Recently, I’ve been using Ubuntu (a Linux distribution*, not Ubuntu Cola 😀 ) quite a lot lately.
My main operating system is Windows 7 and I have Ubuntu as a backup. Anyway, I’ve heard a lot of “Linux is easier and better” crap, but is that really so? I’ll analyse such claims a bit in this post, name pros and cons of both systems and say some general info about Linux.
Since I’m not an advanced user myself and often find “explanations” like Dude, do you speak English? I’ll try not to go to technical details. If you do find something too technical, just screw it 😀
Desktop screenshots can be enlarged by clicking on them.
Free and freeware
The main pro of Linux is that the distributions* are free. Not just freeware, but free. What’s the difference between free and freeware software anyway? Free means it’s totally open without any kind of limitations (e.g. Mozilla’s Gecko engine). Freeware, on the other hand, is free of charge, but has some licence restrictions. That is the crap you just click Accept to without reading it. Basic restrictions are, for example, using a certain software for private purposes only, one licence per computer etc.
Linux is no single software, but rather a family of operating systems called Linux distributions. Because the source code of Linux is open to everybody (unlike that of Windows), everyone is allowed to create an “operating system”. Thus, there are hundreds of different distributions. Currently, the most popular are Ubuntu and Fedora, and, of course, Google Android. Yes, Africans, Ubuntu takes its name from African life philosophy of ubuntu (Zulu humanity to others). The creator of Ubuntu is a South African.
Distributions can be based on one another. For example, Mint is based on Ubuntu which is based on Debian. Distributions can be connected to each other more or less closely. For example, due to a dispute between Mozilla and Debian Project, Mozilla software can’t be installed on Debian. Instead Mozilla clones are used (like Iceweasel* instead of Firefox), which are pretty much the same as their Mozilla counterparts. Now, both Knoppix and Ubuntu are based on Debian. However, Mozilla software is in normal use in Ubuntu while Knoppix uses the mentioned clones.
Distributions can be specialized (e.g., science, education, network, notebooks etc.) or general. They vary a lot and you are bound to find a distribution that is going to work on your computer, no matter how powerful it is. An example of a distribution that works on weak computers is Damn Small Linux. This Wikipedia article offers general information about many distributions.
Most distributions are multilingual, but there are some that aim only towards one region and thus only in one or a limited number of languages.
Note that the popularity of a certain distribution varies through time. Ubuntu, one of the most popular distribution today, was released in 2004 while the first Linux distribution was released in the early nineties. The popularity of Linux Mint has been growing quite a lot lately.
*Check the subquest for more info about Iceweasel 😉
Desktop environment is a graphical interface of Linux and defines the appearance of Linux. Unlike Windows, Mac OS and similar OS; which pretty much have a defined interface and the appearance pretty much varies only from version to version; Linux distributions are not environment bound though certain environments are developed for one distribution (e.g. Unity). Basically, different distributions can use the same desktop environment and thus look the same.
There are a lot of desktops environments, like GNOME, KDE*, LXDE, Unity, Cinnamon… Like the distributions, environments can be based on one another (e.g. Unity and Cinnamon are based on GNOME).
Usually, a distribution comes with a default desktop environment, but others can be installed. There are also different releases of the same distribution with different environments. The name of such a release usually differs only by one letter. For example, the default environment of Ubuntu is Unity. You can run KDE on Ubuntu – you can do that either by installing KDE on Ubuntu after you install the operating system, or you can simply download Kubuntu, which of the default environment is KDE. Kubuntu comes without Unity but the environment can later be installed, just like KDE can on regular Ubuntu. Basically, Kubuntu and Ubuntu are the same thing, just “look” different. I use KDE – my Ubuntu is Kubuntu.
Desktop Environments come with certain software, but that software can be run on other environments too. For example, GNOME Media Player works on KDE flawlessly.
Environments can be further personalized. Well, at least KDE can – I made windows MS Windows-like and icons Unity-like.
Speaking of environments, all environments come with a start menu. Those menus don’t look exactly like Windows Start Menu, actually, their look varies from environment to environment. The name of a menu can vary from simply Menu to Kickoff (KDE), but its function is the same – it’s a start menu. Anyway, I can’t remember when is the last time that I saw a PC keyboard without a Win Key ( ) [the one(s) that look like Windows logo]. Anyway, their purpose is opening Windows Start Menu. Now, some environments do recognize the key(s) and use them to open the start menu. Others, on the other hand just don’t (e.g. KDE, LXDE). The developers of such environments must have a serious religious issue against the Win Keys for not making them initiate start menu… I have to enter some codes in the terminal every now and then to force a Win Key recognition on KDE and the codes make KDE recognize only one Win Key.
*You can install most (useful) KDE programs on Windows with KDE Windows Installer. Yes, the programs are free.
