Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Fedora Core 4 Linux and Aunt Tilly 

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a huge advocate of the Linux operating system. Linux is still not for everyone but it is at the point now that about ninety eight percent of what you want to do with a computer can be done with Linux. I won’t try to go into all of the advantages and dis-advantages of the Linux operating system here as that is beyond the scope of a single blog entry.

I will tell you that I am writing this on an older refurbished lap top computer that I bought with Windows 98 installed on it. With the available hardware which includes a 400 mHz processor, limited hard drive space and only 256 megabytes of memory this system would run Windows XP but it would not be pleasant. On top of which I was not willing to spend the $100 to $250 dollars asked for either XP Home edition or XP Professional at Amazon to bring the box up to a currently supported operating system.

I had installed SuSe Linux on the system and was quite happy with it. Then a friend asked me if I could get Fedora Linux for him which I said would be no problem. Most Linux distributions are available for download free from a number if sites. Check Linux-ISO if you are interested and want to try one or more editions. Since I downloaded the files and burned a set of disks for him I decided to make a copy for myself.

While I had SuSe installed on this laptop I didn’t really have any user created data on the system or a lot of time invested configuration of the installed applications. So I thought I would just wipe the drive clean and install Fedora just to see what it was like. Not only was I surprised but very pleased!

The last version of Red Hat Linux that I used was 9.0 which I still have along with several books on the Red Hat distribution. Red Hat is a company that is now offering a commercial supported version of their product and for a while had abandoned the personal hobby and small business community that they grew out of. They soon saw the error of that decision and placed all of the source code for the last free version of their software into the “Fedora Project” which is user supported and freely available to anyone that wants to use it.

I may be getting a little ahead of myself here assuming that you know what “Open Source” software is and how it came about. Again this is a topic that goes well beyond a single blog entry so you will have to do a little reading on your own if you are interested. Start with the web site of the Open Source Initiative where you can learn about open source in general. Then go to the Linux Home Page and find out the history of this robust and free operating system.

The object of this is to tell you that I have been exceptionally pleased with Fedora Core 4 and if you have been considering Linux you should give it a try. Like anything it is not perfect especially since Fedora tends to be the “bleeding edge” of Linux technology. I would not try to get this working on an old 386 or 486 system. You want at least a 400 mHz Pentium II with a minimum of 256 megabytes of RAM memory. As with most multi tasking operating systems the more memory you have the better. The main system that I run SuSe on in my ham shack is a 2 gHz AMD Athlon processor and 384 megabytes of main memory. I also have a high end Nvidia video card in that machine with 256 megabytes of memory just on the video board. That system hums right along and I am thinking about putting more memory on the mother board. So keep that in mind when starting to experiment with Linux.

When you install Fedora you get an operating system, an office suite called Open Office similar to Microsoft Office and all of the tools you need to access the Internet including the Firefox web browser and Thunderbird email client.

I get lots of calls from friends and family members who want to buy a computer and want me to set it up for them and show them “how to use it”. A typical request is “Aunt Tilly wants to get a computer so she and send email, look at web sites and shop eBay to add to her beer bottle collection.” or something to that effect. My problem comes when Aunt Tilly calls me a month latter to complain about how slow her “new” computer is. At that point I go for another visit only to find that she has installed every program that any web site offers for “free” and that the computer has more spy ware than the CIA and the NSA combined. I then spend an evening cleaning things up and trying to explain what happened and how to prevent it from happening again. Sometimes it works and other times it falls on deaf ears and I wind up making several such trips to Aunt Tilly’s house.

This is just one reasons that when I get the next one of these calls, and I have one pending right now, that person is going to get a clone box built with solid reliable components and the Linux operating system installed. Yes there will be some software that won’t run on that system because it was designed only for Microsoft Windows but I tell them that there are a number of really nice programs that will only run on a Macintosh. Life is that way sometimes. In Linux there are different classes of users. You have to have “root” privileges on the system to do any real damage that could render the system inoperable. I will create a “user account” and password for Aunt Tilly. Just in case she has neighbors or grand kids that know enough about computers and or Linux to be dangerous I will retain the root password. If that is unacceptable then I will give them the 800 number for Dell, offer a suggestion on what to buy and make sure they know to call Dell for tech support. I am going to try this cultural experiment out and see how it works. I’ll let you know.

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