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Why replace Windows with Linux?

There are important things to consider before undertaking the task of replacing Windows with Linux, which will save you time and energy further down the line.

Are you a technical user yourself?

If so, I’m assuming you’re doing this for yourself – great! I’m sure you are as excited as the next Linux geek to be doing this, and that you’ve thought out your own reasons. Far from me to stop you.

Are you a non-technical user?

If you are looking to make the jump from Windows to Linux, may I firstly say, congratulations on the choice! Secondly, however, please note a few of things beforehand:

  • Linux is not Windows. Normally, you cannot run exactly the same programs you did as you used under Windows – namely the most popular Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop and Internet Explorer, or any other software intended for Windows only.
  • Linux does however provide some tools to try and force Windows applications to run, but it’s not foolproof – Internet Explorer can be made to run, and some have had success getting Microsoft Office to be usable. Adobe Suite has proven problematic.
  • The best thing to do, however, is to use their Free Software equivalents: LibreOffice in lieu of MS Office (note that LibreOffice is available for WIndows too!), Firefox in lieu of Internet Explorer; and the GNU Image Manipulation Program (aka The GIMP) in lieu of Photoshop.
  • There are myriad other programs, readily and Freely available to you on secure online software repositories, accessible straight from your computer’s software manager. Some of them, like LibreOffice, are available to you on Windows too, but most are Linux-only!
  • You may want to have a technically savvy person help you during your switch over time, as you will doubtless have many questions. Having a helping hand is always beneficial, and migrating incorrectly might cause you to loose data. Again, Linux is not Windows, and whilst it should be easy for you to use once installed, you need to have a lengthy talk about what the differences actually are.

Are you migrating a non-technical user?

Here be dragons. Before you migrate them, you have to absolutely clear that

  • they will not be getting Windows. Even with Wine, programs they used under Windows will not always run perfectly
  • they will be getting a whole new system, that runs a ton of other programs, some of which very similar to the Windows programs they’re used to

Also, this is a conversation to have at length with them – not something to be telling them as you insert the installer DVD into the drive. It will be such a change for them that it’ll be as strenuous a decision as to whether to move homes – minus the money, but with all other practical considerations, in terms of change.

Remember also that with non-rolling releases, you will need to reinstall the OS from time to time, so ongoing maintenance is to be considered. Most pertinently, make sure you do separate the /home directory to a new partition.

What about Mac OS X?

Apple are a tricky bunch. They’re making sure nobody other than them can fully support an alternative OS on the machines they build, so at the current point in time, switching a Mac to Linux is a bit more involved… Read more

Ubuntu Community Council Still Vague About Derivatives’ Licensing

A few months back, Clément Lefebvre of the Linux Mint project hinted at ongoing discussions about licensing access to binaries from Canonical – and a lot of speculation arose around this, but beyond Clem’s initial statement, and DistroWatch’s Jessie Smith’s insight, we haven’t heard anything official until Thursday 13th Feb, when the Ubuntu Community Council issued a statement on the matter:


(For those who are confused about how binaries might be withheld when source code is free: see my notes lower down.)

KDE and Kubuntu blogger and developer Jonathan Riddell posted a piece stating that no derivatives of Kubuntu would need to pay a license: http://blogs.kde.org/2014/02/14/no-licence-needed-kubuntu-derivative-distributions

At the same time Silviu Stahie posts on Softpedia an article stating that derivatives do have to pay: http://news.softpedia.com/news/Canonical-Explains-Why-Linux-Mint-and-All-Other-Distros-Must-Sign-a-License-Agreement-426770.shtml

Confused by this, I went and read the council’s statement, and found that the meat of the text is in only a couple of sentences:

“Canonical already provides a license for the use of these [trademarks] to the Ubuntu project and all of its distributions, including Ubuntu itself as well as those flavors that are developed in collaboration with it.”

So far so good: a trademark license agreement is in place at Canonical, and the official distro and all the official derivatives are granted it.

“We believe there is no ill-will against Linux Mint, from either the Ubuntu community or Canonical and that Canonical does not intend to prevent them from continuing their work, and that this license is to help ensure that. What Linux Mint does is appreciated, and we want to see them succeed.”

