Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Linux are coming, the Linux are coming

Linux boot-disks are becoming more popular these days. I for one am interested in these, because it gives me the freedom to explore Linux without having to dedicate a machine to it. (It's not that I don't want a Linux box, it's that I don't yet know which Linux to go with.) I'm not rabidly pro/against any OS... I just want the damn computer to work. For me, Linux is like my old VW bus: sure, it looks like you can fix it if breaks down, but it's really more like you must fix it when it breaks down. You don't have the option of being blissfully ignorant of your computer's inner workings the way you can be with Windows. But if you are willing to learn how it works, Linux is a more powerful tool than Windows.

Some of the recent distributions solve some of the problems with newbie Linux installation... for instance, Knoppix, which is based on Debian, has a painless hardware-identification process that takes almost all of the guess-work out of setting up drivers for your hardware, and it even provides a mechanism for either saving data between boot sessions, or transferring the Linux system to your hard drive. Xandros has just released a new version of their distro, that has a very clean GUI that is similar to Windows, but is much more stable and makes better use of hardware resources.

For systems that have some sort of trouble, SystemRescueCD (based on Gentoo) is an excellent distro that boots up with an impressive array of tools for repairing a damaged system. They've even included 'SpeakUp' support so blind users can work on their machines.

Distrowatch keeps track of most of the bootable Linux distros. There are distros in many languages, distros that fit on mini-cds or compact-flash cards, and distros that are specifically set up for security, gaming, or multimedia.

Linux, or a Unix variant in one form or another, is probably coming your way. Mac's OS X is just a prettified version of FreeBSD. Lindows has found a market selling user-friendly versions of Linux that have been tweaked to act more like Windows. (Unfortunately, Lindows has also found the wrath of MS, and might not live much longer.) To give credit where it is due, Windows XP is the best product Microsoft has ever put out, but their practices are becoming ever more draconian, and there are few reasons to stay with them when there are free full-featured OS's out there along with an accompanying catalogue of free software.