Monday, April 28, 2008

Some observations ...

Recently, my trusty old WinXP installation on my even trustier Sony Vaio laptop went South. The NTFS file system crashed. At first, I thought the hard drive had given up the ghost. In fact, I was so convinced that the hard drive was bad that I ordered a new hard drive for the computer. But it turned out that the file system had become corrupt. My, oh my! What about all the files I had yet to archive and back up?! (Yes, I routinely back up my important files and photos ... and so should you!) And all of this happened with NO warning whatsoever!

I put in my WinXP installation disk (commercial copy, not one of those recovery disks that comes with your computer), and managed to run chkdsk.exe in an attempt to clean up the errant file system. I had hoped that merely running the chkdsk program to clean up the bad, bad file system would allow me to again boot my computer, that was not to be so. The computer remained "un-bootable."

Having ventured into the land of Linux (as you know from my previous blog entries), I decided to use my PCLinuxOS 2007 Live CD to boot my laptop and see what I could do from there. The forums are full of stories of how others were able to use their Live CD to resurrect lost files, if not the operating system itself. I was initially skeptical that this would yield any appreciable results. But not only did PCLinuxOS boot my laptop, but even from the Live CD the computer sprang to life and ran faster than it ever did! Plus, PCLinuxOS allowed me to access my previously lost files on the Windows disk. Using a SD memory card reader, I was able to transfer all the files of importance to me, 2 GB at a time, and move them to my 500 GB external hard drive (attached to another Linux computer in the house). And, before you say anything ... yes, it might have been easier to simply hook up the external hard drive to the laptop, but because it is formated with NTFS, PCLinuxOS was not able to write to that drive from the Live CD. So my only other choice was to use some form of a USB drive to move the files. Hey, I was happy to at least have access to my files!

In the course of moving these files, I discovered how fantastically well my laptop ran with PCLinuxOS. As my previous work with PCLinuxOS had demonstrated, everything about my laptop was immediately recognized and properly set up. Joyously, I even had wireless internet access ... and it was set up with a minimum of effort on my part!

Afterwards, I figured since I had a new (and larger) hard drive on the way, and since the Windows installation was toast, I was going to have to reformat the hard drive and re-install whatever operating system I chose to go with. So once I got done saving my files, I hit the "Install" icon on the PCLinuxOS Live CD desktop and reformatted the "old" hard drive to use only PCLinuxOS. The installation of PCLinuxOS took only about 20 minutes, and after applying all the updates from the repository, less than an hour had elapsed.

PCLinuxOS literally hummed and sang on this laptop! Under the previous Windows XP installation, WinXP would routinely "thrash" my hard drive for no apparent reason. It would just sit there and have all kinds of hard drive activity, even at times when I was doing nothing on the computer. One of the first things I noticed was that under PCLinuxOS, the hard drive light scarcely came on ... regardless of what I was doing!

Finally, my ordered hard drive came, but it was DOA. I sent it back, and while waiting on the replacement to arrive, hummed along with PCLinuxOS without any of the usual problems I was accustomed to under Windows, but also at a greater speed. I had already made up my mind. Since the new hard drive was more than twice the storage size of the older one, I was going to "dual boot" the laptop with Windows XP and PCLinuxOS.

When the replacement arrived (Whew! The new replacement worked perfectly), I used GPartEd Partition Editor to partition the new hard drive into two fairly equally sized partitions. GPartEd made this exceptionally easy, especially since this is what it is designed for. I attempted to install Windows XP Pro on the Windows partition. It was successful, in that it ran, but unsuccessful from the stand point that not all of my hardware was properly installed. And, due to procrastination, I never got around to creating the Vaio Recovery Disks, as I should have done when I initially got the laptop. And the crash of the file system also took the Recovery Partition right along with it, so those could not be accessed any longer. I ordered the Recovery Disks from Sony (bravo to you Sony ... I had those in only two days!), then proceeded to install PCLinuxOS on the remaining partition. Installation of PCLinuxOS went totally without a hitch, and once again, all my laptop hardware and features were properly recognized and set up, with scarcely any input from me. The installation of PCLinuxOS was sooooooooo much easier than the installation of Windows XP! And the total time of installation was, again, less than one hour from installation to applying the updates from the PCLinuxOS Repositories.

Once the Recovery Disks arrived from Sony, I proceeded to finish a "proper" Windows XP re-installation from the Recovery Disks. After about an hour to an hour and a half of repeatedly swapping Disc 1 with Disc 2 and constantly rebooting the laptop, Windows was finally re-installed and all my laptop hardware was finally working. Then, Windows spent the next four (4!) hours applying all the updates from Windows Update. One thing that I stood out during this process was that 90% to 95% of those updates were "Security Updates" to plug security holes in Windows XP. As soon as one round of updates were complete, it would come up with more updates to apply. I have never experienced anything like this with PCLinuxOS.