And this part simply says that they appreciate what the Mint project is doing. Nowhere does it say that Mint has been granted license of the binaries, nor does it say license is being revoked or granted, nor that payment is being demanded at all, nor whether they are foregoing the idea of fees.

In essence, the communication says nothing decisive – only that a license regarding trademarks exists, and that it needs to be granted, but not whether payment must be made. It doesn’t even say whether any agreement has been reached.

The way I read it, it’s a call to the community to say “tone down your nattering whilst we sort this out, and stop making assumptions about what we’re thinking before we even have a chance to say something. Give us time to agree amongst ourselves first.” Too many cooks and all that.

If Canoncial did decide to charge licensing, would this request be legal?

Regardless of the trademarks (which I don’t think are surreptitiously disseminated amongst the packes in the repos, that’s just “conspiracy theory” as far as I can tell), the question remains for many as to whether Canonical even has the right to require payment.

The GPL and similar licenses require the source code of a program to be provided, but does not prevent anyone from selling their compiled binary. A purchaser of the binary can then go on to distribute this to others free of charge (providing they have the corresponding source code too) – so even if a derivative were made to pay a license fee to its parent distro, it could subsequently re-distribute the binary to users for free.

Alternatively, it could simply take the Free source and compile and host it in their own repository, but that is costly in both time and hardware, so it’s handy for all the derivatives to be able to use Canonical’s repos directly.

If Canonical were to decide to request payment for accessing their binaries directly from their servers (a service) even while the sources of the software are Free, that could undermine the derivate projects, if only for a while, until a Ubuntu-compatible independent repo were created, that is, a repo which took the sources and repacked them for Ubuntu-based distros.

But from a binary-licensing standpoint, I see no legal issue in Canonical doing this. Let;s see how it all plays out.

Read more in the GNU GPL FAQ.

About that: Growing the Desktop Linux Community

I have a great interest in growing Desktop Linux as a community – being able to learn about the system and do all sorts of things with it is fine and dandy, but when you still have to deal with the Real World that uses closed source systems en masse, you find that your system is still a fringe consideration, not worthy of time and investment by others, with vendors only making software for the closed systems, and your knowledge only has limited use when helping your peers with desktop problems. I like helping my peers with the knowledge that I gain. And I’m sure that people I help are happy to have someone who can help them.

Over at OStatic, Jon Buys has written a piece calling on the community to stop bickering and getting into flame wars, and start bringing productive input to the table, so as to make the Linux Community a welcoming and intelligent place. I couldn’t agree more. But that alone will not swell our numbers. Read more

Mounting Drives in Linux

Byte City

Mounting drives in Linux is a task that sometimes needs to be performed when the auto-mounting mechanism doesn’t apply, and for neophytes can be challenging. The forums are replete with problems about mounting drives, the system not mounting drives upon plugging in the USB or inserting a CD, and permissions confusions.

The following post aims to explain as many parts of the manual process as reasonable, covering the /dev folder, mount and umount commands, fstab, umask and some particularities on filesystems and newly created disks.

The topic is fairly heavy, with many offshoot topics, and I want to keep this post as straight-to-the-task as possible, so a lot of the explanations will urge you to look up info elsewhere if you want more in-depth discussion. Generally, doing a web search on the name in underlined italics will be sufficient. I also use bold text for example snippets that you’ll need to replace, and pink text for text you would type at the command line, with green monospace text reserved for output.

Questions answered

  • How do I mount my USB key in Linux?
  • Why does my USB always mount as root?
  • How do I automatically mount a drive in Linux?
  • Why can’t I write to my USB in Linux?
  • How do I use the mount command?

Read more

About that: why are we still writing programs using text-based languages?

PCPro.co.uk has an article on graphical programming

Programming is a fairly specialist activity, requiring a different manner of thinking to operate in. Some programming languages try to be friendly in terms of words, symbols and grammar used to write the code (syntax) – but it still tends to be an initial hurdle to get past.

An asker on Slashdot had the following question today:

“…why are we still writing text based code? Shouldn’t there be a simpler, more robust way to translate an algorithm into something a computer can understand? One that’s language agnostic and without all the cryptic jargon? It seems we’re still only one layer of abstraction from assembly code. Why have graphical code generators that could seemingly open coding to the masses gone nowhere?”

