~ I won't beta-test windows ~
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Published @ searchlores in March 2007

I won't beta-test windows
(How to slowly abandon windows and prepare the crossing to Linux)

by mycroft tanstaafl
March 2007, Version 0.03
(slightly edited by fravia+)

This essay is important per se, as a bag of good advices from an old hand, and as an example of the possibilities open to any searcher that wishes to ditch malware ridden windows applications and use free powerful ones instead or, even better, that wishes to switch over -once for all- to Gnu/Linux.
I won't beta-test windows

Change is upon us all. It is on the horizon; a new vista in our future. (Ever go to a public park and wish there was a way to keep people from seeing the scenery until they paid you a dollar?)

Microsoft has decided it is time to beta-test bloatware. Again. They are accepting applications at every computer store, and only want a small fee to let you tell them what is broken. They don't want to fix any more holes in XP.

* Windows Vista Ultimate: 1 leg 1 arm
* Windows Vista Business: 1 leg 1 ear
* Windows Vista Home Premium: 1 arm 3 toes
* Windows Vista Home Basic: 1 eye 1 ear
* Windows Vista Ultimate Upgrade: 1 arm 4 toes
* Windows Vista Business Upgrade: 1 arm
* Windows Vista Home Premium Upgrade: 1 ear 3 toes 2 fingers
* Windows Vista Home Basic Upgrade: 1 eye
All prices include your soul.

That is the change for most. For me, the change is different. For me, the change is to continue computing daily without Microsoft in my life. I'll not even acquire their software illegally (though Ultimate was available before it was released).

I began the change; the transition; after Windows 2000, before Windows XP. I did participate in the great XP beta test, but not beyond Service Pack (ever notice that sounds like "oops; our bad") 2.
I stopped downloading and installing Microsoft's admissions of guilt and downloaded and installed every major build of GNU-Linux (henceforth simply "Linux"), instead. And several minor ones, as well. After all, I don't have to pay to beta-test them.

Distributions they are called, and I will not speak ill of any of them (except SuSE, and only because of Novell). I will say that I needed help. Lots of it. Larger distributions have more people who can help, as well as more tutorials already on the web waiting to be found, and read. Major distributions means more free knowledge.

Basic Free Knowledge You Need Before Starting: You Will Want a 2nd Computer

You will probably break one several times before getting things whirring and clicking happily. Most of the hardware in the world is supported by Linux. Don't panic too much. If you install and something doesn't work right, someone will have probably had the same problem before, and there is a known solution, waiting to be found with your second computer. But I'm not here to write about hardware migration. Ultimately, it's a weekend well spent.

I'm all about software. Define the tasks you currently use your computer for. Me? I use word processors, usenet, chat, IM, web browsers, text editors, HTML editors, and email. I realized that loading a new OS meant I'd have to learn new software to do all these same basic tasks. I was also avoiding updating my Microsoft OS's, so they were considered insecure. I decided to tie the 2 tasks together. I would find programs that I could use under both Linux and Microsoft that did the same basic tasks. This way, the transition could be made easier. Some common software had to exist, I needed to search.

As it turns out, quite a bit of common software exists, is free, often works better than anything else out there. I slowly switched, and I still use them, since, well, I have about 20 PC's in my life, and about half of them run Linux (Ubuntu, Fedora Core, Open SuSE, Solaris, and, of course Debian. No Mandriva, no Slackware, no Centos, no Yellow Dog, no Linux From Scratch... There's just too many to load them all... and if you find loading Linux easy, you have not tried loading Debian over Solaris :)

First was web browsing. I had already used Opera and Firefox under Windows. I knew Firefox was a Mozilla product, and Mozilla was cross-platform. I learned Firefox and Opera are as well. And I get to use Epiphany instead of Internet Explorer as my back-up.
Just beware of Flash. Flash does not mix well with Linux.

I know people who use their web browsers for email. I'm not one of them. They can use the same program for email in Linux and Windows. I cannot. I very quickly learned (2 days after booting win95) that there are better solutions than Outlook Express for Windows. I prefer Pegasus. It, along with the Mercury mail server have always been my favorite. Unfortunately, Pegasus seems to have gone out of development, which is too bad for you, but okay for me, because I use Evolution email under Linux. And SendMail and FetchMail together as my server.

Ever been on Usenet and see someone asking for a copy of TIN, or SLRN (or Pine, if they were confused)? They are there. So is Pan. Pan has a port to Windows as well.

