Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Linux user wonders, can Windows do this?

Linux and computing merchandise at SmartAssProducts.comLet me get this out of the way: I don't use Windows; I have no knowledge of its current features, capabilities, etc. However, every time in the past 15+ years that I had the displeasure of touching a Windows PC, the predominant thoughts in my mind were, "This is archaic! How do I get to another desktop? How do I do X, Y, Z?!", only to find out YOU CAN'T. The point of this post is to show some nifty and useful things that Linux can do--and that I highly doubt Windows can WITHOUT buying anything extra. But feel free to correct me if I'm wrong!

(Jump to pictures)

First a very brief history/description of Linux. Linux is a UNIX-like operating system; UNIX is a powerful, stable, secure OS that's been around for over 40 years. The Internet was built on UNIX, and it's been used for mission-critical applications by the government, huge corporations, the space program, etc., for decades. Unlike Windows, UNIX was built from the ground up to be multi-tasking, multi-user, networked, secure, and extremely stable. Blue screen of death? Um, no!

In 1991, a young man named Linus Torvalds started working on an operating system that would be like UNIX, but would have people all over the world contributing to its development--and it would be free. And so Linux was born.

Within a few years various "distros" (distributions from different sources) started appearing; now there are so many, it's impossible, for me at least, to keep track of them all. There is undoubtedly a "flavor" (distro or variation of a distro) out there to suit everyone--if they'd only try them! My favorite is Kubuntu, or Ubuntu with KDE as its desktop environment. Unlike Windows, with Linux it's up to the user to decide what their environment consists of, so you can choose from various desktop environments such as KDE, Gnome, XFCE, IceWM, and more. Since I use KDE, that's what I will focus on, and that's what you'll see in images on this page.

One persistent Linux myth I absolutely MUST dispel is this: "If you're not a geek/guru, you can't use Linux--you have to know how to do things with cryptic commands at a command line!" WRONG. Back in the days before the GUI (graphical user interface) was invented, all operating systems relied on the command line. The biggest difference between UNIX and DOS was that UNIX was powerful and had thousands--really an infinite number--of commands, while DOS did not. With DOS, its library of commands was limited and limiting. (I was doing things with UNIX 25 years ago that Windows STILL can't do today. Seriously.) So, yes, when Linux started it was command line based, just like DOS was--but those days are long gone. Modern Linux is an awe-inspiring sight, and a user needs have no knowledge of using a command line, or even what a command line is!

My mother uses Linux all day, every day--she's glued to her computer now, whereas when she had Windows she rarely ever used it. She has no idea what a "command prompt" is, nor does she need to. Trust me, if SHE can use Linux so easily and effortlessly, ANYONE can.

When I buy a new computer the first thing I do is wipe Windows off its drive and install Linux. I can do a new installation, complete with hundreds of applications ready to go, in 12-15 minutes. Let's see anyone do that with Windows.

Speaking of applications, there are thousands of applications available for Linux--free. Don't be fooled by the cost...er, lack thereof! These programs, including OpenOffice (a full suite of office apps--word processor, spreadsheet, etc.), the GIMP (a graphics app similar to Photoshop), digiKam (an image app for use with digital cameras), and Pidgin (an IM client) are at least as good as--and often better than--their pricey Windows equivalents. Want the latest and greatest version when it's released? Great--just grab it and install it.

And with all that said, let's move on!

The first feature I want to describe is "multiple desktops." In the *nix (UNIX, Linux, and similar OSes) world, we've had multiple desktops for DECADES. Last I heard Microsoft hadn't copied this yet, so Windows users may not be able to visualize what I'm talking about. Basically, picture your desktop. Now picture having 3, 5, 10 or more other monitors hooked up to your computer, but with DIFFERENT desktops on each of them, each desktop configured with different widgets, themes, colors, etc. Okay, now take away the physical monitors, and imagine all those desktops available to you on your one monitor. That's what I'm talking about!