The /. editor added:

Of interest on this topic, a thoughtful look at some of the ways that visual programming is often talked about.

Here are my thoughts:

For the TL/DR: graphical programming is inefficient, and error prone; better methods of viewing source code during read-back is more interesting.

Read more

Choosing your GNU/Linux Distro


Most of the time, the differences between one distro and another aren’t so important – most distros work the same as one another, which we are swift to be reminded of when asking “what’s the best distro for beginners?”

But what about drilling deeper into that question and instead asking, “what are the key differentiating factors between desktop distros?”

Here’s the list of things I consider, when deciding whether to take the time to download and install, or recommend, a distro.

This post aims to answer the questions:

  • What’s the best distro for new Linux users?
  • How do I know what Linux distro is right for me?
  • What are the main differences between Linux distros?
  • What Linux distros are backed by companies?

Read more

About that: Rich, Conceited and Alive – choose two.

Currently, Silicon Valley is looking more and more like the Third World: some extremely rich and showy people, and a lot of poverty, with no middle class.

One extremely rich chappy likened the rebellion of the poor against the rich to “a nazi rampage.”

In the comments section on Slashdot, one simple statement illustrated the balance perfectly:

I have lived in Brazil for quite some years now. Here the gap between rich and everyone else (there is no middle class here so to speak) is to such an extent that if you have money you are a target. This means that you must live in a gated community in constant fear that you or your kids might be kidnapped. You need to own a cheapo car so you won’t stand out too much when driving around. Of course you will have a nice car too, but this is only for weekends or maybe travel to places where other rich people go. In the end it is easy to become a prisoner of that wealth that is supposed to make you more free. I would prefer to live middle class in a 1st world country than rich in Brazil. The sad thing is that the erosion of the middle class in the 1st world countries means that they soon might resemble Brazil, and this is not good, even if you are rich.

Another commentator puts it quite bluntly.

When the poor start to starve, they will not die quietly, they will get violent. Keeping the masses reasonably well off is a good investment, even for the most psychopathic rich.

Remember what happened to the likes of Marie-Antoinette and Tsar Alexander.

History doomed to repeat and all that.

About that: the Internet narrows minds, however open they start out

A commentator on a Slahsdot article reminds that the Internet is a double-edged sword for politics, and for information spread in general:

Rather than a world-wide network enabling us to reach and appreciate a far wider range of topics and beliefs, we’ve instead been largely enabled to find the most comfortable echo chamber to reinforce all of our crazy without having to listen to neighbors who might not agree with our increasingly detached beliefs.

Not that that’s always a bad thing, if you’re a persecuted minority, for example. But I think the edge facing us does more cutting than the other side of the sword most of the time. Just look at how partisan things have gotten.

Read more

About that: Cracking down on sites like Ask.fm

A petition landed in my inbox today: “Shut down cyberbullying website, Ask.fm, in memory of Izzy Dix & 12 other teens globally

This is, alas, another misunderstanding of how websites work, but most importantly how social interactions, in general, work. I’m not saying that anyone is at moral fault in these cases; what I am concerned about is that the petition spreads the idea that any one site should be targeted for crackdown. Politicians can jump at this easily, scapegoat easily, and look like progress is being made. This is shortsighted, and ultimately leads us to rest on laurels until the next, identical, scandal arises.

(TLDR:) In brief, it’s not a crackdown on websites we need, but action on a large scale. We must be in control of the message that society projects to young people, the message must be on every wall a young person will see, and the message must be:

If you are a victim of BULLYING, it is never your fault, and you must always SPEAK UP immediately.

Read more for details. Read more

First look at Manjaro

Currently I’m having a go in a VM at Manjaro, a distribution based on Arch Linux.

There are a few things that make the Arch family particularly awesome, and a few things that make it quite daunting, but it’s really looking promising…. the following notes serve to document what I’ve learnt so far.

I’m using the 0.8.8 install release, 32-bit with Xfce in VirtualBox (the KDE ISO results in a blank/black screen after boot into LiveCD, both driver modes. Mouse visible and still possible to switch to tty terminals. Couldn’t be bothered troubleshooting yet). Read more