WHAT IS A FREE OPERATING SYSTEM?

Linux Operating Systems

Before I start out, "What is an operating system?". It is the system that makes your computer software, like the MS office suite, your internet browser, and photo editor work with the electrical components of your computer.  There are 4 programmes to do that

1

Microsoft windows, which operates about 80% of the computers

2

The "Apple" OS X is an operating system that runs on all Apple computers

3

Linux, which is an operating system running on 1% of the computers

4

UNIX, which is an operating system mainly used for heavy duty business applications.

I have always been intrigued by the concept of the Linux operating systems, because they are free and entirely built by people and companies donating their time to build free software for the world to enjoy. 

So, if you can severely reduce the costs of LEGALLY functioning computers, that really helps. But an operating system without high quality software to run on it, is rather pointless. So, Linux was not worth anything until there was an office suite that would run on a Linux operating system. By about 2003, OpenOffice started filling that gap, thereby making Linux a useful operating system for regular users. 

For a long time, Linux operating systems used to be very cumpersome to install and one really needed to know a considerable amount of Linux gibberish (linux codes and programming to make the operating system do what you wanted it to do) to update and install user packages. As a result, they were basically useless for Jo and Jane Doe, my national parks people and myself.

About a decade ago, Xandros (the Linux split off from Corel) came along and sold a very easy to install Linux distribution, that facilitated automatic installing and updating of software packages at prices between $40 (this version is rather useless, as it lacks essential software options) and $100 per complete license, depending on what you need. That did not do much good to the principle of free software.

Our computer wizard, Spencer Stirling, a mathematician and computer nerd (among other things :) maintains and runs the Birdlist servers and computers. He has been toying with Linux for over a decade now and is an authority on Linux applications. For Linux stuff see his website http:// www.spencerstirling.com with lots of instructions for Linux lovers, all developed and tested on the www.birdlist.org computers and servers). But until recently Linux was not there yet and the operating system needed a lot of fine tuning to do what I wanted it to do. 

About 2005, he decided to abandon Xandros and installed another linux operating system. But with that, I could no longer install any programme update (I just don't want to learn Linux gibberish) and became fully dependent on external help. So that would not work for Jo and Jane Doe nor my national parks people. The question was "What is an operating system that works for Joe and Jane Doe Microsoft"?

Linux Ubuntu

Then, Spencer discovered  Linux Kubuntu (do those Linux nerds invent creative names!) and decided to give it a try on one of our computers. I am his test dude and let me tell you, I loved it from the start. It gave the choice of hundreds of programmes to be installed/uninstalled/updated by a simple click of the button. I use a lot of software for my natural resources management, our website and scientific work. There were still 2 things I could not do in Linux: my favourite GIS programme, ILWIS and Frontpage, but none of those are probably of any interest to Jo and Jane Doe Microsoft. With a bag full of foreign languages I also need a suite of accents, that needed some fiddling in Linux gibberish, but again, no issue for Jo and Jane, as they only speak and write the most primitive European language anyway, which has no accents.

If you still need a few programmes to run under Bill Gates' operating system, there is a software that allows you to run Windows XP on your computer. Now that takes quite a bit of Linux gibberish to install, but if you are capable of doing that, you are in business. Spenser installed that on my computer, and boy......, it runs faster and crisper than the old regular version I had on the same computer previously. With lots of work in Frontpage 2000, I work my computer in Linux and XP simultaneously continuously, switching instantly merely by either pushing the button for XP of for Linux, that makes me swap to my XP or my Linux window. But it has no sound.

By probably 2008, he esperimented with Ubuntu, and it turned out that by then anybody familiar with computer basics, could by then download the completely free version of Ubuntu, image it on a CD and install it on his/her computer, after which he/she was forever free from paying software license and updatesfees. But the question remained:  "What is an operating system that works for Joe and Jane Doe Microsoft". Ubuntu still had too many little annoying things, including the accents. But by now we could run a good windows virtual machine within Linux, although it lacked sound. We managed to make ILWIS GIS run in Linux WINE, albeit only in its earlier versions.  In the beginning the accents were a problem, and several times after I upgraded some of the software programmes, the fine-tuning to my needs broke. So, still no system for Joe and Jane. Moreover, as it was so troublesome to fix the linux computer with Spencer living several hours of flying away, I would not update my applications. The accents were no standard installed, so that no longer needed expert fiddling.

Just a few months ago, Spencer completely upgraded the system with the latest version of Ubuntu. What a revelation, compared to previous versions. It now runs a Windows virtual machine with sound. Essential? Not really, but nice. I personally think it is still not extremely pretty, but that can be customized. All in all, I think that Linux Ubuntu now is ready for use by Joe and Jane. Try it out, but before you do, make a back up of all your files and software and put it on another computer.

If you have the hard drive space, I highly recommend you make a dual boot system that can operate in both Windows and Linux. That way you have the best of both worlds.

http://www.ubuntu.com/ 

With reasonably straight forward installation and automatic installation of hundreds of software packages, including OpenOffice,  Ubuntu is the GNU/Linux distribution for everyone. Enjoy!