Look at these two screenshots:

CLICK IMAGES FOR LARGE VERSIONS WITH DETAILED DESCRIPTIONS
Multiple desktops on Linux Multiple desktops on Linux


These are two different desktops on one computer. They're completely independent of each other--each is configured with its own widgets, its own theme, and so on.

Changing the number of desktops is a cinch:

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Multiple desktops on Linux


But, you're asking, how do you get from one desktop to another? Easy! As with all things in *nix, there are a variety of options so you can choose whichever you prefer. If you look closely just to the right of the taskbar clock in the screenshots, you'll see nine little boxes in two columns--each box represents one of the desktops, and clicking on a box takes you to its respective desktop. But my preferred way of navigating is via certain desktop effects, specifically desktop cube and desktop grid.

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Desktop cube on Linux Cylinder variation of desktop cube on Linux Desktop grid on Linux


The desktop cube can be rotated in every imaginable direction by dragging it with your pointer; simply stop on the desktop you want, right click, and you're there. With the desktop grid, just click on the desktop you want to go to.

To activate these desktop effects, again, with Linux you have multiple ways of accomplishing this task. I like using screen edges:

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Screen edges on Linux


There are eight areas along the edge of the screen that can be configured to perform various actions when your pointer enters them. I have two of mine set up to trigger desktop cube and desktop grid.

You'd think that switching between applications would be pretty boring, right? Wrong! Not on Linux. Here are a few desktop effects you can choose:

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Cover switch desktop effect on Linux

Flip switch desktop effect on Linux

Box switch desktop effect on Linux


This final screenshot shows the effect called taskbar thumbnails, which let you see, in real time, a small version of the application you're hovering over:

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Taskbar thumbnails desktop effect on Linux


Honestly, there are SO MANY desktop effects, so many features, so much versatility and power, that it would take hundreds of screenshots to even attempt to do them justice. Instead, I'm going to wrap this up with the suggestion that you do yourself a favor and try Linux--as soon as possible! Many Linux distros are available as a "live CD" which you can boot from without altering or installing anything on your computer. You can give Linux a test drive, see if you like its look and feel, check that your hardware is correctly recognized and configured, and so on. (Unlike Windows, you won't need installation CDs for your peripherals--Linux will generally see, recognize, and configure your hardware on its own.) If you like it, click the "install" button. If you don't, take out the CD, reboot to Windows and that's that.

Here's a very partial list of some Linux distros you might want to try. Oh, did I mention they're all FREE? And if you ever have questions or need any help, there are forums, newsgroups, IRC channels and more filled with knowledgeable Linux users just waiting to help--for FREE.

Kubuntu
Ubuntu
Linux Mint
Debian/GNU Linux
Knoppix
Gentoo
Mandriva
RedHat Enterprise
Bodhi
Slackware
SuSE
Fedora

PS In case you're wondering, the dogs and cats pictured in the desktop screenshots are, or were, mine. The beautiful black Great Dane, Freddie Mercury, and his sister, Queen, the merle Great Dane, died on October 16 and 17 three years apart. (And, yes, I'm a huge Freddie Mercury and Queen fan!) The gorgeous Maine Coon cat was Wilshire Coronado, my favorite pet of all time (tied with Freddie). The black and white kitten is my baby Joy Noelle, who will be six next month; I adopted her when she was five weeks old. I'm not only a Linux geek and advocate, but also a longtime vegetarian, animal rights activist, and pet rescuer. Oh, don't forget: HAVE YOUR PETS SPAYED OR NEUTERED.

.

17 comments:

Xavier said...

You forgot Mint, it's the easiest-to-use.

blog owner said...

Xavier, I mentioned that it was a "very partial list" of distros, because I had no intention [or desire] to make it a comprehensive list. There are just way too many distributions out there!

However, I'm glad you posted because I think adding Mint is a great idea...off to do that now. :)

Anonymous said...

