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The missing five-minute Linux manual for morons

Resista the Vista

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Selecting your database

When choosing which of the Big Two to install, one issue dominates. Never mind such concerns as scalability, performance, fitness for purpose or licensing. The fact is that while MySQL has a fairly awful name, reeking of turn-of-the-millennium marketing, PostgreSQL has a really appalling name, which nobody at all knows how to pronounce. This simple error means that PostgresS PostGRE Pogres that database is inevitably doomed, even if the software were ten times better than anything else. Sorry, guys.

While we are doing databases, a quick mention for SQLite. This is an excellent cross-platform C library, which lets one do proper SQL without needing to supply a separate SQL engine. SQLite is public domain, and instead of the usual copyright threats, the source code contains a blessing:

  • May you do good and not evil
  • May you find forgiveness for yourself and forgive others
  • May you share freely, never taking more than you give
  • May you never find ubuntu on your shoe

Actually, I suspect my copy of SQLite somehow got corrupted during the download. Must remember to check those MD5s.

Don't inhale

'Running Linux with one foot on the bottom' refers to the practice of running Linux under a VMware virtual machine, so if that if things all go wrong, one can beat a cowardly retreat to the safety of the familiar. Also, it avoids the somewhat scary business of scraping Windows off your hard disk.

Microsoft can take heart that timid persons (like me) lack the confidence to commit fully to Linux in this way.

On the other hand, we are experimenting with Linux instead of getting familiar with Vista, so maybe they should not take too much heart.

Missing

Even if they don't use Firefox already, modern IE has pretty much the same user interface, so Windows users should feel completely comfortable in their web browsing after crossing the great divide. Similarly the OOo's offerings, despite coming from an outfit whose abbreviation looks like a deflating balloon, are much closer in use to 'proper' Word and Excel than Office 2007.

But I must be up front about this. You will find that there are core Windows features that are missing from Linux:

  • That silly animation that runs while Windows is copying a file, together with its wild estimations of time to complete: 30 seconds remaining, 2 minutes, 9 minutes, 25 minutes, 37 minutes, 30 seconds.
  • The registry
  • Virus checking software
  • The window that comes up when a program crashes and sends the crash dump to Redmond, to give them a much needed laugh. Linux programs instead lay a small binary turd file in situ. After a while you end up with quite a large collection of these, decorating your directories.
  • Automatic updates fixing vulnerabilities in Outlook Express. Who uses Outlook Express these days? Why?
  • Windows genuine disadvantage
  • The Windows pause, by which I mean that increasingly prevalent nothing-happening-for-no-reason delay that intrudes between the user poking and the software flinching.

I'd like to expand on that last point. For example, if you delete a file from your hard disk - not on the network, not locked - by pressing the Delete key in Explorer, on some machines that I know the sequence is 1) the screen freezes and nothing at all happens, 2) after two seconds the cursor turns to an hourglass, 3) after a further 20 seconds, Explorer's window goes blank and is repainted, 4) the deleted file is missing from the repainted list.

In Nautilus, the Gnome equivalent of Explorer, the file simply disappears and reappears in its 'wastebasket'. As you'd expect.

Where I work, we have an expression to cover this kind of behaviour. We say: Windows is helping you.

Invective

Time for some balance. The most amusing piece of Linux-related invective on the Internet is Netscape/emacs legend Jamie Zawinski's famous rant about Linux video players. Never mind that it is wildly out of date - if you haven't read it and you enjoy swearing, you are in for an audio cock-shaped treat. NSFW.

Still hard work

You may have heard it said that modern Linux is as easy to set up as Windows, requiring three or four clicks to install a file server as secure as a laptop containing a sensitive government database left overnight on the front seat of a civil servant's Renault Nicole.

For the most part I would say this is true, but there are several places where it is not, and Samba is definitely one of them. Your correspondent recently set up a Samba system on a Windows 2003 domain (the full whack, with proper security and everything, not just hardwired in with root privileges everywhere). Getting it going was her greatest intellectual triumph since passing Latin O-level.

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