The DistRogue

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Rogue has spoken!

Welcome to the DistRogue blog. If you think:
A) Windows is cool and user-friendly, but I wish it would just stop crashing,
B) Windows isn't cutting the mustard for gaming, or
C) Windows just plain sucks,
you're in the right place.

== What's this all about? ==

Right now, there are about 500 Linux distributions (or "distros") out there for you to choose. Most of them either are based on existing ones, fill a niche (want "50MB of penguin power", anyone? Didn't think so...), or just plain suck (a phrase I'll be using a lot). My goal is to explain to the clueless ex-Windows user which distro they'll be happy with, adapt to quickly, and get some decent performance out of.
Just an FYI: I use Ubuntu 6.06 right now, but I want to use something else myself. So here's how it works: Every few days, I find out about a distro I really like, download the CD image (more on that later), and install it and test it out. Then, I blog about my experience there, and tell you whether you might like it or not (in detail).

== What's this Linux thingy, anyways? ==

I actually get people saying that. Some people say Linux is a complete alternative to Windows XP (Personal Computing World magazine, August '06). Others just call it a competitor. Linux is an OS, or operating system. The term "Linux" actually refers to the kernel, the part that forms a bridge between hardware and software. The rest of it makes distros different, because they choose what else to put in there.
The thing that makes Linux different from Windows is that it's "open-source", that anyone has access to the high-level code used to build it, and all of the software that runs on top of it. This means, among other things, that:

-Anyone can find and fix a bug that a hacker could use, so it's more secure.
-Anyone can add drivers for hardware they use to the kernel, making it more compatible.
-Hundreds of thousands of people could be working on it at once, meaning that they each have to do less work.
-Anyone can work on it at all, making them feel like part of the team.

Clearly, Linux has some advantages. So why isn't everyone using it? The simple answer is this: People think it's not user-friendly. When Linux was publicly available in 1994 (the first distro, Slackware, was available before that), people had to compile it all from scratch- not pretty. But Linux has come a long way. There are CDs for installing it on different platforms (stuff like Intels and AMDs, all the way to more exotic systems like S/390s and Sun SPARCs), eliminating that step. Also, earlier this year, the Live/Install architecture caught on, allowing you to try the distro out without installing it, and getting a graphical installation wizard if you decided to use it. Finally, the Debian APT package-management system now allows users to download hundreds of programs and libraries with 1 click.

== What's this GNU thing? I've heard about it... ==

A gnu, aka wildebeest, is a large grazing mammal. It has nothing to do with the GNU Project (stands for "GNU's Not Unix"), a huge project that includes just about every open-source program on the planet. You might even use some of the apps, like Firefox, the Gimp, and maybe even Audacity. The thing they all have in common is that they're all distributed under the GNU GPL (General Public Licence), meaning, basically, that they MUST distribute the entire source code used to build the app, and that other users can redistribute their software for money- but so can they (this is how some distros get away with selling pre-burned CDs for cash).

== Two more things... ==

-Graphical desktops: There are 3 main graphical desktops, which allow programs to make pretty little boxes with buttons on your screen instead of running from a bland, boring text-mode prompt. Here they are:

GNOME: A desktop aimed at anyone (but it looks more Mac-like than Windows-like), it has a wide selection of apps and runs a bit lighter than KDE- or so everyone says.
KDE: Aimed at Windows users (it looks very Windows-ish), this desktop has fewer apps, but some of them are better than GNOME's (check out amaroK first thing you do). Some people think it looks cool, others don't like all that blue.
XFCE: The dark horse, most people don't know about it. I use it all the time, but mostly gamers and people with old hardware need it because it runs fast.

-Burning CDs: Linux CDs are upoaded as raw CD images, and they show up as ISO files. If you try to copy the whole file onto a CD as one file, it's not going to work. I recommend Alex Feinman's ISO Recorder for Windows because I haven't had any luck with burning my past 3 CD-Rs with KDE's k3b (on the plus side: 3 coasters). Most images nowadays won't fit onto a CD-RW, but they'll fit a CD-R nicely (CD-Rs have 50MB more space), which just plain sucks, but you'll have to deal with it.

To see the tip of the iceberg of distros, try going here and looking at the sidebar. Pretty scary- that's just the top 100.
From Ubuntu 6.06,
The DistRogue aka DJ Gentoo.


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