Linux File System Podcast

A couple of posts back I talked about how the organization of the Linux file system was an obstacle for switchers.  I posted a link that helped me get it, but I just listened to the latest episode of Going Linux and they do a great job of explaning each top-level folder in Linux.  I’d encourage any recent convert to listen.

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Linux Update

Two obstacles down.  First, Quickbooks.  Got QB 2002 to work in WINE with no effort.  There is an error message that pops up every time you open the program, but if you dismiss the error it seems to work fine.  Now, this may make some people uncomfortable, as Quickbooks is one of those programs where you definately do NOT want to corrupt data.  But I have been making regular backups; the files open in windows just fine, so I’m going to keep using Quickbooks in Linux.

Second, Photoshop.  CS3 does not work whatsoever.  But, I had an older copy of photoshop 7 that works flawlessly.  GIMP is going to work for most people, but I am a developer, so whenever I need to create an image I’m on a time constraint and I simply don’t always have the time to explore GIMP and figure out how to do something that would take me 2 seconds in Photoshop.  I’ve got photoshop 7, and I can live with that.

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Ubuntu is cool

So one of the things I hadn’t gotten around to yet was setting myself up to browse my windows network at work.  We have a windows 2000 server with Active Directory.  I needed something on the server today and wasn’t pressed for time so instead of going to another computer or rebooting into Win, I decided to take the opportunity to see if I could get it done in Linux.

I started out by looking for instructions on installing Samba on Ubuntu.  I was familar enough with previous linux experiences to know that Samba was what I needed.  But the search didn’t really turn up any detailed instructions.  I looked for a while, but then noticed in Nautilus it has “Network” right there.  I clicked it, and low and behold, my windows network was right there.  Double click, it asks for my domain password, and bingo, I’m looking at every computer on the network.  Not only do I see computers, but I see printers, and even external USB devices that contain the files to which we digitally record focus groups.  Voila!

I literally did not have to do ANYTHING.  My linux distro handled it seamlessly.  A windows computer would have needed to be configured to connect to our domain.  Pretty cool stuff.

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A note to interface designers

When designing an OS, or, for that matter, any kind of interface between human beings and machines, remember what an interface IS.  It’s a tool.  It’s not your friend, companion, advisor or inquisitor.  It’s not an extension of yourself.  It’s not a manifestation of your inner zen.  It’s a tool.

The first tools were knives; rocks chipped into blades.  Knives are the epitome of what tools should be – you pick them up, use them and put them down.  You interact with your task, not with your tool.

That’s exactly how an interface should work.

Thank you,

Ziege – was just forced to use Windows Vista for a while

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You know what Linux needs?

Switching has not been very hard for me at all, but still, on occasion, I still find myself needing to boot into Windows to accomplish something.  For the most part, it is for Microsoft Access.  My company uses some custom tools that I created in Microsoft Access and they are (not to blow my own horn) so useful that we literally can’t do business without them.  Word and Excel work fine with WINE, but Access not so much.  I’m in the process of recreating the entire application in PHP/MySQL so that it can be used remotely and platform-independantly, but that’s a long process.

The problem is that, as for all computer users, seconds feel like hours and rebooting just to do that is a pain – so I find myself booting to Windows and staying there.  I’d be willing to forego a Linux solution if moving from one OS to the other during work was faster.  So get to work on that, geeks, mmmk?

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Goinglinux Podcast

If you’re switching, like me, I highly recommend the Going Linux podcast.  I like it a lot for the following reasons:

-They cover topics at a beginner level without sticking merely to beginner topics.  So often, I found myself needing very basic advice, like how to install a package, and getting only granny-instructions.  “Ok, just click the start button, click Terminal, and type “sudo apt-get install — apache2″  Well, that’s great, but it doesn’t help me learn.  What does ‘sudo’ mean and what does it do?  What are the dashes for?  What is going on when I type this command?  Linux geeks seem to have a tendency to explain things either for granny or for other Linux geeks, with no in-between.  These guys are perfect for power users who know what terms like packets, IP, file system and command switches are, but who are unfamiliar with the way Linux handles them.

-The guys are jovial and likeable.  Think the Car Talk guys, but for computers.

-They keep the Microsoft bashing down to a minimum.  There’s plenty of valid criticisms to make of Microsoft.  There’s also plenty of valid ones to make of Linux and MacOS.  That’s not to say that I think all three are somehow equally good or bad, but I do prefer my geekery to be free of ideology and dogma.  Linux users that refuse to acknowledge that WinXP is a stable operating system make me feel like their goal isn’t to inform me, it’s to push their agenda, and it’s a big turnoff for me.

I recently took a long solo drive from Detroit to Denver, and I loaded a few of their casts on to my mp3 player.  I liked each episode, but for the technical parts, it’s better to be in front of a linux box so you an follow along.

Anyway, I recommend their show.

