Sunday, August 31, 2008

Windows v Linux: Part 2

This post removed due to a decision that the content did not fit with how this site aims to present itself. The link will remain for archival reasons. Thank you.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Windows v Linux

"Also, the kindred trends of Web 2.0 and cloud computing -- which rely more on Internet-connected services than powerful operating systems -- are making Windows less important than it used to be."

Somebody needs to explain this to me. Taken from a Yahoo Business article, the author it seems it hardly up to speed on software technology.

What I mean by that is the reference to Windows as a more powerful operating system then Linux. When did that happen? If the power of an OS is interpreted as it's ability to run the most pay-to-use software well then yes I suppose then Windows would win. Even that gap is closing, however, as software like WINE makes it easier then ever to get Windows based software to run under Linux. Actually in one interesting example. A game I own, Elder Scrolls III, would not run under Windows XP no matter how many tweaks and changes I made but ran fine right after install in Linux using WINE.

Back to the point. There is nothing I can think of to say that Linux is underpowered compared to Redmon's offerings. Linux is more stable, more secure and more adaptable then Windows has ever been or may ever be.

I can tweak my favorite distro and get it to run on an old Compaq that has only 24MBs RAM and Pentium II. Show me a way to do that with Vista.

I can aquire every piece of software I need to make any of my machines peform there intended functions effiecently for free. Distributions are chosen based on the needs of the machine or a fresh kernel is compiled. Software is a sudo apt-get install away. A little time and that spare box I had lying around became a local DHCP and FTP server. For no additional cost. To avoid 'piracy' with Vista (or XP for that matter) would have required purchasing another license. Then the software from whatever vendor to run it.

I can easily run any intense number crunching task under Linux. If you want to talk raw power just look at some of the benchmarks availible comparing Linux and Vista. Without all the bloat that is Windows all of the programs I've tested run faster on a Linux box specced the same.

I have far less fear running a Linux box online as well. Of course I understand net secuirty and keep my iptables up to date and an anti-virus daemon running via clamav, but I do all of these things for the one remaining Windows computer in the house as well and that one picks up over 100 instances of spyware and viruses a month. This may be partially due to the user of that machine, but still. My Linux computers have all together been infected... zero times. (And I have nine of them)

So explain to me please, how Windows is the more 'powerful' operating system. I can do more better, faster, easier, and cheaper with Linux and it wasn't even that hard to learn.

Friday, August 8, 2008

First Impressions: PC-BSD

To make sure that I was getting a solid look at the whole Unix like community and not just Linux I decided to install PC-BSD on my test machine and give it a spin. I chose PC-BSD because it seems like the best distribution to use as an introduction to BSD. The website touts simplicity for the end user and an easy to use graphical install.

Windows users will feel right at home using PC-BSD. After all it took far more work then it should have and a risky maneuver to get it to dual boot with Linux. It was clunky and slow within the desktop. And it assumed that the end user on the machine was a complete idiot to the point that on typing a sudo command A message came up before the password prompt that basically suggested that I should be briefed by my sysadmin before sudoing. Not to mention the fact that even though only one user was set up aside from root it was not an admin account by default.

The installation was simple enough. I have to give it credit for being the fastest and most painless install I've seen that wasn't a mini-distro. I didn't test the partitioning system for fear of destruction so I had made a partition earlier in gparted. Per the official install guide I did not install the boot loader as the guide suggested that doing so would over write my MBR and therefore grub. Installation all said and done I jumped into the menu.lst of grub and added the appropriate entry. A quick restart and I was to be on my way.

Except not. It wouldn't boot. At all. After hours of manipulating the grub entry and scouring the web looking for help I decided it was time to attempt another installation. I wiped the partition and tried it again. This time at the prompt I installed the boot loader. I consider this to be a somewhat risky maneuver as it could have left me without grub on my MBR, leading to much pain and suffering later trying to get it back. I read several forum posts where this had happened just that way to users trying to dual boot Linux and PC-BSD.

