OS still not quite ready for prime time yet
by Alan Zisman (c) 2004 First
published in Business
#784, November 2-8, 2004; High Tech Office column
While virus, spyware, and other attacks have increased in frequency
(500% more virus varieties released so far in 2004 than during the same
period in 2003), users of Macintosh and Linux-powered computers have
been quietly laughing up their sleeves; there are currently zero, count
‘em, zero viruses and spyware varieties out and about aimed
Not that it’s impossible to infect these computers but the
settings for both the Mac OS and Linux make it harder to do. And with
their smaller market shares, malware creators know they’ll
get far more
bang for their buck going after the vast majority of Windows users.
And while switching computer systems is time-consuming and stressful,
so is continual vigilance against the nasty stuff aimed at Windows, to
say nothing of the stress and time consumed in dealing with systems
that have been taken down by virus or spyware infection.
Early in October, telecommunications giant AT&T
reported that it was
looking at both Macintosh and Linux as potential replacements for the
company’s tens of thousands of Windows PCs.
Linux is increasingly used to power network and Internet servers, but
it hasn’t gained a strong presence as a desktop operating
Several big-name vendors have tried marketing PCs with Linux
pre-installed without finding enough sales for them to continue. Even
in developing countries, where Linux’s low cost would seem an
attraction, Gartner Group in September estimated that in these
countries on computers with pre-installed Linux, it is removed and
replaced with pirated Windows copies about 80% of the time.
Every year or so, I give Linux a try, installing an up-to-date version
to see if it’s something I could be happy to use on my
desktop. I’m not
a Linux or Unix expert by any means, but I’m willing to spend
exploring and fiddling.
This time around, I downloaded the latest version of Mandrake Linux (www.mandrakelinux.com
comes in a wide range of so-called distributions, often freely
downloadable. Mandrake 10 downloads as image files that are used to
create a set of three CDs.
I installed it on a year-old Dell laptop; I removed the hard drive
holding the laptop’s Windows system, installing Linux onto an
drive. Installation was fast and easy, no more complex than installing
Windows. When installing Linux in the past I had problems with it
recognizing some of the hardware; the video hardware, or the network
adapter, or most often, the sound card didn’t work. This time
Mandrake got everything right; after installation, it booted up with
everything in order.
By default, most Linux installations boot to a desktop that looks
pretty familiar to Windows users: there’s a start menu, a
desktop wallpaper and screen savers. Linux distributions include a wide
variety of additional software as well; office suites, graphics
software, much more that comes with Windows.
While the Mandrake installation included several web browsers, I wanted
to try out Mozilla
Firefox; I’ve been
recommending that browser for Windows users. It was easy to download
the Linux version, and it ran without problem after installation. But
after shutting it down, I couldn’t find an icon to restart
searched the drive looking for the installed program, without success.
I’m sure it’s there somewhere; I know I’m
Linux-challenged. And I’m
sure that the helpful people at the Vancouver Linux User Group (www.vanlug.bc.ca
pointed me in the right direction without making me feel too stupid.
But if I can’t install a program and then be able to figure
out how to
start it up, Linux and I are not yet ready for each other.
Linux is far more polished than when I first started looking at it;
many users may find that it meets their needs already. I’m
virus and spyware-free by doing most of my work on a Mac;
Linux another try in a year or so.