Archive for October, 2012

How to Coose the Right Linux?

9 October 2012

Starting with Linux can be quite a puzzle. There is so much to choose from that new users might get lost. Here I want to help choosing the right sort of Linux so that you actually can start using and appreciating it. I won’t get into the discussion about what distribution (Mint, Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSuse, etc, see distrowatch.com) is best because that is a matter of taste.

Deciding what sort of Linux you can use depends on your hardware and the things you want to do with your computer. Doing resource demanding graphical stuff on a somewhat aged computer will get you frustrated. Even on Linux, hardware will set limitations, even when Linux will perform much better on the same machine than with Windows.

Desktops

Now Linux comes with different types of desktops. Compare it to the different look and feel of Windows XP, 7, 3.11 or Mac OS. These different desktops — the look and feel — share basic functionality but differ in needed hardware resources. Linux basically comes with four types of desktops that you can choose from depending on your hardware:

  • LXDE — bare basic desktop for computers with limited hardware, or limited needed hardware for speeding up the user environment;
  • XFCE — basic desktop for computers with standard but modest hardware;
  • MATE — extended desktop for regular computers;
  • Gnome3, KDE, Unity — desktop for more powerful computers, mainly on the graphical side to to offer a modern, visual attractive working environment.

The beautiful thing about Linux is that you can add almost any software to any of these desktops. So choosing a light desktop like LXDE still makes it possible to use a more demanding graphical program like GIMP. Every mainstream Linux distribution comes with a program to add and remove software that will install all needed resources.

Now hardware requirements differ between desktops and distributions. distrowatch.com is a good starting point browse do the site of a specific distribution and find some requirements.

Try it!

A different way to see if your computer can run the Linux desktop of your choice is using a Live image of Linux. Most distributions offer downloading a .iso file that you easily can put on a CD or — more practical — a USB stick. This way you can test drive Linux, see how it performs and what it’s like before installing. The great thing is that it will not change anything on your hard disk when only using the Live image.

With unetbootin you can make such a LiveUSB on the fly. Unetbootin comes with pre installed links to several Linux distributions, but it isn’t possible to choose a different desktop with each distro. Luckily unetbootin enables you to select a downloaded .iso file on your harddisk. Instructions for the use of unetbootin and starting Linux from it are given on the site.

After using the LiveUSB Linux version you can choose to install it on your computer. Some distributions ask if you want a dual boot system so you can choose which operating system you want to use on your computer. You also can choose to wipe out all and start using Linux in future. The choice is up to you, but don’t forget to back-up your data before installing Linux on your computer!

I also wrote an article on choosing the right Linux desktop for OpenSource.com. You can read it here.

BYOS and BYOOS

2 October 2012

It started being fed up with strange behaviour of MS Word at the office. I don’t need to say more because most of us know what I’m talking about ;-) As an alternative I got into LaTeX, a really great environment to make text. Since I am a flex worker, I use several different computers and besides personal user-space is limited.

This is where I discovered MikTex portable. A complete LaTeX environment run from a USB stick. This way I could use LaTeX wherever I wanted without annoying my colleagues and IT department. XP (yes we still use that) for some strange reason makes personal settings on preferred programs affect all users on the system. After MikTex I learned that there is a lot of portable software, including the complete LibreOffice. I only wonder why all portable software I found is Windows only. Apparently Linux and Mac users are more happy with the given solutions on their systems…

Unfortunately a standard USB 2.0 was too slow. Rendering the PDF directly from the Tex document took ages and locked the system. So I bought a 32Gb V3 USB Drive from Verbatim to speed things up. Nice detail on the Verbatim USB is that it explicitly mentions Linux compatibility besides the other platforms! With this USB and portable software I am running the software I need to do the job the way it suits me best. Why bring your own device BYOD when all I need is good software? So Bring Your Own Software is a well working alternative.

Having 32Gb in my pocket I thought why not bring my own operating system as well — BYOOS (not that it is always possible to boot from a USB, but it is also just fun to make it). So I installed Fedora 17 LXDE Live version as well. Now the problem with all files and software on one partition is that the Live system cannot read data from the rest of the same partition. Making two partitions solves this. The filemanager of my portable Fedora correctly mounts the second partition and lets me use and edit files.

All well, but not for the obsolete XP boxes at the office. XP does not recognize the second partition on your USB drive. It only mounts the first one and there is no way the file explorer gives access to the second partition holding my data. Back to the Palimpsest aka ‘Disk’ on my main Fedora machine. First partition with 27Gb for data, second bootable partition with 4Gb for the Live Linux which I installed with 1.5Gb persistent memory so changes are kept with the Live Fedora.

Now this works! I can access my data whenever I like, use my favourite software and demonstrate the beauty of Linux when I want. Life is Great :-)