Penguin Time

Penguin Time…it’s like Goonie Time, but without the pirate ship and the Truffle Shuffle.
When I made the switch to Linux last month, I said that I hoped to someday become the world’s number one Linux cheerleader. This was sort of misquoted, and I’ve read in numerous places that I proclaimed myself “The world’s number one Linux cheerleader,” which has caused me a little bit of grief…I mean, I can’t consider myself the world’s number 6000 Linux cheerleader if I haven’t even recompiled a kernel yet, or built a LAN…but I’m working on it. =]
Anyway, I’m going to spend a little time this morning cheerlead^H^H^H^H^H^H^H talking about my adventures in Linux, thus far, so if you’re here for the nude pictures, you should head elsewhere today.
When I made the switch to Linux about a month ago, I knew that I was entering a Brave New World, and I did it with a little bit of trepidation, but a great sense of excitement, as well. As I wrote back then, “The Open Source movement really appeals to my anarchistic and individualistic tendencies, and everyone I know who uses Linux tells me that I won’t miss Windows at all. I don’t really use any software that’s windows-specific, except Dreamweaver, and I’m told that I can run that under WINE, or find a comparable OS editor.”
Since then, I’ve discovered both the Quanta and Screem editors, which have shown themselves to be fine replacements for Dreamweaver, and the only time I ever miss Windows is when I get the urge to play some games…but a quick trip to the PS2 takes care of that, until I can upgrade this machine with more RAM and a big old video card so I can run WineX 2.1.
Oh, I should have warned earlier: this article will be a little propeller-headed, so if you’re not into that, again, you should really go play somewhere else today.
Before I get to the details, I should address something that I think everyone who makes the switch feels: Fear.
We feel afraid, because even though we’re pretty sure that everything is going to work out fine, we’ve existed on a steady diet of FUD for many years. Maybe we tried to install a distro a few years ago, when Linux wasn’t as newbie-friendly as it is now. Maybe we’re just a bunch of pussies.
I’ll admit it: I was nervous.
Nervous that I was going to do this install, and my magical connection to the largest library of free porn on the planet would cease to exist. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to use a word processor that was as reliable as MS Word had always been.
I was nervous, but also excited.
Excited that I was taking the first step towards joining a global movement based on ideals with which I strongly agreed. I was excited because I know that lots of people read this lame website, and if a lameass like me could make Linux work, that would dispell a great deal of FUD, and maybe empower some people who, like me, suspected that they could live MS-free, but weren’t sure if they could hack it. (“Hack it.” Har.) I was excited because I felt like I was taking a chance, accepting a risk, and anticipating great rewards.
And I had a hole-card. If I managed to completely break everything, I knew that I would be able to format the drive, reinstall the old OS, and wait for a LUG install party.
Grab a cookie…here we go!
The install was shockingly simple: Open the CDROM, shut down the machine, turnthe machine back on, wait for the Mandrake screen to appear, hit return, watch the fun.
This nice, friendly, graphical install is perfect for newbies. Mandrake asked me if I wanted to use an existing partition, or wipe the whole drive. I opted to format the whole drive, let Mandrake build the partitions for me, and get on with the install. A few minutes later, I got a screen where I was asked what packages I wanted to install.
I was presented with a very easy to understand screen, where I could select options like “Game Station,” “Server,” “Office,” and the like. I was asked if I wanted to run services like ftp, ssh, and a firewall. Finally, I was given the opportunity to choose which desktop environment I wanted. I chose both KDE and Gnome, because I knew from previous experience that there were apps from both environments that I liked.
After selecting my packages, I swapped some CDs, added some users, set some passwords, and got to the part that really had me the most afraid: configuring the network so I could get online.
The last time I tried Linux, it was Red Hat 5.2 and I was on dial-up. Getting that bastard to connect was about as easy as getting laid in a convent. There were all these config files I had to edit, and all these strange text commands I had to type in, just to get the modem to turn on…getting it to connect was another problem entirely. For someone who was coming from Windows 95, this song-and-dance to get connected was simply unacceptable, and ultimately it was the main factor which drove me back to Windows.
Boy have we come a long way, baby! Mandrake did this super-cool autodetection, where it found my NIC, used dhcp to get my IP address, and built my network connection for me. This entire process took about 3 minutes.
Somewhere in there Mandrake autodetected my printer, too. The only thing I had to tell it on my own was that my mouse had a wheel!
Finally, I got to a screen where I was asked if I wanted to check for updates to the packages I’d installed. I said “yes,” and walked away to get a drink of water. When I came back a few minutes later, nothing had changed…so I sat down to play some GTA3 while it continued downloading. About 30 minutes later, nothing had changed, and my hard disk had spun down.
This wasn’t a good sign. All that excitement I’d been feeling was completely overwhelmed by the nervousness I’d had, and I felt some panic beginning to rise.
I cursed, kicked, gnashed and paced.
I decided to start over, and when I got to the “do you want to upgrade?” part, I said no. The install finished perfectly this time. I restarted the machine, and was logged into Gnome in about 2 minutes.
First Time
I was immediately impressed with the spiffy desktop. It was enough like Windows to give a sense of familiarity without making me feel like I was running some oddball derivative of W2K.
I poked around the menus for a little bit, and was drawn to a menu which said, “What to do?”
What a great question! This was exactlky what I was wondering, and here was a friendly menu to help me out. It contained sub-menus like, “Enjoy Music and Video,” and “Use Office Tools.” There was aslo “Use the Internet,” and “Administer Your System.”
I thought, “Hmmm…’Administer Your System,’ eh? Okay, I’ll take a look.”
Sitting in that menu were options like “Add or remove programs, Configure Gnome,” and “Download and install Mandrake security updates.”
Ah-hah! I clicked on “Download Mandrake security updates,” and followed the prompts. This started a really cool “Mandrake Update” utility, which is sort of like a non-intrusive version of Windows Update. I was presented with three options: bug fixes, normal updates, and security updates. I selected all three, and clicked “install,” eager to watch…the damn thing spin.
I realized that the reason the install had hung the first time was related to this spinning…the default update site wasn’t responding. I guess there was no timeout set for the normal Mandrake install, which is why it hung before. Far be it from me to tell Mandrake how to do things, but this seems pretty silly to me. A simple “Site isn’t available now, but here’s your system anyway, Jerky.” message would have been nice. Fortunately this time I was able to just cancel the connection, define a different source, and about 20 minutes later my system was up to date.
I spent the rest of the next hour or so exploring the system.
Getting Comfortable
I was eager to make the switch to Linux because mostly I use my computer for 3 things:

