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Why Linux and How to Get There

What is to replace Windows 2000 and XP? Microsoft will be supporting Windows XP until April 8, 2014. As that date approaches and passes there will be programs that no longer support it. The operating systems that replace it are available in either 32 bit or 64 bit versions. The significance is that 32 bit values go up to about 4 billion while 64 bit values go bigger (4 billion times that big). Programs that work on big things (like Maps and Pictures) will start to require 64 bit operating systems. The 32 bit to 64 bit change will have complications. There will be some programs that just don't work anymore and many little things to fix and patch.

From XP to Windows 7 is a significant change, as was the change from NT to 2000 or XP. Unlike the jump from NT, it doesn't offer much advantage. What I'm getting at is that there is no simple step from XP to anything that gives much benefit. What makes most sense, I think, is to stay with Windows XP until it's practical to go to a 64 bit operating system.

On the hardware side, change has slowed. The days of size and speed doubling every two years are over. Most computers (the newer ones) are 64 bit machines and can run either 32 bit or 64 bit operating systems. Five year old computers are still fast compared to the newest computers and can accommodate large amounts of memory.

Sticking with XP a while longer will make the change even harder as Windows 7 is replaced by another significantly different version. Even including that, skipping versions is always a benefit. One big change is simpler than two little ones. But Microsoft has done it again - Windows 8 is not an improved Windows 7, but is a changed Windows 7. I'll skip the rant and get to the point: Windows 8 is not good.

Faced with an uncomfortable Windows upgrade coupled with a 32 to 64 bit change, it makes sense to consider how much more effort it would take to make an even bigger change. The possibility I see is that Linux is becoming practical. Its capability and user base are growing fast and, because it is developed by its users, these two reinforce each other.

I see two big Linux advantages. First, it is free, and second, it changes gradually and compatibly rather than in occasional very different versions. Its changes are designed and implemented by its users, not by a corporation implementing planned obsolescence. Application programs are likewise developed by the user community and are usually free. Many users share our concern of being compatible with Windows, so Linux applications use formats and procedures in common with Windows programs. There is a large and successful effort to enable Linux to run Windows programs without using Windows itself.

In 2011 I replaced my Windows servers with Linux servers. Now, I'm replacing my workstations. (No, it was not expensive. The free software installed on the existing computers ended up costing me absolutely nothing.)

A Windows to Linux change for a workstation, is more complicated than the server change. We all run many programs and each one has to be addressed. For example, Microsoft Office can be replaced by Open Office to some extent. Open Office has no replacement for Access but Access can probably run in a Windows-like shell (probably the one called WINE). Some programs will require conversion, but, to go to 64 bit Windows, some will require conversion anyway. Some Windows programs are available for Linux, in fact some were originally Linux programs, and more will be as time passes.

My plan is to start using Linux for my own work. The main computer I use runs Windows 2000. I'm planning to replace that with a Linux machine running the old computer as a virtual machine. Both can run at the same time (no booting back and forth as there is with dual boot systems) and they can use the same network drives. I think that should allow me to continue to be productive while gradually learning to use Linux for most everything.

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