Friday, September 7, 2007

#8 The Downside of Linux

by Jeff Smith

Hello and welcome back. If you remember last week's article, we were talking about Ubuntu Linux and how switching to it from Windows may just make your computing life much easier. We've discussed how it is pretty much immune to viruses and spyware, and how it can do just about anything that you do with Windows.
Today I'm going to tell you about the downside of Ubuntu Linux, and the problems or differences you may find when first beginning to use it.

Firstly, finding drivers for your hardware is a lot different. For the most part, Ubuntu will detect and install all of your hardware automatically. But sometimes there will be one piece of hardware that just isn't so easy. In this case, you'll have to go into the forums at and ask for help. The people there are great, and you'll likely find a solution (if there is one) and have your hardware up and running pretty soon. On the other hand, the hardware world bows down to Microsoft. Many hardware manufacturers do not consider Linux to be a big enough market entity to make Linux drivers for their hardware, or release the source-code for the drivers so that the Linux community can make their own.

Lexmark printers, for instance, did not work with Linux for a long time, but recently, support for Lexmark has come to quite an acceptable level. This driver delay is not the fault of Linux, but of Lexmark. In other cases, some very old hardware may have come from manufacturers who are no longer in business, and due to this, Windows drivers may be all that ever exist. In cases like these, your options are only to change hardware or do without it... or stick with Windows.
A good rule of thumb is, if it works on the Ubuntu Live disk, it will work without a problem. If it doesn't then it will take some investigation to find out for sure.

Another difference from Windows is installing applications. You're probably used to downloading an installer, double-clicking on it, and then clicking "Next" a bunch of times, then clicking "Finish." With Ubuntu, installing software can be MUCH easier or MUCH harder depending on the software. Ubuntu has what is called a Package Manager. In the Package Manager, you can search for and install thousands of free programs quickly and easily. Just select everything that you want, be it one program or one hundred, and then click "Apply" It just downloads and installs it all automatically. Easy as pie. Easier, in fact, than on Windows!

On the other hand, installing software that is not contained in the Package Manager repositories can be very intimidating. It involves compiling the code for your specific hardware, and its something I've not completely mastered myself. Luckily, there's almost always help to be had, and if you can cut and paste, you can get through it.

For most users, the repositories will have any kind of software you could ever need, and Ubuntu comes with most the things you're going to need already installed. So chances are you may never have a need to compile anything.

You will, on the other hand, find instances where it is necessary to use the terminal, or command line. Unlike MS DOS, which has pretty much been rendered all but useless in Windows, the terminal in Linux is robust and powerul. It is internet enabled and learning your way around in there is highly recommended.
I've heard it said that it is best to install Linux with the help of a friend who already knows that particular brand of Linux. So if you do decide to give Ubuntu a try, and you run into a snag, you're welcome to drop me a line, and I'll try to steer you in the right direction.

As Linux grows in popularity, and believe me, it is growing fast, hardware makers will begin to support it more and more. So Linux will only get better, while Microsoft will always continue to be... well... Microsoft.
Next week: Do you have enough RAM? How much is enough?
See you then.


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