Saturday, March 21, 2009

What I'm Up To

Last Thursday my primary computer came down with a virus (the Alureon trojan, to be exact). I still have no idea how in heck it contracted the bug.

At the time, my home network consisted of two desktop computers, one running windows xp home and the other running windows xp pro, and two laptops that connected to the internet via an access point on my main computer (the one that got sick). I was using AVG for computer security. All of this was hidden behind a home brewed router.

I have been using computers since I was a high school freshman in Chatham, NJ. Of course, back then it was all punch cards, paper tapes and mainframes. The very first PC I had was a dual floppy drive Zenith. I was an early installer of Windows and OS/2. I remember when Apples were cool, then when they were not and their rebirth as MacIntosh. I remember the Internet before AOL invaded. I am an oldskool computer geek.

Until recently, I've never fiddled much with desktop Linux. I had some minor familiarity with the server/networking side of the software, and I knew a little about firewalls and Linux. A while ago, I downloaded the 8.04 version of Ubuntu Linux, burnt it to a CD and watched it generate endless screens of garbage on the main PC for an hour or so.

Fiddling with hardware is usually fun, but really only when it is on my terms. Frantically trying to fix something when you need your computer to meet a deadline is unfun.

I spent most of Friday disinfecting my main computer. Because of the way my home network was set up, the virus did not spread beyond the one computer. It did successfully reinfect the main computer early Saturday morning. Never, ever remove a virus manually, then repair Windows. It never really turns out well.

Saturday I deleted Windows and reinstalled it. I disinfected all of the drives and my main computer was virus free. Of course, I then I had to reinstall a whole mess of software, which I did.

Since then, I've also installed Ubuntu 8.10, which is a distro of Linux. This time, I took the time to RTFM and the associated support documents. I signed up at the community forums and googled potential issues. And the install went very smoothly. The one real install issue I had, I finessed by buying a SATA Bluray/DVD/CD drive. (The issue was that my DVD burner was IDE off a Micron controller, whilst my hard drive was a Terabyte WD SATA drive off the Intel controller. Putting both drives on the same controller with updated drivers and running AHCI cured all ills.(That's what I get for having a really flexible motherboard))

I like Ubuntu, a lot. It is very different from Windows. The development team has worked wonders to get the typical user up and running as painlessly as possible. They have also done an excellent job at nurturing a support community.

The OS is rock solid and very stable. Locating appropriate software is also handled well. The default look is pretty nifty. Customizing it is simple. Total basic install time took me around an hour, at the end of which I had music, office software, printing, network and Internet.

Since the basic install, I've mostly fiddled and tweaked. Not out of any real necessity, but because that's what I do for fun.

Why the switch?

As I wrote above, I've been using Windows for a very long time. I still have installation media for Windows 3.11, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows 2000, Windows XP (Home and Pro) and I have Windows Vista on my laptop.

Recently Steve Ballmer asked why Apple was worth a $500 premium. I started asking why Windows was worth a $200 premium.

The advantages of Windows are:

Most software is written for it. There is a huge install base of users, so that if you have a particular problem, the odds are great that someone else has had that problem as well. They may have, also, solved that problem.

Almost all PC games are written for Windows.

It comes installed on most computers. Therefore, our two laptops run different flavours of Windows.

Why then, the switch?

Ubuntu boots almost as fast as XP. My main computer runs programs faster on Ubuntu.

Linux is massively more secure than Windows. Part of this is due to tighter code writing. A good bit of it has to do with the lack of available targets for Linux malware. The dominance and ubiquity of Windows makes it a target rich environment.

I am bitterly tired of funding internet security companies. AVG, Norton, McAfee, Trend, Kaspersky, and Grisoft, I have tried them all. Because of how Linux handles users, even if my computer gets infected, I will be able to remove it fairly painlessly. Further, because valuable system overhead is not consumed by registry dead ends, security overhead and other effluvia my computer runs more quickly than under the old regime.

As for productivity software, I switched to Open Office three years ago. Open Office runs on Linux just fine, thank you very much. I mostly use web-based email these days, so losing Outlook distressed me not at all.

As for gaming, most of my computer gaming has been playing solitaire (number one game in the world for two decades), mah jongg and free cell. All of which are readily available in Windows, Linux or even on Macs. Sally plays Bejeweled, but that's a browser based game, so switching ruffled no feathers in that direction.

My browser has been Firefox for years now. Firefox is fully implemented on Linux.

Another part of it is that I wanted and needed a challenge. Admittedly, it's been less of a challenge than I thought previously, but the very flexibility of Linux means that I can continue to learn new things for quite some time.

In fact, the main problem I have had with the switch is that my documents print slower in Linux. Other people have the same issue, so it's apparently just one of those things. And I can live with that.

I'm keeping this computer on a dual boot setup with Windows XP and Ubuntu for now. But unless something untoward happens the day is fast approaching when I will jettison Windows completely.

Addendum: Apparently, I'm not the only one tired of the Redmond generated bloatware. John C Dvorak is migrating to Ubuntu as well.

No comments: