The Other Dog

by Jinryu

I’ve gotten in the habit of browsing the Linux forums for fun during the odd few minutes of downtime at work or at home between when I get real work done.  I just find it kinda fun to read about new distros and stuff, and I like soaking myself in the forum culture.  It’s something I used to do a lot in my badminton days, when my participation in the courtside community was paralleled by my presence online at Badminton Central.  Before that, when I was in college, I used to be on the martial arts forums, back when we were just creating the Dawson College Martial Arts Club (MAC), which I’ve just been told was apparently one of the first MMA college communities ever in Canada.  Those times were paralleled by my online presence in martial arts forums, back when I was a strong advocate of Jeet Kune Do.
Anyways, the Linux community is really something– you have a full range of people from the beginner end of the spectrum to the advanced.  And those spectrums exist in different criteria as well.  On one hand, it refers to the nuts and bolts of Linux itself– a beginner, for example, askes questions about how to install a Linux distribution, and wonders where Windows/Mac equivalent functions lie in the OS.  A more advanced user, in the same forums, is talking about writing scripts, compiling binaries and making use of development kits to to work on the next generation of end-user tools.  And then you have another spectrum, which are people who beleive that the world will be better off if Linux’s open source vision could be spread globally, where on the other side you have more militant forum-goers who draw comics about penguins with swords going after windows logos in a “Kill Bill (Gates)” campaign (har har).
It’s really a full range of people, like a community, full of the healers and the trolls alike.
As a computer user, to me Linux isn’t all that useful.  I’ll be honest.  What good is having better, more relevant tools, if I don’t have any work that needs those kinds of resources?  I mean, I don’t really play games on my rig– in my apartment alone, I have a my PSX, PS2, PSP, and an Xbox 360.  CM in HK has our PS3, the Wii, a DS and PS2Slim.  There is nothing that a desktop could do for me that I’d care about, except maybe Starcraft 2.

I don’t really use Facebook nowadays, so high intensity java games like Restaurant City aren’t an issue (a dark past, indeed).  I do play Go/Baduk on KGS ( with a downloaded Java applet, but this is also something I do on my Android smartphone anyway. 

Wikipedia for basic guidance when doing homework? I actually find that I do this more on my cellphone, because it’s nice to have a book in my hands and be able to just pick up my phone and search for the odd topic on the side with my Android, rather than needing a whole laptop lugged and plugged to work.

Mostly, my computer exists for typing– paper writing, email writing, and instant messaging–  and webcam enabled communications, mostly with CM because of the distance.

My laptop has a very specific niche in my life that is, quite frankly, the good life for any laptop– I don’t do anything strenuous on my laptop, and in fact, the hardware I’m running is basically not being put to any good use. That’s largely why, despite Vista’s annoyances back when I was still using it last year, I didnt’ care too much, since I didn’t have to work intimately with any hardware intensive applications or games.

I have this obsession though with making things faster and more custom to my life.  I like optimizing things, squeezing out the extra percentile or two of performance. Although I am now a converted Linux fan, I’m not someone who codes or messes around with naked terminal. My obession has lead me to trying all sorts of tweaks nontheless, which one can do in Linux behind the comfort and security of Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) not unlike the Windows that we’ve all grown up along with, and this whole experience has taught me a lot about end-user computing.

The main thing I can say about Linux, compared to Windows and even Mac, is that if you get the right foot forward, it’s a lot easier to use than other operating systems.  And, even if you might argue with me that ‘easy’ is a very subjective qualification, I will then posit something that neither Windows nor Mac users can argue with– Linux is faster. 
It hasn’t been necessarily important for the performance of my laptop, since my laptop was purchased just a few years ago while I was in Korea so it still runs what I want it to do, but, an appreciation of efficiency does have a huge impact on how I deal with older equipment around me.  Namely, my ability to make some use out of aging hardware instead of throwing it in the dumpster.

This is mostly important for the computers back home.  My parents’ computer in particular has given me motivation to really try some different setups. I don’t remember the exact specs, but I bought that computer as a slightly above average desktop capable of gaming sometime around 1999.  At it’s prime, it was comfortably playing Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and the then-new Halo: Combat Evolved on the lowest settings, just to give you an idea.
But from 1999 to today, Windows XP updates, registry fattness, and the constant fragmentation of the IDE era HD really crippled the performance.  It would take about 12 minutes to get that rig to go from ‘off’ to an open browser with YouTube on it that had enough ressources left for you to start typing.
After doing some playing around with a bunch of Linux distros, I’ve got that same computer doing the same thing in under 2 minutes in Linux.  We’re talking about factor of six.
Now, if you didn’t already know this, one of the big differences between using a Windows, Mac and Linux OS is that for the most part, Linux OSes are free.  That’s right– you usually don’t have to pay for Linux.  What I’m running now on my parents’ computer is Linux Mint 8 “Helena,” doesn’t cost a cent.  I’ve also tried Mint 9 “Isadora”, Ubuntu 9 “Karmic Koala”, Ubuntu 10.1 “Lucid Lynx”, and Fedora 13, and none of those cost me a thing.
So how is it that something that works six times faster, and is free, is almost unknown to the average person?