Praise for Open Source

It’s confusing. Why is anyone still working with just Windows and Microsoft, when these great alternatives are here?

I used to do a lot of work in FoxPro — a database management program — in all versions, which encompasses, Windows, Mac and Unix, and goes from FoxBase version 1 up to Visual FoxPro 9. Then Microsoft unceremoniously dumped it. Maybe they were hoping to move everyone to .NET, a new, comprehensive software development system, but Fox had quite a user base, and it was still a slap in the face, because it cuts a lot of job opportunities, and limits upgrade possibilities for users who have applications in Fox that help run the company.

 Quick & Dirty Summary

  • High time to abandon Microsoft’s products and its Windows operating system
  • Taking a look at Linux
  • A recount of solving a Windows problem in System Configuration
  • Virus avoidance tip

Yet another mess is the Windows operating system. Standing out as strictly marketing hype are all its unnecessary flavors. I have Home Professional (I’m still running Vista, my bad). Anyway, is Home Professional a good one — the best one? What does the Home part mean? That it’s not really professional, but if you’re some guy sitting at home, it can make you feel like one? Like a Hometown Hero! To me the naming strategy comes across as a bunch of suits sitting around trying to figure out how to fluff the suckers users into shelling out a little more for the same basic thing.

Luckily there are now great options to Windows OS. You can switch over to, say, the Ubuntu operating system. I had a few bad moments with it, but never anything where I lost work or had to waste a lot of time debugging.

Well, friends, that was my story of blissful unawareness for a while, until 11.04, and then 11.11 came out. What a mess! I used it for a couple of weeks, determined to find anything redeeming with it, but it is an utter disaster. They’re trying to make it consistent across different platforms, like smart phones, which isn’t a good plan. Someone said it looks like Microsoft has infiltrated a few agents to sabotage Ubuntu. And that wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Luckily, there’s another answer, Linux Mint. (Oh wait: In Mint 12 you have to deactivate media player extension, via: Menu: Advanced Settings->Shell Extensions->Media Player Extension->OFF or it’ll blow like nitroglycerin in a paint shaker if you try to play any media.) Barring that, I’ve been running it for weeks months now, no issues. I was thinking there were a few interface things I would tweak if I were maintaining the code, but that’s just personal taste. (Postscript: Actually, it looks like most of those have been addressed in an update.)

The goal with Mint — and previous Ubuntus for that matter — seemed to be to make it look as much like Windows as possible, probably to get a lot of converts. And for functionality, they’ve really accomplished that, except it seems to be better in a lot of ways. Good on them, it’s about time we had a viable alternative to the Microsoft monopoly.

And most all of the software you’ll need is freely available. There’s a software manager that lets you just download whatever you want, as I said, mostly cost-free. I’ve been able to find everything I need to be productive — or non-productive — free of charge. I recommend that people start to take advantage of these great new opportunities and migrate over to Linux, whatever desktop flavor you choose (there are many others, like Debian, for example). You can set your machine up to dual-boot Windows and Linux, as I did, so you won’t lose anything.

The support network with the open source projects is often much more extensive than what you get with corporate products, and you know it’s not going to be suddenly dropped, leaving you in the cold. And… you don’t get hit regularly with the demands to upgrade at a high cost. And of course Linux is generally more stable. After all, my impetus to move was when Windows started inexplicably freezing on me every ten minutes.

On the development side, I started using Ruby on Rails for development some time ago, and I learned immediately that Rails has professional “baked right in,” what with, for example, the separation of application/presentation/data layers and the built-in tests (okay, you can skip or fudge those, but actually they start to get fun after a while — sort of).

PostgreSQL is another good example — its competitive with Oracle.

With all the great open source products out there, there’s a whole slew of ways to reduce costs at home and in your business. And maybe bring sanity to computers, whether you are a programmer or end-user. Worth checking out.

Speaking of computers, here’s a tip. I was wondering why everyone is getting viruses all the time, and I rarely get them, if ever, and I don’t bother with those phony “virus checker” programs. (I think people are starting to realize that the virus checkers can only check after the fact, after someone has already gotten the virus and reported it to the company.) You know, it wouldn’t be surprising if some OS (operating system) manufacturers just blame things on viruses to cover up their own stinky tracks. Switching to a Linux-based OS helps too, of course.

But when it comes down to it, it must be that people are getting suckered by those downloaded executables. If you’ve downloaded a file thinking you were getting a movie or song and you’ve gotten an executable (.exe) file, DON’T RUN IT. It’s simple as that. It’s not a movie or song or document if it’s not an .mp3, .mp4 or .pdf, or .vid or other KNOWN media format. It doesn’t matter how good it looks, or if they say, “Run this to install your download,” or whatever, don’t run these oddball .exe files you’ll get sometimes when you think you’re getting something else! Now this doesn’t mean executables you download from a known entity, say like your browser company or Adobe Reader or such, of course, but anything else is suspect.

Oh, and that Windows Vista problem I was having: it was not a “virus.” A lot of problems can be solved in Windows by going into administration and turning off automatically run programs (those that initiate on boot-up). The system will complain or perhaps shut down if you turn off the wrong one sometimes, and it’s a slow process of elimination, but it worked for me. Using Windows Vista, you go to: Control Panel->Administrative Tools->System Configuration. The Startup Selection on the General tab (first tab) has to be set to Selective Startup. Turn off various programs and services under the Startup Item and Services tabs. I turned off a total of 26(!) items, and the system boots faster, seems to operate fine otherwise, and doesn’t have that weird freeze-up every ten minutes. I did have to turn a couple back on, for WinAmp audio, but that’s it so far. Your side-effects may vary — it’s a trial-and-error process that depends on what’s installed on your system of course — but at least this technique provides the method to tackle some mysterious Windows issues.

Throughout this process, you see clear signs of something lacking in design. First of all, System Configuration being buried like that makes it hard to find and hard to remember. Then you’ll note that the labeling of the various services and items isn’t very explanatory. They need a comment or at least some kind of tool tip to be more clear what the functions do, and what they relate to. If you go back to Startup Selection and set it for normal start up, you’ll lose all the selections you made before — they all just revert back to “on,” that’s why it’s a good idea to note everything you turn off, ahead of time. There is an indicator for the date when you disable things, which is good, but, again, the date is lost if you change the start up mode.

Oddly enough, there is a description of the functions, under Control Panel->Administrative Tools->Services, but even here the description isn’t always helpful — and if you disable something, it doesn’t provide a date annotation like it does in System Configuration. This Services panel seems to pretty much replicate the functions of the System Configuration panel. Why are these two, System Configuration and Services, arbitrarily separated like this? And there’s also the Computer Management selection on the Control Panel. Part of that is just another way of accessing the Services panel! Why is this whole thing such a maze? That is part of what makes it confusing. Why aren’t those three items, System Configuration, Services and Computer Management, integrated? I suspect they were all just separate programs that evolved over time, and Microsoft didn’t want to make the effort to rationalize and harmonize them.

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