Friday, February 8, 2008

Windows Still Isn't Linux

Its ironic how there are so many users who cling to Microsoft Windows and then proudly tout that the first thing they do is run out and load up on free or open source applications. Every year, we see lists of "best free apps" or "essential apps" for Windows, and every year, the apps become more and more like watered-down versions of what is available on almost any Linux-based system.

Office suite? Yeah, OpenOffice pretty much rules this space. There are nice light word processors and spreadsheets out there, but nothing beats the sheer magnitude of what's available for OpenOffice. Especially since its template compatible with Microsoft's Office suite. And since I use a Debian-based Linux, its all in my repositories, ready to install at the click of a mouse. Synaptic is your friend!

For your torrent needs (and these days, it is a reality that p2p is here to stay), there are so many options on Linux choice is your biggest problem. Personally, I prefer qtorrent, but azureus is also a big hit here with functionality galore.

VoIP software? Ekiga is a nice default in the GNOME environment, but for cross-platform Skype is probably the best bet. Although not up to it's counterparts in the Windows and Mac arenas, the Linux version is a hefty contender, and easily installed on most systems.

Everyone has a favourite paint program, and on Linux there are a few nice ones to choose from. The options range from the basic xpaint, just to get the job done, to the GIMP, an Adobe Photoshop contender. You can, of course, get by with the fun TuxPaint, designed to be kid-friendly and easy to use. For many simple drawing jobs, why not have fun while you doodle?

For raster-based graphics, there are even more options: OpenOffice Draw, Xara Extreme, Inkscape, Karbon14, just to name a few. Personally, I find the OpenOffice Draw program more than meets my needs. I even use it for basic desktop publishing layouts and generate PDFs directly from within the program.

With a wealth of graphics programs in Linux, you'd come to expect something simple like a photo manipulation program or resizing tool would be a natural, right? Right! Not only is there ImageMagick for doing just about anything you could want to your images, there's F-Spot, digiKam and a whole host of other programs for organizing and retouching your photos. You're not locked into the software that came with your camera to get the best out of it!

Media players have grown out of necessity on the Linux platform. Who can live without such things as music, videos and online content? Since most of the proprietary software world seems to shy away from open source, many options for playing MP3s, AVIs, MOVs and MPGs have sprung up, including the fabulous Amarok, Mplayer, Video Lan Client (VLC), Xine and the Totem media players. Each has it's own highlights and dark sides, but the wonderful thing is they all continue to get better thanks to the open source development model. HD and Blu-Ray may presently be an issue, but given time, I predict the media players for Linux will easily meet the demand for high definition content.

I'm only going to touch on archiving software in Linux. There are plenty of tools for just about anything you could want to open, including formats Windows users never even see. And there are GUIs to make it all seamless.

Oddly, a popular category of tool in Windows is what I'll call the "cleanup tool". These are those little gems that work through your registry to get rid of the old forgotten bits of bloat that old programs left, or remove the viruses from your email, or keep the spyware from putting all thos annoying popups on your screen. They're a Windows problem, so there is not a good Linux-based analogy, and certainly no similar tools. Yes, old programs can leave their configurations behind if you don't tell the program to uninstall everything; but that would be the point: you have the option in Linux (at least on an APT-managed system) of removing EVERYTHING a program installed. Even if you don't remove the configurations of that program you tried just briefly and no longer want, it won't slow you down. There is no central registry in Linux, so the configs do no harm but taking up a tiny portion of that huge hard drive you have.

There are, of course, a myriad of tools for inspecting the state of your system. Process monitors, CPU frequency meters, hard drive spin rate monitors, and the list goes on. One thing the people who work on Linux like is to be able to see what's going on under the hood. And they have the most interesting ways of showing that off visually. Everything from little toolbars to desklets to animated fish.

So yes, you can go out and buy a new PC and have it loaded with Vista and get a lot of bling for your buck, then save some cash by downloading everything under the sun (and please remember the antivirus and antispyware and firewall FIRST). Or you can try something else just as new to you: Linux. Its good. Its ready. Its free.


mckooiker said...

I do not agree on Skype being the best VoIP alternative. Check out Wengophone please, you can use it as an instant messenger with many different protocols as well as use it to make phone-calls. It is in many cases even cheaper than Skype!!

Anonymous said...

I am so pissed at windows right now .I do not think getting linux to work can be any harder then the crap i have been going thru to keep my win 98se running or upgrading to xp

Anonymous said...

The reason why some people (such as myself) cling to Windows but still love open source/free software is simple. Games! There's plenty of people in their mid 20s-30s who grew up playing computer games who can't let it go. Sure Linux has Wine, but it's a nuisance to setup. Some games don't work at all and others are very unstable. I'd love to give up Windows entirely and be free of Microsoft's bs, but while it's the only way I can play all the games I want I have to deal with it. To make the best of a bad situation I try to support and use whatever free software is readily available to me as a Windows user.

The Tek said...

A lot of it comes down to DirectX, currently the only way Linux competes for the 3D game market is by emulating and degrading the quality of games made using DirectX under windows. I hate the direction windows has been heading for years but until there is a true alternative for PC gamers most will stick with windows.

Another reason is compatibility and ease of use of Linux is there is not enough standards in place to make installing and running software easy from version to version, some versions of Linux like Ubuntu have made it easier but it is based on Debian with has it's own ideas of how things should be done compared to the rest of the Linux world.

So Linux 2 main flaws are it Lack of Compatible Standards and lack of 3D games.

Another problem also is the fact the the Linux/Open Source community like to reinvent the wheel every time they want a feature in a program the dev team doesn't see a need for it to be in the program for the average user to use, but some of the popular Open Source software that has come big on Linux and Windows have had good support for adding plugins which saves having to reinvent the wheel all the time to add a 3rd party features.

Webmaster said...

Face it: a lot of folks are taking all the best of the apps from Linux because they can't do the same to Windows. So instead they cling to the closed path and complain that the open path is too difficult to handle. Here's an option: dual boot and play your games. Here's another: check out lists such as this ( and see what appeals to you.

OpenGL and SDL and very good options for gaming, so there is virtually no reason for any games not to be written for Linux.

As for standards, its up to you, the user, the pick one and live with it. If the Windows standard is your style, deal with it and continue to fork over your cash and accept what you get. If you want Linux, pick a style that suits you and enjoy the freedom.

The Tek said...

"If the Windows standard is your style, deal with it and continue to fork over your cash and accept what you get." "Here's an option: dual boot and play your games."
But if I have to dual boot I still have to fork over the cash for windows, I don't normally reboot my computer usually it runs for months at a time in windows, I play PC Games for usually more then 40 hours a week.

"OpenGL and SDL and very good options for gaming, so there is virtually no reason for any games not to be written for Linux."
SDL is really outdated and has a lot of limitations, OpenGL is only a graphic library while DirectX is a whole API with, graphics, sound, controls and more.