Welcome!

Linux Authors: Trevor Parsons, Sandi Mappic, Esmeralda Swartz, Carmen Gonzalez, Roger Strukhoff

Related Topics: Linux

Linux: Article

Linux Made Easy

A Q&A with Rickford Grant

I recently had a chance to sit down with Rickford Grant, author of Linux for Non-Geeks, and talk with him about his new book Linux Made Easy (No Starch Press).

LWM: First of all, why, after writing Linux for Non-Geeks, did you decide to write Linux Made Easy.

Rickford Grant: The whole idea behind both books is to get regular folks into what is often considered a domain for geeks. That said, I am always looking for distributions that are easy to use and thus less intimidating for people who have been weaned on a diet of Windows all their lives.

Linux for Non-Geeks is based on Fedora Core, which I felt (and still do) is a very straightforward and well-supported distro that really provides users with a real Linux experience, albeit without much of the the pain that you might encounter with some distros. Still, it seemed that some people, especially those who just wanted a low-cost out from Windows and were not necessarily particularly interested in Linux per se, still found things a bit more complex than what they were looking for. When I finally got around to trying Xandros, I felt I had found what those people were looking for, and so I wrote Linux Made Easy. The two books, although seemingly similar in nature, are thus really written with slightly different audiences in mind.

Another point I tried to address with Linux Made Easy was the area of applications. When I read through some of the reader reviews of Linux for Non-Geeks, I noticed there were a number of comments expressing a desire for more coverage of applications. The train of thought seemed to be along the lines of, "Okay, so you say Linux comes with all these great applications. So the GIMP is great, but what can I do with it? OpenOffice Draw is good for what? Drawing circles?" That sort of thing, you know. To address those rather valid points, especially in a book that is targeted for people who just want to get down to the doing rather than the fiddling, I also added numerous projects that would give readers some hands-on experience with some of the major Linux applications.

LWM: Do you think that after installing Xandros, people will use it more and more, and Windows less and less? What about when great, new-for-Windows-only software comes out?

RG: It certainly was the case for me. I can't help but feel that when users get cracking with Xandros, they will be pleased by the fact that they are spending most of their time working or playing or whatever, rather than tracking down viruses and trying to rid their system of trojan horses. The fact that they will more than likely have more usable applications on their Xandros side will no doubt make their Windows world less and less atttractive.

As for great new Windows-only software...well, what can you do? In a sense, a Linux user with a dual-boot setup has a better setup for such things than a Mac user, who often suffers the same problem. A Mac user, after all, would have to have a whole different machine in order to deal with the situation.

When it comes down to it, the number of killer, must-have Windows apps you are talking about is usually quite small for a given user. As I mention every chance I get, I only resort to Windows on my own accord in order to play the Austrian card game Schnapsen, the three different versions of which are Windows-only apps. But for now, it's no big deal - just switch over to the Windows side, stay off the Internet, and then play or do whatever it is you do with that app until you need to get back down to business. Then just switch back. You can just think of it like rooms in a house: dinner in the dining room, billiards in the family room, workbench in the garage. Not that I've ever had a billiards table in my house...

LWM: Why Xandros, as opposed to other similar distros like Ubuntu?

RG: I was inspired to write Linux Made Easy by Xandros, not the other way around. It's just so easy. The installation is a no-brainer, and it will even repartition your Windows disk for you so that you can create a dual-boot system without any hassles. I know that a few other distros, Madriva for example, can do that, but my experience with Xandros' partitioning capability has been the best.

It also has excellent package handling, a well set-up and stocked repository, and a well-organized interface. Having CD and DVD burning capabilities built into the file manager, as it is in GNOME, is much, much better and more convenient than having to resort to an outside app, such as K3B, which most KDE-based distros seem to favor. It also seemed more accomodating in terms of hardware, working on every piece of junk I tried to install, and the fact that Skype is bundled with the system is just that much more icing on the cake. (See Figure 1)

As for Ubuntu (and Kubuntu), I just don't seem to get all the hoopla. Yes, it is a very nice, well-organized distro with unusually slick promotional graphics and a pleasant touchy-feely name. But other than that, it's not really all that different than Fedora Core... other than the fact that it is Debian based (as is Xandros) rather than RPM based. It just seems to me that it's not particularly unique in any way I can figure, so why all the hype? I might consider using it instead of Fedora, but for a real newbie who wants as smooth a transition as possible, I would stick with Xandros.

LWM: What role do you feel distros like Xandros will play in the public sector, e.g., schools and government, where an easy stable alternative to Windows could save taxpayers millions?

RG: You said it right there: saving the taxpayers millions of dollars!

It is no surprise that countries such as China are making the Linux switch a national project for just that reason. The French government too, for that matter. For government, there is really no reason not to switch over since there are not really any killer apps that users need in order to work. The number of applications in the educational field are more limited at the present time, but if school systems were to make the commitment, the software would flow.

Of course, government being what it is, there will always be opponents out to protect their benefactors...oh, I mean constituents. It's interesting to hear the arguments such people make as they work to protect us from free software, though.