Since installation of the new hard drive, and the subsequent installation of both operating systems, I've spent most of my time (including the time writing this blog entry) under PCLinuxOS. I've only booted to the Windows partition a few times, mostly to finish setting things up or to try out a new piece of freeware. This laptop runs so well under PCLinuxOS that I have yet to find much reason for booting to Windows XP. Most of the programs that I routinely run under Windows XP, have counterparts under PCLinuxOS that usually do the job just as well and just as easily ... and sometimes even easier!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Microsoft Threatens FREE Linux

Having browsed the Linux forums and news items, it's quite disturbing that Microsoft is threatening the free Linux community ... with patent infringements!

How absurd! Microsoft claims to have something like 250+ patents on things in Windows that it claims that Linux is violating. Microsoft's claim is that the similarities between Windows and Linux infringe on those patents and Microsoft's "intellectual property rights." Never mind that Microsoft, themselves, has stolen many of it's "ideas" from Apple.

Imagine if Henry Ford had applied for, and was granted, a patent on a round steering wheel. Would that mean that no other car manufacturer could have a round steering wheel? What if he applied for, and was granted, a patent based on the layout of the dashboard and instrument panel? Would that mean that no other car maker could have similar arrangements? I think you can see what I mean when I say that Microsoft's assertions are absurd.

Just because you have an "idea" on how to do something, that doesn't mean that you are the ONLY person to have ever had that idea ... although that idea may be new to you. But that in no way doesn't, and shouldn't, stifle the creative expressionism of others who have a similar idea. And that "idea" should be no more protected by "patents" than the other guy's, just because you have the money and the army of lawyers to throw at it and the other guy does not. Should you expect to have to pay royalties/licensing fees to the first guy (or his heirs) who came up with the basic design of a chair every time you buy a new chair? What if someone who had never seen a chair comes up with a similar and functional design?

The reason Microsoft is coming out with these assertions is because it feels threatened by the current Linux offerings. Their release of Vista has been a TOTAL flop, as in not even coming close to living up to initial expectations. That has sent a hoard of users unhappy with the latest Redmond offering out to seek other alternatives. Linux is one such alternative for those users. And Microsoft, who must certainly be feeling the pinch, is looking for a way to still profit from the mass exodus of users from the Windows camp by attacking the FOSS (free operating system and software) community, to which those disenchanted Windows users are heading.

Here's my advice to Microsoft ... put out a product that actually works, without all the security holes, without all the malware, without all the virus attacks ... and people will beat a path to your door. Right now, those people are beating a path to Linux's door, because it offers all of that and more. Use the market place, in a fair and competitive manner (hey, new concept for you guys in Redmond!), to offer a better product that meets the needs and expectations of your customer. Do NOT, however, use slimy lawyers and hide behind absurd "patents" and other legal maneuvering to maintain your market share. Come up with an operating system that works on the vast amount of computer hardware already out there, instead of forcing computer users to purchase new systems, printers, accessories, and the such. Linux offers this! Get out of bed with the hardware manufacturers and focus on what you should be doing ... and that is offering a stable, safe computer operating system.

Competition should exist on a level playing field, not on a field made slippery with slimy lawyers and all their legal wrangling. He with the better product wins!

A "Flavor" of Linux That ... well ... WORKS!

Those who read my blog, know by now that I've been trying out the Linux operating system on some of my computers at home. First, let me start off saying that there are many "flavors" of Linux out there; they are called Linux distros (short for distributions). And the vast majority of them are FREE for the download. And each one of those "distros" have varying degrees of what I call finish and polish.

Ten years ago, when I first tried Linux -- RedHat Linux 5.2, to be precise -- Linux was relegated to an even smaller user base. It was perceived as a text-based, DOS-like operating system. It was a "tool" used by academia and geeks. It had a young, meager, and not-so-polished graphical interface, called X-Windows. While a step in the right direction, there just wasn't much you could do with it, aside from the specialized tasks that programmers and system designers allowed you to do. For instance, the hospital where I worked around the same time had a bedside charting system, all built on top of X-Windows.

And, at that time, DOS was on it's way out as an operating system, having been supplanted by Windows 95 and Windows 98, due to DOS's limitations and lack of an intuitive way for the user to interact with the computer. Text-based operating systems were on their way out, and the graphical GUI was in. Bad news for Linux, since it was still perceived as a text-based operating system, with fledgling and incomplete efforts to supply a graphical interface via X-Windows. Some people, including myself, saw X-Windows as an imitation of MS-Windows to give Linux some appeal to an ever-growing MS-Windows user base.