Well as luck would have it it worked. I was finally able to boot into my new OS. Upon boot I was eventually greeted with the familiar desktop of KDE 3.5.9. I chose a slightly older version of PC-BSD as the new one, version 7, comes with KDE 4.1. I don't know what it is about the new 4.x series of KDE but I have managed to crash it dozens of times doing such benign things as opening the file manager so I have utterly rejected using it.

The first problem I noted with this OS was that it used KDE. This in itself is not a problem except that KDE is not my preferred desktop. I'll generally use XFCE and in some cases Gnome. Lo and behold according to the official PC-BSD documentation a substantial amount of Gnome based software is unsupported in PC-BSD and may not run at all.

I consider this to be a serious drawback because it has taken away an element of freedom in what I want to run on my system.

Another obvious play to Window's users is the installation method preferred by PC-BSD. It's called PBI. You download a PBI file and then run it as an executable. It then automatically installs the software for you. If your coming to PC-BSD from Windows this should be great. I guess. As a Linux user I don't really understand the point in making it take longer to install a program I want to use. If I want to install emacs for instance, I'll have to find it online in the PC-BSD directory, wait for it to download, and then run the file. In Linux I would just pop open a virtual terminal and run sudo apt-get install emacs and then go back to whatever I was doing while I waited for it to finish. There is nothing streamlined about having to monitor the download progress of an app and then find and execute it's file to get it going.

Of course the OS does allow for the more traditional means of installation. You can use packages and ports to install instead. Installing from packages seemed like a bit much as well under these circumstances as there is no included package manager. While many advanced users will feel perfectly at home without one it's something that I generally like to have and I know many others do too. For instance when I first set up a new computer I'll open up synaptic select everything I know I'm going to need or want and then let it go for a few hours. Initial installs on some of the computers I've worked on have required over 1,200 packages. I wouldn't want to do that without the help of a package manager and I certainly wouldn't want to do that with PBIs.

The ports system was far more friendly then either of the other two. You download the ports directory and are then given a nice organized place to browse and install applications using the make install clean command from the terminal. The only real problem I found here was that it was rather slow and again lacked an easy way to organize the ports that you wanted to install or that had already been installed.

A lot of the complaints regarding installation methods may seem absurd to the advanced user but for someone who wants more power but still lacks some of the more technical skills these faults are devastating. There is no clear middle ground in this OS between the novice and the expert.

Having installed a few packages to get things rolling I took it for a spin. I installed the first apps I install on any OS I'm going to tinker with. Emacs and Nethack. The former being my preferred editor for extensive configuration work and the latter being the way I take breaks when I get to the point of preparing to use my machine as a projectile for my home made catapult.

I started tinkering around. Nethack came around quickly. Be it due to how utterly foreign parts of the system seemed compared to the Linux I've come to know and love or because of how utterly inept of a system PC-BSD seems to be, I never finished configuring the system. It was driving me insane.

Final call?

The guys over at the PC-BSD development team don't seem to know who they're targeting with this distro. The complications that came from attempting a dual-boot and the lack of effective documentation would make any Window's user think two or three times before risking there system to giving it a try. More advanced users who know that they can make it work will be left wondering why they bothered, My opinion? If you want BSD go for FreeBSD and skip the bull shit. You'll thank yourself.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Linux: Only for Advanced Users?

I was reading an article about the ease of use that is some of the Linux distributions on another blog. The author made some solid points about how modern distros will often take care of most of the setup work for you and still have less bloat and be more secure then Windows could ever hope to be. One of the things he noted was that some of the distros "install your drivers for you."

Needless to say the responses were mixed with many people highlighting that he may have over stated the simplicity of using a Linux system.

The comment that stood out fom me was rather mean spirited and reminded me one more time of the need to break the elitism of the Linux community. I paraphrase.

