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What's wrong with Microsoft and Windows
Since I don't want to waste too much time critising them, I'll keep this chapter short. Microsoft is evil. It makes proprietary software and formats and only it knows how they work. As a matter of fact, some governments use Microsoft's proprietary software to communicate with their citizens. Microsoft knows all the secret formats and hence can potentially get to know the internals of the workings of the government and the nation as a whole.
It has been proven time and again that Microsoft spies on its users. It gets databases of your searches, it knows what videos you're watching.
Everything they write is non-free~ and Richard Stallman believes that non-free software attacks human society.
Nearly everything Microsoft writes, including Windows has very serious flaws (called bugs). All we can do about it, if we use Windows, is live with it. We don't have the freedom to change it. At most, we can kneel before Microsoft and beg them to write bug-free software by sumbitting bug reports.
~ You aren't expected to understand what non-free software is yet. Chapter 3 deals with the issue.
Who is RMS? What is GNU/FSF?
RMS is Richard M Stallman, a former MIT student and the founder of GNU and FSF (GNU's not Unix and Free software foundation). They were founded in 1984 and 1985.
He had very radical thoughts and felt that all software should be free~. Hence, he founded GNU, an organisation that writes and maintains free software. They have come up with the popluar license for free software called the GNU GPL (GNU General Public License). His philosophy led to the development of all free software we see today. He's like a God and many people worship him. He has NOTHING to do with Linux.
What is free software? Why should software be free?
Free software is a generic term that refers to software that has 4 freedoms:
- The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
- The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
- The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the wholecommunity benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
Free software should not be confused with software that is free of cost (freeware). In short, it means more than opensource software (software released with full source code).
Explaining why all software is a little long, and I think it's best done by RMS himself. I strongly recommend that you watch this video where RMS gives a speech in Taiwan: http://tinyurl.com/p62eq. It's a 2 hour 12 minute video and is 133 MB. It's in Ogg/Theora format and you'll need something like vlc for windows to watch it. Download it here: http://tinyurl.com/rohef. It's just 7.9 MB
What is linux then!?
Linux is a kernel. It was originally written by Linus Torvalds in 1991. It was originally non-free and became free a year later and was integrated into the GNU project to make a complete operating system. It's currently 7 million lines of code. So what's this kernel? A kernel is an interface between hardware and software. It runs in your memory and all applications command the kernel to do various tasks with the hardware. An application that directly communicates with the hardware and provides services to other applications (like memory management, disk writing/ reading, printer interfacing) can be called a kernel.
So why do we need a kernel? Can't every application just directly talk to the hardware? Every software writer would then be re-inventing the wheel. His software would have to contain "drivers" for all possible hardware that can exist, then it has to do extremely complex tasks like moving disk heads to write hard disks. Besides, only one application would run at a time with no memory management present. A kernel is more like a huge collection of hardware drivers and provides all these services. It manages applications by allocating them certian CPU time and load (the most primative OSes were time-sharing OSes where each application would run for a fixed time before switching to the next).
So what's this whole "linux" thing?
The free operating system that emerged from the linux kernel being integrated into the GNU project is called the GNU/Linux operating system and is sometimes (incorrectly) referred to as simply "linux". There are various packages of the GNU/Linux OS called distributions. Each one comes with its own style of package management, collection of software and installation style. Examples of GNU/Linux distributions include the following (in approximate descending order of popularity):
- Debian GNU/Linux
- RedHat GNU/Linux
- SuSe GNU/Linux
- Fedora GNU/Linux
- Ubuntu GNU/Linux
- Gentoo GNU/Linux
- Xandros GNU/Linux
- Slackware GNU/Linux
- Damn small linux GNU/Linux
- Archlinux GNU/Linux
- SourceMage GNU/Linux
Why use GNU/Linux
1. It's free
2. It's free
The other obvious reasons like bug-free and reliable should take the backseat. All other advantages are consequences of being free.
Orientation towards Ubuntu GNU/Linux
Ubuntu's tagline is simple: "Linux for human beings" which indicates that it targets beginners. It's a Debian fork and uses the same package management system as Debian (called apt: Advanced Packaging Tool). It's a binary-based distribution, which means that you get compiled packages with a .deb extension (as opposed to source code you're expected to compile on Gentoo). All packages made for your system will have a .deb extension and will all have the same standard installation procedure through apt. Apt is a backend and has various frontends like apt-get, apt-cache, aptitude, synaptic, dpkg, dselect.
These frontends merely represt the database data in apt in a different way. For example, Synaptic is a graphical frontend, which means it'll have bars and buttons and full mouse support. Since you're an ex-Windows user, you should get this. When you "click" on a .deb file, apt automatically takes over and installs it for you. It communicates to you the status through one of the various frontends I mentioned now.
