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Red Hats: Make Your Pitch; or, What is Ubuntu and Is There a Good, Cheap, PC?

chicago dyke's picture
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This post is the source of this one. Some people aren't very smart about computers; take me, for example. Just like some people aren't very smart about congenital heart disease or comparative Semitic philology. So... I should ditch Macs and get a cheap PC with Ubuntu? Why, exactly? Y'all know I hate consumerism and the rest of that shit, but I'm willing to listen, in a product by product consumer review based throwdown, from the smart people here. I'm as dumb as a six year old, in this. So don't lay thick with the jargon, act like a car salesman. I want to buy this machine, this OS, why... again? I'll let you all know who wins later, because it will be soon. Gmail quit on me today, so that's the final straw. I have no choice, I will pay this Rent. They are forcing me to do so; if you can make a suggestion for a person like me that's under $500 and will last for more than three years, that would be great and I would be eternally grateful.

Mac co-religionists: don't worry; I probably don't mean this. The thought of working on one of those filthy PCs is repugnant to me. I'm just sampling internet wisdom, the lifeblood of any blogger. I'll likely sleep with someone for money to pay for a used Mac before I'd buy a PC. But you know, the flame wars are fun. Because we always win. Heh.

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goldberry's picture
Submitted by goldberry on

I used RedHat when I was still working. It's very stable, doesn't attract the viral load of Windows and is easy to use. I like Linux for it's simplicity. Unlike windows, you don't need a certificate to understand what's under the hood. I preferred to use it in command mode because that's the way I launched applications and exited files and managed my system but you don't have to use the command line. There's a very nice user interface with all of the standard utilities and applications you would expect to find in windows or Mac. Firefox runs on it fine. I haven't tried chrome but wouldn't be surprised if there is a Linux platform version. I *did* find installing the Java Runtime Environment to be a bit tricky but our sysadmins made updating RedHat very difficult so it may have been an artifact of having a older instance of the kernel.
Now, if youre concerned about using Office applications, you shouldn't be. There is an open source consortium called openoffice.org where you can get a suitable replacement for Word, PowerPoint, excel and many other office applications.
At home now, I am a Mac addict. All of my hardware is Mac. But the latest version of the Mac os will not include support for Rosetta, which is how I run some modeling specific applications. So, I will be installing virtualbox and RedHat on my Mac to run as a vitprtual machine and install the Linux compatble versions of my software there.
You might want to try that first before you make a commitment to Linux. Give it a test spin and see how you like it. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

I don't have it now, but used it a few years ago and was really impressed by its functionality. It's not the same as having the full office suite, but it was very good and you can't beat the price. It's also a cheap way of getting Office on a Mac.

jumpjet's picture
Submitted by jumpjet on

I use Open Office on my Mac and it's fantastic. I got it for free and it does everything I need it to do, though admittedly I don't need the full Office suite's functionality.

dameocrat's picture
Submitted by dameocrat on

There many other versions of linux besides ubuntu. Some of them are reputed to be easier for beginners than ubuntu. Mint Linux is supposed to be better for beginners. There are also versions of linux designed for macintosh computers like yellow dog. Most modern versions of linux come in a live cd which means you can boot them on your cdrom drive and try them out before installing them. Distrowatch is a good website to find an appropriate version of linux because it has some helpful search options.

I personally like libreoffice more than openofffice. I also use light but full featured wordprocessors like abiword with the gnumeric spreadsheet, since I do not really require a full office suite. Most flavors of linux come with office suites, messengers, email programs and the like preinstalled.

I am not sure I understand what you mean when you gmail quite working. Do you mean it quit working with your email program or mac application. What does gmail have to do with macosx and what makes you think another operating system will not have this problem too?

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

Hi CD. I've never run Linux but I've used Unix at work for years (including a brief stint as a system administrator). The big thing about going from Mac to Unix is that you're switching operating systems. That's a lot of new stuff to learn.

Also - Linux has limited support compared to Mac (can't take it to a genius store!) or Windows. And pre-emptively: Shut up Linux hippies, you know what I mean. There's help, but it'll be on message boards and such. There are a lot of very helpful and enthusiastic Linux users, but it's a very different support structure to navigate, and that can be confoundiing to someone who doesn't have a guru on hand to point her in the right direction.

