“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold . . . “

Asus Eee PC 900AMuch of life is about tipping points. What looks like a sudden change is often a slow aggregation of small factors that eventually flip a switch.

Today, with the receipt of an Asus Eee PC 900A netbook, I took a step away from the MS Windows-dominated world, away from Apple’s boutique couture, down the saner path of Linux. Here are the factors that finally made that choice inevitable:

  1. My home laptop runs Win XP, and I don’t want to upgrade to Vista, let alone to Win 7. Not because they’re broken—both are fine systems—but because I’m tired of throwing money down the upgrade rat hole. I don’t want to have to buy a new laptop just to run a more memory-intensive OS.
  2. I don’t want to upgrade my MS Office just to suit a new OS. Especially if that means having to buy an Outlook upgrade to sync with my PDA. (My Office 2000 is already straining to keep up with Outlook 2003, and that still won’t sync my email correctly with Activesync 4.5.)
  3. I’m sick of Internet Explorer telling me how to surf. It’s like a killjoy older brother sitting in the passenger seat. (And Silverlight, ptooey! Seriously, MS, you had to invent your own animation app in a webscape already suffering from Flash bloat?)
  4. I’ve been using Mac desktops at the office for 25 years now, so I know Apple isn’t any less guilty than Microsoft when it comes to being pricey and proprietary. While the switch from OS 9 to OS X was brave, every .1 upgrade since has gouged and gouged.
  5. Safari is nothing to brag about. Why anyone other than a Mac addict would choose it over Firefox is a mystery. And every damned time my Mac or PC updates iTunes, Mac tries to cram Safari and MobileMe down my throat again.

That’s a decent set of reasons to dump M&M (MS and Mac), but why take up Linux, and why now? Well, for one thing, open source has finally come into its own. Let’s consider a few examples.

  1. Firefox is a Web designer’s dream tool. Add the Firebug, ColorZilla, and FireFTP plugins, and the only reason to ever leave the window is for a graphics editing program. And Firefox comes prebuilt with typical Linux installations.
  2. OpenOffice.org does everything Windows Office does, for free. In fact, the slide-show part of OpenOffice.org is actually better than PowerPoint. And OpenOffice.org comes prebuilt with typical Linux installations.
  3. Typical Linux installations such as Ubuntu and GNU now have user interfaces that are every bit as intuitive as Windows or Mac. I’m loving the Eeebuntu package developed for the Eee PC, for example.
  4. Wine makes it possible to run much Windows software on Linux, if you can’t find an open-source replacement.
  5. More and more applications are moving to the Web anyway, meaning all you really need is something that will run a browser.
  6. Thunderbird (Firefox’s sibling email program) has plugins available for calendar and contacts, and can even sync those with Gmail. (Goodbye Outlook.)
  7. I’ve found a Linux-based program to sync my PDA with Thunderbird and those plugins.

There’s one more reason to begin dumping Windows, and that’s the fact that electronic games are steadily moving away from desktop computers to Playstation, Wii, and (ironically) X-Box. Mac, of course, has never been much of a game system.

Linux is, of course, what the bulk of the Web’s servers run, and I’ve had some experience with it in that capacity, using command-line applications to transfer large files, or setting permissions to run PHP documents, just as I used DOS in the days before Apple introduced the concept of windowed computing and Microsoft made it their registered trademark. But until now, I haven’t wanted to make Linux my day-to-day OS.

Now, however, the balance between expense and ease of use has dramatically shifted. Let Microsoft and Mac fight things out along with the other corporate dinosaurs. I’ll be traveling light, browsing wi-fi hot spots with my Linux netbook, saving my cash for better things than another costly OS upgrade.

7 Comments

  1. Nice article Sir. My experience with Microsoft, first they hacked me out of my own computer because I refused the windows 10 “Upgrade”, then they hacked me out of my own email (Outloook). My next computer will be set up with Linux.
    Quick note, it was NOT Apple who developed windows then had Microsoft steal it, it was originally developed by Atari in the good old days, I still have my old Atari ST, it runs windows, they invented it, Microsoft stole it, not Apple.

