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The Linux Project XIII

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Message Robert Raitz
The Linux Project XIII
Concluding thoughts: things I learned in the process of writing The Linux Project.

The Linux Project began because of a difficulty I had in setting PHLAK Linux 0.21 up on this machine. Instead of getting completely angry and giving up on the idea of edging away from Microsoft's PC software stranglehold, I decided it was time to do some research to find out if there were, in fact, friendly, usable, and stable Linux distributions that would bring me close to my ideal of a Microsoft-free computer. I found out, much to my own joy, that there were, in fact, decent Linux distributions available.

I also learned a few other things along the way. I would be remiss in my chosen duty with The Linux Project not to share these discoveries. Therefore, I will now share with you some things I discovered. I would call them rules, but when it comes to Linux, there are very few rules indeed.

If at first you don't succeed, you are pretty much average.

And the corollary to this: if you have everything working properly the first time, either it's time to go out and play the lotto, or you haven't tried every program. The Slackware installation I am presently using to write this article was about 95% workable after its initial installation. There were two functions that weren't working and were incredibly bothersome, and one that was a small annoyance. It took a little time to work out those bugs.

As it was for me, so it will be for you. Keep in mind that I had worked with Linux in 1993, when it was still in diapers, and nothing more than an oddity, or a means for computer geeks to think themselves better than their fellow man. While Linux has come a long way, it is still a collective effort. This means there are going to be inevitable problems and inconsistencies within it. Don't be disheartened by these foibles and irritations. They are as much a part of the Linux landscape as Samba, CUPS, or ALSA. If you can survive the initial shock of migrating away from Microsoft, you will discover the most stable operating system your computer ever used.

Linux is not a brand name.

Chevy, Ford and Plymouth are types of cars. Apple, Compaq and Dell are types of computers. Debian, Slackware and Vector are types of Linux. As many differences that exist in the other listed items are as many differences that exist between different Linux distributions. They all may accomplish the same goals, but they do it in different ways; sometimes in very different ways. If you try one Linux distribution and find it wanting, try another. There are at least one hundred different flavors of Linux as of this writing, and surely more are popping up like weeds every day.

If there is one thing I have found in my research, it's the truth that there are many ways to wean yourself off the Microsoft Smack. While different Linux distributions share many similarities, there are just as many differences between them. Some are built for the ultra-geek. Some are built for the most nubile of newbies. Others exist in the spaces between those two extremes.

Never underestimate the value of research.

An ounce of research is worth a ten-pound headache. When it comes to Linux, it pays to know what you need your computer to do. If you want to do nothing more than surf the Internet, just about any Linux distribution can make that happen. If you want to do software development, there are distributions that have that as a more definite focus. If you want to do basic office operations such as word processing, spreadsheets and databases, most distributions come ready to go for that purpose.

Beyond that, it pays to know what resides inside that box sitting next to, under or on top of your desk. There are some hardware devices that are well supported, no matter which distribution you choose. There are others that are barely supported by any distribution. Most distribution web sites will have a list of supported hardware. Some don't. While, in general, if Windows supports it, so does Linux, know that few, if any, hardware manufacturers include Linux drivers with that new widget you are intending to install in your machine.

The closer your device is to bleeding edge, ie really, REALLY new, the less likely you are going to find a Linux driver for said device right off the bat. If you wait a few months, someone will come along and hack a Linux driver for it. Find out if the card or device you want to use is supported by your Linux distribution before you buy. Save yourself a really big headache!

The devil is in the details...

...and the details are in English, or at least the words look English (sometimes). That somewhat cryptic message simply means that the details of your Linux distribution aren't usually in the compiled binary files that come on the install CD. They are usually contained in the numerous text files salted around the confusing directory tree that Linux creates when it sets up. From .rc (start up) files to .conf (configuration) files, to script files, you are more likely to run into problems with your Linux distribution from a badly-written or corrupted text file than you are from a bad binary.

To be sure, there are bugs in the binaries. There are buggy binary files abounding in every operating system and program, no matter what the platform. The thing about Linux is they tend to stick around a bit longer. This is because Linux is decentralized. Eventually, the bigger bugs get worked out. Still, the biggest bugs in Linux are contained in the above-mentioned text files.

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Harpist, unemployed blue collar worker, and Bush basher living deep in the heart of Texas.
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