Third, are you good at the command line? Unix GUI's are not as built out as Mac/PC, and youll have a much easier time if you're comfortable opening up a prompt and getting your type on.

Finally, what applications do you use? Make sure all the stuff you need to do can be done on Linux. There are lots of rough equivalent programs, but there will almost certainly be times you want to pull your hair out and scream "WHY CAN'T I DO THIS?!!?"

If you do decide to make the jump I'd be happy to offer any help I can, though if you've ever done tech support by email your hair might already have been torn out.

Good luck!

Frerico's picture
Submitted by Frerico on

If you're "as dumb as a six year old, in this" then I would not recommend switching to Ubuntu or Linux at all. Some of the posters above, allude to a command line. And how you use that, is often integral to getting a Unix operating system up and running. I've used Macs, Windows, and Linux machines and a fact of the matter is that Macs and Windows machines have dedicated teams of people that are paid lots and lots of money to work every day making those machines more idiot proof. (And note, I'm not calling ANYONE here an idiot).

Linux and Ubuntu are a lot more hands on, a lot more do it yourself kind of computer systems. You need to know about command lines, the unix "language" which is mostly just a list of commands to run at the command line. You need to know what ls and ps are, and even that won't be enough. It only grows from there.

From an advantage standpoint, Linux and Ubuntu cost nothing. Which is a big deal. I'm a huge proponent of open source software, but I would never, EVER, recommend it to an untrained user. Getting it working takes time and patience and if you're a novice user, you're going to get very frustrated, very fast.

It sounds though like you're already leaning towards a Mac anyway, which is a shame. I don't know what your PC experience is but since Windows 7 came out, Microsoft has gotten a lot better at competing with Apple at being Apple. The whole experience is much better and while malware is still an issue (and always will be when you're the number one OS in the world), it's much less harrowing then it used to be. I personally don't actually use any anti-virus software on my PC and haven't had a virus or a major breach in 2 years.

The other thing I'll say, in defense of my blasphemous Windows evangelizing, is that these days it takes NOTHING to find a bargain PC for between 200 and 400 bucks. I've never seen a used Mac go for less then 500. I'll also say that my wife is a die-hard Mac user and at one point I've actually had all 3 OS's running on machines in my house, though today we use Macs and PC's for just about everything we do.

Hope this helps some with your decision making. Good luck with finding what you need.

badtux's picture
Submitted by badtux on

Basically, any multimedia content you encounter on the Internet that's not standard Flash is not going to work on Linux. Want to listen to that Windows audio file? Won't work. Want to watch that Quicktime movie on The Daily Show's web site? Won't work. Want to watch Netflix streaming? Won't work. Want to watch Hulu? Well, *that* will work. Assuming that Linux configured your hardware correctly. Which is always a problem -- I currently have a case where Linux is "gargling" whenever I try to watch a YouTube video. I know what's causing it -- Linux doesn't properly support the cruddy built-in audio device of my motherboard -- but fixing it is going to require some geek magic, whereas even under Windows that audio device Just Works.

Then there's games. Even strategy games like Civilization V won't run on Linux, even though there's no fundamental reason why they shouldn't. I'm not a big gamer, but that alone was enough to make me wipe Linux off the boot partition of my big desktop box and put on Windows 7. Windows 7 is stable, secure (run free Windows Security Essentials and keep the firewall turned on and it's pretty much bullet-proof), and Good Enough for most folks. It's not MacOS but you can *almost* get Mac functionality with the right software and hardware (e.g. "Spaces" and "Expose" *almost* work as well as Mac, if you add Dexpot and a Logitech mouse with enough buttons).

There's a *reason* why netbooks moved away from using Linux to using Windows. On Windows, you can view and do *everything*, whereas with Linux, you're restricted to those things that have Linux support. It simply isn't a pleasant experience for the typical consumer. (Now, if you're a software developer, on the other hand, Linux is geek heaven... and if you're looking for a server capable of serving data to an entire network of Macs and PC's, Linux is *the* choice... but that's another story).

