RedHat LogoBack on the 18th of this month, I wrote about what a sad shape my computers were in. One of the things I did on that day to try and rectify some of the problems was to wipe out my laptop and re-install Windows XP Professional. While reformating the drive, I split it into two partitions so that I could install the Red Hat 9 distribution of Linux on one partition and Windows on another. For the past few weeks, I’ve installed Red Hat, configured it some and been working on it when I can. There hasn’t been a lot of time to work on it with my deluge at work, but I’ve squeezed in a little time here and there. Here’s a little run down of my experience thus far.

The Install
The installation was pretty straightforward. I installed Windows XP on the first partition and after that was all said and done, I downloaded the latest build from the Red Hat ftp server for version 9. After the download, I then burned the ISO format files to three CDs. I installed the first CD, turned on the laptop and Red Hat began installing. The prompts were simple and straight forward and in no time, I had Red Hat 9 installed.

Linux is great until something doesn’t work, or something goes wrong. Since Linux relies heavily on a command line terminal, if you’re not familiar with using terminal (which I’m not) then it can be a bit of a bear. The first hurdle I had to overcome was finding drivers for my wi-fi card. I could only find some beta drivers for my Netgear Dual Band card. Although these drivers may have worked, I found the instructions too dense for me to comprehend. As an alternative, I pulled out my trusty Linksys WPC11 802.11b card and went in search for drivers. I was lucky enough to find them and in an RPM format, so it was pretty easy to install.

The only other driver issue I had to deal with was the sound card. It wasn’t working at all, but after searching via Google, I came across a fix. Although I forget what it was now. 😛

Choosing A Desktop
Everything in Linux is configurable. That’s a great feature, but for new users, this can be daunting. Red Hat comes with GNOME as the default desktop and I found it easy to get around and work with. However, I remember trying Ximian Desktop and I thought I’d give it a shot. It’s a huge download, but once done you’re presented with a really nice desktop. It’s really a bundled package of what a corporate desktop would need. Much of the software is customized for Ximian, such as OpenOffice and XMMS.

The only bad thing about choosing Ximian is that you can’t go back to regular GNOME if you want to. It’s such a complex install and replacement process, that you really have to reinstall RedHat should you ever want to go back. That sucks. 🙁

Using Applications
Much to my surprise, many of the applications that I use on a daily basis either have a Linux version, or something comparable. For example, instead of PhotoShop, I can use Gimp and instead of Trillian, I can use GAIM. In fact, I have to say that I think I like GAIM a little better than Trillian. 😛

That’s not to say that everything is perfect in Linux. The interface is a little different from Windows and not every feature can be found in the Linux version. For example, in Yahoo Messenger there is no support for webcams. That’s primarily because webcam support is kind of bleak right now. Yes it can be done, but it’s not easy. It’s only some of these “foo foo” features that are missing at this point. I can’t just plug in a “super duper fly fishing card” and have it automatically work in Linux. There may be a driver out there, but more than likely it’s not written by the company that made the hardware and the guy who wrote it may have a high expectation of what the end user is capable of.

The bottom line is that if I had to use Linux as my primary desktop, I think I could get 90% of my work done, if not more. Right now I sometimes find it easier to use Windows for most programs, but that’s clearly a case of the devil you know versus the one you don’t. In time, I’ll become more familiar with Ximain and Linux and I’ll be more comfortable. One interesting thing after working with Linux one afternoon, I instantly noticed how unstable Windows can be. Many of my apps crashed and I had to reboot a couple of times. Linux spoiled me in just a few hours. 🙂

Long Way To Go
I’m leaving Linux as the primary OS for my laptop so that I can continue to get use to working within that environment, however it’s clear that I have a L O O N G way to go until I have a firm understanding of it. Right now I’m comfortable with Linux as a desktop, but as a server? Forgetaboutit! I’ve built a nice long wish list of books that I need to read to know how to work with Linux as a server. At least I’m on the path and heading in the right direction.

Lastly, if anyone has any suggestions for a desktop screenshot app, please let me know. I’m looking for something like SCWebcam which I use for Desktop Screenshots here on the weblog. I know it’s a silly thing, but if I could find one, I’d use it. 🙂