Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"Quarantine, shmarantine! Let's send MORE flights into the infected areas!" (My Linux Experiment)

(Note: First, I want to welcome all the Linux lovers to SAM. I had heard that the Ubuntu and the broader Linux communities were pretty good people but wow! I have received a number of very nice emails and even some telephone calls offering both support and help and the referral traffic from sites like, and Free Software Daily has been impressive. Thanks to all!)

A couple of days ago, I talked about adopting a Linux distribution, Ubuntu, for one of my old laptops. I had a number of personal reasons for adopting this open source operating system but one of my explicit reasons for doing so was in order to become more resilient.

Resiliency, as I use the term here, is about being able to withstand bad times. Microsoft products, because of their popularity, are the primary targets for state and non-state sponsored hackers. One day, the bad guys are going to win and win big. This victory may be only temporary and the perpetrators may pay dearly for it in the long run but do I really want to be just another victim? Having (and knowing how to use) a Linux machine makes sense in this context.

One of the pieces of evidence I pointed to in that article was Jeff Carr's (of Intel Fusion) characterization of Africa as in the midst of a cyber pandemic. Most of the machines there are infected with viruses or are part of zombie networks (or both) due to pirated Windows software and a wholesale lack of anti virus protection.

Associated with Jeff's article is a pretty neat map of the projected level of connectivity (via undersea fiber optic cables) in Africa by 2011. This map doesn't show the explosive growth of the "big pipes" -- the undersea cables that carry most of the internet's traffic -- around the globe, however. To get this picture, you need to go to the BBC (Note: The pic below is just a screenshot. The full map is interactive and shows growth over time).

For me, this explosive growth (which is unlikely to stop in 2011) is the epidemiological equivalent of increasing the number of transmission vectors from an infected area instead of quarantining it.

That said, I am not sure what the answer to the problem is. I consider it almost inhumane to deny these parts of the world the benefits that robust internet and communication facilities provide. Likewise, I don't think you are ever going to see a company (such as Microsoft) take a "responsible" position that is fundamentally contrary to its shareholder's interests. Government control sounds even less palatable (though the government, after a hue here and a cry there, seems to now be taking the risk seriously).

Which sort of leaves just us. We have to act in our own best interests and, for me, at least, that means not putting all your ova into one open-top, woven reed container. So, I converted one of my machines to a Linux machine.

Having used my Ubuntu/Linux machine all week, what have I learned? First, it boots way faster than Windows did. Everything is quicker, snappier now. Second, all of the apps that come pre-loaded with Ubuntu mimic or improve on similar Windows-based apps. Third, most things are the same or about the same. Firefox, for example, works the same. Some of the drop down menus are in different places but I strongly suspect you can move them around if you don't like them where they are. I consider the fact that the user experience is similar in many ways to Windows to be a huge plus, by the way. The last thing I wanted to do was to have to learn a whole new workflow. The similarity in experience also allows me, I think, to really appreciate where Ubuntu is better than Windows, as well.

I also ran into my first snag this week. I went to download a piece of freeware only to realize that there was no Linux version of it. This led me to do a little research and was quickly able to find that the capability was already built into Ubuntu. I am pretty sure that all my surprises will not be that pleasant but that was pretty cool.

There are also things that I don't yet understand. System maintenance, for example. I am used to a whole series of activities (defragging the hard drive, clearing the temp files, etc.) to keep my Windows machine operating at peak efficiency. Do you not have to do this with Linux? I don't know. It is too early to be worried about too much of this stuff but at some point in the future, I suspect that I am going to have to figure it out.

In short, so far, so good.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

Have been enjoying your work for sometime and glad to see you've moved to Linux - some real advantages to be had!

I'm sure you've had other offers of help but to quickly answer a couple of your questions:

- Defragging is not necessary in Linux.

- Deleting system temp files will also be handled more or less automatically. You can, of course, choose to have this done at more regular intervals if you wish for reasons of privacy or security. But generally on a single-user machine, there's no need to worry about it.

Compared to Windows, installed programs can be updated much more frequently as the open source software community adds features, closes bugs and addresses security holes. It's a good idea to keep your installed packages up to date using the package management software built into Ubuntu.