Note: I have 15 years experience with Linux, so I'm not exactly a Linux noob. I'm typing this from a Macbook which is my primary desktop machine because it doesn't annoy me, I don't like being annoyed. I run Windows 7 on my big gaming machine with Linux in a VMware Player virtual machine to serve data to my network (it quietly sits in the background with full control over a JBOD software RAID array serving out data to the Windows and Mac machines on my network). The only Linux I use on the desktop is my development system at work, where I develop software for Linux. So when I say Linux is not suitable for ordinary consumer use, maybe you should listen :).

goldberry's picture
Submitted by goldberry on

You can stream audio on RedHat. I used to catch up on C-Span hearings in the background when I was working. RealPlayer installs fine. I used to use firefox to watch youtube videos. Can't remember if quicktime was an issue but then, most media is offered in other formats, quicktime is an exception, not the rule. I can't even remember if I had a problem with Flash. No, I don't think I ever did. The only issue I had was with Java, which was a pain in the ass. But that was several years ago. Once they took away the superuser passwords at work, it just wasn't worth the time to tinker with it anymore.

I didn't play many games at work so I can't tell you whether that was difficult or not. Get a frickin' Xbox if you want to play games.

goldberry's picture
Submitted by goldberry on

CD, you don't have to use a single command if you don't want to. RedHat right out of the box will work fine and you can set everything up through the systems preferences interface just like you would on a Mac.
If you never have to install a tricky modeling application or mess around with Apache or MySQL, you are likely never going to have to touch a command. However, if you want to learn to use the commands, most of the time you will use the same handful of simple commands over and over again and the filesystem is really easy to use. In fact, you can get a feel for this on a Mac because the Mac OS is built on unix.
That right there tells you that danps is scaring you unnecessarily. Snow Leopard is built on unix. I've opened up a window on my Mac and can do all the fancy-schmancy things in it that I do on RedHat from tar archiving to cron jobs. But unless I want to tweak this very complicated application I am doing for molecular modeling, I never have to leave the interface. Same thing with RedHat. The only thing you *might* have to configure is your network and printer queues and with the interface, you shouldn't have a problem figuring this out.

dameocrat's picture
Submitted by dameocrat on

appears to be from people who have not used linux in years. quicktime and mediaplayer codecs can be downloaded easily and run just fine on my ubuntu machine. 10 years ago you would have a problem but not today. While I needed to know the command line ten years ago, I only rarely have to use it today. It comes in a livecd and you can try it out before you install it.

Another easly linux for beginners besides mint is mepis linux.

It is true that you re going to experience frustration with ANY new os, but the antilinux people on this board are reporting problems that have been ironed out long, long ago.

Linux maybe based on unix but so is osx. It does not mean modern linux is as difficult to use as unix.

Submitted by brucedixon on

when she points out that the Linux problems reported here were ironed out years ago. One tip-off is the reference to "Red Hat Linux". I used to dabble in that back in the 90s. But for six or seven years now only the commercial server version has been called "Red Hat Linux". That company's open source desktop version is now "Fedora Linux". Nobody living in 2011 would review a "Red Hat" version for desktop use unless he'd been in suspended animation for several years.

Ubuntu is stable, mature, easy to use and accounts for almost half of total Linux desktop installs. And it's freely downloadable. I'm typing this on an Acer laptop running Ubuntu 10 LTS. I don't do Netflix so I cannot vouch for that, but I just visited the Daily Show site, since somebody said it would not work in Linux and I can see and hear the videos just fine. My video editing software is Cinelerra, which is also free. My office suite is Open Office, my photo and image software is GIMP, free, and my audio editing software is Audacity, all free and open source.

Command lines do scare newbie users, but (1) you rarely NEED to use a command line nowadays, and (2) it should not scare you --- some things you can do with a graphical user interface are actually neater, sweeter and much faster done at a command line. For instance suppose you are running Ubuntu Linux, or some other Debian flavor of Linux. You heard about this wonderful program called the GIMP which does everything Photoshop does. You even know a little Photoshop so you won't be starting from scratch.

In your Linux GUI (that's a graphical user interface, the contraption that you see on the screen that lets you drag a mouse around to manipulate files and programs) you'd go to your menu, open up a program called Synaptic installer or something, choose GIMP from a list, and click install to set it up. Not bad. But from the Ubuntu command line you'd just type the command
sudo apt-get install gimp
and your machine knows to reach out, pull GIMP down and install it. And it's free. So don't be too afraid of command lines, they can be your friends.