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Random Thought on Open Source

Was just talking about Microsoft Office 2007 with business partner.  Like most, he hates the ribbon.  I did too at first.  Gradually, I learned to like it.  I still think it’s screen-hogging size is a problem, but overall I think Microsoft did a good job making it usable and organized.  The true problem with the ribbon is that it takes away your option of using the old interface that you learned.  It’s biggest flaw is that you can’t turn it off; it is forced on you.

If Office was open source, there would already be addons that let you turn it off, use a classic menu bar, and make the buttons smaller to save screen real estate.

The meme is that the for-profit model ensures that where there is demand, demand is met.  But that’s not what we see here.  Instead, we see profits interfereing with choice in the market.  Just thought it was an interesting point worth making.

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From Windows to Linux: The File System

One of the biggest obstacles to making Linux accessible to people raised in a Windows world is the organization of the file system.  Linux has a file system that makes sense to programmers and administrators, but is indecipherable to laymen.  Windows, on the other hand, has directory names that are at least somewhat comprehensible.  I can tell what “Documents and Settings” and “Program Files” are.  But usr, bin, var, etc, lib?  Gibberish.

The Linux file system most likely got the abbreviated names to save typing on the command line.  But the first time I switched to Linux it was a major obstacle.  You can imagine my frustration:  “I installed new software….now how do I run it?  Where is the .exe file?  Oh, there’s no exe file?  Ok well let me just browse to the directory the software installed to and see what we have.  Wait…where the hell is it?  I’ll just search for it.  Crap, the files for this program are spread into a bunch of different directories.  What does “bin” even mean??”

This is not an obstacle for the proverbial “granny”.  Granny doesn’t understand folders in windows anyway.  But for intermediate and power-users of Windows, this aspect of Linux makes it a very confusing system.

I hear a lot of Linux fans say that it’s a myth that Windows is easier and that Linux is hard and confusing and for geeks.  Well, Linux is pretty easy once you study it a little.  But the file system alone refutes the idea that Windows users should find Linux to be easier to use.

I finally was able to get a handle on this with my second go at linux by reading the PDF document here.

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I’m officially done with Windows

I’m switching to Linux.  I’m not a Microsoft hater.  I think Office is an incredible set of tools that integrate with each other fantastically.  I also think all in all XP is a great operating system.  Yes, XP is gimped in some ways compared to Linux’s power, but it’s great for end users and in my experience contrary to what the Linux fanboys say, the NT kernel is every bit as stable.  I’ve had a Windows 2000 server running Active Directory at my company that hasn’t needed to be rebooted since last year.

But Vista, on the other hand, deserves its scorn.  And if Windows 7 is going to merely be a patched-up version of Vista, I’m just not into sticking with Microsoft.  At some point, XP support is going to end and we’ll stop getting security updates.  Faced with a choice between Vista SP3 or Linux, I gotta go with Linux.

No time like the present, right?  So I installed Linux Mint on my main computer as a dual-boot alongside XP and have been using it almost exclusively for two weeks now.  I have some experience with Linux; I’ve tried it several times in the past, only to go back to Windows each time.  To the open source community’s credit, the ease of transition has come a long way.  I opted for Mint because I didn’t feel like messing around with installing proprietary stuff like Flash on my own.   In my next few posts, I’m going to break down different aspects of the ease/difficulty of switching, and from there I’ll update the blog with my experiences as a “switcher”….

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I am still Ambivalent-man

I signed up for a Twitter account months ago, looked at it briefly and dismissed it as dumb.  Their poor product positioning prejudiced me, because they market it as a way to “tell your friends what you are doing”. Clearly, though, Twitter is the new biggest innovation in social interaction on the web.  So, I signed back into my twitter account a couple days ago and started following some intelligent folks who I know Twitter.

I can see getting hooked.  Like social networking sites, it provides multi-person communication, but it has an immediacy that blogs and facebook lack – something that appeals to the kind of person that is fond of their ‘refresh’ button.  Yet it doesn’t require your immediate attention like instant messaging.

I think Twitter is actually most similar to message boards in form.  It basically gives you the power to create your own message board, populated with only the people you choose.

Message boards have been my primary way of socializing on the web since day one.  While a lot of people were creating websites and blogs, I was talking with people over Usenet.  I used Usenet for a long time and then switched to a specifc place on Yahoo, and then since 2004 I’ve been posting with some frequency to the Motley Fool discussion boards (the best I’ve come across yet in terms of quality of posters).

The gorilla in the room is the character limit, so let me just say that the imposed brevity is not my favorite feature.  I think 240 characters would be much better than 140.  Enough for a couple well composed sentences at least.

I understand the haters…there’s something juvenile about trying to reduce everything we say into the most compact form.  A lot of twitter feeds read like a dressed up stream of grunts and yelps.  Maybe I’ll tire of it.  But I’m surprised to find that I’m digging it at the moment.

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