Now for something completely different

To pick up from where I left off last time.
There at last I was experiencing my first joy in Linux. I had choices. Instead of just the one look that Microsoft provides for Windows. Or the one choice that Apple provides for OS X. Linux lets you choose if things looks like Microsoft Windows, Mac OS or something entirely different.

In Linux when you decide you don't want to run just a plain text terminal and you want to run with graphics. That brings you into the world of X. For Microsoft they call it Windows. In linux it is called "X". The X server provides a very basic graphic display and handles the mouse and keyboard stuff.

The X graphics are very primitive. The buttons and window borders are clunky. Things look like a beta for Windows 3.1. The nice thing about pure X apps is they run on about any Linux setup you can imagine. To get more advanced looking dialogs, buttons, menus and such, a graphic toolkit is used that provides a cleaner look. The downside is the library has to be installed on the computer for it to work.

If you used every graphic tool kit ever made, it would be hard to keep up. In reality, only a few have ever mattered. There is gtk, the Gimp Tool Kit. Originally written for a program called GIMP. gtk was an easy tool kit to use to give Linux programs a good look. After GTK, there is GTK2, the newer gimp tool kit.

Most people expect a modern computer to provide a WIMPy environment. Winodws, Icons, Menus and Pointers (mouse). Microsoft provides that look for Windows. In Linux you can choose what programs provide that look. They come in two flavors, Window Managers and Desktop Enviroments.

The Window Manager (WM) is very simple. It provides the basics. Things like menus, a way to start programs, the boarder around programs, the title bar of programs. The way to switch between running programs. What the mouse does, what the keyboard does, shortcut keys, right clicks, left clicks, double clicks. All of this is provided by the Window Manager.

The Desktop Envirionment (DE) is Window Manager plus more. They do all that window mangers do. But they can also provide their own graphic tool kit. They can also provide servies for dealing with sound, video playback, networking and more.

With a Window Manager, they don't provide all the tools. For instance a window manager may not provide a taskbar that shows what programs are running. But since any plain X program or GTK program can run on any WM, there are dozens of task bars that you could use if a WM does not have one. Choice is the key word here. Do you want a transparent task bar? Do you want one that runs down the side of the screen or across the bottom? Do you want it to be able to hide? Do you want it to hide automatically or only when you click on it or press a certain key? No matter what it is you want, someone has probably written a taks bar that will do it that way.

So any standard Linux app will run with any Window manager. You have lots of choices in Window Managers. You have lots of choices in apps.

The Desktop Environments do it all. It may not be possible to replace the task bar. Because even if you can hide it. Other programs may not be able to take over the job. The DE wants to do it all. Also, because of the searvies that DE's provide. Like printing and sound. As well as the look and feel. Programs are written that only run on a particular DE. KDE programs need KDE to run, GNOME programs need GNOME to run. You can mix and match. I.E. You can run KDE and have GNOME on the computer but not use it as your DE. Then you can run both KDE and GNOME programs. But the same is true for the WM's. You can run KDE and GNOME apps with many WM's. You might loose a feature or two, but you can do it.

You can go to Window Managers for X to see what is out there. To cut to the chase. Most people run GNOME or KDE and there are holy wars about which one is better. So GNOME has 40% of the pie and KDE has 40% of the pie. The remaining 20% is made up of every thing else. XFCE, Enlightenment, Fluxbox, fvwm, AfterStep, IceWM, and many others.

My first day in Linux introduced me to both Gnome and KDE. After playing around with them for a few days. I settled on KDE, I just liked it better. Gnome had a cleaner look to it. But everything took up a bit more space. Eating up screen real estate I needed. In windows I always customized my envirnment to make working with it more natural for me. I found it easy to customize KDE to make it work like I worked in Windows.

Since that time. I have tried every major DE and WM out there. Where am I at now? I prefer KDE apps over most GNOME apps. When I want a small and fast app, I want something that is GTK2 or GTK. I like light and fast. so my choice of what I run for WM/DE is in this order: Fluxbox, XFCE4, KDE 3, Gnome, Enlightenment, and then KDE4.

I will justify my decision to run Fluxbox in my next post.


Walnut Creek CDs - My First Taste of Linux

With my fear of Palladiun firmly in place. Before Microsoft could embrace and extend into owning my computer. I thought I would give Linux a try. The local Goodwill provided me a copy of a book on Slackware Linux.. For $2.00 a CD, I ordered 5 CD's from Wallnut Creek. A copy of Slackware 3, Red Hat 3 and three other Linux's I can't recall.

