Friday, May 10, 2013

Linux - a different frame of mind

In the news today, I read that all of the Windows laptops on the International Space Station have been wiped to make room for Linux. This is a very interesting development considering that Windows XP was even allowed to be on any equipment aboard the space station.

I remember when I made that switch myself. In June of 2007, I made the switch from Windows XP to Ubuntu. I had been playing with Ubuntu and several other distributions for months just to see what it was like. I decided I was going to switch and never look back.

During that time while playing with Linux, I checked all of the major applications for the major functions that I wanted to do with Linux. Productivity was easy with Open Office because it can read and write MS Office documents. Fortunately, the Free Software community had spent years decoding the Microsoft Office file formats to make them work with Open Office. Open Office used it's own document format, the Open Document Format, a format that was designed to last for centuries, not just until the next upgrade. I now use LibreOffice.

I found Rythmbox, Amarok and Banshee to be very serviceable music players. Eventually I settled on Rhythmbox since it integrates well with Gnome-Shell and I happen to prefer Gnome to the other desktops. I can play most popular formats so it's easy to work with.

Web browsing was easy with Firefox on hand. Firefox is standard issue with all of the major Linux distributions. It has suited me well until I found that Google made a version of Chrome for Linux. Worthy of note here, is that the Chrome installation process will add a new repository to the list of software sources so that Chrome stays up to date.

And then there was Beyond Compare, my favorite file manager. Beyond Compare makes it easy to manage directories and move files around. If you have two directories with similar contents, you can use Beyond Compare to easily sync the folders and files with worrying about overwriting newer files. This is also great for removing duplicate file and directory sets.

With the exception of Chrome and Beyond Compare, it is rare for me to download software from a website to install on my computer. Most software installed on my computer comes from repositories - places on the Internet where binary files that can run on my computer are stored. The repositories are consulted when new updates become available. Each repository is checked to ensure that it has not been tampered with and gives me the peace of mind that the software will just work.

There is something else really interesting about Linux. The update process works for *everything*. As long as the packages are installed properly, the system keeps a list of all software installed and checks for updates for all of the software, not just Ubuntu.

Linux is not just an operating system, it's a philosophy. The philosophy that I find so appealing is that my work on Linux begins with the least amount of privilege needed to get the work done. If I need to make any changes to the system, I run sudo in Bash or I will be prompted to enter my password from the desktop. The privilege is temporary and only applies to the process at hand, no others. Once the changes are made, the privilege goes away and I can be confident that even if I were to encounter a virus, it would not be able to take over my system.

Since I've made the change to Linux, I have found that I can just focus on my work and not on my computer. That's why I'm never looking back to Windows and can't imagine going back.
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