Monday, January 25, 2010

Is Linux so BAD that... or Are we mentally challenged like FROGs?

While working on the PC today, I got a mail from a very close and (a very dear to me) senior colleague of mine alerting all about the "LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL" virus. Such mails have been doing round for quite some time now, and the promptness and concern with which i keep getting the forwards from so many corners only go to establish that people indeed are bothered about security of their data and systems. My usual reply on these occasions is standard which runs on some similar lines such as -



However, I know that such replies fall on deaf ears as because we are human beings and, more so, we are actually FROGS (remember the Boiling Frog Story depicted in the masterpiece "An Inconvenient Truth" by Al Gore?). Reacting to such virus threats, as if the DOOMS DAY is just round the corner, we often jump just like the frog when plunged in the boiling hot water. Otherwise, we simmer ourselves day and day out with an operating system called MS Windows and cling to it (as if, if it were not there, computers would refuse to BOOT! and if others discover that I am not using MS Windows, what a shame it would be!). In doing so we are also exhibiting the frog syndrome of slow death, exhibiting our inability to detect and come out of a slow and a really hopeless system.

That makes me wonder: can we really call ourselves computer literate/savvy if we do not have abilities to switch operating systems? People often talk of learning curves- even the Corporate Honchos of the IT World.

Or is it that LINUX itself is so very bad that its a total outcast and no no operating system? There are several such blogs where people have touched upon advantages of LINUX. However, they are all incomplete. (Can I do a complete story myself? I doubt very much...). Nevertheless, here are few thing I would like to record for now:-

Theory 1: Linux is tough and difficult to learn:
Believe me, my 6 year old daughter works only on LINUX and all by herself and withot any training. Her fluency in UBUNTU even marvels me. Thanks to LINUX, not even once the system crashed in last two years despite a child using it. Learning all the educational games, watching fairy tale videos and keeping the computer hooked to Internet 24x7, the system is still running without any threats and viruses and what not...

I have observed that even in Government offices, after initial resistance, (which is just habitual), the staff are able to adopt quickly. Most of them are happy later on because the system is so stable that they do not need to call the hardware support guys every now and then for a system crash. The experience of my own team is that their emergency calls have almost disappeared from clients where they have installed Linux.

Whether you take UBUNTU, FEDORA, DEBIAN, REDHAT, SUSE..., the story is the same. They are very robust, stable and easy to use. The question is- do we want to learn?

Theory 2:Where do I get the support?
This is the question which bugs me most. I have never got any kind of support from any MICROSOFT GUY ever in my two decades of use of computers. The support you get is factually from the local vendor whose technician has to run around to load Windows in your machine every fifteen days. Its another thing that you would not need any support on LINUX, once your system is up and running. Now, why he cannot provide support for LINUX? Because his fellows are not exposed to the operating systems. They are actually NOT TECHY guys but a bunch of ignorant and scared FROGS. Next time if you need support on LINUX, call the same guy, give him a dressing down for his lack of computer knowledge, and observe the change. Its the ignorance of the VENDOR and his support team and has nothing to do with Linux.

If you as a client start questioning the ignorant technicians, they would be quick to learn and, believe me, the society would be a better place to live. DEMAND SERVICE FOR LINUX, AND THOU SHALT BE SERVED.