Fast forward 10 years, and Linux has matured. It is no longer perceived as a text-based operating system. In fact, many of the Linux distros are known by the graphical user interface they employ, along with the "whistles and bells" they supply. This is the world in which Ubuntu, Kubuntu, and Xubuntu exist.

The Linux community does not court MS-Windows users. They do not wish to force Linux down the throats of MS-Windows users. But they do welcome MS-Windows, who are exploring Linux for the first time as a Windows alternative, with welcome and open arms. To say that they are a friendly and helpful lot would be a serious understatement. No, the Linux community sits back and comfortably wait for Windows users to come to them. And come to them they do, in ever-increasing numbers, as the Windows users are faced with an increasing barrage of viruses, malware, and software failures. The Windows users get to a point that they want to see what other alternatives are out there. I am a member of that exodus.

Initially, my second foray into Linux started with Ubuntu. But the GNOME desktop environment felt foreign and unfinished to me. Then I discovered Kubuntu, built around the KDE desktop. Now this felt much more familiar to me -- an old Windows workhorse -- and seemed to have a bit more of a finished and polished feel to it. But then things just started to break under Kubuntu. Things that would work during one computer session would suddenly and inexplicably stop working in the next. Now, I'm not trying to "bash" any particular Linux distro, but things inexplicably breaking does not make for a smooth transition. And it doesn't help Linux's position as a replacement for Windows when users are facing similar problems that they are fleeing.

I, however, was not going to be deterred. I kept looking at the various "flavors" of Linux that were (and are) available. In my searching, I found occasional mention of one smaller Linux distro. Every person talked about how "it just works." And with having endured Kubuntu's "breaking" for no good reason, I had to take a look. And this is the reason for this blog entry.

That Linux distro is called PCLinuxOS 2007. "Born" as an off-shoot of Mandriva Linux, PCLinuxOS 2007 does exactly what all those forum posters say it does ... "it just works." Finally! I have found a Linux distro that works the way I do, that doesn't break for inexplicable reasons, and that has all the finish and polish of any commercially offered operating system. And all of this was discovered from just the LiveCD ... a version where you can run the entire operating system right from a CD in your CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive. WOW!

Back in the day, Texstar (the nickname of the guy who put together this "special" version of Mandriva Linux) was putting together a version of Mandriva that "just worked." Quite a few Mandriva users were cruising over to his site to download the latest package that he had put together. Before long, PCLinuxOS was spun off to become it's own "flavor" of Linux, with a loyal following. (At least, this is what I've understood from all I've read about Texstar's birthing of PCLinuxOS.)

Today, Texstar is still intimately involved with the maintenance and improvement of PCLinuxOS, along with a close-knit group of testers and programmers. Every program that goes into the repository is closely scrutinized, to insure that it works without failure and works without breaking other components of the installation. Thus, while the repository of programs available for PCLinuxOS isn't as vast as the Ubuntu (and related) repository, there also isn't the worry that installing one program will inexplicably break three others. The latter seems to be what's happening with the Ubuntu-related distros.

The Ubuntu-related distros seem to be more interested in meeting a self-imposed "deadline" to put out a new version every six months. This doesn't allow for proper or adequate testing to be sure that everything in the repository behaves and can co-exist peaceably. PCLinuxOS doesn't have such an ambitious release schedule. Instead, updates just "come as they are ready," and not before. The old adage that "too many cooks spoil the soup" seems to be what's happening to the Ubuntu-related distros, as there doesn't seem to be strong leadership driving the distro ... just the money of a rich guy and a much-too-loosely-organized set of stewards.

PCLinuxOS's slogan is "Radically Simple." For me, it should be "It Just Works." I can attest that PCLinuxOS works, and it works exceptionally well, with a high level of finish and polish. This makes a transition from the bastions of the MS-Windows world to the promise of the Linux world much less painful.

New Linux users, attempting to transition from Windows to the Linux community, rightfully expect any new replacement to work at least as well as what they are attempting to leave behind. They don't really like having to jump through hoops and to crawl through uncharted trenches just to get basic computer hardware up and running. Many Windows users are just that -- users who just want to get various tasks done. Many do not have a "geek-ish" understanding of how their computer works. Most can't differentiate between DDR-RAM and a hard drive (it's surprising how many people equate the two!). Their expectation level is to simply turn on the computer and be able to complete the task they set out to do.

PCLinuxOS accomplishes that. PCLinuxOS works at least as well as what Windows users are seeking to leave behind -- and often performs better! (I recently installed PCLinuxOS on my Sony Vaio laptop (Intel Centrino 1.6 GHz, 1 GB Memory, 60 GB hard drive, DVD-RW), after my copy of WinXP became corrupt, due to a corruption in the NTFS file system. That computer runs faster and better under PCLinuxOS than it ever did on the first day I got it with WinXP pre-installed. In fact, I was able to use the PCLinuxOS LiveCD to recover my files from the failed WinXP installation!)