LWM: Where do you see Linux on the desktop two years from now? Or five years from now?

RG: There is no doubt in my mind that Linux will be more of a player in the desktop arena as years go by. How much of a player depends on the entities that package the various distros out there today. By this I mean that a major obstacle that could hinder the progress of Linux on the desktop is the actual philosopy that lays behind the Linux movement. The open source idea is the core of what makes Linux Linux, and thus stands as a major attraction. At the same time, most distros take a purist approach to the bundling of their distros in order to keep things totally open and not, for example, including any software that requires any sort of licensing. Red Hat/Fedora's no MP3 support is a good example. While this is fine in terms of keeping distros free and legal, it also stands as a hindrance to wider acceptance by present Windows users.

Companies such as Xandros that have a variety of versions, some both free and for sale, have a unique opportunity to fill the gaps. They could do this quite easily by keeping their free versions free, while including licensed items, such as Windows-compatible codecs, encrypted DVD playback support, and MP3 playback and encoding support, in their for-sale versions. TurboLinux, for example, already includes some of these seemingly taboo (in the Linux world, anyway) features. Open source purists might balk at the seemingly heretical notion, but the open source concept in its strictest form is lost on a casual Windows user, for example, who just wants to be able to play a DVD (no doubt, when he or she should be working) without any fuss or philosophical abstractions getting in the way. Fair enough, I say. If they are willing to pay for those added conveniences, why not let them?

Of course, there are always going to be some folks who are never going to make the switch. Some people just like to go to the computer shop, stroll up and down the aisles looking at row after row of shrink-wrapped software boxes, and then walk out after having bought something. It's just that simple consumer gene in each of us. Some of us love to shop for clothes, others for cars, others for leeks and cauliflower, but for others it's software. Such folks are not likely to become Linux users any time in the near future.

The progress Linux will make during the next few years, however, is sure to entice others. After all, it was only a few years that, cute penguin aside, getting Linux up and running on your machine could be a rather frustrating endeavor. Now, however, the installation process for just about any distro out there is much, much easier than that for a Windows installation, which most people seldom have the misfortune of enduring since they usually get Windows prebundled on their machines. Desktop and file manager features have also become greatly improved, and the future is sure to hold more in store. It thus becomes a matter of time before all but the diehard I-want-my-shrink-wrap types want to at last have a crack at Linux.

More Stories By Matt Frye

Matt Frye is the Review Editor at Linux.SYS-CON.com, and Engineer in New Product Introduction and Emerging Network Solutions at Tekelec.

Comments (3)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
Samsung VP Jacopo Lenzi, who headed the company's recent SmartThings acquisition under the auspices of Samsung's Open Innovaction Center (OIC), answered a few questions we had about the deal. This interview was in conjunction with our interview with SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson. IoT Journal: SmartThings was developed in an open, standards-agnostic platform, and will now be part of Samsung's Open Innovation Center. Can you elaborate on your commitment to keep the platform open? Jacopo Lenzi: Samsung recognizes that true, accelerated innovation cannot be driven from one source, but requires a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Red Hat, the world's leading provider of open source solutions, will exhibit at Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Red Hat is the world's leading provider of open source software solutions, using a community-powered approach to reliable and high-performing cloud, Linux, middleware, storage and virtualization technologies. Red Hat also offers award-winning support, training, and consulting services. As the connective hub in a global network of enterprises, partners, a...
P2P RTC will impact the landscape of communications, shifting from traditional telephony style communications models to OTT (Over-The-Top) cloud assisted & PaaS (Platform as a Service) communication services. The P2P shift will impact many areas of our lives, from mobile communication, human interactive web services, RTC and telephony infrastructure, user federation, security and privacy implications, business costs, and scalability. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Robin Raymond, Chief Architect at Hookflash Inc., will walk through the shifting landscape of traditional telephone a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Matrix.org has been named “Silver Sponsor” of Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Matrix is an ambitious new open standard for open, distributed, real-time communication over IP. It defines a new approach for interoperable Instant Messaging and VoIP based on pragmatic HTTP APIs and WebRTC, and provides open source reference implementations to showcase and bootstrap the new standard. Our focus is on simplicity, security, and supporting the fullest feature set.
BSQUARE is a global leader of embedded software solutions. We enable smart connected systems at the device level and beyond that millions use every day and provide actionable data solutions for the growing Internet of Things (IoT) market. We empower our world-class customers with our products, services and solutions to achieve innovation and success. For more information, visit www.bsquare.com.
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic • Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happens, where data lives and where the interface lies. For instance, it’s a mix of architectural style...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SOA Software, an API management leader, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. SOA Software is a leading provider of API Management and SOA Governance products that equip business to deliver APIs and SOA together to drive their company to meet its business strategy quickly and effectively. SOA Software’s technology helps businesses to accelerate their digital channels with APIs, drive partner adoption, monetize their assets, and achieve a...
From a software development perspective IoT is about programming "things," about connecting them with each other or integrating them with existing applications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Yakov Fain, co-founder of Farata Systems and SuranceBay, will show you how small IoT-enabled devices from multiple manufacturers can be integrated into the workflow of an enterprise application. This is a practical demo of building a framework and components in HTML/Java/Mobile technologies to serve as a platform that can integrate new devices as they become available on the market.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Utimaco will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Utimaco is a leading manufacturer of hardware based security solutions that provide the root of trust to keep cryptographic keys safe, secure critical digital infrastructures and protect high value data assets. Only Utimaco delivers a general-purpose hardware security module (HSM) as a customizable platform to easily integrate into existing software solutions, embed business logic and build s...
Connected devices are changing the way we go about our everyday life, from wearables to driverless cars, to smart grids and entire industries revolutionizing business opportunities through smart objects, capable of two-way communication. But what happens when objects are given an IP-address, and we rely on that connection, sometimes with our lives? How do we secure those vast data infrastructures and safe-keep the privacy of sensitive information? This session will outline how each and every connected device can uphold a core root of trust via a unique cryptographic signature – a “bir...
Internet of @ThingsExpo Silicon Valley announced on Thursday its first 12 all-star speakers and sessions for its upcoming event, which will take place November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in California. @ThingsExpo, the first and largest IoT event in the world, debuted at the Javits Center in New York City in June 10-12, 2014 with over 6,000 delegates attending the conference. Among the first 12 announced world class speakers, IBM will present two highly popular IoT sessions, which will take place November 4-6, 2014 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, Calif...
Almost everyone sees the potential of Internet of Things but how can businesses truly unlock that potential. The key will be in the ability to discover business insight in the midst of an ocean of Big Data generated from billions of embedded devices via Systems of Discover. Businesses will also need to ensure that they can sustain that insight by leveraging the cloud for global reach, scale and elasticity.
WebRTC defines no default signaling protocol, causing fragmentation between WebRTC silos. SIP and XMPP provide possibilities, but come with considerable complexity and are not designed for use in a web environment. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Matthew Hodgson, technical co-founder of the Matrix.org, will discuss how Matrix is a new non-profit Open Source Project that defines both a new HTTP-based standard for VoIP & IM signaling and provides reference implementations.