Go with Mint KDE. Easier than Ubuntu and seems to have a few of Ubuntu's rough edges fixed. Mint is a downstream derivative of Ubuntu which is a derivative of Debian. Or something like that. GRIN!
I agree. Don't see any point to the Windows OS and all the pain (LOL) that comes with it. Want to save some money - skip buying a computer with Windows on it and build one without the OS tax.
If you have an older computer like my 700 MHz laptop - you can run Mint LXDE for a stripped down desktop that still runs the recent software titles. On my old laptop OpenOffice is slow to load but otherwise runs fine. Abiword is a better choice though for an old computer. Less resource intensive.
For some Windows apps I can run them in Linux just like they run in Windows using Wine. For larger apps - sometimes I need Crossover Office or Crossover Games to run Windows games/Office in Linux. Another option is running all of Windows and it's software as an application within Linux using free Virtualbox. It's also a good way to explore Linux software too. Do risk of damaging my Linux setup.

Andy said...

Thank you for posting this great article. I found it through a post on Conceivably Tech, "Real Men Run Linux". Your article gave me the confidence to go ahead and make the switch. Since making it I see that there is a huge base of people willing to offer support on this topic. I feel like I have joined a new club. LOL

Thanks again.

blog owner said...

Anonymous, you made some great points. Being able to run Linux--FAST--on older machines is a wonderful thing. It's especially useful in situations where PCs are refurbished and then donated to schools or other organizations. They're able to make good use of PCs that could NEVER run a current version of windows.

I play Roller Coaster Tycoon on Linux with wine, and it runs as smoothly and perfectly as you can imagine.

blog owner said...

Andy, you're very welcome. I'm over at the other blog, too, and like I said there I'm really glad my post helped persuade you to try Linux.

You're right, by the way: You HAVE joined a new club. A wonderful club filled with generous people willing to help solve problems, guide you, and welcome you with open arms. And like I keep saying...it's FREE! :)

Jerome said...

Wow! I had no idea Linux was now so easy to use -- and could be so beautiful. You're right, none of that can be done on Windows that I'm aware of.

I'm downloading Kubuntu right now and can't wait to give it a try. I hope to love it because nothing would make me happier than kissing Bill Gates and his overpriced crap goodbye!

blog owner said...

Yay, another [potential] convert!

Jerome, if you need any help there's plenty available. Even though you're going to use Kubuntu, the Ubuntu forums, http://ubuntuforums.org are VERY active and I highly recommend them.

missingxtension said...

Well, I got to tell you.
This reasons are not really that compelling, considering that all you talk about is available for windows. Buts that's whats great about open source! You can run gnome, kde, gimp, openoffice, and pidgin (even before it was called pidgin). Heck with cygwin you can get a pretty nice linux experience. This is not a bad thing, it makes the transition easier. Now about the multiple desktops, its nice. But not for me. If anything compiz alone is a good reason, especially when you compare the effect side by side (os10, win7, X). I remember how much of a pain it was to install aiglx or glx, mostly because of driver issues. I know its not like that anymore, heck there is ntfs write support now. Even though there is no defragmenter for linux, dumb huh? Point being, you should know windows, so you can criticize accurately. I like linux alot, i like bsd better. But i cant justify getting a semi new motherboard and not being able to use all the features on it. Even if it has fake raid, and nvidia doesnt provide drivers. I dont blame linux, I blame the lazy companies like amd (nvidia is the exeption!!). The thing that really got to me was having spent $200 on a video card and not having any drivers or games for it (amd does not provide gpu drivers for bsd). While q3, et, and urt will always run better on linux, I always needed to boot back into windows. I will always think that linux is superior in stabilty and when it comes to technology that counts, like vt-x. Linux and BSD will always be first on linux. But god dammit, MS has too many companies in its pockets.
I do however blame the linux community for being such asses! They are bothered by noob questions as if they were never in those situations. Or worse, they just ignore them.
Also guys why the talk about distros? as long as it runs the linux kernel right? even android has the 2.x kernel! its not like ubuntu used hurd. Should the LFS people get just as crabby?
Three things i have to dog on though. One is the freaking linux kernel compilation, what the heck!!
On BSD it makes sense, edit the freaking config file, run make. Then there is the the apt and yum, what the heck is that? just make it like bsd. Download source and a couple of patches and make install clean. Fully optimized in one step. Sure there is one linux distro that does that, but not the norm.
What the heck is reason for removing config utilities and replacing them? why replace the x config program with debconf?
Also BSD has a very, very, very, nice handbook! Linux doesnt even have anything close it.
Also what the heck is up with with the linux partition and dev naming convention?
Dont get me wrong i love linux unix, but thats why i can criticize .