The computer I spend perhaps the most time on with PCLinuxOS is a 7 or 8 year old, refurbished, IBM T23 ThinkPad, with a Pentium III 1.13 GHz processor, 512 MB of memory, a 30 GB hard drive, and a DVD-RW. And this laptop runs faster than many of the new laptops on the market with Windows Vista pre-installed ... or WinXP for that matter! I initially ran both Windows XP Pro and PCLinuxOS (as a dual-boot system). But I rarely, if ever, used WinXP, because everything I needed to get done I could do in PCLinuxOS. So I reformatted the hard drive with ONLY PCLinuxOS installed, and I have never looked back. So far, I have yet to miss Windows and I am able to accomplish virtually anything I want using PCLinuxOS. Now THAT is what I'm talking about! So PCLinuxOS has breathed new life into this older, no-longer-cutting-edge-state-of-the-art laptop. If PCLinuxOS can do that, and make everything work as it should, imagine what it can do with your more modern equipment!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Linux Update ... Putting on a new face!

My Linux experience just got a face lift ... literally! In my learning curve with Linux Ubuntu, I did encounter some problems -- failed installations, a corrupted "mysql 5.0" file, and tons of stuff littering my hard drive. And I didn't have the first clue of what was safe to remove and what wasn't. So I "bit the bullet" and wiped my Ubuntu installation off ... by installing Kubuntu. I kept hearing and reading that Kubuntu was much more "Windows-like." So I had to give it a try.

Yes, it's still Ubuntu ... but Ubuntu with the KDE desktop manager, instead of the Gnome desktop manager. This is even better than my previous experience with the Gnome version. The Gnome desktop environment is more closely related to the X-Windows Linux environment, while the KDE desktop environment is MUCH more like MS Windows. For me, a long time MS Windows user, the KDE desktop environment makes even more sense. I don't have to "un-learn" all my MS Windows habits/skills. Instead, they are handy and useful in the KDE desktop environment.

Kubuntu has a place, similar to MS Windows Control Panel, where you go to make all your system changes and to control how your devices behave. The "Adept Package Manager" is much easier to understand and use (this is the place you go to Add/Remove Programs in Kubuntu). So far, I have yet to experience a failed installation of a software package. This wasn't the case on the Gnome desktop environment of Ubuntu, where I had quite a few failed software installation failures that left a TON of orphaned files littering my hard drive.

As I expected, from my experience installing Ubuntu, the Kubuntu installation went equally smooth. All my hardware ... yes, even my "Made for Windows" legacy TV Tuner card ... was properly recognized and set up. As before, it took a little work to get DVD playback working on Kubuntu. But I have found out why DVD playback isn't installed by default in any version of Ubuntu -- it has something to do with intellectual property rights and the risk of being held liable as a party to possible copyright infringements. Whatever! There should be an option during the installation process to make it easier to enable DVD playback for those of us who want it.

Overall, I think you will thoroughly enjoy the Kubuntu experience. You will hardly notice that you are NOT running MS Windows. You will probably want to install Firefox after you get Kubuntu up and running (no, it's not installed by default). But "out-of-the-box," Kubuntu comes installed with software to play CDs and MP3s, graphic software (GIMP ... the "PhotoShop" of Linux), OpenOffice 2.3 (the freeware, cross-platform office suite that competes in every respect with MS Office), photo management software, chat software, and a whole host of other equivalent programs you commonly use in MS Windows.

And, just like the Ubuntu 7.10 installation, Kubuntu also runs from a "Live CD," where you can try it out from the CD without having to fully commit to it by installing it on your hard drive. So give it a try! All you have to lose is the time spent downloading the Live CD image file!


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ubuntu Linux Update: Two Weeks Later ... (Or what Linux still needs)

OK ... I've been running the Ubuntu "distro" of Linux for about two weeks now. How happy am I? Well, probably the best indication comes in the fact that I now usually prefer to do most of my computer work from the computer running Ubuntu. Many, many things "just make sense" with the way that Ubuntu handles your "work path" and work environment. But then I've found some things that just don't make sense, given the nature of the OS ... that is, being open source and all the folks out there writing applications for the various Linux distributions.