SUNNYVALE, Calif., Oct. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Spansion Inc. (NYSE: CODE), a global leader in embedded systems, today added 96 new products to the Spansion® FM4 Family of flexible microcontrollers (MCUs). Based on the ARM® Cortex®-M4F core, the new MCUs boast a 200 MHz operating frequency and support a diverse set of on-chip peripherals for enhanced human machine interfaces (HMIs) and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. The rich set of periphera...

SYS-CON Events announced today that Aria Systems, the recurring revenue expert, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Aria Systems helps leading businesses connect their customers with the products and services they love. Industry leaders like Pitney Bowes, Experian, AAA NCNU, VMware, HootSuite and many others choose Aria to power their recurring revenue business and deliver exceptional experiences to their customers.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to require a new way of thinking and of developing software for speed, security and innovation. This requires IT leaders to balance business as usual while anticipating for the next market and technology trends. Cloud provides the right IT asset portfolio to help today’s IT leaders manage the old and prepare for the new. Today the cloud conversation is evolving from private and public to hybrid. This session will provide use cases and insights to reinforce the value of the network in helping organizations to maximize their company’s cloud experience.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is making everything it touches smarter – smart devices, smart cars and smart cities. And lucky us, we’re just beginning to reap the benefits as we work toward a networked society. However, this technology-driven innovation is impacting more than just individuals. The IoT has an environmental impact as well, which brings us to the theme of this month’s #IoTuesday Twitter chat. The ability to remove inefficiencies through connected objects is driving change throughout every sector, including waste management. BigBelly Solar, located just outside of Boston, is trans...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Matrix.org has been named “Silver Sponsor” of Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Matrix is an ambitious new open standard for open, distributed, real-time communication over IP. It defines a new approach for interoperable Instant Messaging and VoIP based on pragmatic HTTP APIs and WebRTC, and provides open source reference implementations to showcase and bootstrap the new standard. Our focus is on simplicity, security, and supporting the fullest feature set.
Predicted by Gartner to add $1.9 trillion to the global economy by 2020, the Internet of Everything (IoE) is based on the idea that devices, systems and services will connect in simple, transparent ways, enabling seamless interactions among devices across brands and sectors. As this vision unfolds, it is clear that no single company can accomplish the level of interoperability required to support the horizontal aspects of the IoE. The AllSeen Alliance, announced in December 2013, was formed with the goal to advance IoE adoption and innovation in the connected home, healthcare, education, aut...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Red Hat, the world's leading provider of open source solutions, will exhibit at Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Red Hat is the world's leading provider of open source software solutions, using a community-powered approach to reliable and high-performing cloud, Linux, middleware, storage and virtualization technologies. Red Hat also offers award-winning support, training, and consulting services. As the connective hub in a global network of enterprises, partners, a...