  • Internet
  • Email
  • Word Processing

I had done lots of research about Linux, and the impression I had gotten was that if your primary computer use was for these three things, the only thing you’d miss about Windows was the daily reboot.
Let’s take a look.
The browser that ships with Gnome 1.4 is called “Galeon.” It’s based on Gecko, from Mozilla, and it’s really, really cool. I mentioned the other day that I’m using the latest Mozilla build more and more, but as soon as Galeon catches up with Moz, I’ll probably be back with Galeon, for the bookmark editing alone! Although many people’s experiences with Linux will surely vary, I can say without a doubt that once you use Galeon or Mozilla, you’ll be stunned that you ever liked IE. The KDE desktop has it’s own browser also, called Konqueror, but I really don’t like it as much as I like Galeon or Mozilla…but anything is better than IE, and you can quote me on that.
Back when I was new to the internet, and I was getting dial-up shell access from netcom, there wasn’t such a thing as the World Wide Web, unless you were on a connection fast enough to use NCSA Mosaic. Since the ‘net was just text back then, I used it for MUDding (just say no, people!) ircing (mmm…floodbots) and email. The email client I used was called PINE, and it still ships with Linux. I really liked PINE. It was easy to understand and use, even if you were a lamer like me, and I still use it from time to time today.
However, since the Internet is bigger and badder these days, people want bigger and badder email clients, and Linux is happy to oblige. When I was running Windows, I used Eudora, because I hated Outlook’s interface, and I’ve always felt that Outlook’s handling of email is secondary to it’s primary purpose: spreading worms and virii. Now look, I’m not cracking on Outlook users, okay? As a matter of fact, I wrote a great new game just for Outlook users! It is my first try. I wish you would like it.
Seriously, if you like Outlook, you can use a Linux client called “Evolution” from Ximian. It has all of the things you like about Outlook, a better summary screen, and a really cool calendar. It will interface with your Pilot, and it won’t spread worms and virii like Outlook. You can even set up the summary page to load headlines from WWDN, and see if I’ve gotten off my lazy ass to update the site recently.
Personally, I use KMail, which is part of the KDE desktop. Although I am primarily a Gnome user, KDE has numerous features I like, including the calendar, the tea-timer (a silly little applet that sits in your panel, which is the Linux equivalent of the taskbar,) and KMail. KMail is a mail client which is much lighter than Evolution. KMail looks and feels a lot like Eudora to me, handles filters the same way, and deals with different accounts and protocalls nicely.
Both solutions are very, very easy to install and configure, and if you know things like your POP server, SMTP server and stuff, it’s certainly no more difficult than the other clients available for Windows or Mac.
Mozilla also has it’s own email client, but I haven’t used it. I’m sure that, just like everything else Mozilla does, it’s really cool.
This is a place where the FUD really has a firm hold. They’d have you believe that things you author on Linux won’t be readable by Word, with the converse also being true.
Well, it’s simply not true. At G4, everything is written using Word. I do most of my writing from home because it’s easier to concentrate in my quiet home office, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to send files to work if I authored them under Linux. Well, I haven’t had a single problem. I have written 6 episodes since making the switch, and turned in countless rewrites, and the conversion from OpenOffice to Word is seamless.
Mandrake ships with StarOffice, which is put out by Sun Microsystems. It’s a very nice alternative to Word. Each time I looked, StarOffice had the familiar Word command, or it’s equivalent. The only thing I had trouble with was tables. It was grumpy about having a table wrap to the next page, a problem I also encountered in OpenOffice. A few tweaks in the preferences solved this mildly annoying problem.
Having said all that about StarOffice, I don’t use it. I prefer OpenOffice, from In my experience, it loads faster than StarOffice, and I just like the interface better. It doesn’t come standard with Mandrake 8.2, but it’s easily downlaoded and installed, and can be set as a default word processing application with minimal effort. does come with Mandrake 8.2. It didn’t install as part of my default installation, or at least I didn’t see it, so I assumed it wasn’t there. Thank you to everyone who pointed out this amazingly lame error.
Freedom of Choice
These three examples bring up a very important distinction which sets Linux apart from Windows: You are not limited to one word processor, or one desktop environment, or a small set of applications. Linux is all about choice, and putting the power to make decisions about the computing experience into the hands of the users. If you’re anything like me, you’ll live the all the defaults for about 2 weeks…and then the tewaking of things will begin: the adding and removing of things from the panel…the moving of the panel…the downloading of things from freshmeat and sourceforge…and the inevitable breaking of something. Here is the only real “advice” I’m going to give the reader: If you like to mess with the nuts and bolts of your computer, and you like to try out all kinds of new programs and toys which are still technically “beta,” do yourself a favor and set up a “development” box. This means investing 50 bucks or so in another drive, and putting Linux on it, and doing all of your fixing und breaking in it, while keeping your main install safe and reliable.