  • Wireless Networking: Admittedly, part of the problem for this lies with the manufacturers of the wireless network adapters - particularly the USB variety (which are the ones I have). One thing that MS Windows has gotten people used to is the friendly "Plug-N-Play" environment that it offers with USB peripherals. And most USB peripherals work just fine under Linux - except wireless network adapters. In fact, my new Lacie 500 GB external hard drive was immediately recognized and usable from the moment I plugged it in. But it seems that the issue surrounding the USB wireless network adapters is that the manufacturers of these devices get them working via proprietary methods, and do so without a real standard in place -- and they refuse to release the information on those proprietary methods to the Linux community. Nonetheless, with the vast numbers of people working on open source solutions, there are surprisingly few choices for getting USB wireless network adapters working with Ubuntu Linux. And perhaps part of this problem lies in the widely different configurations that are the result of 1) all the different hardware configurations that are possible given the LARGE numbers of different pieces of PC hardware (sound cards, video cards, network adapters, mother boards, CD/DVD drives, etc.), and 2) that users are FREE to configure their systems however they want, installing/uninstalling "services" they either don't want or need. Couple this with the number of different Linux distributions available, each slightly (or significantly) different from the other, and you end up with USB network adapters that work on some Linux distributions and not others. Simply put, there needs to be better support for "Plug-N-Play" wireless network adapters before more of the mainstream computer users will be willing to make the jump from Windows to Ubuntu Linux. For me, I gave up on getting the wireless network adapters up and running, and opted for a hardwired LAN connection -- and gained all the benefits that a hardwired LAN network gives you (primarily, a more dependable, faster LAN connection).

  • Multimedia: Granted, there is quite a bit of multimedia support built into Ubuntu Linux. I can play audio CDs, MP3 files, and even watch TV through my old, "built for Windows" tv tuner card. DVD playback wasn't available to me at first, but I was able to get that running after only an hour of tinkering. But what is sorely lacking are any viable, simple PVR applications. It doesn't seem that it would be all that difficult to write an application to capture the video stream that is being sent to the screen through my TV viewing application, TV Time. And since the source code for TV Time is open source, and since the format specifications are well established for MPEG-1, MPEG-2, and the AVI file container, how difficult would/could it be to use TV Time as the basis for a simple PVR? But the PVR applications that exist for Linux first of all rely on proper setup of an SQL database. WTF? I just want to record video ... not set up a freaking SQL database!!! Sure, there is MythTV, Mythbuntu (a distro of Ubuntu Linux built around MythTV), and Freevo. But I am unable to use either of these, because somehow and some way, my SQL database has become corrupt. The hell if I know what happened to it! I'm completely in the dark when it comes to SQL-type stuff. I've never worked with it before, and in fact, have gone to lengths to avoid it due to it's perceived complexity.

    Also lacking is a good, easy to use video editing package. This, of course, would go hand-in-hand with a good PVR package that really worked. Users of the PVR package will/would/should/could expect to be able to use a frame-based editing package (like VideoReDo in Windows) to edit out commercials and other unwanted data before burning them to Video CD or DVD. The Linux community must address this serious oversight and pale application support area before more users migrate to any version or distro of Linux -- including Ubuntu.

  • Application Removal: In MS Windows, it is fairly easy to remove unwanted or unneeded programs/applications with the "Software Removal Tools." Not so in Linux. I can't begin to count how many times I've installed or attempted to install programs that either didn't install completely or that didn't work on my copy of Ubuntu. There is the program called "KleanSweep," but you use it at your own risk -- and with the warning that if you delete the wrong libraries, your entire installation of Ubuntu could be rendered maimed, crippled, or even DEAD. Great news, I thought to myself, as quickly exited that program to never return. I would love to reclaim the wasted disk space from all the failed installations and all the installations that would never "run as advertised," but NOT at the expense of rendering my entire Ubuntu installation useless. I spent considerable time getting things running like I wanted, and don't want to have to re-invest that time again. In MS Windows, it's relatively easy to "uninstall" programs and reclaim the lost HD space for better, more relevant uses. MS Windows users looking to migrate to Ubuntu are going to expect this behavior, just as I do, as a long-time Windows user. Until then, Linux will not attract mainstream Windows users.
Of course, there are some features of Ubuntu Linux that I use that I definitely wonder how I ever did without. First on that list are the multiple desktop work spaces. Currently, I'm running TV Time in one desktop workspace, and Mozilla Firefox in another, with a third one empty and available for other use. And what is so wonderful about the desktop work spaces is that you can configure how many work spaces you want. Initially, Ubuntu gives you two. But you can specify how many you want Ubuntu to manage. Three works out well for me, but I also have the option, on the fly, to set up additional work spaces as I need.

There are other features of Ubuntu Linux that I also love ... but I'll talk about the later, in another post. Do I still think that Ubuntu Linux is a viable alternative to MS Windows? ABSOLUTELY! And I believe that it will only get better, as it continues to evolve and more and more mainstream computer users make the jump from MS Windows to Ubuntu Linux. The more users that make the jump, the larger the Linux user-base will become, and they will bring with them their particular skills (and demands), which will keep Ubuntu Linux a fresh and exciting platform.

- Paul Arnote

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Goodbye, Microsoft Monopoly???