Knoppix distribution deserves a special paragraph or two 😀
Knoppix is a live Linux distribution (the first one I think). Live distributions are booted from an optical disk (or a USB flash drive) – a live CD. Now, most distributions have an option to be booted from the installation disk, so people can try out the distribution without installing it to a hard drive first. Thus, pretty much every distribution today is a live distribution.
What makes Knoppix special is that, unlike most others, it is intended for live usage (although it can be installed on a hard drive*).
Knoppix is updated regularly since the software on Knoppix can’t like be updated all the time. Furthermore, you can’t install anything on the live CD (nor can you save settings on the live CD) though there is a way to save Knoppix settings on a hard drive. Well, if you do that, Knoppix kinda looses its purpose – emergency backup operating system (very useful for retrieving data).
The distribution detects pretty much any kind of hardware though you might have to wait for a release of Knoppix after the release of the thingy it fails to detect. It can be run on old computers smoothly. Note that the waiting time is caused by the fact that the operating system is being read from an optical disk like all the time. Knoppix comes with a wide rage of software – it can read pretty much everything. It comes equipped with a software centre** or two and Debian packages** work on it. Though, as I said, everything you additionally install is lost upon system shut down unless you save settings to a hard drive.
The default desktop environment is LXDE, Though, some others can be loaded (e.g. KDE and GNOME).
Let’s discuss regional/language settings now. Knoppix is named after it’s creator, Klaus Knopper. Klaus Knopper is German and thus Knoppix is a German Linux distribution. For international (i.e. nonGerman) purposes, there’s an English version. To save the (limited) space of a disk, no other language is supported (there are, however, Knoppixed based localized distributions). There are separate disks for each language. However, each language can be loaded on the other language disk by starting the console and writing crap before Knoppix loads (e.g. you write lang=de**** on the English version to load the operating system in German).
Regional settings of the German version, are naturally German (including the keyboard layout 🙂 ). English version, which should be international, is totally Americanized. The default keyboard is basic American which is so bloody limited that you can’t even type the Euro symbol (€). American International was used in older versions. I don’t know why it’s not used any more. American International has the basic input the same as basic American, but allows easy access of certain other characters (e.g ÄÅÉÖßØÑ£€¥…). Sure, basic is enough for English (actually, you can’t even type English words like cliché, résumé… decently), but English is hardly the only lingo on the planet, so if you ask me American International should be used. Furthermore, the default (short) date format is mm/dd/yyyy (e.g. today is 9/25/2012) and not only that yyyy/dd/mm (e.g. today is 2012/9/25) is international, but mm/dd/yyyy is used only in the US (and partly in Canada). Moreover, the measurement system is also American. Not only that metric is international, but the American system is used only in the US and Liberia. Okay, these settings can easily be changed in the System Settings, but why favour Americans?! Especially since they’re not the majority (and the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few 😉 ). I mean, I don’t care what measurement system you use, but metric is international, and you should be able to use it. It’s simple anyway – the base is the bloody number 10. If you are annoyed by the system that much, you can just switch to your in the System Settings…
The default spell checking language is also American English. I think that the default spell checking language of the English version should be Canadian English. Canadian spelling allows both English spellings – Commonwealth and American. We, international fellows, don’t much care whether it’s colour or color – all the same to us, so underlining certain, correct (one way or the other), spelling can be annoying. Besides, this way native speakers get their way too – Yanks get their color, and Brits and others get their colour.
Well, all that regional settings can be modified, so no biggie; I Just think the default settings should be international or, at least, follow the rule needs of the many outweigh needs of the few 😀
Other than bitching about (the default) regional settings, I can’t say anything bad about Knoppix. On the contrary, the distribution kicks ass 😀 There are a few bugs in version 7.0.4 though, like not being able to change keyboard layout in GUI (you have to type some crap in the console to change the layout and even then you can use only one layout at a time, you have to type crap again to switch). Now, since Knoppix is for short use only, you shouldn’t care much (I even have American layout printed above my desk so I know what to type when the situations calls for it and again, it would be easier if the international variant was used), but sometimes you just need to use different layouts in short time periods (sometimes, I keep switching between Croatian, Greek and even Serbian Cyrillic). Hopefully, the bugs will be fixed soon.
The thing I must commend is the help you are provided. You’re not toyed around on a forum or with a costumer service You can even email Kluas Knopper himself. I did a few times and he replied each time (most recent being the code you type in the console to change keyboard layout) and Klaus Knopper seems to be a really busy man.
Visit Knoppix homepage.
*If you want Linux on a hard drive, install a different distribution (e.g. Ubuntu).
**I’ll talk about software centres and installation packages later.
***Note that the keyboard input of the English version (before loading German) is American. Continue reading