missingxtension said...

Well, I got to tell you.
This reasons are not really that compelling, considering that all you talk about is available for windows. Buts that's whats great about open source! You can run gnome, kde, gimp, openoffice, and pidgin (even before it was called pidgin). Heck with cygwin you can get a pretty nice linux experience. This is not a bad thing, it makes the transition easier. Now about the multiple desktops, its nice. But not for me. If anything compiz alone is a good reason, especially when you compare the effect side by side (os10, win7, X). I remember how much of a pain it was to install aiglx or glx, mostly because of driver issues. I know its not like that anymore, heck there is ntfs write support now. Even though there is no defragmenter for linux, dumb huh? Point being, you should know windows, so you can criticize accurately. I like linux alot, i like bsd better. But i cant justify getting a semi new motherboard and not being able to use all the features on it. Even if it has fake raid, and nvidia doesnt provide drivers. I dont blame linux, I blame the lazy companies like amd (nvidia is the exeption!!). The thing that really got to me was having spent $200 on a video card and not having any drivers or games for it (amd does not provide gpu drivers for bsd). While q3, et, and urt will always run better on linux, I always needed to boot back into windows. I will always think that linux is superior in stabilty and when it comes to technology that counts, like vt-x. Linux and BSD will always be first on linux. But god dammit, MS has too many companies in its pockets.
I do however blame the linux community for being such asses! They are bothered by noob questions as if they were never in those situations. Or worse, they just ignore them.

missingxtension said...

Also guys why the talk about distros? as long as it runs the linux kernel right? even android has the 2.x kernel! its not like ubuntu used hurd. Should the LFS people get just as crabby?
Three things i have to dog on though. One is the freaking linux kernel compilation, what the heck!!
On BSD it makes sense, edit the freaking config file, run make. Then there is the the apt and yum, what the heck is that? just make it like bsd. Download source and a couple of patches and make install clean. Fully optimized in one step. Sure there is one linux distro that does that, but not the norm.
What the heck is reason for removing config utilities and replacing them? why replace the x config program with debconf?
Also BSD has a very, very, very, nice handbook! Linux doesnt even have anything close it.
Also what the heck is up with with the linux partition and dev naming convention?
Dont get me wrong i love linux unix, but thats why i can criticize.
POST WAS TOO BIG.

Anonymous said...

Is there a continuation of this post? You said you would 'start' with multiple desktops. If that is all that is different about Linux I don't need it.

blog owner said...

Anonymous coward from Alabama said: "Is there a continuation of this post? You said you would 'start' with multiple desktops. If that is all that is different about Linux I don't need it."

Why am I not surprised that you're a windoze user?! A) Go take a remedial reading class, and, B) If you think multiple desktops are the only difference between Linux and your piece of shit "OS" you're...well, perfect as a windoze user!

I never said I was going to start with multiple desktops; I said: "The first feature I want to describe is 'multiple desktops.'" See that, windoze luser? Then I went on to describe desktop cubes, desktop grids, flip switch, cover switch (and other) desktop effects, and finally said:

"...there are SO MANY DESKTOP EFFECTS, SO MANY FEATURES, SO MUCH VERSATILITY AND POWER, that it would take hundreds of screenshots to even attempt to do them justice."