It is so true that the Pioneers take the arrows. It was not pretty back in 1999 to install Linux. Of the 5 CD's, three of them would not install. The two that would were Slackware and Red Hat. I tried them both. After installing. What you end up with is a blinking command prompt asking you to log in.

There were no frills. Linux did not recoginze my sound card, or video card. I had to follow instructions to get a ppp dialup to my local internet provider. From there I was able to determine what video card and sound card I had. Then I had to download drivers for those cards. Compile the source code into binary drivers. Setup my system to use these drivers.

Which still left me at an ugly command prompt. To get pretty Windows 98 style graphics I had to be running X windows. This is the point where you really missed Microsoft. When you picked the correct video card for Windows. It would usually figure out the correct ammount of RAM that the card had, plus just work with whatever monitor you had hooked up to it. You picked a resolution the monitor would support and Windows knew just what to do.

Meanwhile Linux did not. Once I identifed my video card, I had to know how much RAM it had. Then for the monitor I had to know the horizontial and vertical frequencies for it, and the scan rate in mhz. If you guessed wrong you could blow out your monitor. What would happen for sure if you guessed wrong, is that you would not get a neat graphic display. You just ended up at that ugly command prompt.

Boot back to Windows, research some more. Reboot to Linux and filldle with the xconfiguration program again. Once I had sound and graphics I was still missing the scroll wheel. After a few days of googling, I had a solution to that one as well. Soon I had my scroll wheel. I was living large at last!

There at last I was experiencing my first joy in Linux. I had choices. Instead of just the one look that Microsoft provides for Windows. Or the one choice that Apple provides for OS X. Linux lets you choose if things looks like Microsoft Windows, Mac OS or something entirely different.


Lets Start at the beginning.

I think Lewis Carroll said it best in "Through the Looking Glass"
Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop.
Since so much of what I am going to cover is related to Linux. I thought I would start with why I started using Linux in the first place. Sherman, fire up the wayback machine and set it for 1999.

In 1999 Microsoft had announced there .NET initiative. No, that is not .NET the programming environment of C#. Back then Microsoft did not have a well defined image of what .NET was. It was a cool name. It was also an agenda that they really wanted to keep below the radar...Software as a Service.

Part of the .NET dream back then was a steady monthly revenue stream coming into Microsoft. Instead of someone buying Microsoft Office for $250.00, and then running it for 5 years because they feel no need to upgrade. The idea of $10 a month as a rental sounds better. 10 x 12 = 120 per year. 120 x 5 = 600.

So Microsoft had decided that it wanted to shift from OS and Office software sales. To software rentals. So part of .NET was the idea of Microsoft shifting to all of your software being downloaded from the server to your computer to run. With all of your data stored on their servers. You pay a monthly fee.

This would also mean if you did not pay, you had no data or software. If they made a billing mistake, they had your data and software. In a world where Microsoft software for rent is the only thing going. There is no choice in what programs you run. No chance of getting missing features. No competition. Plus they can look at your data and decide what you can do with it.

Yes, that may be the vision of what .NET/Palladium could look like if Microsoft got everything they wanted. If they got fat and lazy and just expected to take in money, exploit end users and provide as little in return as possible. It would be more likely that things would not go to such extremes.

Where we are in 2008 is Microsoft sucking at renting out software. They have just pulled their paid for anti-virus product. They had a rental version of Office that came out in July and that has already been discontinued. The last 9 years have not been kind to Microsoft. They are not trusted by the average user like they were then. Maybe to many security exploits and lots of spyware.

Now it looks like they will never perfect renting out software. Back in 1999, if you were in the know you knew Microsoft often got their way. You could see the possibility of it being their computer and their data. Instead of your computer and your data.

So I was looking for a way of escape......

Macintosh's were to much money. My way to computer freedom had to be at a more affordable price. I knew what an OS was. With being on the Internet. I kept hearing about this "Linux" OS that ran lots of things on the Internet. So it looked like it would be worth checking out.

Then when I found out the price on Linux was free. You could download it and run it at no charge. Well, lets just say it kept getting better and better looking. I had gotten a book on Linux at a used store. It was centered around Slackware linux and what it was like in 1996 or 1997. Somehow I ordered 4 or 5 different Linux's from Wallnut Creek at $2.00 a CD. I was going to take the plunge and install Linux.

What happend next was not something I expected. But that is another blog entry....