Day to day use
Some people will suggest new users do what’s called a “dual boot” system, where you keep your Windows environment on one partition, and run your Linux partition on another. The advantage of this is that if you mess something up in Linux, you can use your Windows install to get online and get help. It also means that you can access some Windows features through Linux, which is important for some people. The disadvantage of this is that having the “crutch” of Windows will prevent many users from fully enjoying everything Linux has to offer.
When I switched, I did it 100%, and I haven’t looked back since. I am really glad that I did it this way, because I’ve learned something new each day, and grown more secure in my abilities to administer my system. I’d suggest that, unless you’re a hardcore gamer, you do the same.
Which Distro is best?
There are numerous holy wars about Gnome v. KDE, Mandrake v. Red Hat, Red Hat v. Debian, Debian v. Slackware…it goes on and on, and I won’t take a side in these wars. Instead, I will say what I always say about computers: The operating system for you is the one that works best for you. If that’s Windows, or Mac, or even an Atari 800, go nuts. I think that this holds true for Linux, as well. The distro which is “best” is the one that works best for you. Over time, what is “best” for you will probably change, and maybe you’ll want to change your distro. Right now, I’m using Mandrake 8.2, and I’m excitedly looking forward to 9.0, which should be out very soon. Maybe someday I’ll switch to something else…but that’s the beauty of Linux…you get to choose for yourself what you want to use, instead of having The Borg choose for you.
Okay! I’ll switch! Get off my back! Now what?
Well, for the Newbies, I suggest something with a very easy install, and good community support. I have found this in both Red Hat and Mandrake, which is not to say that it doesn’t exist elsewhere. I just know about the support for Mandrake and Red Hat first hand.
Once you’re up and running, join a Linux User Group, where you can get help with problems, answers to questions, and a warm fuzzy feeling that comes from being around people who are nerdier than you are. You will also learn very quickly to love the O’Reilly publishing company. Their Linux books are nothing less than required reading for getting the most out of your system.
There is a lot of specific information I’ve left out here…after all, I would like to spend some of Saturday with my family…I didn’t talk about games because I don’t play games on this box. I didn’t talk about Spreadsheets because I don’t use them, either. But I know that you can do both under Linux. Try Google for some examples. There is also a really cool desktop environment which Ximian makes, built on top of Gnome. I’ve used it, and found it to be really, really cool.
I have had a few problems, which I try to view as challenges. Most notably, I couldn’t get audio to work on this machine…but a quick call for help online yielded the answer to the challenge in about 15 minutes. I currently can’t get this box to see my router, but I’m closing in on a solution to that problem daily.
One of us
I will close with what I think is the best benefit from running Linux: when you run Linux, you join a community which is global, and ever-growing. This community is self-sustaining, nurturing, and always welcoming in new members. How much you get out of this community depends on how much you put into it, and it is very rewarding, indeed.
Come on in…there’s always room for one more.

158 thoughts on “Penguin Time”

  1. Wil, et. al.,
    Thank you all for posting this wonderful store of information. I have been wrestling with FUD over converting to Linux for some time, and I had no idea where to begin. There is so much information out there, it is hard to figure out where to begin! Sounds like Mandrake may be the place to start. My main concern was the ability to share files to MS apps (like word, excel, access, etc), since my job used all MS office products (sadly). I guess I should have figured I’d be able to swap docs. Also, does anyone know of a good mainframe emulator for Linux? We use HostExplorer for Windows at work (to connect via 3270 to an IBM/MVS box), thus I use it at home as well. I would like to avoid the partition thing; I would rather do a full Linux install, providing I can reproduce all the things I need to work from home. I’m not a gamer or anything (except a lot of mahjongg solitaire!). Email, internet, wp office type stuff. I really appreciate the Linux article. Help to reduce my FUD syndrome considerably!

  2. AngelGypsy wrote “However, I am planning to start using photoshop and illustrator. Will they work with Linux or is there an equivelent? Point me in a good direction to look this stuff up and I will be very grateful.”
    Check out the GIMP at
    GIMP – The GNU Image Manipulation Program.
    It’s a great alternative to Photoshop etc.