I have edited text files since edlin was around. Of course EMACS has been around, as well.

Not all HTML I do can get done in a text editor. Some layout must be done in WYSIWYG editors. I've used Dreamweaver and FrontPage; Quanta and Bluefish (please, try Bluefish; it's nice). Lately, I've been learning N|vu. One program, both win32 and Linux. It's just simpler that way.

Wordprocessing is a major concern, as is PDF creation. I was looking to replace MS Word before I started my transition. The state of Massachusetts discovered Open Office just after I did. Reads and saves MS-Word formats, if desired, more stable, and free. And creates PDF's. One program. And it's Windows or Linux capable.

Instant Messaging, Chat? See Gaim.

Firewall / filtering Proxy. Microsoft's firewall is just plain irritating. It can't be shut off, and it doesn't work as I'd like. There is no actual working firewall that is cross-platform that I am aware of. I looked for 2 months, and stopped when I found a gem. It is for Windows only, but is just a simple rules-based firewall that can block IP's or specific ports as you decide. There are no special addons, filters, over-simplified wizards, flashy GUI, or much of anything. Just a simple clean firewall. Softperfect's personal firewall. And once you create a set of rules, that can be shared across to Linux. For a filtering proxy, I use Privoxy. It's pre-installed with Linux, and easy to setup in Windows.

Now, most people stop there (if they even get to a firewall). I don't. I've never really done things half way. 2 ways at once, to completion is more my speed. Linux has 2 main environments; KDE and Gnome. This is the equivalent of the Windows toolbar, how the screen background works, what the desktop does, what the mouse can do; things most people believe they cannot change. It's called a "Shell".

For a basic Linux box, I'll use Gnome, but also install all the KDE tools. I like the Gnome footprint logo better than the KDE gear logo. No other reason. I can go further customizing, however; and usually do.

Ever heard of Microsoft's Explorer? It seems "Explorer" is really 3 different programs. There is internet Explorer, file Explorer, and shell Explorer. Sneaky, huh? Sounds a little like malware. A bit like them sending pop-unders when you visit their site.

If you use Firefox, or Opera, you're replacing internet explorer. If you use Atol file manager (or Directory Opus), you are replacing Explorer file manager. Microsoft doesn't like this. They want everyone to think Explorer file manager must be used. Well, Atol is Linux and Win32 capable, and I don't like being told I *must use a particular file manager I don't really like, so... no Explorer file manager for me.

Now, Explorer Shell. Microsoft doesn't make replacing the shell easy at all, but it can be done. I have despised Explorer shell since I figured out it is what crashes and forces windows to reboot all the time, and ties up 70 to 100mb of ram. KDE and Gnome don't do that (well, they do use some ram). Neither does BlackBox. Blackbox is 2 different programs. One is a stripped shell program for Linux. The other is a clone for Windows; BB4WIN. Now, blackbox uses configuration files to tell it how to behave, and these are fully editable. While the shell programs are not interchangable across Linux and Windows, the configuration files mostly are. And it uses almost 5 mb of ram. And doesn't crash, requiring a reboot. Simple, huh?

So far, this is how to make Windows unrecognizable, and how to use most of the same programs in Windows and Linux.

Here some "correspondance tables" pointed out by 0xFF:
http://www.linuxrsp.ru/win-lin-soft/table-eng.html & http://www.grokdoc.net/index.php/Application_Crossover_Chart
(should both be taken cum grano salis, just to make an example: krita is not as developed, hence not 'equivalent' as gimp...)

Updating OS's, however, is something Microsoft has always done for free. Well, until XP, that is (and Vista promises to be both draconian with license requirements, and irritating with nag screens). And only because they had to provide updates. Linux has the same feature. It can also go out, find out if it needs updates, update itself. And it's still free.

Finally, there is one little thing Linux does that I just can't see Microsoft doing. When I need a piece of software written by Adobe for my Windows PC, I have to go to the Adobe website, buy and download the software, and install it. Linux distributions have this tool loaded in with them. Each distribution has a different name for it, but it lists most known software available for Linux, and will go out, download it, and install it for you (free / open source software, remember?).

And now the downside: I own 4 Lexmark printers. They will not work with Linux.

(c) mycroft tanstaafl 2007

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(c) III Millennium: [fravia+], all rights reserved