12/10/2000

Linux for the rest of us. I find the bloatware in current Linux distributions somewhat annoying. It’s nice to have tons and tons of free software right off the bat, but how much of that software is actually useful to the majority of people? Windows users complain about lack of software for Linux, to which Linux zealots usually retort “I have 9 gigs worth of software installed on my PC and didn’t have to pay a dime for any of it, and it’s all legal!”

It’s not really the quantity of software that Windows users are complaining about; it’s type and quality. Give a Windows user a fast and stable Web browser, an instant messaging client, a mail client/PIM, a fully-featured graphical newsreader, a word processor and a spreadsheet that can cleanly handle Word and Excel files, and a fully functional personal finance program, and that’s all they need to be happy. Most of that exists for Linux, or is in development. Fine. Linux is neck-and-neck with the Mac in the race to be #2 on the desktop. Fine.

To anyone who’s read Optimizing Windows, my biggest gripe with Linux ought to be obvious. I spent a good deal of time editing Windows INF files by hand trying to figure out how to get Windows 95 to install in 17 megabytes’ worth of disk space. I presented this, that, and another tweak to minimize Windows’ RAM and CPU usage so that it could be tolerable on a low-end Pentium or 486. Linux fans rightly point to Linux’s modest requirements. They’re very proud of those 2-meg 386SXs running Linux 1.0. But they’re in an arms race to see who can create the GUI with the most eye candy (and highest CPU/memory requirements). Wanna bring a former 550-MHz powerhouse to its knees? Run the Enlightenment window manager on it.

That’s easy enough to fix. Just install IceWM and make it your default window manager, then your 120 MHz Pentium feels OK again. But what of the minimum disk space requirements? Most current distros are difficult to install in less than 500 megs. That sounds awfully Microsoftian to me. True, you can rip a lot of it out, which you can’t always do with MS. But do you know what you can safely get rid of?

That’s what makes the likes of VectorLinux and Peanut Linux attractive. I’ve got a stack of 170-meg drives. I’ve got a 1-gig drive sitting in my 486 because I couldn’t make Red Hat 6.2 small enough to fit on one of the small drives. Five hundred megs for something whose primary job is to route packets is ridiculous. Vector or Peanut will fit. These won’t take forever to download either, because Vector’s less than 70 megs and Peanut’s about 60. I know a company that thinks that’s a reasonable size for a Web browser.

I’m pretty sure I’ll be experimenting with these distros sooner rather than later. I’d love to liberate that gig drive, for instance.

US vs. UK English. I’m trying to write my new Shopper UK article in UK English because I feel bad about the number of edits my UK editors are having to make. Here’s what I can tell, so far, about the differences:

Extra letters. color=colour, favorite=favourite, program=programme, ton=tonne

Sparing use of the last letter of the alphabet. optimize=optimise

Pluralization, er, pluralisation: In US English, a group of people is refered to in the singular, unless that group is in disagreement. In explaining how old software can be better than new software, I drew a musical analogy: Just like Joy Division is better than ‘N Sync, old DOS games are better and certainly more original than many of the newer Windows games. That’s proper US English. Proper British English, from what I can tell, is “Just like Joy Division are better…” In the States, saying that implies that the members are in disagreement as to whether they’re better than ‘N Sync (the three surviving members would not disagree about that; they’d utter a number of profanities and then say, “Of course we were better than ‘N Sync!”).

But I can’t, and won’t try to, mimic the sentence structure of a British writer. I can’t pinpoint the differences, but when I read something written in English, I can almost always tell when the writer is from the British Isles. (Other English-speaking countries like South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, throw me–but I haven’t read much stuff from there. Canadian writers sound like U.S. writers but you’ll find hints of cultural differences.) You can’t escape what you are, and if I try to sound like anything but a Missourian, it’ll come across as insincere and fake. We definitely don’t want that.

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