  3. Wil,
    Congrabulations on getting Mandrake up and installed. I made that leap away from ‘doze four years ago, when I first spotted Mandrake 5.2 and decided that it would be one of the better distros out there. Since then, I have six machines at home, all running on Mandrake, either 8.1 or 8.2. I had a bitch of a time getting 8.2 to run on one of my laptops and my firewall is working well on 8.1 so I’m leaving it alone. Four of six of those machines are connected via a Linksys wireless access point, and I’ve had great success getting Linksys’s various wireless products working with it (I’ve got one machine with a PCI card, another using Linksys’s USB card and the laptops all have PCMCIA wnics). I’m hoping they support the wireless gear better in v9.0 so I don’t have to work my ass off recompiling kernels and drivers for the wireless nics.
    I have only a very small laptop that I use mainly for work that has ‘doze 98se on it, and it’s the only thing that I wish to keep running that evil OS. I still make plenty of dough supporting Bill’s Bane for my employer’s customers and some of the wireless gear that I use at work needs ‘doze apps to administer.
    Spam has become but a memory for me. I administer my own email server on a cablemodem link and filter like crazy against my own blocklist and several of the public blocklists. It’s nice to have a mailbox filled with email from friends and lists that I specifically requested mail from. Need pointers? I’ll be happy to help.
    I’m by far no expert but I’m learning something new nearly every day. Keep playing with it, it’s how I learned all I know about the OS.

  4. Excellent. Glad to hear you made the switch (de-lurking post this, btw). I started with Slackware, moved onto Mandrake and am now on RedHat, also using KMail – a very good mailer.
    Couple of points…”boxen” is not a lame H@>

  5. AngelGypsy asked
    What the frel does H^H^H^H^H^H mean???
    Please excuse my lame attempt at explaining.
    It was the “error” you would get (still get?) when using a modem to telnet in DOS and were disconnected. Ithink it has a geek meaning but I don’t know what it is.
    Sorry that was not very helpful was it? : )

  6. Wil,
    Yes, it was a long entry but you covered many important points in a short period of time. It was not empty babble. It is good to know that windows is not the only option. I may switch oneday but not today. Good job in explaining the terminology. I feel like I just took an intro. class. It is now time for me to rest my brain.

  7. Great article! I could relate to the “fear” factor, even though I’ve been using a unix shell of some sort since my undergraduate days. I made a total switch from my PC to a Linux workstation just a few months ago and I’m tring to get it to be my primary system. (I use a MAC too. Equal opportiunity computing.) Even when you’re familiar with it, it can be sacry. By-the-way it was darn cool to read that you use PINE on a occasion too! It’s still my favorite email client.

  8. wil, unfortunately there’s a pooper in every party, however, i do know a guy who got laid in a convent. his wife to be and he were in for a weekend of what they call “marriage encounters” and were supposed to be doing a “crisis management” session by themselves. and well, the crisis was averted…..

  9. Camwhores? Come on Wil, there are young children that visit your site!
    But thanks for the new porn site. Now bookmarking…

  10. My husband is a Linux geek, so I’ve gotten used to it. For the most part, I love Linux (especially because the system games are infinitely cooler than the standard Windows games. Same Gnome and Tux Racer kick the butt of Freecell!) but I do have my issues with OpenOffice(.org). It works great for regular uncomplicated word processing, but when you need to do something a little more complicated it’s not as intuitive as Word. I am working on fundraising for a marathon I’ll be doing in January, and I had to print a bunch of self-addressed envelopes to send out with my letters. I’m usually pretty good with new applications, and I had to beat on the system for at least a half hour or so to get the stupid envelope to format properly! But so far I definitely think OpenOffice is the better of the open source word processors. It does need a bit more work though.

  11. Yay, Wil! Come over to the light side of the force!! I’m running Redhat 7 with KDE and Gnome and, like you, I prefer KMail. Part of the reason I prefer it is that it has built-in GPG signature/encryption, so all of my outgoing mail is automatically signed whenever I click “Send,” and encryption is just a button-click away.
    You left out mention of the Gimp (, a free, full-featured graphic arts program that’s comparable to Photoshop (and is also available on Windows, for those reluctant to switch).
    And, for those gamers out there, Neverwinter Nights has a Linux server available, and a Linux client coming Real Soon Now. Loki games used to convert many great games to Linux, but they have dot-bombed. You can sometimes still find their games for cheap on eBay.
    Finally, for those who may hesitate because they want to be able to sync their PDAs, you can do that very easily with Evolution, and with a bit of work with KPilot (for the KDE organizer tools). I use malsync to sync Avantgo– basically, there’s a way to get around and Linux-ify almost every aspect of Palm/PDA-to-desktop communications.

  12. Hi Wil. Just a note of thanks. I enjoy your writing but I don’t have time to read it everyday. So while I was hacking away today I got an email that you had mentioned Quanta on your site. What can I say? How cool. I think I will put a link to your site from the Quanta site. We are hard at work getting 3.0 ready to roll out the door in a few days and we are making plans for 3.1 and 3.2. Our feature set is growing at an incredible pace so check our new releases for surprises or see our developer do list on line to see what is in work and coming up. Our new release will have templates with D&D template creation, auto-complete for all defined tag languages and PHP and a new plugin interface that will make the addition of programs a 30 second user task. Our document tree also handles a lot more than just HTML now too and makes large pages a snap to manage. We hope to provide the fastest most productive web design tool possible and by October have tutorials on line showing how to create reusable classes in PHP that auto generate project docs and custom dialogs making data management a point and click walk in the park. Our goal by the way is to finally arrive at WYSIWYG that gives you, the developer, full control over how your visual entry is coded. Feel free to shoot me an email some time. I hope in the coming year to make Dreamweaver users feel they should be switching to Linux and Quanta to keep up with forward thinkig guys like you.