  2. Heya, Jason:

    It’s good to connect with another Linux user.

    My next area of exploration is syncing my PDA with it. I’ve got the connection going (with SynCE and MultiSync). Now I just have to learn how to set up a partnership between the PDA and Evolution, to port Contacts and Calendar between them. Which is to say the software’s all working; I just have to familiarize myself with the interface.

    Are you familiar with Wine, for running Windows-based programs on any OS using an Intel chip? I’ve started experimenting with it, too, and the results so far are pretty exciting!

    —Les

  3. Jason Thibeault

    Lester,
    I bought my Linux operated Asus netbook a year ago now. While I use it only as an extremely portable surf tool, and “home away from home away from office” document editor it does have one tremendous advantage. Less than 15 seconds after I turn it on it is fully booted and I am operating. I know many people who leave their computers on all the time to avoid the boot time. Energy is not free.

    In a year the only problem I have had is that it won’t accept a Sprint wireless card. It does have its own internal wireless card, but when you are out of range it can be a problem. On and it has difficulties with the latest Microsoft Office documents. But so does Microsoft Office.

    Steve,
    Thanks for reminding me of John Hacker (aka Plateface). Remember the great success of your Luddites!

  4. Hmmmm. If open source sucks so much, why are most Web servers running LAMP? (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP, for those listening in, who might not already know the acronym.)

    As for your oil-change metaphor, I recently spent an afternoon changing the oil and filter on my motorcycle, rather than $125 to have it done by a motorcycle mechanic. My point is that sometimes it makes perfect sense to do things yourself, if you have the skills.

    Which takes me back to my recent tipping point. As a family man, I’ve had to learn frugality. Apple is not cheap. PC clones are cheaper, but I’m tired of the OS and hardware upgrades. Linux suits my needs nicely—I’ve put Eeebuntu on my netbook, walked around the interface, learned to install new programs (including WINE to drive some Windows software), and watched a streaming Hulu episode of the Simpsons.

    So far, I’m very satisfied.

  5. I’m disdainful of Windows Vista & 7 because they’re bloatware and still counter-intuitive. Admittedly, MS is closing the gap on usability…if Apple stayed trapped with 10.2 (circa 2003).

    Outside of games, aka productivity killers, there’s nothing I want to run or do mandating Windows. As for games, my PS3 and Wii do the job better and I find WoW to be like playing D&D with a hundred John Hackers and Kevin Walshes, no thanks. In gaming, I will die a Luddite.

    My dislike of PCs came long before I ever worked on or supported Apple.

    During the frontier years of the Eighties, the majority of computers were based on the IBM-MS DOS set up since Windows 1 & 2 were awful. I had no love for Apple IIs neither, ProDOS? Ick! The Mac appeared to be a toy with its GUI; wow I can make a smiley face with MacPaint. Then I was required to take MSCS 050 at Marquette which dabbled in UNIX. Hitting myself in the face with a two by four was more enjoyable than Math 50! Never mind, a female grad student from South Asia who liked to smack the back of my head covered it.

    All of these gave the impression of computers being glorified typewriters and calculators. Outside of checking my spelling, they were pricey, impractical gadgets.

    Add the variable of my father being a systems analyst. His career was responsible for us moving around as often as a military family.

    Do you think a 20-year old person would have much interest in computers? Especially in 1988?

    A year later, I took JOUR 100 which spent the second half of the semester using Macs running QuarkXpress 1.0. I was amazed! Why? Because Apple finally found a true problem for computers to solve other than employing an IT cabal.

    MS and UNIX’s cousins still have a mindset of making the user conform to the programmers’ attitude. I have to deal with UNIX-esque commands in Mac OS X occasionally, half make no sense: less? cat? numerous acronyms or the gem of them all, vi editing to modify DNS forwarders.