For a magnificent linux information check out:

http://www.linux.org 

Why is Linux important? Technically there are some advantages, like great resilience against virusses, but that is not the point. The point is that over time Microsoft has become so overwhelmingly dominant in the computing sector, that it started showing many monopolist's trades:

But more importantly, the world at large had become dependent on one single corporation for the world of computing. That simply is not good. It suppresses competition and such corporation risks becoming a political force. The managers/largest shareholders of Microsoft are by and large decent hard-working people, but we simply don't want their vision of the world being imposed on us through their products, whether we agree with their political vision or not. That is dangerous. 

The OpenOffice office suite is remarkably compatible with the Microsoft files and for all practical purposes, you no longer need the Microsoft office suite. We have been using it now for 4 years, and when OpenOffice 2 came out the beginning of 2006, we found it sufficiently operational to replace the MS suite for daily use. It runs on several operating systems: Windows, Linux, MAC and a few others. It comes automatically with Kubuntu.

With the availability of OpenOffice, a computer can now become a fully functional machine, without dependence on Microsoft. That is a great achievement! 

Equally important is that OO has industry agreed formats that are not dictated by MS. Over time these formats will become the new standard, and in OO one can chose between the MS and the new industrial formats.

We like to be fair, MS is still a a bit more slick than OO, and I personally think that the MS suite looks prettier. But that is mostly appearance and it does not justify spending so much more money on it and from the documents that you put out: you can't see the difference, while they open equally well in both programmes. Moreover, once your document is finished, you can export it as a pdf file. That saves you another $250 for not having to buy  Adobe Acrobat. So, compared to the market leader MSOffice ($340 full lisence and $250 for upgrade) + Adobe Acrobat (I paid $250 and after a few years it stopped functioning), you can safe yourself a value of somewhere between $500 and $600 PER COMPUTER. Remember, it is illegal to install a programme on several computers, and Microsoft has begun monitoring if your licenses are legal! Don't fool, yourself, Microsoft monitors exactly what you have on your computers through their operating system (remember those wonderful periodic updates? Big brother Microsoft keeps track of all of us!). Rumors have it that corporations are now being sued for having inappropriate installations on (some of) their computers. 

VMWARE

VMWARE is a virtual machine that works under Linux. You run Microsoft within your Linux application. Make sure you get the free version, as it does not make sense to use the expensive commercial version if you want to safe money. I have been using the free version for almost 5 years now with Windows XP (I had several legal lisences) and it worked fine except for the sound. I didn't mind as I primarily used it to run Frontpage. The downside of this VMWARE was that you really need to know how to programme Linux in order to make it work. 

http://www.vmware.com/ 

However, the updated Ubuntu now runs with the Virtual Box of Oracle, which really works nicely, and with sound. Not that I use it, but I feel it should work for other users who would like to run things like the Microsoft messenger with video and sound, and not just the chat facility that runs pidgin.

http://www.virtualbox.org/

WINE

No, this has nothing to do with the alcohol containing liquid that so many rave about. 

WINE lets you run Windows software on Linux and Apple computers . With Wine, you can install and run these applications just like you would in Windows. Wine is still under active development. Not every program works yet, however there are already several million people using Wine to run their software. Quite frankly, I didn't find installing windows software as user-friendly as it should b, but it worked. I have not tried it yet in my new Ubuntu. With more computer operating systems becoming available (Windows, Linux, Apple, Unix, and others), not all software will be available for every operating system. So it is great to have a programme available that makes the programme of YOUR need work on YOUR operating system. So, WINE allows you to run the windows programme of your need in your LINUX application. That is really fabulous!. In this sense it works very differently from virtual machine, which still makes you dependent on Microsoft's Windows and you are running 2 operating systems on 1 computer. With WINE you only run LINUX and you run a Windows dependent application on your Linux operating system. I have been able to make the necessary adaptations to run ILWIS GIS on LINUX, but I could not get Frontpage installed on it, and after a couple of hours of trying, I decided it was not really worth my time, since it is running in the virtual machine. But of course, a real LINUX aficionado would not give up that easily, but neither would he/she use any Microsoft software to begin with, and certainly the so much despised Frontpage, which I like so much for being so user-friendly.   

http://www.winehq.org/ 

Java

http://www.java.com/en/download/index.jsp 

Think of Java as an operating system within your operating system. You need it for a variety of uses, including the viewing of many websites. Among other things, Java installs itself in your browser, but also other programmes need the presence of Java on your computer. It is available for all operating systems.

 

An enormous forum on managing Windows XP. Great resource for troubleshooting and finding solutions. Good luck. 

http://www.windowsforumz.com 

Some Windows 7 issues.

Like always with windows, you can't escape it. Once you need to buy a new computer, it comes with Windows 7 now. I hate it. It does all sorts of things I never asked for, but yet it looks very pretty. Now we have the glassy look. I hate it but I can't escape liking it.

The start menu. Terrible. In Windows 98, there was a very easy to understand, well organized menu, where one would see all programmes listed all at once. This menu was programmable and could be organized to one's liking by dragging programmes up and down. In XP, it became hidden into a button called "all programs", while the primary option was a limited selection of programmes determined by Windows, while clicking on the "all programs" button always was cumbersome. But you could change to the "classic menu".

So, the "classic start menu", which would take one back to the 98 menu look. I run lots of programmes and need my start menu neetly organized and I always ran my computers in "classical menu. Guess what, in Windows 7, this option is gone. I was desperate. I hated this and never asked for this "improvement". Windows 7 no longer offers that option. Ahhhhh I hate it when programmers think for me. After endlss searching on the web, I found a little free programme providing a great solution called Windows 7 classic start menu.