Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Gadget Goodies 25 -- The Experiment Begins

image copyright William E Kraski, August 2, 2014
I've been rewriting this multiple times. Hopefully, this won't be a total washout, by the time this sees the light of day.  To most of us, the circuitous route through tech details or academic business papers is nothing short of deadly boring.  To the geek or or the business student, it's an exciting adventure, traveling from situation to solution.

That's an ASUS tablet PC netbook to the left.  Model T101MT, to be specific.  And it's the beginning of this particular adventure.

In my earlier days of computing, I really didn't feel much need for portability.  Software choice was limited, so my documents on floppy were all I felt I needed.  Somewhere in the lifespan of Windows XP, Windows and software options became much more interesting.  And I wanted my computer with me.

As I was looking at laptops, I spotted a Toshiba tablet PC.  And I recognized the possibilities with different input types, including handwriting.  But our technology doesn't always move forward at the pace we want it to.  In this case, battery technology.  A few months of hauling the Toshiba around for hours would begin to feel like I was carrying a 50 pound load to power a 2 pound laptop for what seemed like 3 hours or less.  The Toshiba became stationary and I was praying for a smaller, lighter alternative.  Which turned out to be the ASUS a point.

My ASUS came with the wrong version of Windows 7 to use the tablet PC features.  There was an upgrade available to the right version.  But it would cost extra and there were horror stories about upgrading instead of a clean installation.  To quote the old time movies, "Curses.  Foiled again."  But maybe not.

I've mentioned linux before.  I've used a variety of brands and versions.  So, I thought I'd try creating a secondary section of the hard drive just for linux and have a device I could boot into either operating system.  And, just possibly, the right version of linux might get me the features I should have had, but was missing.  After some study, I settled on Linux Mint 13.  I created the installation DVD and prepared to prove what a tech guru I was.  Yeah, right!

We've all hit a button too soon or the wrong button or whatever.  That was me: "all thumbs Bill".  Not paying close enough attention to my choices, instead of creating two side by side operating systems, I wiped out Windows and installed LM13 as my sole operating system.  Oops!!!

That turned out to be a much better situation than it might first seem to be.  The way Linux Mint 13 acted and looked, it wasn't totally foreign territory.  It wouldn't take much learning for a strictly Windows user to install the right software and handle most of the basic functions they normally used in Windows.  No loss.  But, alas, no tablet PC features, either.

This year, I decided to re-examine the possibilities.  I still stuck with Linux Mint, but version 17, this time.  I saved the data and documents I needed to and wiped out 13, replacing it with 17.  It was as easy and straight forward as the previous installation.  And 17 gave me the tablet PC features I wanted, plus running faster than Windows.  Which makes linux sound like the ideal operating system, which it is and isn't.  And that leads me to a bit of editorializing and a comparison.

Windows can be clunky and use resources in unusual ways.  But it's consistent from one machine to another.  There are some costs to that consistency.  To gain it, it costs the user hundreds of dollars for each version.  And there's an entitlement mentality that gets drilled into the user.  It just needs to work, God forbid that the user has a clue how.  So, when there's a problem, they have to pay to get it fixed.  Plus each version of Windows requires more from the hardware.  There's a cost in original hardware, a cost in lack of understanding, a cost in software, and a cost in fixing issues.

Linux is definitely ready for prime time, but not for the mainstream.  It's free, although there are paid versions.  It can handle older hardware.  And the capabilities have improved drastically since I first started playing with linux.  But the user can't live in the same kind of entitlement mentality that a Windows user does.  There are some things that a user needs to know how to tweak to get working right.  The upside of that is that you aren't paying someone else to fix a problem.  But I have a friend who is so non-tech that I'd never give her a linux machine unless I knew I'd be around to help her with it, if needed.

Then there's fragmentation.  People talk about how fragmented Android is because there are devices running very old versions.  Linux has a different variation of that.  There are a number of different base versions  that have their own way of installing things and accessing hardware.  Each variety is developing parallel to the rest.  For instance, Linux Mint and Ubuntu are based on Debian.  There are others that use methodology developed by RedHat or SUSE, etc.  Each flavor will have different strengths and weaknesses.  And it's likely that someone familiar with one variety may not be nearly as helpful with other variations.

And there's another issue.  The basic software needs are well covered.  But there are some more specialized things that may be handled much better or solely by Windows or Mac software.  There are several ways to run Windows software under linux, but not all Windows programs will work.  So, there are software areas where linux lags behind.  And, unfortunately, smartphone sync is one of those areas.  Phone makers seem to have ignored the linux market.

All of that tells me that, as good as linux has become, the mass market isn't ready to deal with it in the same way that Windows and Mac are received.  At the same time, if I didn't have some specialized software that I'm unwilling to give up, I'd be running nothing but Linux Mint 17 in a heartbeat.  It's that good!  We'll talk more about that, next time.  Along with the rest of the experiment.

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