When I started with computers we were using DOS to make them work. When Windows came along in a usable form, 3.1 everything seem fantastic! No longer was it needed to remember a list of commands just to get your word processor to work! All you needed now was your mouse. Just a few clicks and you could navigate yourself anywhere you wanted in your operating system. Then came Windows 95, quickly followed by Windows 98 etc. by the time Windows 2000 and then Windows XP came along, the Windows operating system was a very stable work platform indeed. Windows Vista and windows 7 must only make things better:
Or will it? One of the biggest problems with any operating system is how expensive it is!!
As I said above I have used Windows for many years and I have found it very good, but expensive. Let's look at the cost, Windows XP will cost you something like £90 (I have not brought anything newer!) but that's just the operating system. You need things to put on your operating system so you need programmes. I want to use my computer at home to write letters, so I need a word processing package at about £30. I also want to do photography, so I have to buy software for that, about another £30. I have got a camcorder so I will need a programme that will allow me to edit my video and burn it to disk, £60 plus for that. I also have to protect my computer from horrible things like viruses so I need some good anti-virus software. And also need a good firewall if I'm going to use the Internet. The cost keeps mounting up and up. I totalled up all my software costs for my Windows XP computer and found I had in the region of £490 of software and that didn't take into account any games I have! It is costing a fortune to have a computer!
While I am talking about the cost of running a Windows operating system I must mention the amount of time spent trying to keep the system working. The following happens all too often with Windows. The other day I came up to the computer room to do about an hour's work. I switched on my computer, and it was running slow. I opened my software which looked after the registry and began a maintain run on its. About 10 minutes later I had the computer up and running again only to have my anti-virus software giving an alarm about a bug it had found. Another five minutes was spent getting this little nasty out of my system. I then went on to the Internet and my Web browser instead of opening on the virgin media web site it opened on somebody's site trying to sell me a mobile phone! I then had to run my spy ware software to get rid of this! So, to cut a longer story short, I spent the hour I should have been working just getting my computer to work. I had this type of problem for years with Windows. Once a week, sometimes twice a week I run my maintenance programmes and each day I look for any Windows security updates. But, this type of thing still keeps happening.
A few years ago now an IT technician at a place I work at gave me a copy of Linux. This was a live CD which would run entirely from the CD drive. This means the Linux operating system would not interfere with my then Windows 2000 installation. So, I tried it. It took a few minutes to load, it found my printer, USB keyboard, mouse, but not my scanner and all the other things inside my computer including my TV card. In also found the Internet connection through my external modem to the phone line. I was astounded to find out that this Linux operating system came with over 1500 programmes! All free! The first thing I used on the Linux operating system was open office, a total office suite which is the best I have ever used. Using this live CD over the weekend sold me on the Linux operating system. On returning to work that Monday I asked the IT technician about mainline distributions I could install on my computer. It is then I was told about dual booting. This is the ability that Linux has to install itself alongside a Windows OS. Therefore, when you switch your computer on you have the choice of which operating system to use.
Today I have been using Linux for about eight years. I am using Linux Ubuntu which is a fantastic operating system that is simple to navigate and use. I have in the past used many different versions of Linux but, all of them have given me the same thing; they are all very stable systems, I have never had any problems with viruses (most Linux distributions have free anti-virus software in them. This is mainly there to warn you not to pass on any infected data to someone using a Windows OS.) Because, most viruses are written for Windows OS's. I have never had the problem of somebody "getting in" to my computer to alter my data or set spy ware. I asked a Linux expert about why Linux was so safe from outside forces. His answered to me when something like this:
"If you think of the Windows operating system has a town seen from above. With many roads leading from all points of the compass converging in the centre of the town. The centre of the town is your operating system the outline buildings are the areas where you stored data. The roads are the way data gets in and out. Now, if you think that the town's police force is like anti-virus software shooting about all over the place looking for criminals i.e. viruses. Also the police force setup roadblocks on all ways into the town i.e. firewall software.
You can see this is quite an open system with many ways in and out to guard.
