Thursday, December 4, 2008

Linux

The day before Thanksgiving my new Dell Inspiron 910 mini, aka, netbook arrived. A few days after Thanksgiving I returned it. Why? Linux.

I had long been curious about the Linux operating system (OS), which is one of the many derived from Unix, developed at Bell Telephone Laboratory in the late 1970s. Linux is especially well suited to the communications needs of small devices.

I ordered my mini 9 with the Dell installed flavor of Linux: Ubuntu 8.04.1. It is loaded with most of what you would need to connect to the Internet. It also has Open Office, which like Linux, is open source and free.

As bad as WindowsXP is in providing info on Internet connections, at least it provides info on Internet connections. With Ubuntu Linux it is largely a mystery. I was able to connect but it took quite a while before I got the hang of positioning my cursor over a changing mini icon in the top panel and trying catch a glimpse of the changing connection status. This info cannot be found through a menu.

One of the advantages of Linux is that it is stable. My system froze three times in less than a week. The worst was when I was selecting a system screen saver. Froze solid. If there was an equivalent of Ctl-Alt-Del I never found it. Had to remove the battery to restart. Yes, I read the documentation.

The one application that I really wanted to install was Skype, which does Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP). I found it at the Skype web site. Skype had different icons for the versions of Linux:

http://www.skype.com/download/skype/linux/choose/

Ubuntu 7.04-8.04
Debian Etch
Xandros
Dynamic
Static
Static OSS
Fedora 7
Fedora Core 6
OpenSUSE 10+
Mandriva
Centos

Some have the same file as that for Ubuntu:

skype-debian_2.0.0.72-1_i386.deb

Notice i386 in the file name? Neither did I. Apparently Ubuntu or Dell's version of Ubuntu is NOT compatible with i386 architecture, as in the kind that Windows and MacOS run on. The bottom line is that I got error messages every time I tried to install Skype on my new netbook PC. I tried often.

Since Skype uses a proprietary protocol I considered an open Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) VOIP app, Gizmo5, but it did not have a version for Ubuntu:

http://gizmo5.com/pc/download/linux/

The cryptic error message was innocuous enough, however, I did not understand it until a techie explained to me the short version that I just conveyed. No, not a Dell techie. Someone at Canonical whose number I received from a Dell person. The Canonical person explained that Dell had a bad habit of sending Dell customers to Canonical, which is not responsible for supporting Ubuntu on Dell PCs.

Dell had the same reaction as Microsoft several years ago when I had the temerity to ask for help when the OS balked at an attempt to install software on my PC. It seems that the OS provider cannot be expected to assist in such cases and that the OS is provided for its own enjoyment and not as a platform for running the nasty little applications written by those third party entities.

Apple Computers, of course, does not have as much of a problem as it maintains a stranglehold on the relationship between its hardware and OS. This accounts, but only in part, for its outrageously overpriced products.

I made a couple of other attempts to install other software, even breaking the install package provided in Ubuntu.

I also am trying Verizon Wireless BROADBANDACCESS, a wireless connection to the Internet, which runs at DSL speed. I bought the newest and smallest "modem", the USB760, which can only be ordered online, not in the Verizon Wireless stores. It was the only one that indicated that it could run on Linux.

http://www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/store/controller?item=planFirst&action=viewPhoneDetail&selectedPhoneId=4327&changingCompletedOrder=

Windows® 2000, XP, Vista and Mac OS X 10.4.0 or higher or Linux

By the time it arrived I had already returned my Dell mini 9. Just as well. The Verizon Wireless BROADBANDACCESS USB760 paper documentation provided gave no indication the company had ever heard of Linux.

After returning the Dell mini 9 I stumbled upon a PC Magazine online (it's only online now) review of netbooks:

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2334967,00.asp

Featured in this roundup:

Acer Aspire One ($319 street)

The Acer Aspire One is aggressively priced and will entice customers with its Intel Atom processor and a well-developed Linux operating system.


ASUS N10Jc-A1 ($650 street)

This netbook's advanced features—an HDMI port, nVidia graphics, and a big battery—cater to sophisticated consumers and small-business users with tight budgets.


Dell Inspiron Mini 9 ($424 direct after instant savings)*

Although it's not the best netbook available, the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 might have enough appeal to propel this category into the mainstream.

*The E-Value code for the configuration we reviewed is no longer valid. You can configure a Mini 9 on Dell's Web site the same way for $424 ($474 minus $50 instant savings taken off the purchase price).


HP Mini 1000 ($550 direct)

The Mini 1000 is arguably the sexiest netbook on the market, and it's the only one shipping with mobile broadband.


Lenovo IdeaPad S10 ($469 direct)

The S10 has all the essentials of a solid netbook, including a 10-inch screen, an Atom processor, and a 160GB hard drive.


MSI Wind ($400 street)

Out of all the netbooks available in the market, the $400 MSI Wind is the best deal.


Notice how blithely pcmag mentions Acer Aspire One ... well-developed Linux operating system. Yes, Linux indeed. The full review by pcmag states:

The Aspire One runs a customized Linux operating system called Linpus Linux Lite, which is basically a stripped-down version of Fedora.

Say what? Does the reviewer even know what that means? Does it support the newly important i386? Can it run something like ... oh... Skype? Linpus Linux Lite is not on the list of eleven Linux flavors that Skype thinks it can handle.

I really wanted Linux. I am still tempted to try it again. However, not before the mainstream media starts to evaluate it more seriously. Linux cannot continue to float on the niceties of open systems and free software for the masses. A profit driven entity would never get away with this. Linux may be free but it should not get a free pass. For now give me a netbook with ... dare I say it ... WindowsXP. Greed is good!

1 comment:

Ken said...

My brother Gary sent this:

Bought an Acer Aspire, $400, 15.4 display, Vista.
Works great.

My response:
You're supposed to post to the blog, not send personal e-mail.

Thanks. What series? How do you like Vista?

http://acer.com/products/notebook/index.htm

The advantage of the netbook is that it is small and you pay for smallness. More likely to take it with you.

http://www.dell.com/content/topics/topic.aspx/global/segments/topics/k12/inspiron_mini?c=us&l=en&s=k12&cs=RC956850&ST=Acer%20Aspire&dgc=ST&cid=35323&lid=883788

Weight may be under three pounds. The PC I returned had solid state memory, which I prefer to a hard drive: no moving parts, quicker laoding of programs, especially at startup.