs without having to search for drivers and special instructions to get all your hardware working.
 However the standard ubuntu has gotten slowly more bloated with it's unity interface and other improvements. Currently stock Ubuntu is running just a hair faster than stock XP (although XP needs a virus scanner and ubuntu does not so in practice ubuntu is still a lot faster).
The wonderful thing is that while windows only gets more bloated and develops more security holes Linux forks. There are now 1000s of different versions of Linux available (Ubuntu and Android being the largest).
 A good way to understand this if you are familiar only with the Microsoft and Apple world would be to remember back to the days of D.O.S. and Windows 3.1. windows was a program you would load on DOS and as new versions of windows came out they bundled them together.
   IBM also came out with a product called OS2 Warp which was IBMs failed attempt to compete with microsoft after they had already taken most of the home PC market. OS2 was just another GUI that sat on top of DOS so you had a desktop, mouse, and a nice graphical interface to keep you from having to type commands at the DOS prompt.
    Now I mention this because back years and years ago before Bill Gates was even a gleam in his fathers eye Unix was running computers around the world, and even after DOS was invented it was and still is the operating system of choice for servers and larger computers. Unlike DOS which could only run one program at a time and had to rely on windows sitting on top of it to multitask. Linux could multi task and multi thread better and faster than even modern day versions of windows back as far as the late 1960s.
     The only reason that DOS and Windows exist is that most computer nerds seemed to miss the idea that the average Joe wants an easy to use system that has a point and click interface. So for years windows ruled the roost.
     All this has changed. in the last 15 years. Development on graphic user interfaces that sit on top of linux/unix/gnu (essentially the same but with minor differences and licenses) have exploded and in the last 8 have pretty much caught up and surpassed windows in usability.
   A good example of this is one of the places I volunteer my time at The Lord's Ranch a combination missions training center/drug rehab. In the past when I lived in town there would be a computer in the office running windows xp or vista that would crash no less than once a month (and at times weekly). Multiple users most with little training, a staff that rotates often, and no budget made it a IS support nightmare. Often the newest staff member would refuse direction and click on every virus infected link that came in an email.
     About 8 years ago I installed Ubuntu and while I get the occasional call because from time to time someone who is new to the system needs instruction, or there is to much stuff accumulating on the hard drive that needs cleaned out. I have had few calls and no crashes or viruses in 8 years.
     Ubuntu is just one version of linux, as I mentioned just like windows sits on top of DOS Ubuntu is pretty much the Unity interface sitting on top of Linux. Just like the android interface, or the Mac interface does (Mac is sitting on BSD Linux a slightly different version).
     All these different versions of linux/unix all have one big thing in common. Rather than sitting on top of DOS or a microsoft core they sit on a linux/unix core that is developed and improved by a massive world wide user base rather than just the resources of one company and has a good 20 year head start on development.
     In the past I would go from place to place fixing windows computers, have my phone continually ringing, have massive phone bills and nearly no personal time at all that did not involve someone calling me for tech support. I even remember at one time totally loosing it as I smashed my cell phone on the pavement of my dad's driveway after nearly 120 hours of people calling for tech support in a week.
     Now I find myself with vast amounts of free time to go camping, ride my motorcycle and read. I still service about the same number of computers. I reactivated my cell phone (and even have the number listed on the web).
   For the last 6 years I have refused to help windows users to do anything other than switch to a Linux distribution (usually Ubuntu). Now I am considering moving away from Ubuntu because while it is still very stable they have added so many features, bells, and whistles that it runs slow on old single and dual core CPUs with under 2 gigs of RAM.
    I find now that with the slow donated cast off computers I find in ministry as well as some of these interesting computers that cost under $100 and fit in your hand the trick is yet again to get more speed at the cost of some of the eye candy of the newer GUIs. So in the coming months you will start hearing more and more from me about other linux distributions.