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Sunday, 07 September 2008 19:15

5 reasons to upgrade from Windows Vista to Linux

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Windows Vista has been out for almost two years now but it still suffers from stability and compatibility issues, let alone an insatiable desire for beefier hardware. You don't have to live with it; here are five reasons why Linux makes a better choice for your computer.

One of the many differences between a computer and an appliance is that your computer’s system software can be easily updated. New features can be added. By contrast a whitegoods maker can’t easily add new features to their microwaves or washing machines once they’ve been constructed and sold. This is a realistic thing: even the simplest appliance can have programming flaws, or gain from improved logic or more user options.

Most readers will no doubt have upgraded the operating system on their own computer at some point, whether from Windows ’95 to Windows ’98 or Windows XP to Windows Vista or some other step.
Yet, an operating systems upgrade doesn’t necessarily have to wend its way through the range offered by one vendor. After all, just as you can replace the software that drives your computer in the first place so too you can replace it with anything that targets the same hardware.

This gives rise to many a possibility. You might love the look of the Apple MacBook but prefer Microsoft Windows over MacOS. No problem; Apple even make available a CD of Windows drivers for their MacBook hardware. Of course, I happen to think there’s another operating system you might want to consider, and here are 5 reasons why you would benefit from upgrading your Windows Vista computer to a modern Linux distribution like Ubuntu.

You can update every single piece of software on your computer with a single action.
The value of this can’t be underestimated. If you wanted to make sure you had the latest security patches, bug fixes and general enhancements for every single item of hardware and every single piece of software on your computer you would need to check an awful lot of places.

Microsoft Update is a good starting point, and will identify available upgrades for all your Microsoft software as well as a good range of hardware drivers but (logically) it stops there. You must also check Adobe’s web site for new versions of their PDF reader, it’s prudent to check your hardware vendors for their new drivers, and so on, for everything.

With Linux updating is simple. When you check for updates this includes everything – the operating system, your applications, support libraries, hardware drivers. It’s all checked for new versions and updated in the one go.

What’s more, Linux actively records the version of every one of these items installed meaning the check for updates is blisteringly fast compared to that of Microsoft Update which instead appears to scan through your hard drive and check what you have installed that way – or whatever it does, it’s certainly far less efficient.

So that’s one. Let me give you four more reasons to upgrade.

CONTINUED






It’s the safest operating system ever
Vista is taglined by Microsoft as being the safest version of Windows ever. Maybe it is, but nevertheless Linux is safer. Under Linux you don’t have to cripple your system by running anti-virus tools which intercept every single program startup and file download. You also don’t have to suffer your screen turning black and asking for permission to perform certain tasks. You don’t have to fear malicious software being able to corrupt the system.

Microsoft brought in user access control (UAC) in Vista to provide a safer experience, but it has proven to be intrusive due to the vast number of computer programs which insist on elevated access whether it is genuinely required or not.

To be honest, this is a problem of Microsoft’s own doing. From the very beginning Windows was flawed because it encouraged users to log in with full administrative rights. This invited trouble because rogue programs (or user mishaps) had no restrictions on the damage they could cause.

Yet, Linux had a different philosophy. It encouraged users to work under a regular user account which had no special rights or access. A user could temporarily elevate their privileges if required or log in as the super-user account temporarily, when performing systems administrative tasks like loading on new software.

As a result, Linux never experienced the same problems that Windows did. It was secure by design from the beginning while Microsoft has a battle to undo the bad habits their operating system has instilled in its users and developers.

Your PC can look after itself
There’s none of this defragmenting business to worry about under Linux. With Windows you can’t just sit back and enjoy your computer, you must exert effort to maintain it too. Any guide to Windows will instruct about the importance to routinely defragment the file system. Yet for Linux it is simply not an issue.

The reason for this is that Windows tries to locate files as close to the start of the hard drive as it can. When you remove or edit files you create small gaps. Newer files must then attempt to fit within the gaps. If they cannot fit completely they will become fragmented with portions stored in different locations. Over time as this goes on many files are located all over the disk and performance is degraded.

By contrast, Linux was designed from the beginning as a multi-user system and thus it was mindful that many people would be editing files at the same time. So, it approached this problem by, in essence, scattering files all over the disk. This means there’s generally plenty of empty space to save large files or to move files around if need be. Fragmentation only really becomes an issue when the disk is so full that there simply are no gaps sufficient enough to store a large file in completely.

CONTINUED






Run an entire computer for free, without breaking the law
You expect to pay money for a computer; you’re receiving something you can touch and which physically depletes the stock of the vendor.

Software is different. It can be mass-produced, it can be digitally duplicated, it could be installed on computer after computer from the one disk – or even no disk. And without software, your computer doesn’t really do anything.

Yet, most all proprietary software costs money. This isn’t an unreasonable thing; the developers deserve compensation for their efforts. Yet, let’s face it, people want computer programs and games to use and aren’t always willing to pay for it. Without an actual physical item being removed from stock there are many arguments that attempt to legitimise software piracy.

Under Linux this isn’t the case. You can make as many copies of Linux as you like. You can install it on as many computers as you want. Your friends can all take a copy and at no time are you violating the licensing agreement. It is expressly permitted to be free for use for whoever wishes to use it.

The same is true for the bulk of Linux software. Nearly all applications are licensed under a similar permissive license. You can download all the games and productivity applications you like without at any time being a software pirate. No matter if you cannot afford it, you can still work on spreadsheets and word processing documents using OpenOffice, you can layout complex publications with Scribus, you can manipulate images and photographs using The GIMP. You do not have to sacrifice on quality (by compromising using a less appropriate program) or resort to using the program without purchasing it.

Take all your settings with you wherever you go
If you buy a new computer or you have more than one computer (a desktop and a laptop, say) it’s not easy to set up things exactly the way they were, under Microsoft Windows.

First you have to reinstall all your programs, that’s to be expected, and is true for any operating system. However, all your preferences and customisations are lost, things are back to the default. Again, this is true for any operating system.

Under Windows there is no consistent way of storing settings. Some programs save them in configuration files within the application directory and some within the Windows directory. Other settings are saved into the Windows registry which is not easily duplicated.

By contrast, because the Linux tradition is always for users to log in to ordinary everyday unprivileged accounts there is no such thing as saving settings to the directory where a program is installed, or to a central operating system folder, or even to a single central registry.

Instead, programs invariably save all their settings into your private directory, under /home, in files or folders with names beginning with the full stop symbol, like .VirtualBox or .gimp-2.4, or .elmrc. Linux prohibits these files from being shown when calling up a directory listing (unless explicitly requested) but they allow your entire workplace and environment to be duplicated by simply copying your private /home folder.

So that’s but five reasons why you ought to upgrade from Windows Vista to a version of Linux. What do you think? The choice and freedom is yours.

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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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