Now, go back to your crappy piece of shit, so-called operating system and enjoy having no ability to customize it the way *YOU* want, enjoy the viruses and adware, malware, and spyware that plague your PC and slow it down to a crawl, enjoy the constant rebooting (something we almost NEVER do), and keep paying out your ass for crappy, bloated software "upgrades" as dictated by Micro$oft.

Meanwhile, I'll be enjoying the plethora of features you can't even dream about, and the stability, security and freedom that come with using Linux.

See ya!

Gui said...

There's no need to talk like that...
Linux users are proud to say that there's a "friendly community" that can help you to solve all your problems, but someone posts a two-line-comment on your blog and you answer like that. What a friendly community we have!!
I'm a happy Linux user and I know it's NOT the perfect OS.
I can do whatever I want on my beloved Ubuntu and play with my command line and with my cute desktop effects, but I'm not a stupid user that thinks it's the best thing in the world.
Sometimes I miss my Windows, sometimes I know there are some things that I can do in a few seconds on Windows and I take a whole day to do on Linux.
But even if it takes the whole day, I like to do that, I like to see things working on my Linux.
But, let me repeat, LINUX IS NOT THE PERFECT OS.
You like Linux, I like it too.
But if someone prefers Windows, it's not a crime.
Linux users defend that they have freedom.
But, if you have freedom, you are free to choose the OS you want, don't you? Even if you choose Windows.

Anonymous said...

"Even though there is no defragmenter for linux, dumb huh?"

Linux has fdisk. Also Linux drives generally do not have need of being defragmented.

"You should know Windows before criticizing properly."

I used Windows for over twenty years. It constantly broke for no reason. Been using Linux for about two years, nearly three and it doesn't break so easily. There are times it suffers from LN@K (Loose Nut at Keys) errors. I love exploring and making things work the way I want. Sometimes I push in the wrong direction without first reading. Sometimes this is okay, other times it's not. But as a general rule I can find some other nut on the web who did the same, has a fix. Or I can find it in the onboard docs.

"Linux users are smart assed snobs."

Actually, you will probably never grasp how far from true your statement is. People using Linux like helping others. What they don't like is idiots who plainly don't look at the widely available help/docs and then bitch and moan for being ignored. And yes it's pretty obvious who those types are.

In Linux we structure questions differently.

1. What are the symptoms?

2. What were you doing when symptom happened?

3. What have you done to fix the problem?

4. What docs did you read?

5. Can it be reproduced, how, in which environment?

We don't just bitch at everyone else because our computer has decided the alias for rm -R * is now switched over to ls -al. No, we go get a bigger hammer and beat the box senseless for playing its own pranks on us. Then we inform others of everything that transpired.

"Hey buddy, watch out for a bug making rm into the ls command, it really frustrates, here's how I fixed it."

And we do this because we're having fun. We enjoy using the computer, others should too.

But I guess if you want to remain a prisoner, that's your choice.

ScottyK said...

Thanks for info about the multiple desktops! I've been using Kubuntu now for about a year, and I'm constantly discovering new things to do with it.

I think one thing that will help with Linux adoptions is articles such as this. As I'm converting my computers to Linux a question I frequently ask is what can I do with this that I can't in Windows?

Last week I discovered an Astronomy widget that shows the position of the planets. Had no idea it existed!

Keep up the good work..

Anonymous said...

Bought 2 netbooks and one laptop, for family.

Just for owner stubborness, I kept MS Win7 on the super-duper-almighty laptop (17", even has a keypad). His owner said the reason being "I cannot do some things in Linux that I can with Windows" (wonder how does he know not having used Linux even once).

On the other hand, both netbooks were sanely transfunded GNU Ubuntu Linux 11.10.

One of the netbooks owners (laptop owner's wife!) tried to use the supa-dupa laptop, desisted, and she asked me "Why is this machine so much slower than mine, being more powerful?".

She got a one word reply: "Windows".

I rest my case...

PS: All three machines do little more than internet browsing, webmailing, f-ass-book, and viewing videos online. I think the "thing" the laptop owner does in Windows that cannot do in Linux is... waste time.

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