If you want to do something that will work for you under $500 and last for three years Linux on a PC with lots of RAM, or even a low-end laptop will do you just fine. Ubuntu is user-friendly enough nowadays for just about anybody. It's possible to run into sound and wireless card chipsets that Linux does not play well with, but those are pretty rare these days.

I promise to take an hour tomorrow and write about this some more. I wholeheartedly recommend a low-end or off-lease desktop PC (computer stores sell these for around $200 plus a monitor, and you really ought to spend another $150 or so to max out its RAM. All your software will be free. Or a good new $400 PC laptop with the $100 warranty and service agreement ---- mine has lasted four years now.

Apple is just another evil capitalist plantation. Linux is free, and freedom because information wants to be free. More on all this tomorrow. I need some sleep.

quixote's picture
Submitted by quixote on

CD: bottom line, if you don't like figuring out how to do things on computers, any flavor of linux may not be for you.

Personally, I find all the crapware (software trying to sell you crap), malware, viruses, etc., a showstopper in Windows. Mainly the crapware. (Yes, you can get PC Decrapifier, but why bother at all?)

I've used Mac OSes for various work-related projects going right back to early Macs in the mid-90s and up to Snow Leopard. My guess would be if that OS works well for you, nothing else will feel the same. (Even after you learn to use it.) Consider the extra rent you pay a small price to buy comfort.

I've been using various linuxen going back to Redhat in the mid-90s. Ubuntu has been my main OS since 2005.

Multimedia: you can play every ordinary-use format out there, but you do need to install the software (called "packages"). That's because of legal BS. Nobody can distribute the ability to read a proprietary format out of the box without paying royalties. You, however, can download the software as an individual.

Games are the one sticking point in linux if you're a "serious" gamer. Then, I gather, the only option is Windows.

If you think you might want to try the open source universe -- and, honestly, do it! You'll never look back -- the best one for a just-give-me-something-that-works user is currently Linux Mint. It's based on Ubuntu, but they make the installation of all the multimedia stuff thoroughly painless. (Don't get the Linux Mint Debian version, not to start with.) Contra the unix maven above, these are nothing like unix. Nothing. I started with unix way back in 1978. They aren't like unix from a user perspective.

There's lots of stuff to recommend linux: repositories, which are like app stores, but free and open source. Forums: at least the ubuntu forums & Mint forums are way better at answering questions than any commercial tech "support" I've ever come across. The fact that you control your software, that nothing is phoning home about you, the whole friendly mood around the open source community. It goes on and on.

But it is important to feel unfrustrated by problems, to be willing to spend at least some time learning the OS, and learning how to solve issues that come up for you. That would be true of any new thing, though. Linux Mint or Ubuntu would be at least as easy for a Mac user to learn as Windows. Possibly easier.

One caveat: ubuntu is taking a weird direction with their latest and subsequent iterations (version 11.04 and up). I don't like it, but possibly if you come at it from a Mac, it would seem fine.

Submitted by lambert on

My development machine is and will be for awhile what was a beast 4 years ago when I still had a little money: A dual core machine running OS X Server 10.4.11.

Why do I say "for awhile"? Because Apple decided not to support OS X Server anymore, and some software I need -- like Firefox -- won't upgrade anymore. Ouch.

When I make the transition, I'm going to do exactly what Bruce suggests although perhaps at a higher price point: A commodity box running Ubuntu. I also recommend Best Buy guarantee approach: They actually honored it!

I think it comes down to how you think about your computer.

If you think of a computer as a coffee machine or a teebee, then it ought to "just work" and investment of any time in it is a cost and imposed by poor design (and one metaphor for the original Mac was indeed a toaster). Back in the 90s, computers were so poorly designed that good UI design had massive value add. But now, we know how GUIs work, the value add of the Mac is marginal: Sleekness, sexiness, buffitude, and (to be fair) more rugged (although incompatible) hardware are the only advantages of a Mac now.

If you think of a computer as a press, as an engine of change, it's also clear that the Mac is not the place to be (except for the kind of change that is inimical to the kind of change we seek). I'm never going to buy another Mac; I may buy an iPad, but only for work that's not serious, like travel or client work if asked -- I don't plan to participate in a censored "walled garden" on the iPad any more than I participated in AOL's walled garden when the Internet was starting out.

