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January 2009 Archives

Whenever a person or business is thinking of migrating away from Microsoft Windows to Linux, or to FreeBSD, OpenSolaris, or some other FOSS operating system, the two most important considerations are:

1. Take the long view. The idea is to build a sustainable, future-proof computing infrastructure.

2. It all starts with the operating system. Sure, there are a lot of wonderful FOSS applications that run on Windows, such as OpenOffice, Firefox, Audacity, Pidgin, Thunderbird, Gimp, and many more. But that doesn't address the fundamental flaws of the Windows OS; it's like using more and better dung polish.

Just the other day I was sitting around complaining to my dogs, who are devoted, attentive listeners, that finding out how well hardware devices are supported on Linux is still more work than it needs to be. Vendors are finally getting brave and daring to say "Linux" out loud, but that doesn't always tell you the whole story. Do they supply their own drivers and support them? Are they nasty, antique binary-only drivers that require antique versions of Red Hat or SUSE? The best answer is they offer official Linux support with genuine, unencumbered FOSS drivers and community support.

At any rate both dogs gave me their best "You can complain, or you can do something constructive. Like come outside and throw the ball a few thousand times" looks. So I threw the ball a few dozen times, and then came back inside and decided to write about some of my Linux hardware experiences.

I've not ranted very much about this in the past because I'm chicken-- I'm afraid that if I start pointing fingers at the shortcomings of other journalists and tech writers, they will poke back at me. But there comes a time when a person has to grow a spine and start pointing. So I am pointing at all the alleged journalists, reporters, and so-called analysts who write about Linux and FOSS when they don't know one single blinking thing about it. What is it with people? It's shameful enough to spend years on the same beat without broadening their knowledge the slightest bit, and it's worse when they pontificate as though they actually know something.

The story about the college student who purchased an Ubuntu netbook from Dell, and who couldn't figure out how to use it, was met with the predictable storm of "well she's too stupid to use a computer" derision. Which is such a fine way to attract new Linux users! Call them morons, mock and ridicule them, and by gosh they'll drop Windows like a hot potato and come running!

But that's a rant for another day. Today's topic is about foolish schools that let themselves get locked into restrictive, proprietary technologies that cost a mint, and then they cry about not having enough budget to retain good IT staff, and students and teachers who are wise enough to eschew Microsoft's junkware face an uphill battle.

I've been using Linux since 1995, and while that doesn't quite elevate me to grizzled geekbeard status, it's long enough to have observed a whole lot of growth and changes. Most of them are good; but some of them are rather alarming. The changes that bother me the most are the ones that make it harder to understand and control your own system by adding needless complexity and layers of obscurity.

In the olden days most applications and services could be controlled with a single plain-text configuration file, so once you learned your way around it changes were fast and easy, and simple to replicate across multiple machines. But somewhere along the way a trend emerged that split these nice, useful single files into giant herds of files. So what was once simple, elegant, and useful became a big fat headache.

Favorite Linux Shortcuts

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I'm supposed to be writing "what makes the Linux desktop massively superior to the Mac and Windows environments." And I am--- it needs a little more time in cooker. So today I am going to share my favorite Linux shortcuts, and who knows, you might learn why some mysterious things happen when you fat-finger the keyboard or click the mouse wrong.

I'm toiling every spare minute to finish my latest book, "Building a Recording Studio With Audacity." There is a chapter for golden-eared audiophiles, who have been left behind in the rush to lo-fi MP3s and poorly-engineered CDs with no dynamic range to speak of, no balance, no nuances-- just shove all the levers to the top and call it good. So, as usual, to do it right we have to do it ourselves, and one interesting option is DVD-Audio. It supports higher audio resolutions than CD-Audio, and now there is a good GPL authoring application for creating DVD-Audio disks.