Larry Magid: The Next Leap for Linux

The Circuits section of the Business Section of this Thursday’s times has a very interesting article by Larry Magid, The Next Leap for Linux. Running just under 1200 words, it begins as follows: [1]

LINUX runs the Google servers that manage billions of searches each day. It also runs the TiVo digital video recorder, the Motorola Razr cellphone and countless other electronic devices.

But why would anyone want to use Linux, an open-source operating system, to run a PC? “For a lot of people,” said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, “Linux is a political idea — an idea of freedom. They don’t want to be tied to Microsoft or Apple. They want choice. To them it’s a greater cause.”

That’s not the most compelling reason for consumers. There is the price: Linux is free, or nearly so.

Unlike Windows from Microsoft and OS X from Apple, Linux is not owned, updated or controlled by a single company. Thousands of developers around the world work on Linux, making improvements and issuing new versions several times a year. Because the core Linux software is open source, these developers have the right — some would say responsibility — to borrow from one another’s work, constantly looking for enhancements.

It’s worth noting there are only two instances each of “Microsoft” and “Apple,” both in the above extract.

Magid does point out one known limitation:

One challenge for Linux users is finding media players that work with encrypted music and DVDs. … To watch a movie, the Linux user must install necessary codecs, or decoders. One way to do that is to first download a program called Automatix from http://www.getautomatix.com.

This is a fair statement, as are all the others made about Linux, Ubuntu, Windows and Apple.

My only complaint is that Larry says, “The hardest way to get Linux is to download the installation files. It is often difficult to figure out what files to download and in many cases you will have to burn those files to a CD or DVD.”

I beg to differ on this. If you know how to create a CD, then it is not difficult to go to to the Ubuntu Get Ubuntu page, download the ISO image, and create a CD you can use to install Ubuntu, either as the single operating system on a machine, or as is more commonly done, to install Ubuntu as an alternative to an existing Windows install, using the “dual boot” option. I have done this scores of times without any problems. If you have any problems then many of Ubuntu’s users are waiting to answer your questions over at the Ubuntu Forums; most install questions receive multiple and valuable replies within minutes of posting a request for help installing Ubuntu.

I did a search on “good” and found it is found only in, “Running Ubuntu from a CD is considerably slower than from a machine’s hard drive but all the functions are there, so it’s a good way to get a feel for how it works” That is an accurate statement that is also, in my view, a very positive statement about Ubuntu. It also makes the reader aware of the “live” Ubuntu option.

I was also noted with satisfaction that above the article’s text is an image of three laptops: On the left is Windows Vista, in the middle is Ubuntu, and on the right is Apples Mac. The unspoken message is that Linux/Ubuntu is now ready to play with the “big boys,” a very postitive statement in itself.

Long-time readers know that I avoid using superlatives, limiting myself to no more than five in a paragraph, and a hundred in each blog post.

Further on we find (emphasis added) :

But Linux has always had a reputation of being difficult to install and daunting to use. Most of the popular Windows and Macintosh programs cannot be used on it, and hand-holding — not that you get that much of it with Windows — is rare. But those reasons for rejecting Linux are disappearing.

and

Ubuntu is generally regarded as one of the more consumer-friendly versions of Linux, so the Linux PC experience is similar to what you would get with a Windows-equipped Dell. When you start the machine, the screen looks familiar; preinstalled applications can easily be found and run from an Applications menu at the top left of the screen. A “Places” menu lets you search for files, and a System menu is there for setting preferences and finding help.

And there is a lot more than just an operating system. Ubuntu, like some other Linux distributions, comes with a lot of free software, including OpenOffice, an alternative to the Microsoft Office suite with a full-featured word processor, spreadsheet, database and presentation program. It also comes with the popular Firefox Web browser as well as an e-mail program, an instant messaging program, a graphic image editor, music player and a photo manager.

Thanks to open source developers, there are thousands more free programs. An Add/Remove function actually makes finding programs easier with Linux than it is for Mac and Windows. Without having to go to Web sites, it lets you browse through categories of software. It took me only seconds to find several additional music players, a PDF reader and other programs. In addition to downloading the software, this feature installs it and finds any necessary additional files.

The article ends by saying (emphasis added):

After using the operating system for writing, Web surfing, graphic editing, movie watching and a few other tasks, it is easy to conclude that Linux can be an alternative to the major operating systems. But since common tasks like watching a movie or syncing an iPod require hunting for and installing extra software, Linux is best for technically savvy users or for people whose needs are so basic that they will never need anything other than the bundled software.

However, trying Linux — especially if you boot it from a CD — is a great way to find out what a lot of open-source adherents are so excited about.

And with prices starting as low as free, you certainly cannot complain about the price.

However, the one sentence that stood out, the one that even though it may be a Freudian slip, is the one most worth noting, is (emphasis added):

The Ubuntu version of Linux runs the Dell computers.

instead of what might have been expected:

Dell provides Ubuntu, one of the large number of available variants of Linux, as the way to run Linux on Dell computers.

or

In selecting one of the scores of variants of Linux available to the potential consumer, a number of choices so overwhelming that their number itself is a reason to be wary of Linux, Dell happened to pick Ubuntu.

That alone is a cause for great celebration in the Linux/Ubuntu community.

It’s also the reason you find me writing about Ubuntu. Ubuntu, not Red Hat, not Novell, not Damn Small Linux, not Yellow Dog Linux, not Gentoo, nor Yadda, Yadda, Yadda… [2]

The article is, all in all, very positive news for Ubuntu, in that the NY Times has good things to say about it. [3]

Notes.

1. Curious to see how many words were in the article, I made use of a recent addition to WordPress. I just opened Magid’s article using the “Print” option on the Times web page with the article. Then I started a new blog entry, copied and pasted the contents of Magid’s article from the Times’s web page to the new blog entry, did a “Save and Continue Editing,” updating the word count. I was thus able to learn it was almost 1200 words in well under a minute.

WordPress continues to impress: it just gets better and better.

2. I didn’t come across the article until late Thursday, as my wife and I spent the day in Philadelphia visiting out daughter Jen. Jen is a devoted fan of “Friends.” She has a complete set of the episodes in that we gave her one season’s worth of episodes as a diversion just before each finals week for each semester of years at Yale.

I mentioned to Jen that I had just seen a re-run of my favorite Friends episode, “The One With the Madness.” Rachel and Monica get into a spat that ends up with Rachel pouring ketchup into Monica’s handbag while Monica is cutting up Rachel’s favorite sweater. This ends only when Phoebe shouts, “Stop the madness. Stop The Madness!”

“Stop The Madness” (STM) has become part of our language, or at least the language spoken in by the Shields family.

I then mentioned to my wife that our son Mike’s favorite show for a long time was The Jerry Seinfeld show, and that perhaps its most memorable contribution to our mother tongue was “yadda, yadda, yadda.” She hadn’t known of this so I had to explain its origins.

YYY has become part of our vernacular. For example, “Yet another boast by Jonathan Schwartz that Sun is the most with-it compnany when it comes to open-source. YYY.”
Or “Steve Ballmer made yet another funky deal with a Linux company. YYY.”

STM also applies to both Mr. Balmer and Mr. Schwartz, of course. As in “Steve Ballmer today declared open-source was a cancer.” STM, Steve.

3. The NY Times, or at least one of its reporters, has also recently had some good things to say about me, too. Smart folks, those NY Times reporters.

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