The Heart of Linux
Reflections of a once upon a time everyday Windows user.
It’s hard to remember the span of time when I sat in front of my Windows computer on a daily basis. I sat comfortable in the understanding that using my computer came with some non-negotiable requirements, like the constant vigilance against malware threats and my system bogging down from the antivirus software helping me belay those threats. Who doesn’t remember the ever-popular monthly defragging, and for me at least, a complete wipe and reinstallation of Windows every six to eight months.
These things I accepted as a necessary part of using a computer every day.
A few Windows folks will surely chime in, saying that they have used Windows since Captain Kangaroo was a corporal. They’ll say that they never had to reinstall their system due to it becoming unstable, sometimes rebooting for no reason at all and then booting into a black screen. A black screen that would eventually correct itself if you got up to fix a sandwich and take the dog out. A black screen that gave you no frickin’ idea of what it was, why it happened or how to fix it.
If that didn’t happen to you, then you must certainly be living a charmed life. At least the infamous blue screen gave you gibberish, numbers and symbols created by the ancients, a stargate destination to start untangling the ball of fishing line that was your Windows computer.
I won’t take time to challenge those folks who certainly will chime in to claim this was not a problem for them. I can understand how they might have dodged these nasty events. Checking their email twice a day and doing their taxes annually. Maybe doing some work at home via their office software. Reading the online front page of their daily newspaper. Other than that, those computers sat unused for the most part.
Now you guys and girls like me downloaded and installed every piece of shareware, crapware and nyuk nyuk bop-ware that caught your eye or fired your imagination. “Napster? We dun need no stinkin’ Napster. We have newsgroups.” Subsequently, we uninstalled and purged said software after it failed us or we become bored with it. We all know the truth about this behavior; it can turn your registry into a glob of slow-boiling cruft and goo. I believe it became almost ritualistic for many of us, a sort of self-inflicted digital carnage to be created again to repeat the cycle.
Most of us know that uninstalling a Windows application doesn’t necessarily mean all traces of it are gone. If you disagree, try using the standard Windows uninstall program to get McAfee antivirus from your machine. Heck, McAfee knows that Windows uninstaller on their software can hose your machine and provide their own uninstaller. Even that has about a 40% chance of screwing your system up.
As well, Windows computers have buried in the program files and deeper a large number of .dll files. The odd thing is, many of them have the same name, although each one is used by a different application. The new user, feeling assured that they have a firm grasp on the way their computer works, goes about the task of deleting these “duplicates.”
Oh, look everybody…a Black Screen. How nice. I guess that means it’s time to reinstall…
So it went then, and I am sure, so it goes now. We do one of two things as mainstream computer users: We search for an answer to fix our own screw ups or we seek outside technical support. With the later, we each do our little parts to put our technical supports’ kids through college.
I said “mainstream.” As much as I would like to further the illusion, Linux isn’t mainstream, even in the broadest sense of the term. We’re getting there though. One out of six people who are told by me that their computer will be running Linux have at least an idea of what Linux is. One out of 30 have used it, or do use it outside of the home, whether at school or work. Maybe three out of 100 clap with glee, fully jacked up that they won’t have to blow away a Windows install and replace it with Linux, but the chances are good they will blow away our custom distro and replace it with their preferred distro.
And just one of those silly little meaningless statistics: Not one of those three out of 100 were over the age of 24, for what it’s worth.
An argument has taken the form of a verbal running gun battle at our shop, depending on who’s working that day. Does training a student in the use of Linux deprive them of valuable, life-long learning opportunities? I mean, it’s hard to argue the value of being able to delve into the registry and edit the offending subkeys and values that are allowing your banking information to be spread across three continents. How are they to learn the ins and outs of virus and malware protection and for Pete’s sake, do it for the children. Make sure they learn how to use Malwarebytes. For the love of Linux, please don’t fail these kids.
As for myself and my organization, we’ll stay the course, leaving the necessary information with our Reglue kids. Information that offers them the resources to protect themselves in a Windows world. It’s a scary place out there, with an entirely new environment for hackers and crooks, literally hovering and waiting to pounce on your multiple Internet of Things. It’s not a “one operating system does all” world any more. Microsoft has stumbled around and tried not to say it while doing exactly that, incorporating Linux into their most profitable divisions.
So, for me, bored is good. The system I installed when 12.04 was released has upgraded with every LTS and is running just fine. I will get my tinker’s damn on this week, exploring the new 16.04 Ubuntu Mate version Sir Randy Noseworthy has spun for us, to include everything a student might need in order to do his or her best in school. Oh, and that system? We’ll put VirtualBox on the computers that go to more advanced students.
In this scholastic environment, you never know when you might have to open Windows.
Ken Starks is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @Reglue