Thursday, June 21, 2007

Take Linux for a test drive -- it's free, after all

I really want you folks to try the free (free free free) Linux OS at some point in your life.

It has become a very credible operating system, even for typical PC users . . . though the whole concept is still alien and intimidating. Herewith is a list of Everything You Ought To Know Before Your First Linux Install:

1. Linux and its free software are a perfect choice for a "spare" computer, like the PC your kids use or the notebook that migrates throughout the house. For meat-and-potatoes Web browsing, e-mail, word processing, and media playing, spending $400 for legit copies of Windows and commercial apps can be overkill.

2. There's no "one" Linux. The Linux OS is a lot like English: It's all the same, technically, but the variants will prevent you from successfully ordering a submarine sandwich with fries and a Coke when you're 400 miles away from where you grew up.

3. Even with one specific kind of Linux, there are several distributions. A "distro" is a specific combination of the OS and various packages of drivers, installers, utilities, and user apps that make installing and using it either as smooth as silk or a nightmare from which you fear you shall never awaken. Visit for a field guide.

My personal favorite distro is Ubuntu Linux ( It has a huge, active support forum (

4. Your distro will arrive in the form of a "Live CD," which you can either purchase online for the cost of two X-Men comics or download as a 500 megabyte disc image and then burn. Boot your PC from this disc, and presto, you're using Linux, complete with a full suite of useful apps such as the Firefox browser and the OpenOffice suite of productivity apps. If you like what you see, you can install Linux directly onto your hard drive. If you don't, just shut down and eject. Your PC will be left untouched.

5. It's not necessary to choose between Linux and Windows. Your installer can create a "dual boot" system that can run both. Either way, use your PC's built-in utility to burn a "recovery disc" so you can re-install Windows.

6. The biggest stumbling block you'll encounter with Linux is getting it to recognize all of your PC's hardware. I mean you might have no WiFi. And your gorgeous 1600x1200 screen is downgraded to 800x600 resolution.

Sure, I've had Linux installations go smoothly. But that only happens when the distro you've chosen is exceptionally right for your PC, and includes all of the drivers you'll need. Google for the make and model of your PC plus "Linux" and "distro," and you'll quickly find a good candidate.

7. Don't be frightened off by some of the mega-complicated solutions you'll find in the help forums. Locating and installing the extra drivers you need is a job for Linux's built-in package manager.

So with Ubuntu, for example, getting your display running at full resolution merely requires that from the menu bar, you click on System >Administration >Synaptic Package Manager. Then search for the name of your video card, and then click a button to download and install the right drivers. Even better, package managers help you locate virtually any free software you might ever need.

8. Just creating a bootable, useful system is 80 percent of the install, and will take only 5 percent of your time. The next 10 percent of the project will take up to 50 percent. Getting the final 5 percent of your hardware working (like your notebook's headphone jack) might not be worth the investment.

9. Your existing peripherals will probably work fine. There are drivers for most popular printers, and if your digital camera or music player appears on your PC as an external storage device, it'll work with Linux media managers.

10. Remember that the world is a good and happy place, and that Linux's many creators and supporters wish you no harm.

By Andy Ihnatko
Andy writes on technical and computer issues for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Ubuntu Mobile and Embedded Edition

The "Ubuntu Mobile and Embedded Edition", The first full release of the software, which will permit video, sound and full-featured Internet browsing, is due in October.

The software is geared for use on Intel's Mobile Internet Device platform and Mini-Tablet PCs using low-power processors and tiny keyboards. The "Ubuntu Mobile and Embedded Edition" will have a fast boot and resume times, and reside in a small memory and disk footprint. These new devices, small, handheld, graphical tablets which are Internet-enabled are going to change the way we communicate and collaborate .