I've been a "die-hard" Microsoft Windows user for many, many years, starting with Windows 3.1. I "graduated" to Windows 3.11 for Workgroups, Windows 95 (beta tester), Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows 2000, then Windows XP (Home & Professional, original, SP1, and SP2). In fact, I "got into" teaching by teaching a Windows 3.1 class for a local school district's Adult Continuing Education program. For me, nothing else was much of an option since nothing else had achieved the market penetration of Microsoft Windows in it's various incarnations.

Now, that is starting to change (are you listening in Redmond?). Faced with the eternal and never-ending updates, "planned obsolescence," security issues, viruses (and increasing costs of defending against them), and shelling out $300 every four - five - six years for a new operating system -- and perhaps even a new computer to handle the new operating system with it's ever-increasing hardware requirements -- I decided it was time to look around and see if something else might exist that I was possibly missing on the landscape. I'm not about to pour another wad of money into Bill Gates pockets. I've done enough of that over the years.

As I started looking around, one possibility kept being mentioned ... Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon, a Debian-based Linux operating system. I had tried Linux (specifically, Red Hat Linux, purchased from the evil-empire of Best Buy for $59) several years ago on an old 486-DX100 with an 800 MB HD, 256 MB of memory, and a CD-ROM drive. It just wouldn't run "as advertised," and I decided then that Linux just wasn't "ready for prime time," even though the Red Hat box stated that I had more than met the hardware requirements. So now, almost 8 years later, I thought perhaps it was time to give it a second look.

Guess what? I've been way more than satisfied with Linux this time around. I've been literally blown away! Here's a run down of what I've discovered in the little-more-than-a-week use of Ubuntu.

  • Live CD: you can download a "Live CD" version of Ubuntu. Simply download the 695 MB disc image and burn it to a CD. Pop it in and start it up from right inside Windows. Within a very short time, you can run Ubuntu straight from the CD to see how you like it. I actually like this idea. If you don't like it, there is no commitment, and no having to uninstall one OS to try another, then having to undo it all if you don't like it.

  • Stability: This thing is STABLE. Granted, over the years, Microsoft has greatly improved the stability of the Windows OS's, but is constantly plagued by security holes and issues, and is the target of an endless stream of viruses and other malicious software ... so much so, that they have come out with a "Malicious Software Removal Tool" that gets installed with the IE7 update. And I have to admit that my computers running Microsoft Windows XP are the most stable Windows releases that I've ever seen. But my copy of Ubuntu never flinches, never falters, never blinks. Security is one of the cornerstones that Linux is built around. The worry about viruses and other malicious software attacks on your computer virtually disappear. WOW! What a nice peace-of-mind! And no more shelling out annual "renewal" fees to the likes of Norton or McAfee for virus protection. Ahhh ... I see the price of personal computing falling already.

  • It runs ... well! After all, the OS of a computer should run reliably and run well. Without it, you aren't able to do anything else ... period. Without it, your computer is just a heavy paper weight of metal, silicon, and wires. The OS allows your computer to run all your favorite programs, allowing you to be as productive (or unproductive) as you wish. Ubuntu satisfies the requirements on all fronts. And it runs well on OLDER computers with modest hardware that you just very well may have laying around. I've seen "posts" of people describing their experience running Ubuntu with hardware as modest as a Pentium II processor and 256 MB of memory. I'm currently running it on a refurbished computer I purchased from an online auction site for under $150. It's a Pentium 4, 2.8 GHz processor with 512 MB of memory, and a 40 GB HD. I took out the CD-ROM drive that came with it and replaced it with a DVD +/- R/RW Dual Layer drive from an old computer that was having power supply, hard drive, and motherboard problems. Although I have an assortment of unused computer monitors scattered throughout the house, I also found a 19" flat panel monitor on another auction site for $150. I added an old Tandy MMS-10 computer speaker system I had laying around in the basement to supply sound. I also put in my older ATI TV Wonder Pro tuner card, in the hopes that I could get Ubuntu to recognize and use it (since ATI ONLY makes Windows drivers for that particular tuner card).

  • Price: The price for Ubuntu is EXTREMELY attractive. IT'S FREE! Yes, you heard me right. All you have to do is track on over to their website and download it. Of course, you can buy copies on CD or DVD for a modest price (most under $60 ... far less than the $300+ it will cost you to buy Windows Vista). And here's something else to consider. Every two to four years, Microsoft comes out with a new, "improved" version of Windows. And every release of Windows ups the ante on the minimum hardware requirements to run it. With Ubuntu, you get updates every day (if you desire) as they become available, very similar to Microsoft's Update Manager. So if you are connected to the internet with an "always on" connection, this occurs very unobtrusively. But here's the real kicker ... you can also upgrade to the latest release of Ubuntu when it becomes available ... also FOR FREE! The Ubuntu folks plan a new upgrade every 6 months, to keep the latest version of the OS in their users hands (if they so choose). Of course, you are not obligated to update if you don't want to.

