Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Why Linux? Why Debian?

Why Linux? Why Debian?

Here is a great article that fits nicely about why I choose Debian over other Linux distributions. My first attempt at linux was with Debian Potato. I was able to install the OS but I couldn't figure out how to get the graphics to work. I was able to login at the prompt but I didn't know what to do in Linux or why I'd want to work in Linux. It certainly didn't seem like it was a reason to switch from Windows.

I started with Debian because the Red Hat website said they wanted money for Linux and I didn't want to spend time downloading something that would have a type of shareware restriction. Debian was one of the only distro's that was free and they had a step by step guide for downloading and installing the OS. Of course, that didn't include an easy graphics installation.

My second distro was Mandrake. This installed a GUI interface without any problems. In fact it seemed modeled after Windows 2000 installations. I was able to finally see what Linux was all about. It had a few games installed but I had a hard time understanding what was so special about Linux. Why were so many people talking about it? I soon found problems with Mandrake. It was easily installed but I quickly broke it probably because of my inexperience with Linux. And I wasn't able to easily update the software because Mandrake also wanted to charge money for their software. It is possible that by spending money on either Red Hat or Mandrake, I would have increased my enjoyment of Linux but I wanted to test-drive Linux and see what all the fuss was about.

I gave up on Linux for 3-4 months. Sure, I had it installed as part of a dual-boot environment at home and as a seperate test computer at work but the software did very little for me. I was able to play a couple games that were fun (Lbreaker) but as far as productivity it hindered more than it helped.

After trying Debian again and toughing out the video driver issue, I was able to understand why Linux was doing so well. (I attempted to install a newer Xserver from the source, which worked but I found out later that all I had to do was work with testing) Linux/ Debian gave me hundreds of quality enterprise software that wasn't even available under Windows, let alone easily found amongst the proprietary crap. I was able to monitor network traffice with EtherApe, use MRTG to easily monitor traffic. I figured out that if I spent time understanding what all the 8,000 packages did, I would be able to learn how to better manage all types of computers.

After a while of being able to create test environments on Debian, I was required to go back to Windows exclusively. I learned quickly that there were some things that were easier to do on Debian that couldn't be done on Windows. I downloaded Cygwin and other Windows ports for GPL software and found that it was inevitably harder to keep software up-to-date than it was with Debian. Under Debian, I can 'apt-get upgrade' to have every software package installed from Debian upgraded without breaking my system.

Now I compare my Windows 2000 machine to Debian unstable and find Windows much more unstable. The Windows hard drive constantly needs hand holding because of fragementing. The Debian machine has never needed defragmentation, never and I have abused the Debian machine more. My computer quickly because a test machine that constantly gets software installed and uninstalled which works out fine under Debian but not under Windows. Granted Microsoft controls only a fraction of the packages installed on it whereas I am usually able to use Debian packages for 99% (unofficial packages like mplayer may take up to 5%), but under Debian the system works after it is installed.

Anyways, I probably won't convince anyone of which OS to use but hopefully I can encourage someone else to try out Debian and fight through the initial difficulties.