  13. Nice going Wil :)
    I took the plunge recently too but I dual boot with the dredded XP, but I am getting used to the way linux dose things.
    To all those out there that can install windows, you can install linux as well. Just read up on it first.
    I have tried Redhat 7.3 and Mandrake 8.2 both are good but I prefer the Mandrake. On my machine it installed easier and felt crisper.

  14. I’m still debating on which Linux version to get. Right now it’s between Mandrake & Lindows for me. I definitely want a GUI interface, but the ability to play around at the command prompt if I want to.

  15. AngelGypsy and Gaea: you’re both wrong.
    On old TTYs, when you pressed backspace, instead of deleting a character, it printed “^H” on the screen. So if one had typed something and wanted to delete it, you would see something like:
    “Be nice to this fool^H^H^H^Hgentleman, he’s visiting from corporate HQ.”
    This has since passed into standard hackish usage as a joking way to “strike out” something one has written.
    See the Jargon File’s entry on Hacker Writing Style:

  16. Wil – that was a masterfully done piece – thanks for the effort. All that and a BORG reference?! leet.

  17. Well I’m downloading mandrake right now as anytime I try to open a program I get “*.exe is not a valid win32 program” or some such stuff. GOOD BYE WINDOWS!

  18. sam…
    you asked about mainframe emulation in linux… there’s program called x3270 that i’ve use everyday since jun 1998. there are a number of emulation programs available for linux.
    if you have any questions about program availability for linux just google search and you’ll more that likely find one for free.
    btw… way to go wil!
    when you feel brave enough to start compiling applications and kernels in linux, you should give gentoo a try. check out
    i’ve been M$ free since 1998…my linux evolution looks like this: slackware, redhat, caldera, suse, stormlinux, mandrake, and finally gentoo. choice is a wonderful thing!

  19. Wil, this entry reminded me of the first posts I read when you were setting up this site. Full of compu-babble that was exciting to you but that I only partially understood. Your excitement and sometimes frustration did come thru, and that was the fun in reading them. I treat the compu-babble like any jargon, I try to get the overall meaning and don’t sweat the details.
    Your article here was pretty clear, even to a non-geek like myself. The only thing I would have done is put in a link to a good definition of distros. I googled the word and what came up still didn’t give me a clear picture of what it means. Most of the sites just assumed you knew what they meant. I generally dislike acronyms and jargon. It makes for insiders and outsiders.

  20. Great entry. It made for some really good reading. Glad to see that you are enjoying the switch. As for you making commercials, just don’t become annoying like that “Dude, you are getting a Dell” guy. I really hate those commercials. Saw you on the Screen Savers and thought you express yourself very well. Looks like you gave Martin a heartattack when you loosen up. That was pretty funny. Have you tried the Instant Messaging clients in Linux yet? Those are fun to evaluate. Hope to hear you on the Linux Show soon. And if you must do Linux commercials, pick them with care.
    Did I mention that I really, REALLY hate that Dell kid?

  21. Well,
    I decided on Mandrake 8.2. Installed it tonight. Thought I had hosed my Windows XP partition completely, but I used the repair function & it is working. All my stuff seems to be in the my documents folder, & when I reboot, I can go into Linux. Haven’t figured out how to connect to the Internet from Linux, but I suppose I will soon.
    Linux is cool! :)

  22. Excellent job on the article; while it only takes that first smidgen of techno-speak to cause some readers’ eyes to immediately glaze over, the overall tone of the comments posted makes clear that you didn’t overdo it at all in this case, but on the contrary conveyed a good grasp of your feelings toward the Linux “experience” even to those who are unfamiliar with some (or most) of the jargon. Good work, that’s a tough balance to achieve.
    You mentioned the “community” of Linux users as an asset, and it absolutely is – many of us are welcoming of newbies and helpful to whatever extent we can be with installation and configuration issues. This is easily the biggest obstacle for most new users, as practically anyone can /use/ any system once it’s properly configured, whether that’s accomplished solely by them or by/with someone else.
    Besides the local LUGs, there are many communities to be found online; in the case of Mandrake, one that I’m proud to be a part of is the Usenet newsgroup alt.os.linux.mandrake. Even users of other distros have frequently remarked that they follow our group because we have built a friendlier, more helpful contributor base than commonly found in other NGs; quite a few of the “old timers” have, as their experience has grown, moved on personally from Mandrake to such UberGeek distros as Gentoo or LFS, but still routinely join us and add their expertise because our little corner of the ‘Net is still a pleasantly robust and vital place to visit.
    Fire up Knode/Pan/MozillaNews/slrn/whatever and drop by yourself some time, lurk for a while, see what you think.
    BTW, if you’re a fan of “eye candy”, and just love to dazzle the Wintendo users who come to visit with what neat stuff your Mandrake box can do, you might want to check out the page I just put up for the a.o.l.m. crowd the other day:
    Note: The display described does not work in conjunction with Gnome, and is somewhat limited in its usability under KDE, but when you opt to run a more lightweight desktop such as IceWM, Blackbox, Xfce, etc., it can be impressive. Especially if you don’t mention to the Windozer looking over your shoulder that it moves, but let them eventually notice that bit for themselves. 😉

  23. Okay…Wil just said something that made me love him even more: he likes PINE.
    I have been a hardcore PINE user since I was in college in ’95. I kept using it until I was forced at gunpoint by the bitches at my grad school in ’01 to switch to Outlook.
    And I’m not even an egghead. Wil you rock! PINE FOREVER!

