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15. The State of Linux – What to Expect

Programmers and Enthusiasts – For programmers Linux is already a near perfect solution. No other system gives so offers you a wider array of tools and platforms for development. The flexibility is simply amazing and it doesn't carry a price tag. An added benefit is the sense of community and that's priceless.

Enthusiasts never had it so good. There is aways something new to discover and since the system is totally transparent your chances of understanding computing and programming in general – you will be interested if you aren't already – are infinitely higher than in Windows. Tinkering will never be the same again.

For the home user – There are 5 separate areas here, the internet, gaming, basic word processing, administration and multimedia. We aren't going to talk about ease of use here because the days of an ugly and unwieldy interface are long gone, at the moment as far as usability and sheer visual pizazz is concerned Gnome has taken the pants off Windows so there is nothing to worry about there. File management, installing and uninstalling software and basic administration are more streamlined and centralized and as you use Linux more you probably will get over any prejudice toward the command line which is nothing like the impotent DOS prompt. This is an outrageously powerful shell that will accomplish anything you can think off faster than it takes you to select a button. You might be intimidated at first but its the heart of Linux the control centre, the headquarters, your direct line to the kernel. Hardware configuration is not as simple as in Windows mostly because plug and play has complicated things not eased them but it's not difficult either, the best thing to do is set your BIOS to non pnp so that it can configure things especially the sound card, but read read read. There is a lot of documentation on your system and with that behind you everything becomes simple. There is no excuse for ignorance.

15.1. The Specifics – Wordprocessing

Corel WordPerfect is good but for the simplest solution try Abiwordhttp://www.abisource.com/. It's good and bears an uncanny resemblance to MSWord – now now. Both are free and widely available – I don't know about Wordperfect 9 , 8 is free, good and available. Other options are Applixware and Star Office. I haven't used Applix but Star Office is really ugly and slow and just the sort of software that could put you off Linux and its just as bad in Windows. Version 5.1 was tolerable but after Sun took it over its deteriorated and version 5.2 is the pits. Plain text and html editors are sprouting by the day. Most distribution carry a lot of software so look. I'm not much of a spreadsheet person but there is GNUmeric which is not unlike Excel and a glaring inadequacy in printing is now rectified. It looks good. Corel have ported nearly all their apps and they are not as expensive as their Windows counterparts and with the same functionality.

15.2. Multimedia

This is one area where Linux will not be found wanting. There are as many if not more mp3 players than Windows. The most common is XMMS, is somewhat like Winamp and just as good – has some great visualization plugins. Other mp3 players are Gqmpeg, Freeamp, Alsaplayer. That's enough for me. Mpeg1 vcd players are a bit scarce, MTV is good and available – hteztp://www.mtvplayer.com/ free for personal use – a totally free solution is available from lokigames – http://www.lokigames.com/ There are more. There are a few mp2 players movie is good. I' don't have a dvd player so I don't know but Xmovie should tackle mpeg2 streams. Most of my mpeg1 players are GL accelerated and perhaps my vcd playsback as well as Windows Media Player. Ripping is a reality with a lot of options   no more ASPI headaches – most of the Linux apps read digital data directly from the discs and all the popular codecs are available; Xing, Fraunhofer but I use Blade and Lame – two excellent freeware encoders avalible for all platforms. There are also a couple of tools for cdwriting. Check some of the Linux archives.

15.3. Internet

Again things are really happening here though one wishes there were a few more browsers other than Netscape but then Netcape is adequate. There are all the other stuff you will find for Windows, chat utils, instant messaging, ftp, downLoaders etc.

15.4. Games

The problem area is games, there is a project on to port popular games to Linux by Lokigames and they have a number of titles ready – http://www.lokigames.com/Quake 2&3 are out, System Shock, Heavygear etc. The thing here is to make sure you have at least Xfree 4.01 and support for your video card.

15.5. Desktop Publishing

That leaves us with DTP and this is one area where Linux could pound Windows but the thrust has been missing. Linux could really be optimized for DTP. Ghostscript - a PostScript RIP – already offers a professional (if you know how) solution for printing and your printer is probably supported. If you already have a postscript printer there is no problem to start with. For image editing there is Gimp. It is nearly as good as Photoshop – and that's some compliment – but for lack of CMYK and colour management support ruling it out of serious print work but it can be a good semi-professional solution and for web work perfect and it's fun to use. Gimp also has a couple of good drivers for Epson printers. Ghostscript has a problem with bitmaps – not all bitmaps but photographs, you could eventually get some good output but it will take some amount of tweaking. As far as text and vector graphics is concerned it's good enough to replace my Epson driver in Windows (it has a Windows version) GhostScript is available at its homepage http://www.cs.wisc.edu/~ghost/

Word processing is already covered. The problem areas are vector editing and page layout. Framemaker for Linux is a solution and CorelDraw is available but they are both commercial offerings. There are vector editors but all are at a nascent stage. Sketch, Killustrator and Impress are coming along but far away from professional solutions like Draw and Adobe Illustrator. For page layout there is Tex but those used to Pagemaker, Quark or InDesign are not going to be amused, its tough to learn and difficult to control and there are way too many issues with things like fonts and its not wysiwyg – we can't live without that.

On a last note at the moment the only difference in productivity for me is in vector graphics, page layout and games. They are perhaps a year away at which point Linux would have over taken Windows – at least as far as I'm concerned – and I would have little reason to dual boot but I think having Windows is in a odd way comforting as is having Linux, perhaps I will always use them both.