Linux revisited

Once upon a time, I was very familiar with Unix, included the BSD variations (legal wranglings over which triggered the development of Linux by Linus Torvalds) both at the management/operational level and as a programmer. However, as I have mostly used Windows for my desktop activities rather than say an Apple Mac (which is built on a version of BSD Unix – called Darwin, developed at NeXT, the company Steve Jobs ran after he was sacked by Apple long ago) and not touched Linux/Unix much.

Back in the early 90s, I even had a few old Sun Sparcstations at home (and a small network at home, with an early version of ISDN 2, linked to the office network, and on to the internet – my kids, now grown up, have always had access to the internet, much earlier than many of their peers) and more recently I have had run a small linux farm to carry out some heavy processing tasks (video rendering for example).

From time to time, I have tried out a new Linux distribution where a live cd was offered (no installation required) or run the odd virtual machine to host a build to have a play. My primary desktop machines have been largely dedicated to running Adobe Photoshop and other demanding applications not generally available on Linux and the work laptops have never had much spare capacity (processor or otherwise) and working away from home all the times means I need something portable.

Finally, an opportunity appeared. My wife was having a lot of problems with a Toshiba Tecra M7 Windows Tablet PC (a big laptop, with a screen that flips over and can be used with a pen). As is so often the case with Windows, it was just getting slower and slower and having various problems. There are only so many times you can rebuild a Windows PC, re-install everything, and then start to use again knowing it will degrade over 6 months, before you give up. It was also not that portable, had some disk reliability problems, a bad battery, a poor power connection. She is now happily using an Apple MacBook (which I get to play with every now and then).

I took the Tecra to bits, replaced the power socket (this should have been a simple module replacement with a fly lead, but I did not have the right component, so ended up soldering the wires from the old fly lead to the new socket), bought a decent third party replacement power supply unit (unlike most replacements, the lead to the computer has a decent permanent plug suitable for some laptops, and a set of alternative plugs that fit over the permanent plug – rather than flimsy small pin plug fittings). I also picked up a little more memory and bought a new 2.5" SATA hdd (320GB compared to 80Gb, only 5400rpm).

I chose Ubuntu 10.10 as the new operating system. It is one of the most popular and well supported distributions and has very good hardware compatibility. It installed quickly and easily, recognised all of the hardware on my laptop (including the Wacom digitiser overlay on the screen), and demonstrated great stability & performance on the refreshed hardware. I have no doubt that in 6 months time, it will be equally as stable and performant. I have a wide range of very capable software – all free – running, plus several Windows applications (e.g. Kindle for PC and Spotify) using WINE (Wine is not an emulator – provides an ecosystem for Windows applications whereby the calls made by the application to Windows OS provided services are redirected to their Linux equivalents). I have also made Google Chrome my default browser.

A while back, I also bought some cheap Netgear Stora NAS devices. These were somewhat crippled, but as the also work on Linux, it was pretty much inevitable that some people would work out how to crack them so that the full capabilities of Linux could be enjoyed. This includes using NFS – Network File System – that has allowed me to "mount" some of the directories/folders on the NAS onto my laptop (so they look like local directories). It has already proved useful to get at some of files in the heavily encrypted backups of my work laptop that are stored on the NAS – using Truecrypt to handle the security duties).

I now have a decent laptop that has Linux as its primary operating system, with a range of applications and services that serve pretty much all my day-to-day none work computer needs (and some work ones as well), and the inclination to bring myself up to date. At heart I am a techie (a nerd, a geek) but have been losing touch. I have plenty of things to do in the business world, and in the domestic/life world, it is nice to be getting back to some simple sleeves up technical stuff. It is not as if there is anything of interest on TV these days,

We shall see how long my interest lasts.

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