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What Using Linux Means to Me

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Linux

By Lisa Miller

I was a techno-dinosaur, resisting the call of the computer with all my might. At the time, the learning curve seemed too steep and there was always too much to do. Finally it occurred to me that in a few short years it was possible that one couldn't survive without basic computer skills; even then very young children were being exposed to computing. Being 46 years old with a family history of living a long productive life would mean that many years of that life would effectively be 'out of the loop'. Finally on January 1, 2004 I took the plunge, bought a computer with Microsoft XP and taught myself how to use it. Not coincidentally, I stopped watching television at the same time and am a much happier person because of it.

Starting out with Windows XP was a fortunate coincidence. It's a fairly newbie-friendly OS. Vista is reviled by experts and scorned even by schoolkids. My 11-year-old nephew snorts about the 'crapware' packaged with Vista on his new laptop and whines about how slowly it runs compared to the older, refurbished PCLinuxOS machine his grandmother (my mother) is using.

I became relatively proficient in PaintShop Pro 8; the only time I use the Windows box is to use PSP8. If it were successfully ported to a Linux distro, I'd only keep the Windows box for reference, to help my friends who have questions or need assistance.

Since then, Don has become interested in building computers and spent all his leisure time (?!) taking donated and inexpensive old hardware and installing Linux distros on them and gives them to students or seniors who want them. He installs the most user-friendly distro that suits the machine and we offer free tutoring to get the recipients up to speed.

I played with several live CDs and PCLinuxOS quickly became my favorite. There is an icon for IRC on the desktop. Just after the install (at 2:30am) we had a question, asked for and got an answer immediately. I've never looked back. The desktop is clean, beautiful, functional and powerful. My HP printer and Vivitar camera were both simply Plug and Play. Since then I've evaluated a lot of Linux Distros and have had fun doing it, but PCLinuxOS is my distro. I'm currently using the 2007 release. It was built for the home user and in my opinion has no equal in that regard. I have no interest in looking at the innards of a computer and fixing it. I need a machine that will just do the jobs I need to do and be fairly difficult to break. I need to:

Email:
Kontact is a simple, easy-to use PIM, the first I had been exposed to, and a delight to learn and use. In its own words, 'Kontact is the integrated solution to your personal information management (PIM) needs. It combines well-known KDE applications like KMail, KOrganizer and KAddressBook into a single interface to provide easy access to mail, scheduling, address book and other PIM functionality.' You can use the system or any discrete part of it, choosing the features you need.

Surf the Web:
Preparatory to switching to Linux I downloaded and used Firefox for a few weeks. Most of what I do on a daily basis is surfing the web for links for our ezine and Googling for information on subjects that interest me. The switch to Linux was seamless. Recently a young lady who had been offline for several weeks used my computer to check her and her friends' MySpace pages. She was familiar with Firefox, accomplished what she needed to and said thanks. I asked, "You did know you've been using a Linux OS for the last half-hour?" She smiled and turned back to the monitor while I explained and demonstrated the concept of "free software". The kid is ours.

Process Photos:
I take a lot of photos; all the photography for our site and the websites I've built and maintain and the photos for our ebay auctions. Until recently I used PSP 8 for everything, and still do for images that require high quality results or artistic manipulation, but am now using ShowFoto, the image-editing engine of DigiKam. Practice with this tool has made processing photos fast and easy. Time constraints have kept me from investing much in the GIMP, but never fear, I'll get there.

Teach:
My mother is in her late 70's and had no experience whatsoever with computers. We set her up with a system loaded with PCLinuxOS and Skype sent it to Florida. With coaching over the phone she set it up herself and was getting her first computer lesson, via Skype, in a little over an hour. The details are here in Lockergnome Nexus;

http://www.lockergnome.com/dirtgoddess/2008/01/30/like-a-virgin/

Nothing in the world is as satisfying as teaching. She now surfs the web by herself, plays games, writes emails,has downloaded free software and even advertised a rummage sale on Craiglist. We talk on Skype twice a week and have never been closer since I left home rather a long time ago.

Updates:
It is difficult to explain how different the Linux Update process is from the Windows experience. I'm very...particular, I would say. Don would use another phrase. When you update Linux, they are actually updates-as in improvements-in the OS and all of the software installed on your machine, not continuous desperate efforts to plug security holes in an inherently defective system. Every single time I did a Windows Update I spent the next 3 days grousing that mysteriously, many of my settings had changed; the computer acted clunky and alien and my firewall, ZoneAlarm, insisted that Microsoft was trying to 'phone home'. For what, might I ask?

Free Software:
With very few exceptions, there are analogs to any software you can buy for absolutely no cost. Free-as in costless and free-to use as you please. Far too many people believe costless means worthless. Those of us with the Open Source mentality must go forth and proselytize.

Documentation:
I like to read manuals and learn very well from them. Every application in Linux has a Handbook or man page. Give me the book and go away for awhile. I love this!