  • Ease of use: If you can run Microsoft Windows (any version), you can run Ubuntu. All the familiar items are there ... windows, title bars, wallpaper, sounds, etc. You name it, it's there.

  • Software GALORE: There are more software choices than you can shake a stick at. And the nice thing is ... they are free, too! Well, most of them. Yes, there are commercially available programs for Linux that you can buy, but most of the software offerings for Linux are free (probably over 95% of the software titles are free). That's right ... free for the download. Out of the box, Ubuntu comes with Mozilla Firefox web browser, Open Office 2.3 (a MS-Office clone that is free -- and it will even read and write MS Word, Excel, Access, and Power Point files), an email client called Evolution Mail (very similar in functionality to MS Outlook), music players, CD players, video players, and a good assortment of games (Mahjongg, Solitaire-type card games, and a Tetris clone to name a few). If you want more, simply select "Add/Remove" from the "Applications" menu (similar to the "Start" button in Windows), and select the programs you want to install. It's THAT easy!

  • Easy installation: Installing Ubuntu is very easy. The last time I installed my copy of Windows XP, it took over an hour. And that was just the installation from the CD and didn't account for the other hour and a half to download all the Windows "critical" updates ... after getting the internet connectivity set up. Ubuntu installs in 30 minutes or less (usually less). And Ubuntu recognized ALL my hardware without any difficulty ... including my previously mentioned tuner card that ATI only makes Windows drivers for. Just like with Windows, Ubuntu has an installation wizard that walks you through the steps.

  • (Fairly) simple network setup: Ubuntu is fairly easy to set up on a home network or to connect to the internet. I say fairly simple, because there's not a lot of support for Linux systems by the manufacturers of wireless network adapters (the route I chose to try initially). While there is a Linux solution that utilizes the Windows driver information (.INF) files, it's a crap shoot on whether or not the wireless network adapter will work properly. But once I abandoned the "battle" to set up a wireless network adapter and opt for a "hard wired" solution, Ubuntu recognized the connection immediately and made most of the necessary settings on its own. I simply bought a 50 foot length of CAT-5 cable, and ran it from one of the four ethernet ports on the back of my router to the ethernet port on the computer. Little else was required. It took me more time to drill two small holes in the floor, and run the cable through the basement than anything else. After all, Ubuntu, like every other "flavor" of Linux, is built from the ground up with networking in mind.

  • Run Windows programs: Yes, that's right. You can also run the vast majority of your favorite Windows programs. There are quite a few "Windows Emulators" out there that allow you to run your favorite Windows programs with minimum hassle. Probably the more popular one is called "Wine." Via Wine, you can run your MS Office programs or most any other Windows program you have become accustomed to using. However, I doubt that you'll find much need. I know I've been able to find more than adequate and suitable replacement programs from the Linux software offerings for all my "favorite" Windows applications. Nonetheless, this is an option for anyone who wants or needs to run Windows programs.

Overall, I can see Microsoft's monopolistic grip on the computer operating system market beginning to slip away. Increasingly, the various flavors of Linux are gaining converts ... and at an increasing rate. Many people I talk to (and I talk to a lot of people) have grown tired of the hassle of running a Windows based computer and would welcome a good, stable, inexpensive alternative. Compared to the "closed" nature of the programming source code of Microsoft products, Ubuntu and the other Linux distributions (they are called "distro" in the Linux community) are open source. If you are not familiar with the term open source, it means that the programming code is open for any and all who wish to modify it or add to it to increase its functionality. Anyone can contribute, from programming code to writing program documentation.

If you have, as I have, tired of adding to the Gates family fortune by purchasing a new operating system every few years, you should give Ubuntu a try. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

BTW ... I've written this blog while running on Ubuntu. Proof positive that Ubuntu just works!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Reining in health care costs

Lots of talk is going on about health care today: access for all, controlling costs, improving care, addressing preventative care, not exempting people for pre-existing conditions, and lots more. Working in the health care industry, involved with DIRECT patient care, I see the waste and inequities of the current system every day I step into the hospital to care for my patients. So why aren't the people who are involved with the day-to-day care of patients being asked for their input on how to help health care become more of what all of us want it to be and how to make it more affordable?