Theory 3: Where do I get my device drivers for LINUX?
This question also bugs me, but it has three facets which need to be understood. First, please understand that driver support is better on LINUX (for devices which are supported on LINUX). A device driver is a very small piece of code, which often can be as small as, say for directing a string to a specific printer port, may be just three lines! BUT what complicates the matter is our HUNGER to make COMPUTERS ONE TOUCH SYSTEM. As a programmer I can tell you (and all programmers would agree) that in the name of user friendliness, we are making the system less and less efficient. The same three line code is shipped in several MB of compiled executable for you in CD ROM with your printer. The more you load such drivers, the less efficient is your system. Some hardware companies such as HP have excellent support on LINUX for their printers and scanners. In case you do not know where to find it, please click here. I have used several high end HP printers such as HP Color LaseJet 4700n, LaserJet 3390, LaserJet MFD 1522nf, LaseJet 9040n and the latest OfficeJet Pro 8500 without even installing a single CD of driver software in my Lenovo R61 Ubuntu (8.04 to 9.10) laptop. Occasionally, for some of these, it may require a small plugin download (from HP site) which just takes about few seconds to a minute or so, that's about all. You cannot beat the printer /scanner hardware installation and user experience on LINUX. Its just REAL PLUG 'N PRINT. If you do not believe, try it yourself. However, there are some companies such as Canon, Sony, Fijutsu who have very bad support for their products on Linux. (However, I am told, these companies have strong Linux work force. But seem to shy away in public). I, however, as a matter of principle, I DO NOT BUY any hardware that is not supported on Linux.

The second facet is that there is the chicken 'n egg syndrome with vendors claiming that there is no demand for Linux based systems, which makes the cost of development very high. So no support for their products! This situation can only be addressed if more and people embrace the open source and see its benefits. The vendors would switch to it overnight, for they are looking for business. So, my suggestion is YOU MUST START TO DEMAND without batting an eyelid. Every Hardware manufacturer must attempt for basic minimum OS neutrality!

The third and the most dangerous facet is that for certain products and drivers, MICROSOFT holds exclusive agreement with the OEMs so that the products are only supported on MS Windows. This is dangerous. You need to understand that such products actually need to be BOYCOTTED. As a consumer, we have every right to ask for a product fully functional (101%) on Linux. Please start doing that. YOU WILL BE ABLE TO MAKE A WHOLE LOT OF DIFFERENCE!

Theory 4: Which Linux to use & support?
A really tough question to answer. My approach is any LINUX is good as long as its freely available. You may also make your own xYz Linux and upload it somewhere for someone to use and benefit from it. That would be your contribution to the Knowledge Society. Even make your own faMily OS by customizing the source code. It should be okay still.

The question is how to ensure support. We must be able to grow communities and support them. It basically means that more opportunities for local youth to work on global projects. Though there are difficulties, I am sure, with more number of local communities growing, support and services would become excellent in times to come. Even today, the strong support of the communities is so very committed, that solutions to problems arrive at lightning speed compared to any Third party support system including Microsoft. I would request my friends to share their experiences too for the benefit of all.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Joy of Contributing for the cause of an Open Knowledge Society

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

Dear Friends, it was a mail from koolhead17 (Mr. Atul Jha, to be precise) few days back that set me thinking. Just after contributing $50 to Wikipedia, he shared his joy with me. I was inspired too, for I too like almost any Internet surfer had seen and read the fund raising appeal of Jimmy Wales while looking for so many bits of knowledge every now and then. However, sheer laziness took me over as usual. BUT today while looking at Wikipedia for GDP, GNP etc., while teaching my elder daughter Arundhati, I decided, this has to be now only that I do my bit to see that WIKIPEDIA remains FOREVER. So I just made a contribution of $100. It was such a great feeling of belongingness to the vast community of writers, readers and moderators that the Wikipedia has now become, that I could not help but pen down few lines in praise of OPEN Source and the power of knowledge that is HOLDS and the potential to make our society in all sense of the word A TRUE KNOWLEDGE SOCIETY.

$100 is just about in the range of price of Windows 7. AND I tell you how I wish all that money for buying and upgrading to Windows 7 could have gone to ventures such as Wikipedia that need money to keep the knowledge in the society accessible to all. Wikipedia is something to which I almost refer to at least 10 times a day. I owe much of my learning today to the hundreds of unkown contributors of this VAST & DEEP OCEAN of knowledge, the unsung heroes of our Knowledge Society.

If you already have not contributed your bit, please do it today itself. Please remember, buying Windows 7 and upgrading to Windows 8... and such stuff are DEFINITELY NOT the BEST ways to build Knowledge societies, community resources and infrastructure. Put your precious penny in enriching the open communities where knowledge flows for free, even without your asking...