Most folks use computers for basic things that we have come to accept as part of modern life. Email, browsing and shopping on the web and even Facebook have become part of everyday life for many people.
The computer is a good way to pick up information about any of the passions in your life. If pictures are big part of your life, the computer can make it easier to share your love of photography.
Many of these things can now be handled by a smartphone and/or a tablet. Sometimes it can be easier on one of those devices or they can turn out to be a pain. While I have a better solution now, I can remember some painful moments typing passwords on smartphones.
Still there are many of us who find we are more productive on certain tasks using traditional computers. I am one of those people who can keep more than one computer busy. That is my desktop pictured at the top of the post.
Computers are even more important for those of us who make our living from them. They are the tools of our trade and good tools as any craftsman will tell you can make all the difference in the world.
I write for a living and build websites to promote my books and articles. I also have a great passion for photography and maps. The ability to accurately place my photos on a map with a computer using GIS information is important to me. It is just impossible to build a good website without a computer, and computers make it much easier to manage photos. With writing often comes the need to illustrate. I no longer even know how to do a quality job of putting together a book or article which includes photos without using a computer.
As a writer, my computer becomes a special place that I visit to think and create. I am troubled by both Windows 8 and Macintosh OS X Lion. While they are the latest and greatest operating systems from the two largest mainstream OS vendors, I think they often get in your way and make us less productive than previous operating systems.
It is annoyning enough to have my smartphone beeping at me when someone in one of my social networks does something. I don't need my computer also doing that.
I don’t want to dig into the details because operating systems are like religion and politics to many folks in technology. I have received enough complaints and been called more nasty names than I care to remember for recent articles detailing the failings of both Microsoft and Apple.
I would like to point out what I am doing to make my life on the computers that I use more productive. It is a solution that has come a long way. It is perhaps one that will bring shudders to some folks, but it something to keep in mind the next time you have to throw away a perfectly good computer just because either Apple or Microsoft has left you behind.
The solution for me is Linux. I am admittedly more technical than most computer users, and I have been using Linux as a hobby for a little over eight years. It has never been my main operating system, but that might be changing.
There are a couple of reasons for that. One is that eight years ago getting a computer to run Linux was a huge technical challenge. It took me nearly a month to get Linux and Windows running on the same machine. I even had to buy a new hard drive controller to make it work. Those days are long gone.
Today’s Linux may well be easier to install than any other operating system. My recent experience with a brand new Apple Mac Mini is a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks picking an Apple product solves all of your problems. While Windows 8 machines have been easier to bring up to speed, I am still left with the annoyances of Windows 8. It is just too complex and busy.
On top of Linux being easier to install, now you can use virtualization to avoid just about every hardware headache in the book. Virtualization which lets you runs different operating systems in software emulation is a trend that is sweeping the world of large corporations.
Fortunately we consumers can also take advantage of it. For $50 I bought VMware’s Fusion product for the Mac. I got Linux installed on my new Mac Mini before Apple even got my new computer completely updated with the latest software.
I am using Xubuntu Linux. It is has a simple interface and comes with a set of applications that I am comfortable using. I am using AbiWord for documents, gThumb for pictures, Gnumeric for spreadsheets, and Thunderbird for email. I have both Firefox and Chrome installed as browers.
My desktop looks intimidating, but it is really not that scary. The left screen is an I5 Windows 8 Lenovo computer. I use it mostly for photo storage and manipulation. I have settled on Adobe’s Lightroom as my photo editing product. I also have photos in Picasa on Windows and iPhoto on my iMac. My email is also available via Postbox on the Windows 8 machine and Mail on my Apple machine. Since I use IMAP based mail clients, I can really look at my mail from any machine including my Nexus 7 table or my LG Spectrum smartphone.
The middle screen in my desktop usually has Linux running on it with six different workspaces. It is very easy for me to move from one task to another. The screen on the right usually has straight Mac stuff running on it. I do my scanning from the Mac. My current favorite graphics tools is Pixelmator which only runs on the Mac. I use a couple of web tools that are cross platform but I also use Rapidweaver and my favorite FTP client, Fetch, is also Mac only. The laptop is my trusty Windows 7 Lenovo machine. It is one of my favorite tools.
I move files between the platforms with Dropbox if I want to move it to or from the Linux world. For the Mac and Windows sides, I often use Google drive. There are times when I cannot wait for Google Drive to update and I will switch to one of my USB thumb drives for moving files.
The virtualization client, VMware Fusion, asks me what to do when I plug in a device to one of the USB ports. I can connect to the Mac or Linux sides of the computer. So far all of the printing and other tasks that I have tried with Linux have worked without any challenges. That is a huge improvement from eight years ago, but Linux has been a reliable partner for the last three or four years. This last time I didn't even have to install a printer drive. It just saw what the Mac had installed.
I will be reporting on my progress over the next few months, but I am already more content on my desktop than I have been in months. With the battle I had with my iLemon and the challenge of getting my Mac Mini up to speed, I am ready for some peace on the desktop.
While I am functional on Windows 8, there is always something annoying me. The famous Charms and I have some challenges on my Lenovo tower that does not have a touch screen. My Lenovo Yoga with a touch screen is more usable, but I still do not find the sense of peace that I do in using Linux.
Instead of the computers trying to control me which I often feel on Mac OS X Lion or Windows 8, I am now back in control. That is the way it should be.
I also plan to install Linux directly on an old Windows laptop. It will be interesting experiment. Given it had Vista and only 2 GBs of ram, this could be a real transformation. I encourage anyone who is tired of the operating system roller coaster to give Linux a try. You can usually download a live CD and try it without making any changes to your computer. It is similar to playing around with virtual machines. For some strange reason the virtual machine software costs $100 more for Windows than it does for the Mac.