/var/opinion - More Power to Linux

New digs means an opportunity for Linuxization of the home.

What a month. I'm thinking of changing my name to Nicholas Almighty in hope God will send me plans for an ark. This has been one of the rainiest years on record for south central Texas. The rain hasn't bothered me too much because the weather is still warm, but it seems as if anything more than a drizzle causes power and cable interruptions in my little section of San Antonio. I have potent power-surge protectors and a UPS (that stopped working recently, unfortunately), but the frequent power surges from having the power drop out repeatedly eventually fried my server, and then fried the RAID cage in the server after I fixed it. I didn't think the latter was possible, but I have no other explanation for why, immediately after one of the latest power outages, the RAID cage stopped recognizing one of the drives. I guess electronics is electronics, and anything can blow. My replacement cage arrived literally as I was typing this, so I should have a working server again soon.

I'm hoping that by the time you read this, I will have moved to a house in a small town just outside San Antonio. I don't know if the new location will solve my power problems or make them worse, but I do know it means I have to give up cable, and along with it, Roadrunner. The only Internet access in this area is dial-up, satellite and wireless. I opted for wireless broadband, although I use the term “broadband” loosely, as we're talking about a maximum of about 800Kbps download speed. When I signed up, the fellow remarked that I was about the fourth Linux user he'd encountered this month. He confessed that he's not very familiar with Linux, although his company runs Linux on some servers.

He said there's a noticeable increase in Linux usage among his customers. That didn't surprise me, but his next comment did. He said he figures Linux is gaining some popularity because it's no longer a command-line-only operating system. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. Most computer users can remain blissfully ignorant of how long Linux has had superior graphical desktops, because they have something they consider to be good enough. Most of us are of the opinion that alternatives like Windows aren't good enough, because we've been feasting on steak for quite some time. We have a point of reference. They don't.

I have a feeling that Linux evangelism doesn't work very well for spreading the word that Linux is a viable desktop. The fact that Dell now preloads Linux on desktop machines works much better. People visit Dell for a variety of reasons. It gives Linux visible credibility to see it as an option for Dell machines. In fact, I can't help but wonder if Dell's decision to preload Linux had something to do with this fellow hearing more about Linux users.

One of the dedications in a Linux book I wrote credits Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer for promoting Linux by making Windows more undesirable with every release. Look for a big influx of Linux users if Microsoft turns a recent patent idea into reality. Microsoft wants to add insult to injury by making Office as undesirable as Windows. The idea is to make its office applications (Word, Excel and so on) examine your documents and collect data about you, so that Microsoft can sell targeted advertising. I'm not sure where Microsoft expects to place the smart ads. Perhaps they'll appear in a window within its word processor and spreadsheet. If so, this puts a whole new spin on an old “clippy” talking paper-clip joke. Now, you'll get a custom ad like, “It looks like you're composing a suicide letter. May we interest you in Gillette razor blades? They're on special this week at your local Walgreens.” I, for one, say go for it Microsoft. A rush to OpenOffice.org or any other alternative office suite would be nothing but good news for Linux.

Moving to a permanent residence means I can start thinking about a Linux-based home. The house is too small to do anything really fancy, but I can build a simple multimedia box that also controls a number of house functions like lights and the thermostat. Ideally, I'd like to use voice commands to control some things. It's too bad that so little work seems to be ongoing for Linux voice recognition. A cursory search turned up a list of projects, but most of them haven't been touched in years. Sphinx 4 (cmusphinx.org) looks like the only decent active project. If you know of any others, please share.

I'm also thinking of setting up a tiny recording studio in the garage for myself and my kids. The Rosegarden music editor and midi sequencer may not be as powerful as some of the Windows commercial products, but it's remarkably feature-rich. It certainly has enough power for our meager talents.

Regardless, I'm looking forward to whatever Linuxization I can do to my new home. Wish me luck, but if you say, “more power to you”, I prefer it to be steady state, no surges.

Nicholas Petreley is Editor in Chief of Linux Journal and a former programmer, teacher, analyst and consultant who has been working with and writing about Linux for more than ten years.

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