NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, February 2012
The Other Side of the Street
By Bill Hart,
Member, The PCUG of Connecticut
March 2011 issue, The Program
adrabinowitz (at) ieee.org (click to email author)

When IBM and Microsoft first released OS/2 in the late 1980s I was keen to try it, and even signed up as a Beta tester. I really wanted to be able to run more than one application at a time, and this seemed to offer a chance.

OS/2 could be described as a GUI-based system supporting any number of virtual machines. Open an application and you opened a virtual machine to run it. It accepted both DOS and Windows 3.0 applications. At last I could run more than one application at a time on one machine; I could run long-running simulation runs in one virtual machine while sending and receiving messages and writing documents in two others, Fantastic!

And then Microsoft, who had left the project, struck in their inimitable way. Windows 3.1 subtly changed the interfaces needed for applications to talk to Windows, so when OS/2 users tried to run the new Windows apps they failed – until IBM was able to catch up. Redmond is still doing this; they have not accepted internationally-agreed document formats, but have invented their own, ignoring the rest of the world. Windows Office apps like Excel or Word will still not accept those formats, and Windows does not recognize any other disk format than those developed by TBOR (The Beast Of Redmond).

So I just LOVE Micros**t (supply your own two letters). When OS/2 faded I looked around for a substitute that was not from Redmond – and chose Linux.

Linux is also fantastic, though, being derived from UNIX (so to speak), it has a somewhat different philosophy from OS/2 or DOS. But I can run many applications at once, as I did with OS/2. AND it has a feature that the miser in me loves – it is free. You can download applications without charge; you can, if you are Guru enough, download the source code for applications and modify them to fit your own needs.

Another nice thing: Linux applications used on the Internet are safer than Windows ones. Steve Gibson of Gibson Research Corporation, makers of SpinRite http://www.grc.com -- take a look) many years ago fell afoul of a hacker who didn't like something he had said and retaliated by putting a "Denial of Service" attack on his site. (That's when you visit a site with an invalid request which takes time to analyze, but you do it so often so quickly that the site is overwhelmed.) During his (successful) exploration to find the perpetrator he discovered that Windows leaves all the ports on the computer CPU open by default -- which is why you need something like ZoneAlarm or some other firewall-type product to keep you safe. When he told Redmond about it they just shrugged their shoulders and said they knew, but it didn't matter.

Linux only opens to the outside world those ports on the CPU which are absolutely essential. So I rarely use Windows to surf the Web any more. I said “so far” because I suppose hackers would be more likely to work at attacking Linux if more people were using it. It’s much easier to go after Windows users, who are the vast majority.

There are many varieties of Linux. I usually run OpenSuSE on my desktop. A lot of people like Ubuntu. I have tried it more than once, but it has yet to recognize the Wi-Fi equipment built into my laptop. I finally settled on a variety called PCLinuxOS. (http://www.grc.com). Go to download it, and you are immediately faced with another decision: there are many varieties of desktop available.

Like, say, Windows 95, Linux runs a GUI on top of a basic DOS-type machine. And this means that a number of people, having different ideas of what constitutes a really nice GUI, have made, and offer, their own designs. The two most used are probably KDE and Gnome, but there are, as you can see on the PCLinux site, several others, and you can read a description of each before you choose. But if you want to start somewhere familiar, probably the best to start with is the KDE desktop. It is most like Windows in its appearance and behavior. Its descriptive page on the website says of it:


Kernel kernel for maximum desktop performance
Full KDE 4.5.4 Desktop
Nvidia and ATI fglrx driver support
Multimedia playback support for many popular formats
Wireless support for many network devices
Printer support for many local and networked printer devices
Addlocale allows you to convert PCLinuxOS into over 60 languages
GetOpenOffice can install Open Office supporting over 100 languages
MyLiveCD allows you to take a snapshot of your installation and burn it to a LiveCD/DVD
PCLinuxOS-liveusb – allows you to install PCLinuxOS on a USB key disk


Sounds a pretty good deal, despite some of the Version Number flack. "Kernel" is the basic Linux system on which this version of PCLinuxOS is founded, "KDE", of course, are supplying the GUI portion and GetOpenOffice will add the free Office Suite to your system. Well worth the price! Anyway, you can experiment if you wish. Download more than one. But make sure they are described as 'LIVE CD'. Those will run entirely from the CD without disturbing your hard disks at all.

Each will come as an ISO file -- a CD image which you can burn with Nero or Roxio or whatever you have. You will end with a bootable CD. Insert it in your drive and reboot the computer. It will provide you with a menu of choices of which the top one is usually the one to pick and the bottom is probably 'boot from the hard disk", which will allow you to chicken out if you wish.

And now you are running Linux, without having disturbed anything on your present computer. Reboot and remove the CD, or choose the "Hard Disk" option, and you are back to Redmond's product. But I hope that you will have found, if you explore a bit before doing that, that you have a wide range of applications -- an Office Suite, Multimedia players, editors, a few games, and Internet applications like Firefox. Try Firefox and you should find that your Web connection has been recognized and you are able to surf -- without bothering about special software to keep you safe from Hacker Harm.

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