  24. I’ve been using Linux 100% at home and at
    work (OSDL does linux development so we of
    course try to use it for everything.) Here’s
    my honest opinion on what it’s good/bad for:
    Photoshop – yes, GIMP is the best analog, but it’s been my experience that Photoshop lovers aren’t quite so impressed, so your mileage may vary… On the other hand, GIMP does *amazingly well* for image format translation. Also check out ImageMagick for commandline-based image processing.
    Illustrator – there are several 2D editing programs out there, each slanted towards a specific type of use. Dia is sufficient if you want to make flowcharts, XFig is okay for rudimentary 2D drafting. Sodipodi is nice for doing artwork, especially if you want to experiment with SVG. OpenOffice includes a 2D drawing app that looks quite feature complete, though I’ve not used it.
    Word Processing / Dreamweaver / Web / Mail / Calendaring – Good options are available as others have pointed out.
    Spreadsheets – Gnumeric is okay but it has not been my experience that Excel-to-Gnumeric interactions go very well. If you are a power-Excel user, you may not find the transition very smooth.
    Databases (Access) – First the good news; lots of databases are available for Linux and you don’t have to use Visual Basic. Bad news: You won’t find a good Access clone. Most people seem to go the route of using MySQL or Postgres with Perl or PHP or their language of choice.
    Videos – Getting video’s to play is a royal pain; quicktime is not well supported, and there’s few good general purpose movie players available. Look at Lamp, Broadcast 2000, and MPlayer.
    Someone asked what are the advantages to Linux for an average user. Well, one advantage is that even though the individual software apps may not be 100% as good as the Windows versions, they all come with Linux, so when you go through the install, *everything* gets installed. Even webservers, databases, compilers, and other such traditionally “high end/high $$$” apps. And no keycodes or being prompted to register stuff. If you don’t want to plunk thousands of dollars down for software but also don’t want to wear a black eyepatch, this is a BIG advantage.
    A year ago I would have said, “Linux isn’t ready for the average user,” but today, I think for many users, it’s good ’nuff. At the rate it’s improving, I suspect within a year or two it’s going to become a much better choice for average users than Windows. For some people, it already is.

  25. Yup; Mandrake rocks. Those folks who have particular needs that can only be met by Windows — ACT! or Photoshop or Goldmine or whatever — can still run them, either under Wine or VMWare, but for what Wil does (or what I do, for that matter), you get better performance out of whatever hardware you have, a stabler environment that crashes much less often and is much less subject to viruses and intrusion, and a much faster development cycle, so it gets better faster.
    Right now, even if you’re not terribly geeky, you can probably get it installed and running without help; if not, help is available all over the place.

  26. Congrats, and a word from one (me) who has been actively testing the forthcoming release of Mdk 9.0…
    RC3 is looking very sweet, and may just be the turning point where the ordinary user is willing to cut the chains that tie them to the *Borg*, or at least consider trying something else other than the M$ party line. They have many of the small but annoying bugs from the earlier releases fixed now, and it is truly impressive, expecially from a “newbie” point of view.
    I have shown it to 5 Windows users in the course of taking it through it’s paces, who have all decided to either install it (asking me for a copy of the CD’s) or are looking forward to installing the final released product next month. It’s that good :)

  27. Enjoyed the disertation and agree totaly, I use as a web surfing inviroment linux usually and stil boot up win98 for me graphics, the gphoto doesnt work for me , and i havent been able to get my flash card reader to work on man 8.2 yet.
    and i use photoimpact for my graphics rework, gimp does not come close to this programs versatility. wish it was ported over . every thing else is workable, with more study. LOVE my mandrake

  28. Hi Will,
    Welcome to the Penguine! I have been a prop-head since RedHat 5.2 – you were right – that was a nightmare to get to work ok – then I tried Mandrake 6.0, and never looked back. Even then there were the mailing lists to refer to for help. One resource I use now is an E-Zine called PenguineShell from the floks at Lockergnome []. It’s a 5 day a week newsletter – in HTML format – but with new stuff each day. I am sure Tony would be thrilled to have you as a subscriber. Also, please note that I have nothing to do with the Lockergnome organization other that that I subscribe to the E-Zine. I know you are bussy, but PS is a good read, and I just wanted you to know about it.

