Why I use Linux

October 31, 2013

Linux is the only operating system I use day to day. Every once in a while, I launch Windows, but not very often. I am not one to say my Operating System of choice is the best and all the rest are terrible. Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OSX both have their very strong points. However, I want to tell you a bit about what I do with Linux and maybe you will consider using it, too.

First off, let me tell you what Linux is, for those who might not know. Linux is a Free and Open Source operating system for computers. Now, that is a lot of jargon for one sentence so let’s break it down. When I say linux is free, I mean that in two ways. First of all, there is no monetary cost involved in obtaining linux. You don’t have to pay for it. It is free. Second, it is free as in freedom of speech. Unlike Windows or Macintosh, there are no patents or other encumberences to the linux operating system. The user is free to modify or change anything about the operating system down to the very code it is written in. That is “software freedom”. Open Source goes along with Free. Open source means that the source code the software is created from is available to anyone. You can inspect the code, and if you have the skills, you can modify the code to suit your needs. The source code is open.

The term “operating system” refers to the basic software on your computer. Before you open your web browser or your word processor or your email program, the programs that enable you to have a desktop and move your mouse are part of the operating system. I have mentioned Windows and Mac OSX. Other operating systems include Sun Solaris, UNIX, and BSD. Every computer has to have an operating system; from the tiny computer in your pocket (your smartphone) all the way to the massive data center servers that host Amazon.com and Google.com. But why do I use linux?

To borrow from podcaster Larry Bushey of the Going Linux podcast, I use linux to “get things done.” I use linux everyday to do everything I do with computers. I write articles on linux. I use Google Docs and Libre Office (in fact, I am writing this article in google docs). I create and manage websites for myself and for clients using linux. I use Adobe Brackets and Filezilla to do this. I browse the web using linux. I use the Chromium browser which is based on Google Chrome. In addition to these programs I use my linux laptop to watch videos, listen to music, play video games, manage my digital photo library, and read ebooks. In fact, I even use Linux on my smartphone. Google’s Android is based on Linux. If you use Android, you are already a Linux user.

I use linux everyday for every task that requires a computer. In my next article, I will tell you why I choose linux over Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X. Are you interested in what you can use linux to accomplish? Drop us a line! We can help you!

Windows XP End of Life

October 21, 2013

On April 8 of next year (2014), Microsoft Corp will stop supporting Windows XP SP3 (Service Pack 3) and Office 2003. What does this mean? Well, put simply, Microsoft will no longer be writing patches or bug fixes for these products. When new security vulnerabilities arise, they will not be dealt with. No new features will be added. Backwards compatibility is no longer guaranteed. For many, more advanced computer users, this announcement has very little impact; they have been using newer versions of Windows for years. But, what if your business or organization depends on Windows XP SP3? What does this mean for you? In this article I will help you understand if your Windows XP systems need attention, what the next step is for your transition, and what alternatives may exist.

First of all, lets talk about what “end-of-life” doesn’t mean. If you have a computer or embedded system running Windows XP, it will still work on April 9, 2014. There is no “self-destruct” code which will render the operating system dead, as far as we know. You can keep right on using your machines just as you always have. But should you? The answer is a solid, “It depends”.

Some industries will rely heavily on embedded systems running Windows XP. One example is large-format printers used in printing building blueprints and construction documents. In one job I held, I worked everyday with one of these printers. The “control panel” was a touch-screen PC running Windows XP. This type of equipment, usually networked locally but not connected to the internet should be viewed as an appliance, no different than your toaster or coffee maker. Systems like these do not need to be fiddled with if they are working correctly.

Some organizations may find PCs in their offices running Windows XP. The administrative assistant or receptionist whose daily tasks include email, word processing, and web browsing may have been passed over for a computer upgrade or may always be using “hand-me-down” gear. These systems must be upgraded at or before the Windows XP end-of-life as they will present big, gaping holes in network security.

Home and Education users may have second-hand or legacy hardware which has always run Windows XP. If these users are accessing the internet, these systems must be upgraded to protect sensitive and private data as well as guarding against other forms of hacking. If, on the other hand, these systems are used for stand-alone word processing and NEVER connect to the internet or other network, they can be treated as an appliance and left alone.

So, what do you need to do if your system is one which requires an update? For most all computers originally running Windows XP, you will not be able to install the latest version of Microsoft’s Windows operating system, Windows 8. The system requirements for Windows 8 are far and above those for Windows XP. You will, most likely, need to buy a new computer. New PC’s on the market today come pre-installed with Windows 8. Simply back-up the data on your old machine, install your software on the new machine, and restore your data to the new machine. Or, you can hire a talented IT professional to do it for you. 🙂

At the top of this article, I mentioned alternatives. Many users have heard horror stories about Windows 8. Others may not have the financial ability to replace the hardware which is currently running Windows XP. Some may even be faced with mission critical software which only functions under Windows XP. What can be done in this situation?

There are two main alternatives to running the Windows operating system. The first is Apple Inc’s OS X and the second is the open-source operating system, Linux. Apple’s OS X is a fantastic operating system which runs on Apple hardware. Most business and personal software someone would run on Windows is available for Apple’s OS X. OS X also integrates seamlessly with Apple’s portable devices such as the iPhone and iPad. The major drawback to this alternative is cost. Apple’s hardware is more expensive than comparable systems designed to run Windows. However, if cost is not a concern, I would wholeheartedly recommend moving to OS X. Linux, on the other hand, is designed to run on most anything. That legacy system running Windows XP is a perfect candidate for use as a Linux desktop. No hardware upgrades are necessary, but some small, inexpensive upgrades could make your machine seem brand new. Linux powers systems as small as your smartphone and the largest super-computer clusters. Linux also works with the data you already have. Business documents, music files, photographs; they all work in Linux.

For those who find themselves in the rare circumstance of depending on software which only runs in Windows XP, there is really only one option; virtualization. Using virtual machines, you can run your Windows XP system inside a newer version of Windows, or OS X, or even Linux. Virtualization is a deeper topic and is outside the realm of this article.

So, what have we learned? Windows XP SP 3 reaches it’s end-of-life on April 8, 2014. Embedded systems which are not connected to the internet are fine. Any machine running Windows XP which does connect to the internet, must be upgraded to the newest version of Windows, converted to Linux, or replaced by a virtual machine or a new machine running OS X. Need help deciding which is the best option for you? Drop us a line! We Can Help You!

Matt McGraw, Owner