Ubuntu bottom up
I strongly recommend that you don't dispose off Windows altogether and install Ubuntu GNU/Linux on your primary workstation. Install it and become familiar with it on a secondary workstation (like a home desktop PC) and then use it as your primary OS. However, if you feel confident that you can summon help and help yourself when needed, you may try to start using it as a primary system right away, but you will face some difficulties in the beginning.
Assuming you're on a 32-bit architechture (IA-32 or i386 or i686 or x86), download this iso right away: http://tinyurl.com/mr6zw. The installation procedure is fairly simple. The only hard part might be the disk partitioning section. If you want it to reside along with other system(s) on your disk, you'll have to learn how to partition your disks first. Otherwise, if you have a nice hard disk to spare, just install it on the whole hard disk removing everything else. If you have options to choose packages, I recommend you leave it at the default selection where you'll probably install the GNOME desktop environment.
Starting up Ubuntu
Ubuntu should start up in a nice graphical login where you can type in the username/ password of the user you created during the installation. You'll be greeted with a warm GNOME interface with graphical file managers and GNOME bars. It will be very Windows-like and you'll feel at home. A screenshot of the first page you'll be greeted with once you login: http://www.ubuntu.com/include/img/desktop.png. In all probability, you'll have a graphical frontend to Apt made by the Ubuntu team itself.
Applications to perform common tasks
- Web browser: Mozilla Firefox
- Email client + Groupware suite: Evolution
- Package management frontend: Synaptic
- Office suite: OpenOffice.org
- Basic text editing: gedit, kedit, nano
- Basic and advanced graphics manipulation: gimp
- Multimedia player: Totem/ Rhythmbox, vlc, mplayer
- Document viewer (pdf, postscript etc): Evince
FAQ and support for non-free software
Please refer to the bottom of this page: http://www.ubuntu.com/support/faq for the official FAQ. I'll paste the answer to one important question here:
Q: How can I do Flash, Java or MP3 ?
A: There are a number of commonly used formats and tools that we are unable to support because they have restrictive distribution rights, require special licenses, or are patent encumbered. We may be able to provide support for some of these in restricted, but in general, we would prefer to support Free software and Free formats.
Don't take this paragraph at face value. I listen to MP3 music all the time. It's not that MP3 is non-free, but just that it's GPL-incompatible due to some laws and various software patents in some countries. An MP3 player should not be distributed widely foc in some countries, which is why Ubuntu, by default doesn't come with MP3 support. Flash player is
non-free and the source currently rests with Adobe. If you're not too frantic about this, just ask firefox to auto-install this when you visit a page with flash content (I on the other hand, AM frantic and don't use Adobe's flash player). There's currently a high-priority (!) GNU project called Gnash that's under heavy development. It aims to be a free flash
player. Note that the flash format has to be reverse-engineered to do this and hence, Gnash is far from perfect. You can also get the proprietary Java plugin for firefox easily by referring to instructions on how to do so in the plugindoc:
http://plugindoc.mozdev.org/linux.html. Java plugin cannnot, unfortunately be auto-installed from firefox. Other plugins, as indicated in the plugindoc, like Adobe Shockwave have not been reverse engineered or compiled by the owners for the GNU/Linux platform and are hence unavailable by any means (except emulation).
Complete documentation + Wiki
Ubuntu is well-documented. The first thing you must read is the Official documentation found here: https://help.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/desktopguide/C/index.html or here: https://help.ubuntu.com/pdf/ubuntu/C/desktopguide.pdf in PDF format.
You should also read the user (contributed) documentation found at: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/UserDocumentation. This is also referred to as the wiki.
Remember that using Ubuntu isn't an end in itself. In about a year or year and half, you'll learn the advantages and disadvantages of using Ubuntu and you should switch to a more complete and flexible distribution. Note also that not all GNU/Linux machines "look" the same. You'd be horrified looking at my screen which, for the most part will display the text: "[17:26] [ram on tux]~$". I use Debian, but a lot of Debian machines will "look" like your Ubuntu system. It's all about which applications are installed and started up. Your desktop environment is called GNOME, mine's called fluxbox.
Motivation to move towards GNU/Linux
1. In the stable branch of a respectable distribution, nothing will ever fail to function. Nothing will hang. Nothing will crash. Ofcourse, free software is also written by humans, so there mightbe a few minor bugs, but it'll hardly be noticable.
2. There are no known viruses/ exploits/ spyware till date for GNU/Linux system.
3. My dad, who knew a nothing more than the Windows screen, all at once, switched to Fedora as his primary OS. He's been using it happily for a year and half now. He doesn't want to see Windows again. Ofcourse, he did have the advantage of having me around :P but I'm quite sure he's perfectly capable of doing administrative tasks, except maybe setting up
routers and sharing printers, which he's anyway incapable of doing on a Windows computer. My point is that if he were on Windows, he could call a software engineer to do a little advanced tasks. Now, in my country, he can get absolutely zilch support from software engineers here.
4. The GNU philosophy. I really belive in the GNU philosophy and that's why I use free software, leaving all other advantages aside.