"A keyboard. How quaint." - James Doohan

Linux: A Practical Windows Alternative?

Linux: A Practical Windows Alternative?

Friday 24th June 2005

Categories: Reviews, GNU/Linux, FLOSS

Programs and Setup

What's next? That would be the individual programs. First and foremost are the window managers. These are akin to Explorer in Windows, in that they are what you'll be spending most (if not all) of your time in Debian using. The main two are Gnome and KDE, although there are numerous others you can use. I'll be using Gnome for this article, although KDE works in a similar fashion. Like Windows, there is a taskbar at the bottom, but there's a second bar at the top. This includes the Gnome version of the Start menu, the date/time, and small program icons. If you're concerned about making it look nice, there are plenty of themes you can fetch from the internet. If you want, you could make the corners of the windows rounded with a bright colour theme, or give it a metallic look - the choice is yours.

Networking is simple - internet worked on my network straight away, with access to Windows machines a simple samba installation away, no setup options required. In Gnome's file browser, Nautilus, you can access other computers on the network in a Network Neighbourhood fashion, making browsing between computers easy. However, there are some problems once you try to access Windows machines. Nautilus doesn't seem to like providing a username and password, so just tells you you don't have permission to access any machine with Windows on, rather than prompting you for a username and password. A program called LinNeighbourhood allows easy mounting of network shares, but Nautilus should really provide this anyway.

One of the most used set of programs on a computer is an Office suite. OpenOffice.org, which can also be installed on Windows, and Gnome Office are more than up to the task, and it is all intuitive if you have ever used Microsoft Office before. My personal preference is Gnome Office, but both are good enough to be used in place of Office. They can both access and save in Microsoft Office formats, keeping compatibility between the two Operating Systems.

Internet browsers? Well, we've already mentioned those - Mozilla Firefox is available, and is better than Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Firefox is stable, follows standards, and has tabbed browsing. Another feature is extensions - these allow you to add to the program, such as getting weather updates.

Instant messaging? Instead of MSN Messenger, I use Gaim. Not only does this connect with no fuss to MSN, it also deals with various other networks, such as IRC and AIM.

Image editing? The GIMP is substantially better than Paint, with tools such as transparency and layers. It may not be the equal of its expensive counterparts, such as Paint Shop Pro, but it is more than adequate for the average user, and lets you save a tidy sum.

CD burning? K3b is simple to use - even if you had never used any CD writing software before, you could work out what to do in a couple of minutes. Having used Nero before, I think it is fair to say that they are about roughly equal - I don't see how CD writing software could really be improved.

Even the text editor is better than Notepad - it has tabbed browsing, and does syntax highlighting.

For my Canon BJC-210, I found drivers quickly using gimp-print and CUPS. However, I still cannot find fully working drivers for another Canon printer on the network, the MPC190, one of the few problems I've had.

Graphics drivers can be 'fun' to install. For nVidia, although the drivers are decent, the installation process is slightly more complicated than those on Windows may be used to, although anybody than can install Debian in the first place should be able to install the nVidia drivers. ATi drivers are almost not worth bothering with - the performance of ATi cards is severely stunted once you start using Linux. I am also aware of some other hardware problems, although most major brands should be supported.