And if you think of a computer as a garden, the "I don't want to learn" attitude doesn't hold water for a moment. Everything creative in the computing world is happening on the various linux platforms. It's the place to be!

Typing this on a three-year-old HP laptop* running ubuntu, which is just as fast as a Mac laptop, runs FF just as well (no, not Safari, so and but I don't have to mentally write off any sunk costs), connects to the local wifi just as well...

NOTE * Dual boot into Windoze. The only remaining reason to use a Mac is to run Microsoft Office (haw) so I can do that on Windoz. All the kidz use OpenOffice, though, which is free and compatible, though with a slightly ickier UI.

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

is a pernicious new wrinkle on the scene. Tablets (iPad especially) and mobile devices are embracing the "app" model not just because they want to adapt to new form factors, but because they want to lock people in to paying for stuff they now get for free. A whole new territory for rentiers, eh lambert?

Companies could easily embrace HTML 5 and deliver all the new content (especially rich media) without locking down deals with content providers, but it's much more lucrative to get people socialized to paying for, say, their favorite magazine via monthly subscription on a particular device. It may get to a point where people make buying decisions based on what item carries their favorite stuff. It's the antithesis of the Internet standard of write once/run anywhere.

So the market is going to fracture and people will get used to needing multiple devices to get to all the stuff they want. That's the coming paradigm. Notice how you don't hear much about Web apps these days?

On another front, the rich media experience will start butting heads with restrictive usage caps pretty quickly. If a single hi def streaming movie will put you 200% past your 2 GB monthly usage cap, something's got to give. The content providers are going to view ISP's as smothering their income streams and there will be quite a bit of tension between them.

There's a whole big, better documented and better presented post to write about this, and I may do that eventually. I'm mostly out of pocket though (which explains the mortifying errors in my previous comment), and in any event there are more pressing issues to spend quality blogging time on at the moment. I still like to follow these tech issues, but the right to collective bargaining is more urgent.

Standard caveat to this and all IT posts: There are lots of people who have limited or no access to the technology we're talking about and would love to have a problem like this.

Submitted by lambert on

If you're willing to write off the sunk costs of mental investment in Safari, there is absolutely no question that $500 bucks for a laptop at Best Buy, including $100 guarantee, will get you a machine that lasts more than three years after you load ubuntu on it. As a bonus, your software will be current through the whole three years, becaue Ubuntu's upgrade system is better than either OS X's or Windows (which is horrible). If you spend the money on a laptop, performance will be good. If you spend the money on a tower, you could end up with a beast (with RAM).

NOTE I used Red Hat a few years ago, but it wasn't really "cooked" from the user experience angle, compared to Ubuntu. They seem to have gone off to the corporate server market.

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

i have a lover who has offered to buy me a new mac as a gift, in a little while, and i think i'll be taking that up. but wow, i didn't know there was so much diversity in the linux/ubuntu/whatever community! learning is fun.

really, i don't care about brands. well, except for when it comes to shoes, but that's another post. i don't think of Apple as the "good" computer people and all the rest bad, or any other false dichotomy that consumerism may propose. i simple operate according to what has worked for me, which is of course functionality and durability in the face of poverty, when such matters greatly. my Macs have lasted and lasted. i am from a family that literally bought the very first Mac, as well as a Lisa, blah blah we're Mac people. i love Safari and even though i sort of hate MicroOffice, i've come to accept that i mostly have to use it. i guess i'm the sort of person who just doesn't want to be bothered with these issues. a computer is like a car; it should work, first and foremost. i don't care if it has hydraulic supercharged 12 gauge blah blah whatever. i want to drive down the road and get to where i'm going. same thing with computing machines. i don't invest much of my identity with the brand of car, or computer, i "drive." i hope that's true for most people, because consumerism is the lamest and most pitiful of religions.

i'll have to save up for it, but maybe a $300 PC notebook with all the consumerist trappings is the way to go, for now. i might be able to swing that.

Submitted by lambert on

Like a car, the Mac is neither sustainable nor where the truly creative, non-rentier-driven (sorry for the redundancy) work is going on. Then again, if you're not interested in that, you aren't. Not everybody is.

Also, I don't see Bruce making a consumerist argument. Quite the reverse. Not all signifiers are brands, yo.