- Installs your drivers for you? You must be using Ubuntu or you've never been a system administrator. Try downloading the Debain source, bootstrap your computer and compiling it yourself. I bet you'll give up after six months because you can't get anything to work. -

I happen to think that this is the wrong sort of attitude to have. Yes the power of Linux can be best seen through kernel hacking and shell scripting and all that good stuff, but whose to say that other people can't get use of it as well?

When I migrated to Linux I didn't know the first thing about compiling source code let alone the kernel. I had no clue what gcc, binutils, bash, vi, or lisp were. I started with a distribution that was simple to install and simple to use. It remains the primary OS on my main computer so that my wife can use it without having any problems.

As I worked with Linux I started learning all kinds of things I could do with it. I read articles online and online books by the Free Software Foundation and the like. I started looking into Slackware and Linux from Scratch and reading up on kernel hacking and compiling from source. Now I have a computer dedicated to tinkering. Allowing me to freely experiment and find out just what kind of things can be done. I compile from source, I edit config files, and I spend hours at a time trying to find a way to fix whatever bug is preventing me from getting things done the way I want.

However, if Linux was that hard right off the bat I never would have used it. Not as a primary OS anyways. As fed up as I was with Windows there was no way in hell that I would have subjected my wife to months of tinkering and learning just to get things running.

The Linux community has to let people in. Even if all they ever do is run Mandravia or Ubuntu or Fedora and they never even learn what bash is or how to use it, they are contributing to the community just by choosing to use Linux over any other operating system.

My wife will never compile a kernel. I know that for certain. She's only interested in playing games, surfing the web, and writing papers and resumes with our main computer. Then again, she'll never go back to using Windows either. That I think, is what really matters.

Using Root in Ubuntu

Ubuntu is a great operating system for new comers to Linux. However, many advanced Linux users find it lacking. Still Ubuntu makes a great platform for adapting to the Linux ways and learning some more advanced features.

One of the problems that I ran into quite frequently as a new Ubuntu user was logging into root. You see Ubuntu has no root account as a security measure. Instead everything for admin is done via the command sudo.

The problem with this is that all commands will function properly usung sudo. For instance if you type:

$>sudo cd /etc/sbin

in an attempt to open the sbin folder as a super user you will receive the following error message

$>/bin/sbin 'cd' unknown command

This is because there is no sbin command for cd and sudo calls sbin commands. This can be remedied by typing

$>sudo su -l root

This will log you in as root for that terminal session using your sudo password. This will enable you to access folders and files as root that may not normally work with a simple sudo command. When your done make sure you type


To log out of the root user mode.

And there you have it! A nice easy work around to one of the limitations of the Ubuntu system. Note that this will only work on a user account listed as a sudoer. An account without admin access will be unable to sudo at all let alone open a root shell session.

Welcome to Free as in Freedom

This blog is the tech only offshoot of Open Source Revolution, a blog about activism that also deals with computer activism such as open source software. As I delved deeper and deeper into tech related articles I decided that they needed a blog of there own. I will no longer be publishing on Open Source Revolution, but Another Angry Veteran will keep up the articles there on non-tech oriented activism.

Now I use Linux, Ubuntu 8.04 actually, so many of the articles here will be strictly Linux oriented. However, I also use variants of FreeBSD and other distributions of Linux as well as some self compiled versions. So expect to find some articles on those topics as well.

My primary focus here will be on technical articles. How-tos, FAQs, links to documentation, tips and tricks, etc. but there will also be reviews and rants as what tech blog would go without those. If you are intrested in writing for the blog or in providing assistantce in any other way you can let me know by commenting. All comments are moderated so this also serves as e-mail notification for me. If you want the comment to be directed to me only and not published just say so in the comment and I won't put it up, just read it.

By tomorrow there should be an article about Ubuntu to start things off. At some point there will be a comic as well but they may take some time as I also do the comic for Another Angry Veteran.