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Lesson to aspiring tech writers out there: If you want lots of feedback, write about Linux. Besides plenty of talkbacks on the JPost site, I got a bunch of e-mail messages, each with something to say about my thoughts on Linux vs. Vista.
And the readers had plenty to say on the subject of if, when and how Linux will finally come into its own, grabbing a significant share of PC desktops: It won't happen until businesses adopt Linux en masse, pushing home users who need to duplicate their work environments to install it at home, said one. No, games will be the motivator; the more games for Linux, the more home users, and consequently the more pressure on businesses to adopt the OS of choice for home users. Linux is still not ready for prime time, said some - still too complicated and techie; nonsense, said others, it's 10-times easier to install than Windows, not to mention more stable. Free software is the engine that will push Linux; as users pick up on free/open source apps that work just as well/better as commercial apps, they'll be more willing to give Linux a chance. Nonsense, say others; there are more than enough FOSS applications for Windows, and as far as the OS is concerned, if it ain't broke, there's no incentive to fix - or change - it.
Differences of opinion is exactly what you would expect from committed Linux users. A platform that has over 1,000 variations (http://www.linuxcd.org) - did I really write "dozens" last week (http://tinyurl.com/yoymq2)? - is obviously going to have lots of ways of doing things. As someone who has worked extensively with users of both mindsets, I can tell you that having dozens or hundreds of choices and decisions to make is exactly what scares non-techie Windows users who are used to having everything work in a singular manner they are used to.
And yet, I really do believe that the Linux revolution (or maybe evolution) is inevitable. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and as users try to upgrade to Windows Vista and experience the "benefits" of upgrading most of them didn't count on, I think at least some of them will be amenable to considering Linux. When they find that their memory, video card and even PC processor just doesn't have what it takes to run the upgrade that they shelled out $100 for - and that they are expected to make costly hardware upgrades as well - it could just be the turning point for the more computer-savvy who have heard about this Linux thing.
But it's not just those seeking to upgrade who are in for an unpleasant and costly surprise. As a little off the cuff test, I checked out the Dell sales site and set up a purchase for a basic low-cost PC, the Dimension E521, which Dell was running a special on ($449 instead of $499). After I got through with the various components/upgrades - including those "recommended by Dell for use with Vista - my low cost Dell computer rang up at, would you believe, $1,408?! And that was with the minimum amount of stuff I felt was necessary for running Vista (2 GB memory, 160 GB HD, video card etc., without any "fluff - although I did include a copy of Office 2007, which I assume most average users would go for (even if they had Office 2K or XP installed on an older PC). Of course, I wouldn't dream of trying to use this model with Vista since the processor is merely an AMD Sempron. For Vista, you really should have a Pentium Core Duo for Vista. The cheapest such Dell is the XPS 410, which includes a 19 inch monitor and which, interestingly, comes out to $1,408, as well, for the 2 GB/256mb video card/Office 2007 configuration.
In other words, Vista is not just a software upgrade, it's a hardware commitment. And that is probably going to be enough to get folks upset when they find out that a Vista-ready PC - upgraded or brand new - is going to cost more than they expected. I know some people are going to say that $1,400 isn't all that much for the computing power you get and that a few hundred of that goes for Office and a monitor (in the E521's case), but even without those options it's clear that there is a price penalty of as much $300 to $500 for using Vista - because both those Dell computers off the shelf would run XP with no problem. And $300 to $500 is enough money for users, home and small business, to start considering their OS options.
So, if you're the type whose blood pressure goes up when prices do, it's time to prepare to learn how to deal with Linux. A very useful site for WIndows to Linux converts is at The Table of Equivalents page (http://tinyurl.com/d3jps), which has an exhaustive list of Windows software and their exact Linux equivalent. It's a good place to get to know the capabilities of Linux and how it isn't just a techie specialty thing - it's an actual operating system that helps users get stuff done. And many of the applications used by Linux folk - Firefox, Openoffice etc.
I mentioned Wine last week as a useful option for those seeking to move to Linux. Wine - Which Is Not an Emulator, as the program says - is a Linux application that provides an application interface within Linux for Windows apps - i.e. you can run Windows programs right within the Linux box. Not all versions of not all programs are supported, of course, and some programs work better than others - but for those who must have a Windows outlet, it's certainly an option (you can see the applications Wine supports at http://appdb.winehq.org).
But compatible, similar or duplicate software won't help if you can't manage the operating system itself - and there are a number of painless ways to try out Linux without reformatting your whole hard drive. The most ambitious will want to install a Linux distro on a partition of an internal hard drive - taking some free space on a Windows disk and installing Linux there, allowing you to start up the computer with either OS. There are plenty of distros to choose from, of course, but the most popular flavor of the moment is Ubuntu (http://www.ubuntu.com), said to be the most painless Linux installation (I installed it on my Macbook under Parallels, so now I have the triple boot system I always dreamed of - OSx, Windows XP and Linux!). To see Ubuntu in action - with the very cool Beryl windows management system - check out the YouTube video at http://tinyurl.com/3a4ufe.
But you don't have to install Linux to play with Linux. Instead, you can download one of the Live CD versions of Linux (http://www.tuxs.org/trylinux.htm). You download a disk image of the OS and burn it to a CD and then start up your computer from the CD. It's a bit slower than a "real" install would be, but since the objective here is to familiarize yourself with the system, the Live CD system should work just fine.
But even better, you can just boot up a Linux distro from right within Windows. At the aptly named http://goodbye-microsoft.com site, you'll find links to two .exe installs of Linux that operate just like any program from right within Windows. The officially released Debian version of the Debian Installer-Loader and the still experimental Ubuntu version (https://wiki.ubuntu.com/install.exe/Prototype) make setting up Linux as simple as installing a screensaver. Just remember, though - Linux is not Windows, like this guy says (http://tinyurl.com/8b9s6) - which is why it might just be the change lots of current Windows users are looking for.