Since no one has asked me, I'm going to throw out some of my suggestions. First, stop the pharmaceutical companies from advertising the latest, greatest new drug to treat problems you didn't know you had or didn't know that existed! Last year, the pharmaceutical companies spent $30 billion on research and development --- but spent over $60 billion on advertising those drugs you never knew you needed! And is it any wonder that they spent so much on advertising? The ads are flashy and glitzy, and hardly a commercial break happens without at least one or two of those plush ads graces our television screens. You, as the medical consumer, DO NOT need to be exposed to the "sucker-you-in" ads that prompt you to ask you doctor about this latest and newest drug to treat a problem you didn't know you had. Half as much money as is currently spent can be better spent on educating and informing physicians about those drugs ... and letting THEM decide which of their patients will most benefit from the new drug. This is the way it has happened for years prior to the previous 10 years or so that pharmaceutical companies started flooding our airwaves with "Viva Viagra" or "sleep like a butterfly with Ambien" type ads. And it worked VERY well. It can and will work just as well again.

Second, start paying for preventative care! It costs a LOT less to prevent a disease or condition (especially chronic health conditions) than it costs for long-term treatment of these diseases and conditions. For example, many (if not all) health care plans will NOT pay for smoking cessation products (Chantix, nicotine patches, nicotine gum, nicotine inhalers, nicotine lozenges, etc.). Instead, the insurance companies then are faced with the lengthy and expensive proposition of paying to treat patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and asthmatic bronchitis (among other lung conditions) from years of patients smoking. Even paying for multiple rounds of smoking cessation products would be infinitely cheaper than paying for 20 to 40 years of treatment of a chronic condition that finds some patients making two to 12 or more hospital visits annually, many of which require a week or more of hospitalization. The current state of affairs makes absolutely no sense, especially since these insurance companies are so focused on the bottom line profit.

Third, restrict the wages of the CEO's of for-profit hospital administrators (heh ... any health care administrator, for that matter), pharmaceutical companies, and anyone else charged with providing the care/tools/equipment that provide for the general health and welfare of the medical consumers. What person needs $20 - $40 - $60 - $100 million salary (including incentives) to live on? This is just pure, unadulterated gluttony and greed. And that gluttony and greed is being paid for by the blood and well-being of the average medical consumer. It is blatantly obvious (to me, at least) that health care costs are grossly inflated and could easily be brought under control (or assisted) by eliminating these obscenely high salaries.

Fourth, make coverage for ALL a reality. We are the ONLY industrialized country in the world without universal access to health care for our citizens. While we, as a country, lead much of the world in the quality of our health care, it it out of reach for roughly 1/4 of our citizens. And that coverage for those who are either under-insured or non-insured is passed on to those who are covered by higher costs for those who do have coverage. WE END UP PAYING FOR THOSE WHO CANNOT AFFORD IT through higher health care costs. The costs of the care for those who cannot afford it get passed on to the rest of us who can afford it and who do pay for it. Personally, I don't care what method or model they choose to follow -- Great Britain, Canada, Cuba, France, Germany, Japan -- take your pick of any of those listed or pick your own -- just get it done! How can we be competitive, as a country, in a world market when we cannot or will not even take care of one of our most precious resources: the backs of the working people that make us competitive!

Finally, does it REALLY cost $4 or more for a Tylenol? If it's provided by the hospital pharmacy, the answer is YES. But what would be wrong with allowing a patient to provide his own bottle of Tylenol, ibuprofen, aspirin, or any other over-the-counter medication? Undoubtedly, the cost can be cut and the patient can actively contribute to the lowering of his/her own health care costs. The patient or their family members can bring their own OTC medications in, and the nurse or med-tech can administer it to the patient per the physician's orders (to insure compliance with the doctor's orders).

These are only the tip of the iceberg for ideas I have for helping bring health care costs under control and to make health care accessible to everyone. There are lots more ideas for how to accomplish this. But in this, an election year, health care is on the minds of most voters and candidates. And those of us involved most intimately with providing that patient care need to speak up and offer suggestions for how to improve things. After all, who better knows what needs to be fixed and how to fix it?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Gordita? Hey TACO BELL! What Are You Peddling?

The next time you go through the drive-thru at Taco Bell, be sure to order one of those Gorditas! You can have them Santa Fe style. You can have them crunchy and cheesy. But do you know what you are REALLY ordering? GORDITA means little fat girl in Spanish! Betcha didn't know!

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I've gotta add to my previous blog about stupid drivers. Now that we are deep in the throws of Winter, one of the more idiotic drivers has come out from their sleepy hibernation. They are the drivers of the "bullet-proof," "invincible" SUVs. They drive along snowy and icy streets, thinking they can drive like Mario Andretti -- just because they have a SUV with 4WD. What morons! I drive a 4WD vehicle, but realize something these imbeciles don't ... getting going is often not the problem, but stopping is. Regardless of how many "wheels" you have to get you going, we ALL have the same number of wheels to stop on -- 4! And it is stopping that gives them that reality check. I just hope in getting their dose of reality, no one else gets hurt.