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6. Try Unix-based OS if you're tired of Windows

By Mark Alberstat

Hello Mark:

Congrats on the column. I think it will be a good addition to the newspaper.

You mention only one operating system, Windows. I think the column would be more complete if you mentioned other operating systems, such as GNU / Linux, although that is only one of many.

Doug Guptil,

FED UP WITH Windows? Tired of blue screens? Had enough of endless upgrades and security problems? Maybe just tired of giving more of your money to Bill Gates. Worry not, the Windows family of operating systems is not your only choice.

True, the vast majority of PCs around the globe are running some form of Windows, but if you don't want to, you don't have to. With a bit of time and willingness to learn, you can switch your OS (operating system) over to one of Microsoft's rivals.

If, however, you are still comfortable with Windows but would like to play around with another system, you can have your cake and eat it too with a multiple-boot machine.

This scenario allows you to have more than one OS on your machine, and early on in your system's startup routine, you choose which operating system you want to use during that particular session.

There are also Windows emulators, which let you run Windows on one of the other operating systems.

When considering using another OS, you don't need to run out and buy a Mac. Windows continues to strive for, but miss, the Mac level of design and reliability. Apple's latest version, OS X (10), is based on Unix and is even more stable than its previous releases.

The world of Windows alternatives is not an overwhelming one.

The most popular system in this field is Linux. If you are considering the switch, this OS may be your best bet. Not only is it free, but it also has a huge user and programmer base that is active in helping newbies get their machine running and their software installed. Chebucto Community Net, for example, has Linux running on six of its 12 servers.

One drawback to Linux is that it has several different distributions, or flavours. Don't be scared off because of this. There are a few big players in this game to keep you on the relative straight and narrow. This list includes Mandrake, RedHat and Lindows. These versions are not free, but cost considerably less than any version of Windows.

FreeBSD is another popular Windows alternative. It is often seen as a free version of Unix for the PC. It is based on the University of California, Berkley, Unix kernel and is therefore thought of as a well-supported and robust OS. FreeBSD is not nearly as popular for home users as Linux but is a common choice for running Internet or intranet servers.

A sibling of FreeBSD is OpenBSD. Users like this OS for its top-notch security record. The Open is for Open Source, not an Open Door for hackers. Another nice thing about OpenBSD is that its production, programmer and shipping base is all here in Canada.

These are only three of your alternatives. NetBSD, Darwin, Amiga, GNU and Minix are a few others.

If you want to start at the low end and learn about operating systems from the ground up, Minix might be for you if you have a spare computer to play with. Minix is freeware that was created for educational purposes for people who want to run a Unix-like system and learn how such systems work from the inside out.

If the thought of diving into one of these systems isn't for you, but you don't want to upgrade to the latest version of Windows, don't fret. Windows95 and 98 are still out there, going strong and you probably have a CD and licence for it in the basement along with that old 486.

A few helpful links:

The Chebucto Community Net Society's Annual General Meeting is April 10 at 7 p.m. at the North Branch Library auditorium, 2285 Gottingen St., Halifax.

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, e-mail Doug Guptil gets a mousepad for inspiring this week's column with his letter.


The Mousepad Index


Originally published 6 April 2003


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