My weekend was not pleasant. I had a cold. It was cold. My Mac was acting wonky after I installed a few items I probably should not have installed. Yes, I had the blues, the Mac blues.
In an effort to cheer me up my husband suggested his own version of home doctoring. It goes something like this, “If your head hurts, smack your hand with a hammer until your head doesn’t hurt anymore.”
Isn’t he just the sweetest guy. So thoughtful. Remarkably, with a caveat or two, that medicine actually worked. My Mac headache disappeared while I tried to install Linux.
Linux, in case you didn’t know, is an open source, free, PC-like operating system which uses the Linux kernel, the guts of an OS, wrapped by a bunch of really, really nerdy, geeky, difficult to use, and just plain awful applications and utilities.
Unfortunately, I didn’t know all that when my husband challenged me to exit my Mac blues, cold blues, cold weekend blues, and do something constructive. Besides eat and sleep.
Our next door neighbor was in the process of moving and gave us, because it didn’t fit in any of their boxes or the trash, an old Sony Vaio PC. Aha, I thought. Just what we need. An electronic door stop.
The challenge was simple, “Bambi, make it work. You’ll feel better about your Mac.” He was right. I’m not sure why I thought Linux would be fun to install on an old PC. Maybe it was the lack of a Windows XP start up disk on the Sony. Maybe it was the NyQuil talking. Whatever.
I sat down with my Mac, and pointed Safari at a few Linux sites to download the latest and greatest. That alone could take hours because there must be 123 different Linux versions out there. I settled on openSUSE and Ubuntu version, both popular among the Linux PC crowd (and their downloads were fast).
Linux distributions are free, and many will also run on your Mac, PowerPC or Intel-based Macs. Just download the .iso disk image, burn it onto a CD or DVD, plunk it into the old PC, and a few days later you’ll swear Windows XP is good for mankind.
Just so you know, I’m a geeky girl when it comes to the Mac, and I’ve installed my share of Windows PCs, again and again and again, but never worked much on a Linux PC. Hmmm, I thought. Maybe I’ll see what all the Linux geeks rave about.
After a day of monkeying around with Linux, I know what the Linux geeks rave about. Linux is free. After that, it doesn’t much matter whether your door stop is a rock or electronics from Sony. The value is similar.
I downloaded Ubuntu with both the KDE4 and Gnome desktop environments to my Mac. Then, I used Disk Utility to create a bootable CD of each, and proceeded to plunk each into our newly acquired and rapidly aging Sony tower.
Ubuntu loaded and installed in a rather straightforward manner. openSUSE did not. Ubuntu looks like what Windows NT looked like before it became 2000, before it became XP, and not as good as Mac OS 8, let alone OS X Leopard.
Why? Please, don’t flame me, geeky nerdy types of the Linux persuasion. The basic user interface is just horribly crude, roughly crafted, unintuitive; even the highly touted KDE4 on Ubuntu, known as Kubuntu needs a map.
Linux distributions, by nature, are complex beasts with every application and utility known to the computing world thrown in and mashed together. The popular openSUSE, Ubuntu, RedHat, and others of that ilk, try to obscure the complexity, but it’s there, ready to taunt your ignorance.
Ubuntu with Open Office is a pretty good deal. I had KDE4’s environment crash a few times, but Gnome, whatever version it is, was rock solid. And that’s the value of Linux. It doesn’t do much for PC desktop users but it doesn’t crash often.
Once you get it set up and running, of course. Don’t venture much beyond Firefox or Konqueror browsers, email, or Open Office without a friend, a lifeline, and extra alcoholic beverages. It’s a jungle out there.
Ubuntu’s interface, like that of openSUSE, and to a greater extent all other Linux versions, is in need of polish and thought, not necessarily in that order. If only the many hands and eyeballs which work on Linux would get together and say, “Hey, let’s just copy OS X Leopard down to the tiniest pixel,” Linux market share of PC users, usually less than 1-percent, would quadruple.
So many of the basic applications in all Linux versions appear to crafted by the lowest common denominator. There’s no one around like Steve Jobs who kicks butt and takes names and say “no” when approached with graphic elements and user interface pieces which don’t measure up.
No one does that in the Linux community, so the complex innards of the OS stick out like fake boobs on a hooker—interesting to look at but not what you want to deal with every day of the week.
Ubuntu installed and ran fine, either installed on the hard drive or using the “live” CD. To prove to my husband that even a girl can install Linux, I tried my best to get openSUSE going on the Sony. No dice. The live CD worked fine, but not the full blown DVD version.
It would hang up on the Initialize Package Manager or toss up an uglier than Manuel Noriega dialog box informing me that something couldn’t be written somewhere. Repeatedly.
After a few hours of probing some of the open software community’s best, I gave up on openSUSE, fiddled with Ubuntu for awhile, then looked fondly toward my Mac. Whatever had gone wonky was fixed when I ran the updater again.
Life was good again. Me, my Mac, and a weekend supply of NyQuil were more than a match for the troublesome Linux. After all, Mac OS X is probably as complex under the hood as any major version of Linux, but Apple manages to keep the guts taut and firm, muscle that’s there but not seen.
On top of all that Unix goodness on a Mac is an interface and ease of use that only the Gods could provide to mere mortal man. In other words, if you thought Windows XP and Windows Vista was a mess, try going full on backwards to Linux.
Yes, the price is right. Free is hard to beat unless what you’ve got is oh so much better, so much so that even a healthy price is still a bargain. To our Linux loving friends out there, “Guys, we love you. We know you love the Mac. If you want Linux to go anywhere beyond the server room, create a user interface experience that simply mirrors, pixel for pixel, what you see in OS X.”
It was an interesting experience. To remove my headache I tried the hammer on my hand and it hurt like hell. But my headache is gone.