FUD Antidote:
The genius of the Live CD is not to be underestimated. The average computer user has a mysterious, very expensive machine that they're afraid to break. They've been browbeaten into Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. As the so-called Ignorant Consumer, they are at the mercy of proprietary operating systems and merchants of bloated software. Despite their best efforts to keep their machines clean and lean, their systems gradually slow to a crawl while they dread taking it to an expensive repair shop. They are not about to do something so drastic as change operating systems unless there is a very good reason to do so. A Live CD with which they can see how well their computer will function without harming it is wonderfully empowering. The average user can see how well Linux works and make an informed decision about hitting the Install button.

When a user is using a new operating system they come to realize it's a tool and real people use many tools. Being OS-centric is self-defeating: why deprive yourself of choices? I recently was given an Apple Mac with OS X-Jaguar edition. No longer being afraid of new 'different' operating systems allowed me to enjoy myself, tool around, begin to get a feel for the OS and surf for tutorials on the web. Linux has spoiled me, though. I keep wondering "Where's all the free software?".

It's all about choices. I believe Linux does it best.






More in Tux Machines

Scrivener Writing Software has a Linux Version

In some ways, Scrivener is the very embodiment of anti-Linux, philosophically. Scrivener is a writing program, used by authors. In Linux, one strings together well developed and intensely tested tools on data streams to produce a result. So, to author a complex project, create files and edit them in a simple text editor, using some markdown. Keep the files organized in the file system and use file names carefully chosen to keep them in order in their respective directories. when it comes time to make project-wide modifications, use grep and sed to process all of the files at once or selected files. Eventually, run the files through LaTeX to produce beautiful output. Then, put the final product in a directory where people can find it on Gopher.

Gopher? Anyway …

On the other hand, emacs is the ultimate linux program. Emacs is a text editor that is so powerful and has so many community-contributed “modes” (like add-ins) that it can be used as a word processor, an email client, a calendar, a PIM, a web browser, an operating system, to make coffee, or to stop that table with the short leg from rocking back and forth. So, in this sense, a piece of software that does everything is also linux, philosophically.

And so, Scrivener, despite what I said above, is in a way the very embodiment of Linux, philosophically.

I’ve been using Scrivener on a Mac for some time now, and a while back I tried it on Linux. Scrivener for the Mac is a commercial product you must pay money for, though it is not expensive, but the Linux version, being highly experimental and probably unsafe, is free. But then again, this is Linux. We eat unsafe experimental free software for breakfast. So much that we usually skip lunch. Because we’re still fixing breakfast. As it were.

Details with Screen Shots Here

Anyway, here’s what Scrivener does. It does everything. The full blown Mac version has more features than the Linux version, but both are feature rich. To me, the most important things are: A document is organised in “scenes” which can be willy nilly moved around in relation to each other in a linear or hierarchical system. The documents are recursive, so a document can hold other documents, and the default is to have only the text in the lower level document as part of the final product (though this is entirely optional). A document can be defined as a “folder” which is really just a document that has a file folder icon representing it to make you feel like it is a folder.

Associated with the project, and with each separate document, is a note taking area. So, you can jot notes project-wide as you work, like “Don’t forget to write the chapter where everyone dies at the end,” or you can write notes on a given document like “Is this where I should use the joke about the slushy in the bathroom at Target?” Each scene also has a number of attributes such as a “label” and a “status” and keywords. I think keywords may not be implemented in the Linux version yet.

Typically a project has one major folder that has all the actual writing distributed among scenes in it, and one or more additional folders in which you put stuff that is not in the product you are working on, but could be, or was but you pulled it out, or that includes research material.

You can work on one scene at a time. Scenes have meta-data and document notes.

The scenes, folders, and everything are all held together with a binder typically displayed on the left side of the Scrivener application window, showing the hierarchy. A number of templates come with the program to create pre-organized binder paradigms, or you can just create one from scratch. You can change the icons on the folders/scenes to remind you of what they are. When a scene is active in the central editing window, you can display an “inspector” on the right side, showing the card (I’ll get to that later) on top the meta data, and the document or project notes. In the Mac version you can create additional meta-data categories.

An individual scene can be displayed in the editing window. Or, scenes can be shown as a collection of scenes in what is known as “Scrivenings mode.” Scrivenings mode is more or less standard word processing mode where all the text is simply there to scroll through, though scene titles may or may not be shown (optional). A lot of people love the corkboard option. I remember when PZ Myers discovered Scrivener he raved about it. The corkboard is a corkboard (as you may have guessed) with 3 x 5 inch virtual index cards, one per scene, that you can move around and organize as though that was going to help you get your thoughts together. The corkboard has the scene title and some notes on what the scene is, which is yet another form of meta-data. I like the corkboard mode, but really, I don’t think it is the most useful features. Come for the corkboard, stay for the binder and the document and project notes!

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Did Red Hat’s CTO Walk – Or Was He Pushed?

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