  29. Hello there. It’s an interesting writeup and certainly it’s a nice intro to Linux.
    Sadly, I’m still forced to use Winblows at times but I have a seperate box for that and my server for the net is definitely on Linux for the simple reason that it’s more secure.
    As for apps…well there is a lot of stuff out there. Both free and commercial. Someone mentioned PhotoImpact, which is really a lightweight image processor that does have some easy commands, there are a couple of Linux analogs out there and they aren’t THE Gimp. As for THE Gimp vs Photoshop most Photoshoppers have problems with THE Gimp cause it doesn’t take PS plug ins. Otherwise, it’s just as capable and, at times, far more capable than PS.
    Installation is now much better than it was even a year ago in all Linux and BSD varioant distros. As effortless or less than MS installs.
    The real improvement will come in the next 18 months or so with KDE 3.x and Gnome 2.x leading the way and more and more apps coming over.
    Inicdentally…it’s funny…most games get developed on *nix machines including the graphics but are ported to Windoze and perhaps Mac and forgotten for the *nix market. That will change soon as Linux reaches critical mass of users.
    As for graphics programs there are good to excellent 2D and 3D apps out there. Most free but there are some wonderful commercial prodcuts like Maya available as well.
    So..go for it. If you’re the average Windows user there is no need to stay hooked to the money sucking umbilical cord to Redmond WA. Even most power users can swtich. As for the rest? Well, like I said wait a year to 18 months.
    Oh..and don’t listen to the holy warriors of Windows vs *nix. Just use what is best for you.

  30. “We are The MICROSOFT! Lower your firewall and surrender your sourcecode,
    we will add your features and technological destinctivness to our own.
    Your ideas will adapt to service us. RESISTANCE IS FUTILE. ”
    Thanx Will for the nice review!
    Nice to read about a newbies struggle with Linux.
    Continue with the good work and encourage people to switch from the “Evil Empire” to Open Source.
    Got to go watch some Star Trek now but I’ll keep reading you’re posts:-)
    Best regards

  31. Hi Wil, nice end-user view, thanks. I think making “the switch” is overrated in terms of religious statements (sorry ye zealots) – it’s a decision you take in the face of arguments that count for you (in my case, sensitivity to virus infections, stability, and price – coming last).
    It strikes me that there is an expectation that conversion to Linux will instantly turn you into a raving zealot. Raving about quality, yes, in some aspects (there’s plenty left to do). In a ‘frothing-at-the-mouth-and-bulging-eyes’ fashion – nah. I may occasionally use Windows as well, but I’ve found less and less reason to do so. I’ve got more interesting things to worry about, like having a life (and planning a Linux based charity project ;-)…
    Good piece of work!

  32. “…I use my computer for 3 things:
    – Internet;
    – Email;
    – Word Processing.”
    This explains how you can make a 100%, never-look-back switch without any pain! And I thought my [computing] life was simple.
    Two outta three up there I’ve pretty much never gone back to Windoze for (beyond pleasantly surprised, I was more shocked to find how easy it was to get MDK 8.2 online), but there are still a *lot* of things that keep me booting back into Windows. But a little freedom is better than no freedom at all, and as this wave of Linux grows, so shall apps to run thereunder.
    Between XP driving users away, Linux actually starting to get some legs, and the Mac (where, frankly, the majority of Windoze refugees should at least for now seek refuge instead), we may actually see Redmond take some damage. The arrogant Beast may have finally reached around and bitten itself in the ass.
    It’s a good thing.

  33. Excellent post, Mr. Wheaton. Regarding Buckthorn’s post about being a Diablo II and Starcraft freak: You don’t need to reboot in Windows anymore, at least for these two games! I am running Transgaming’s XWine (a Windows emulator layer) under Mandrake 8.2. Using xwine, I installed Diablo II and I play it from the comfort of my Linux desktop (in full screen mode). Everything works, it’s rock-solid. Well worth the $5/month subscription to their download and update service. There is a free version available, but I bought the prepacked version. They can use the money.
    Take a look at XWine: (disclaimer: I am but a satisfied user)
    — SysKoll

  34. Wil, I made the switch about 6 months ago. and like you I am still sorting out how to get things done. but I think you are on the beginning of a great journey. Now if I could just get my wife to make the switch all the computers in the house could be Linux.

  35. Thanks for the interesting and insightful comments regarding Linux. I’m in the process of becoming more familar with it now. I have Mandrake 8.1 on one system, and I’m working through getting it to function as I want it to. Again, thanks for taking the time to share you experience with us.

  36. Open source has been my choice for quite a while. The more I use Linux, the more advantages I find. I still have sometings still in M$ format, but they are fewer and fewer.(I am a dual booter)
    I have a home LAN and run several different distros.(Mandrake, SuZe, Lykoris, Caldera, Peanut) Each has its own good points. I like the variety.

  37. Welcome to the “not as exclusive as it used to be” club, Wil! If you get a chance, try out Mandrake 9.0 . Very impressive, and a bit faster than 8.1 or 8.2, but just as easy to install!