Now then, your standard Linux setup if seen from above would look more like a medieval city. The city only has a few gates in and out. There are high walls running all around the city, the only way in his through the heavily guarded gates. Now, let's say a virus has managed to get through the outer gates. It's got nowhere to go because to get to the centre of the city i.e. the Linux operating system, it has to go through the second wall surrounding the city. So now it has to navigate itself from where it is to the next point of entry to the inner city wall. Now, beyond this inner wall is another one and beyond that there is another, then another, and then another. If you think of the main Linux operating system sitting in the central fortifications of the Castle in a Many Walls City You Get an Idea of How Safe a Linux/UNIX System Is."
Well, that's what I was told. All I can add is that whilst using Linux, whichever distribution I have used I have never had any problems with virus infections or spy ware. That's not to say that some smart bugger in the future won't develop a nasty little monster that will find its way into Linux and cause havoc. But, for the time being we are safe. You can always use one of the live CD's; just pop it in your CD drive and let your system boot from it. The Linux OS will run entirely from the CD and your RAM. It will not interfere with your Windows installation unless you decide to install it yourself. So what have you to lose, give it a go you may be surprised at what you get!
For those of you who love your Windows programs there are programmes out there that run on Linux that allow you to run your Windows programs in a Linux environment. "Crossover software" is one of these products. You put this programme or one similar to it, on to your Linux system and then just load your Windows programs on and watch them operate as if there were in a Microsoft environment.
So then, to summarise:
Windows is a good operating system, with many, many top-quality programmes to run on it. But, at a price!
Linux is a good operating system, with many, many top quality programmes to run on it. But, 95% of them are free! Plus the operating system, that can't be bad!
There are some things you can do on Windows that you can't do on Linux ( but its getting better every day!), and there are some things you can do on Linux you can't do on Windows. Alas, (for the moment) I have some major programmes that only will run on Microsoft OS. So I have to keep using it.
But, if all you want to do is playing music, watch films, write e-mails and surf the Web etc,. being safe and save money at the same time, well, all you really need is Linux.
Update (June 2012)
It as been a long time since I updated this article. In this time I have brought a newer laptop with a much higher spec, a 2 GB processor and 1 GB of RAM. I have also upgraded to the 10 .04 version of Ubuntu which is the best I have used so far. I now have no problems with video editing software on the Linux OS. I have able to perform all my video editing on LINUX. The video editing software has come on leaps and bounds in the last couple of years. I now longer have to use Windows OS programs to perform such tasks as picture in picture or blue screening editing etc.
Video editing software for Linux has become very sophisticated; on the one end of the spectrum with programs such as KINO, CINELERRA and KDENLIVE here you have very sophisticated programs and at the other, for people who just want to do simple editing there are programmes such as LIVES and PITVI just to mention a few. In the past people have complained about the lack of information about how you do different things with your software. Commercial software for Microsoft's based program nearly always come with a written operating manual. This costs a lot of money and when you're giving the programme away free and you are a non-profit making organisation the cost of printing a manual would be exorbitant and beyond your means. However, there are manuals, very detailed one as well as instructional video on the Internet which are being updated and added to all the time. As well as this you also have users of the programme who find new ways of doing things with the programmes. New combination of video effects and they pass these on to the community over the Internet with the instruction. So in many ways the Linux community has a fantastic aid to training and understanding the programmes and how to use them that a single company cannot match.
One of the other advantages with Linux software is that it is open source and this means that one group of people working on say, an animation program would put their output files in common formats. So if you build a 3-D animation you can save it to a format that you have no trouble loading into a video editing package. I have found in the past with some Windows programs that the developers of the programmes use their own file formats. So, you have to use their programmes for all your operations when editing. It also increases the cost to you the end user. You have to buy more than one programme to do the job. With Linux programs, like the ones listed above you don't have to buy them they are free to download. But I would ask you not just to take the programmes but to give something back. This could be in the form of joining one of the projects and helping in some way or just by giving a donation to the people who developed the software you are using for free. This will help to make sure that these projects will be able to carry on and develop even better programs for us in the future.