Confessions of a recent Linux convert

Indian Express, 18 October 2004

Escaping viruses and costly programme updates is easier than you think

Few organisations are able to upgrade all their equipment to keep up with new versions of Microsoft Windows. Certainly not cash-constrained think-tanks. We would initially run old versions of Windows and ignore the new ones. Soon, we were not able to read documents that came in from colleagues abroad. It wasn’t a pleasant experience.

Running new versions of Windows on old machines was also a pain. Open a few windows on the web browser, or a large Word document, or even indulge in a simple cut-and-paste, and the end result was the same: the machine would hang. On some days, five times a day. Rebooting again and again was a test of patience. I found myself constantly complaining.

One of my colleagues persuaded me to try Linux. He said it was costless to try. The software was free. And he would help me set it up, which was the difficult part. The first few days were not easy. The biggest problem was the tech-support guy — was he uncooperative! He did not like my asking him how to hook up to the Net or link up to the printer.

In the end, I managed to find a nice, young college student belonging to the Delhi Linux group who set up things for me. A few days later, my machine was up and running. I called it Ayushka, after my little son Ayush.

The nicest part of the day was now the morning coffee time. Every day, somebody would talk about a virus. I would simper, “Oh, but I am not affected. You see, I use Linux.”

I now used Openoffice instead of MS Office, Mozilla instead of Internet Explorer and Mozilla Mail instead of Microsoft Outlook. None of these programs were hit by Windows viruses. I regularly got improved versions free from the Net. The new versions have a steady stream of features, and get better over time, but don’t require that you buy new hardware.

When I moved jobs, I was unhappy that I would have to go through the difficult part of setting up Linux again. The solution was a notebook from ACi that cost me Rs 30,000. I saved Rs 14,000 by not buying MS Windows and MS Office.

Once it was up and running, the coffee breaks were like in the good old days. Not only do I get my software free, it is sturdier, there are fewer people in the world attacking it with viruses, and when there are, I escape unscathed. I just turn up my nose and say that I had not encountered a virus for 2 years.

Was it difficult? Did it take time to learn? No, not at all; switching from Windows to Linux is easy because the programs (office, browser, email) are nearly identical. For individuals, the best source of help is the Linux user groups. They are full of enthusiastic and smart people who can help converts get going.

The biggest savings from Linux are for companies. When the costs of hardware and Microsoft are multiplied by a large number of machines, it adds up to a lot of money. That’s some Linux for thought.

Ila Patnaik