Thursday, February 7, 2013

If I Had my Druthers

Thanks to all of you!
Thanks to all of you! (Photo credit: Victor W.)

Written by Guest Author: Christopher Dawson 

I'm writing this guest post (thanks to +Dietrich Schmitz  for the invite) on an aging Lenovo ThinkPad  X100e. I'm really fond of this little computer. I called it the "holy grail of netbooks" a couple years ago when I first got my hot little hands on it. It isn't as fast as my MacBook Pro and my HP workstation runs circles around it, but it has a wonderful keyboard, is small enough to go anywhere, was cheap enough that I don't worry about it and, most importantly, runs Ubuntu.

I love Ubuntu. Unity is very nice (I know that opinion isn't universally shared, but I'm a fan), and it's downright outstanding on the 11.4" screen on the X100e. I love its endless tweakability and the fact that if I don't want to tweak anything I don't have to. Ubuntu has reached a level of maturity such that it works out of the box (so to speak) on just about any hardware I throw at it. I just created a media center PC for the family using Ubuntu and Plex and it's wonderfully quiet and efficient. A bit of the aforementioned tweaking and the UI looks and feels like a media center and not a computer which made my Luddite wife a happy girl.

Ubuntu runs a development web server in my office and is my go-to virtual machine for testing a variety of applications and technologies. When I run a virtual server or desktop in the cloud, it's almost always Ubuntu and when I help friends and relatives keep old PCs functional, it's Ubuntu that I help them load and begin using.

Sure, there are other distros that are lighter or that might do one or two things better, but in terms of an OS that (to borrow a slogan from Apple) "just works", you can't do much better than Ubuntu. It doesn't hurt that I can have all of the latest bells and whistles without paying for costly upgrades or that the Software Center places a dizzying array of software a few clicks away, again, usually for free. Ubuntu feels like my office...a little messy but something that fits me and the wide variety of work I do very well.

So what does all of this have to do with my druthers? 

First, a note for readers outside of the United States where druthers may sound like a word that some geeky writer made up late at night as his last cup of coffee was beginning to wear off (and yes, that's a remarkably apt description of me right now): druthers is a bastardization of "I'd rather". So if I had my druthers, I'd use Linux all the time. I'd use it in its refined, consumerized form better known as Android and I'd use it for my desktops and laptops in the form of Ubuntu.

But I can't. 

About half my work these days involves Adobe Creative Suite. For the other half, I'm writing and that happens in Google Docs or various content management systems or I'm building and developing in said systems, making Linux a perfectly fine choice. But for that other 50% that's dominated by a set of applications that need Windows or OS X, Linux just isn't an option.

And yes, I'm well aware that there are plenty of open source alternatives to CS6, but in all honesty, I have yet to find anything that works as elegantly for the sort of content creation I need to do. I'm hardly alone in this either. Creative Suite is the best of breed and millions of us can't leave it behind. The same applies to many other professionals tied to Windows- or Mac-specific software that Wine just can't handle.

So, my primary computers are my MacBook Pro and an HP workstation running Windows 8. I'm even somewhat thwarted on the Android front - ArtRage has become a really important part of my workflow and it's iOS-only. The desktop Studio Pro version of ArtRage? Also Windows and Mac only.

A first-world problem to be sure, but one that illustrates very clearly the barriers to Linux adoption on the desktop. When a Linux Advocate like me spends the majority of his time using Mac and Windows machines, there's a problem, and one for which there is no easy solution. I don't think any of us who understand the real value of Linux will be satisfied with the OS simply dominating the server room, either. Desktop Linux can help businesses and schools realize significant cost savings and has many other less tangible benefits as well. 

So today I'm beginning a quest. 

I want to use Linux. I like it better than the alternatives, and, since I spend a lot of my time thinking about how technology can impact schools, I find it very difficult to ignore the bottom line, too. 

Linux and most of the software that runs on the Linux desktop are free. And free is good, right? Whether as in beer or speech, but especially as in beer for cash-strapped schools. Maybe not the best analogy for K12 students and teachers, but I bet you get my point. 

My quest, then, is to find, support, and aggregate the software I need to help me break my Mac and Windows habits. This may not be a quest in which I succeed. I certainly haven't to date. But Linux and open source software in general are evolving more rapidly than ever. Heck, Steam even runs on Linux now. Raspberry Pi exploded in ways that nobody expected. Ubuntu is coming to mobile devices. And my Creative Suite subscription runs out in a month. I'll let you know what I find. Suggestions, thoughts, and comments are welcome via Twitter (@mrdatahs) and Google + (+Christopher Dawson).

Christopher Dawson, Contributing Editor

Christopher Dawson

Contributing Editor, Ziff Davis
Contributing Editor, ZDNet/CBSi (ZDNet Education and Googling Google)
Senior Editor, Edukwest 

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  1. You're not stuck on an OS, you're stuck on an application! I kind of view that like a programmer being stuck on Visual Studio, as if there aren't other workflows that may be different, but let you get the job done.

    Of course, being stuck on a specific vendor "solution" is not a new thing.

    Lastly, I would like to say, why worry if you have to use more than one platform to fulfill your personal and work needs? Proprietary tools, as irritating as they may be, are as unavoidable as taxes.

  2. I have an even older IBM thinkpad t40 with only 512 RAM (for now). It runs archlinux and it's very fast for generic browsing. I do plan to max out the 2Gb RAM at some point, even tho old RAM is soo danged expensive, im confident when i do i will get another decade's use from that old thinkpad.

  3. LOL Cirrus...I had to price SODIMM ddr 2700 1 gig sticks and the sticker price almost choked me. I've owned cars that cost about as much as a 2 gig upgrade to this vintage RAM.