Fedora up with Windows

You may remember a while back I wrote a column about why nothing works? Well, even though it means getting thoroughly berated by my colleagues, I have seriously been considering jacking it all in and buying a Mac.

One thing has been bothering me however (and it’s not the slurs on my sexuality), to get an Apple product I'm basically limited to one thing, the 20” iMac. A Mac Mini just isn't powerful enough for my day-to-day machine, I don't want a laptop and I really can't afford a G5 which means I'm limited to the iMac range. As I already have a Formac (ironically) 20” TFT monitor I'll have to offload that on Ebay, so I'm certainly not going to downgrade my screen size. Therefore there's clearly just one product on the market open to me, and that's still not fantastically cheap, if I sell all this stuff around me now, I'm going to be several hundred pounds short as is.

"A Mac Mini just isn't powerful enough for my day-to-day machine, I don't want a laptop and I really can't afford a G5 which means I'm limited to the iMac range."

This sounds like a hell of a lot of work on the offchance that I'm happier with what I've bought. What if I hate it? I'm stuck with a £1200 piece of object d'art which I'll proudly display in my office, all the time cursing myself for not sticking to Bill's own tried and trusted. Every time I try right-clicking or go looking for Control Panel, the demons of Tech Superiority will chuckle to themselves whilst chalking up all the more reasons to drag me into Computing Hell when I die (Where, I'm lead to believe, I'll be forced to browse the Internet via dialup on OS/2 Warp for all eternity).

So, I figured I really needed a bit of a trial run at this kind of thing, but what to do? Apple rather strangely stopped their "Try a Mac Mini for 30 days" promotion after something like a week and quite frankly picking one up from Ebay to me is the moral equivalent of buying a used pair of pants. Seeing as the basic premise surprisingly wasn't "Can I do what I want on OSX?", as there's a million applications for every operating system under the sun, so finding programs won't be a problem. I really need to ask myself, "Can I do what I want without Windows?" and to that end I decided that it was time to find out. So, earlier this week I installed Fedora Core 4.

Why Fedora, you may ask? Linux is a minefield to the new user, it really is. It's like giving £20,000 to a 17 year old who's just passed their test and saying "Go buy a car, but you can't test drive any". Someone said Fedora would give me the best 'new user experience' and here I am. The difference is, when I say 'Here I am' I really mean it, I'm writing this on Open Office 2.0 as we speak.

This isn't really aimed at being a full on review or anything, more just a quick journal of experiences. There's a thousand "OMG, I switched to Linux and it sucks/rocks" articles out there and I don't see any point in dredging up the whole Windows vs. Linux argument again, but that said every time I install some kind of Linux in my 'Bi-Annual Hating Windows Roadshow' I'm always a little more impressed with what ends up on my desktop and this time was no exception. After downloading the four-disk install pack (which incidentally allows me to go from a standard Joe User desktop install to a full enterprise server install) and booting up from the CD, I answered a handful of questions no more complex than a Windows set-up and I was at my desktop.

I have to admit, so far I'm coloured impressed. Where usually I would be messing about with Xwindows, I have a 1600x1200 desktop in front of me. Where I would be trying to get networking going, it's on the LAN, out to the Internet and beyond and finally (most importantly) Firefox came preinstalled allowing me to get on with downloading what I need. I love Firefox, I really do. It's the one application which I thought would mean very little to me (hey, it's just a web browser surely?) and in reality I can't get enough of it. The bonus here is that Firefox under Linux operates exactly like it does under Windows... except for the fonts. The fonts are so weeny, and even getting ahead of myself and installing the Windows font pack doesn't quite give me the same font experience I was used to. I hope this doesn't require too much messing about or else my opinion may seriously be dented seeing as I scour the net A LOT and trying to read sites using an electron microscope isn't exactly my idea of fun when I already wear glasses.

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Chris Caines

After finding out that RPMs could be installed directly from a download through Firefox, I managed to get things like GAIM, XChat and Synergy all working pretty quickly. I still have some hangups with Xwindows it seems and the concept of 'Display Managers' and permissions to access them left me a little cold.. at the moment all I need to remember is to do 'xhost +' whenever something doesn't work.

"If someone says to me "Recompile your kernel" they may as well say "Format your hard-disk and sacrifice a virgin to Linus". "

Also running applications from a terminal, whilst annoying, is a little more straightforward now as I can easily add icons to the desktop to escape it. I was always a little uncomfortable with Linux not disassociating the desktop and the command line for guys like me who are used to a GUI. Whilst I appreciate it's the core method of talking to the OS, frankly I just can't be dealing with it.

Having moved to a lot of open source applications on Windows anyway prior to my decision to give Fedora a bash, I was obviously pleasantly surprised to find that most of them work exactly the same under Linux. Even Open Office, something so fundamentally different to its clone, is massively intuitive if you've been a heavy Microsoft Office user.

Unfortunately the cracks started to appear in my otherwise foolproof plan; I needed to install some software to connect to my work VPN (Virtual Private Network). I was tense, but confident in the fact that by now the hideous command-line world of Linux networking should have at least some kind of GUI front end to it, which to my delight it did. They even had fool proof instructions on how to install it on Fedora Core 4... wait, I'VE got Fedora Core 4. This should be a doddle.

And to be fair, it was. Until the time came to test the installation, whereby it failed claiming a module wasn't loaded. When I went to check the troubleshooting tips we started to get into the horrible world of kernels and recompilation, modprobing and .conf files. No, no, no no... this was not what I wanted at all. You see, this is exactly where Linux falls down for us wannabees, under the bonnet this mean, ugly, unhelpful kernel sits growling at you and if you don't have just the right mix of this or that, it all goes to, well... crap. The instructions for my OS were there, I followed them step by step... it should work and, if it doesn't, I expect a couple of straightforward steps to make it. If someone says to me "Recompile your kernel" they may as well say "Format your hard-disk and sacrifice a virgin to Linus".

Even though YUM seems to be a great little stopgap for installing things (Ah, the beauty of being able to ignore dependencies) I'm still having a problem with a few other applications, right now I'm not listening to much music, recorded or live and I'm dreading trying to get WINE working to run some applications I need for work (provided I can get on the VPN). It's irritating, as I know the applications are out there to let me do whatever I want... I just need to get at them.

All in all, I'm going to stick with it. I figure if I can use Linux for a couple of months, one of two things will happen. I'll either decide that I really can't live without Windows and go back to the light, the viruses, the crashing, the weirdness of my USB. However, maybe I'll go ahead and start saving for an iMac, or I may even just stick with Fedora as I think I'm quite starting to like it.

The clincher of course; if I buy Apple, I won't have to grow a beard.