    I also don’t buy the litany you’re repeating from the Linux/RonPaulumpas over alleged colonialism. Apple is under 10 percent of the overall market for computers. People switching back remains a continual threat to keep Apple in check. (If I had a buck for every time I heard that threat, I could retire.) Hence, Apple complies more often than MS to fit in: SMB, dovecot, Apache, Python, Ruby, L2TP, Kerberos, SSL, CalDAV, CardDAV, SquirrelMail, NFS and MySQL.

    Open-source software is a pointless pipe dream when there’s a lack of quality control and standards. Often when a customer is complaining about a security hole in Apache it has to wait until the Apache people “get around to it.” Then installing it is another nightmare for it can unravel a dozen other pieces of software in the mix. What savings and freedom you get there.

    The truth is Lester, computing is similar to changing your oil. Jiffy Lube doing it for the majority will not threaten your desire to do yourself if you want to spend an afternoon doing something I can pay $30 to have done in 30 minutes or less.

    People want their tools to function to do their work (or fun), they’re not interested in learning how to compile, what the inside jokes are (tim is infamous) or who Wayne Babbage was.

    I’ll suffer with the pox of convenience over the “open sores” movement which is a different type of enslavement.

  6. Hey, Mag. I’m still exploring Eeebuntu, and naturally there’s a learning curve, but this is not your father’s Linux. Right out of the box, it’ll do what most people need, easily and intuitively. Actually, the netbook came installed with a specially constructed version of GNU that’s even simpler—perfect for folks who merely want to surf, write, listen to music, and manage their photos. As an older hand at Linux, I just wanted something more robust. (Asus provides tech support for the original, by the way.)

    Thanks for the 15 percent discount offer on Apple stuff. (Get thee behind me, Satan.) It has been tempting at times (I seriously considered a Mini), but the fact remains that I couldn’t have bought any Mac as cheaply, even with the discount.

    You’re a model Apple spokesperson, my friend, devoted through and through, and knowledgeable about Mac. Why so disdainful of Vista and Windows 7, though? From my experience, Vista’s quite good; and reviews of 7 are positive, as well. Methinks your prejudice is showing.

    My own proclivity is for an open-source future in all things, and a pox upon the corporate colonialism that gave rise to “citizens” becoming “consumers.”

  7. I’m not going to waste much of my virtual breath since we’ve had this debate for 17 years. However, I do agree with you on some of Safari’s shortcomings but Firefox is clunky and has trouble being a good netizen with wikis, blogs and Flash animation. I use both to make comparisons for certain sites, namely when I need to see what the PC users may be experiencing. Few people use one browser exclusively anymore, even at Apple so you’re making a straw man argument.

    As for the current upgrade for Mac OS X, you need to do your homework before rolling out the old, tired chestnut about price a la the “Laptop Hunters.” Snow Leopard is $29, not the standard $129. Almost 20% of what MS charges. The downside is it’s Intel only yet once you have an Intel-driven Mac with this installed, it’s impressive and I have had to support Macs for over a decade; it takes more to impress me.

    Good luck with the “free” OS which tends to be the realm of the Libertarian, gut-toting RonPaulumpa crowd. As the saying goes, “Linux! Because bugs were meant to be free!” I always find those OSes to be such a Catch-22 when it comes to support: you either need to a uber-nerd teenager on retainer for assistance or you have to do the needle-in-a-haystack method of searching message boards, which is a sisyphean chore; if the computer is down, how do you get on the Internet? Oh yeah, you have to reboot from your Windows or Mac partition to run Firefox.

    You could’ve bought a used Intel-based Mac portable, partitioned with Boot Camp and other “free” tools and have a triple-boot computer like my friend with his own software business does!

    After 20 years, my conclusion is that most Mac bigotry isn’t over price, it’s over the fact that these damned computers actually work and they let people use them as the tools they’re meant to be, a means not an ends for employee thousands of consultants and people carrying MCSE papers.

    You’re always free to ask me for a 15% discount.

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