  38. look out below…. this could be as long as yours!
    first off wil,
    the star trek stuff, what the heck is that janeway
    character all about?
    she knows more about engineering than torres!
    she knows more about navigation than paris!
    she knows more about security than tuvok!
    and she even knows more about coffee than bloody neelix!
    what is she wonderwoman?
    she don’t need a crew !!
    she is so matter of fact in everything she say’s and does it makes me sick!
    (i guess that’s what happens to an idea when the genius behind it paases on, it gets ruined by money milkers)
    bring back the tng with a new series (like what does happen to wesley with the travelers help?)
    does he evolve into a new kind of human with special abilities? as alluded to in one episode!
    does de’ana’s mother ever really get the man she was alway’s looking for?
    i could go on ………..
    but anyway back to what this is really about “LINUX”.
    I AM A NEWBIE myself, but have tried several flavours (or distro’s) of the o/s.
    suse,redhat,storm,and of course MANDRAKE!
    I actually purchased mandrake 8.0 powerpack and had a little bit of work connecting to the internet (on my single machine) but that was about it problem wise.
    i find xine the best thing since sliced bread for playing all sorts of multimedia files and it has a simple plugin format to play just about anything (just get yourself onto the “penguin liberation front” and download all sorts of plugins, avi,mpeg,divx,etc etc… (xine even plays dvd movies! no problem!).
    18 months later and…….
    i have now got 4 machines, my own, my wife’s, and my father in laws (he’s only 76 years old and yes he like mandrake!!) all dual booting win98se and mandrake 8.2 and networked (just simple peer to peer) internet is through a gateway (mandrkae 8.2 only)and cable modem.
    all works fine and stable (funnily enough even win98se seems more stable now, PROBABLY because its not used so much roflmao).
    i am not anti m$ as such, the company did much for the computing industry (getting more people to own a pc was a good thing) but time marches on and their time has come to pass
    long live the penguin !!!!
    viva la revolution
    oh by the way great article and “live long and prosper”.

  39. Hey Wil,
    I support about 1500 windows users on a Novell network, so I have to run windows in some capacity.
    But on my main desktop I run RedHat 7.3. I use XP on my laptop to do my windows needs and the cool part is I terminal service to my laptop (with rdesktop from from my desktop and I hardly ever physically touch the laptop. I have a few test machines that I’ve installed different distros on. As far as newbie installs go the one I thought was perfectly newbie was Lycoris from Check out the screen shot (
    During the install the files are copying in the background while you are configuring what little options are needed. It detects almost everything even the printer. And when you are finished configuring stuff it pops up a solitare game for you. One down side, depending on how much you want to tweak your distro, you don’t get asked which desktop you want. It decides a lot of things for you. So you never get to pick which packages you want. But as far as newbie goes and ease of use and less frightening after the install. Check out lycoris if you get a chance. That’s what I did when I was looking for a distro. I installed several until I found something I liked. Actually I wasn’t real crazy about linux until KDE3 came out. So that’s why RedHat 7.3 rocked. Today I downloaded
    Mandrake 9, so gonna try that too.
    Brad B

  40. Well, I didn’t read a lot of it because I have had a few beers and am not in the mood to read. But what I have to say about linux should go for anyone is that its more stable and a lot more faster. I am on a crappy Dell computer right now but if I hooked my hd up it wouldn’t be crappy. It supports all the “hardware” I have. It even runs A LOT and I do mean A LOT faster then windows which is why my roommate is begging me to teach her linux. SHe could do anything she could in windows except 3 times faster at least. Her hard drive is running windows 2000 pro ed. and she hates it. It takes about 4 minutes to boot as to the at the most 2 minutes it takes for my hard drive running linux does. Mandrake also makes it easy to install and supports all hardware I have ever tried and has a lot more supporting software. She is in love with Mandrake.I think its mostly the games and the speed of the operating system and the stability of it. But it may also be the fact she can do anything she wants in linux that she has ever needed to do in Linux and with Mandrake it makes it that much easier. Thats all I have to say but its a good word and I love Mandrake and keep up the good work. This is the first time I will use my real name on the internet.
    Teno Goins,
    Be safe.

  41. Oh screw it I can’t resist a Borg/Microsoft joke:
    Microsoft Borg Assimilation attempt 1.0:
    We are Microsoft of Borg. You will be **A fatal exception 0E has occured at 0028:C028274D in VXD IOS(04) + 00001FC9. The current application will be terminated. Press any key to terminate the current app. Press CTRL+ALT+DEL to restart **
    Microsoft Borg Assimilation attempt 2.0:
    We are Microsoft of Borg. Your desktop will be assimilated **ERROR LOADING ASSIMILATE.EXE – (A)ssimilate (R)etry (F)ail **
    Microsoft Borg Assimilation attempt 3.0:
    We are Microsoft of Borg. You are bing upgraded to Windows XP. Resistance is futile. Your credit card number has been assimilated.

  42. Hi all …. that’s good there are some of ppl that can share exp. about linux . It’s hard in my country to ask someone in comunity and not be a target of “most stupid question i ever seen” …..and other like this….. (thats is from a irc channel) ………
    sorry if anyone not understand me too well , but i am self learning freak from poland:) … got probs with writing in english…. want to say semething to Will too ….. i never read nothing better about switching to linux… its just shot in 10:) cya in cyberspace buddy….:)

  43. I have just switched over to linux the way you did and I like it. I am using Mandrake linux 9.0 Dolphin and I think it is great but I have one question.
    Can you install java on linux? Pages with webcams and games dont work. I went to sun microsystems and only saw the version for windows. By the way I love the show and Keep up the good work.

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