A Windows Die-Hard Confronts Linux

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Preston Gralla

Preston Gralla
Jul. 20, 2004 05:42 AM

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I've been a Windows die-hard for more years than I want to remember, having used the operating system since even before the prehistoric days of Windows 3.1.

So when my 14-year-old son Gabe came home from his first summer job (where he's learning the open source joys of Python, PHP, and MySQL), extolling the virtues of Linux, I was skeptical. Old habits, and old operating systems, die hard.

I was unwilling to turn my trusty PC into a Linux box, so he popped in a CD with Knoppix, on it, rebooted, and voila -- instant Linux. Knoppix is a free version of Linux that you can boot directly from a CD, available free for downloading and then burning onto CD. A whole host of Linux software comes along for the ride, including the office suite OpenOffice.org, the browsers Konqueror and Mozilla, and more as well. It's hard not to like the desktop, with its transparent menus and slideaway bottom panel. But because Knoppix is meant more for demos than real work, there wasn't much I could do with it.

Eager to win me over, he installed SUSE Linux on his own computer and set me loose on that. I checked out the free Openoffice.org suite, which is perfectly adequate, though not particularly earth-shaking. As for browsers, I've already tried Mozilla on the PC (I favor FireFox), so nothing new there as well. As for the other applications, again, they were perfectly adequate.

Now, I recognize that a few hours of using desktop Linux isn't a true test drive. But if you want someone to throw over their habits of a more than a dozen years, you've got to wow them right away. And Linux didn't do that for me.

True, I was surprised at how simple it was to install and get up to speed on Linux. And the desktop has some nice touches that Windows could learn from. The applications didn't win me over, though. In fact, when it comes to Linux on the desktop, I don't get the point, really. Yes, the desktop is pretty, but I was expecting more than a pretty face. On the desktop, Linux may be more stable than Windows, but with Windows XP, I haven't had problems with Windows crashes. I'm a long-time shareware fan, and there's far more useful and easily available shareware available for Windows than Linux. And given that we live in a Windows-centric world, it just seems like too much labor and work to try and live in desktop Linux. The one thing going for desktop Linux is its price and the price of applications like the OpenOffice.org suite -- you can't argue with free.

Of course, servers are a different thing, entirely. As for the virtues of Linux servers versus Windows Server…I'll leave that religious fight to someone else.

Preston Gralla is the author of Windows Vista in a Nutshell, the Windows Vista Pocket Reference, and is the editor of WindowsDevCenter.com. He is also the author of Internet Annoyances, PC Pest Control, Windows XP Power Hound, and Windows XP Hacks, Second Edition, and co-author of Windows XP Cookbook. He has written more than 30 other books.