Thursday, November 3, 2011

My First Post - What is this Blog about, an introduction.

I've spent a few days thinking of what I want to talk about in this Blog and I have come to the conclusion that I should post about Linux, Free Open source software and things related to this, such as new hardware discoveries.

First a little bit of an introduction to me and where I come from in relation to using Linux and Open source software. 

I am one of the in between generation having left school in the mid 70's to embark on to the world of work, computers missed me by several years at school and I did not get my hands on one until the late 80's when I found myself trying to get myself back into work after being made redundant and a period of unemployment. I was undertaking a control systems engineering course and we were using early IBM clone PC's for CAD/CAM applications. I enjoyed the experience but did not envisage having one for myself as I could not see what I might use it for and the cost was definitely prohibitive at that time in my life (as I am sure it was for many others).

It was to be another 6 years before I got, or rather my then fiancĂ©e, later wife, got a PC. This was a second hand Intel 386 running Windows 3.1, with a vast 1Mb of Ram which at extortionate cost was upgraded to 4Mb, I do mean extortionate, it cost £120 for the 4Mb, and that was in 1993. This PC was for my partner to write assignments for the university course she was doing, and run a specialist statistical software package relating to what she was studying. I used it for the odd letter but my main use of computers was now through work. I was now working in health and social care and computers were starting to be used to record data on contacts and in some of the smaller organisations I worked in, to create assessment templates and other documents relating to case work.

Over the next 5 years I used PC's at work, getting acquainted with the ubiquitous MS Office packages, but it was not until late 1998 when I returned to full time study and we were in a better financial situation that I bought my first NEW PC. By this time Pentium 2's were the big thing and I went to one of the consumer computer companies of the time (Tiny) and got a system package running Win98. The specification was as follows;

Intel P2 350, 128Mb SDRam, 6Gig HDD, DVD Rom, and Office 97 small business edition with, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Publisher and some other free software. There was also a printer and scanner in the package and the PC had an internal 56kb modem for connecting to the internet via the telephone network. This was for the princely sum of £1400, and at the time, I thought I had got a good deal.

I signed up for a pay as you go internet package with 'Freeserve' which at a 1p/min was a relatively cheep way of accessing e-mail and doing a little surfing from home considering most ISP's were costing £15/month for a limited download package at that time and I had access to the internet at collage or work for most of what I used the net for at that time.

Over the next 5-6 years I started to use the PC to edit a news letter, do some basic photo editing and keep accounts for a couple of charities I was involved with. With a bit of help from a couple of friends who were more computer literate than me at the time, I even did a few hardware upgrades such as a memory upgrade and installing a CDRW drive when they became affordable. When the P2 350 started to show its age I had a new system tower built, I can not remember the specs for that PC but it was later rebuilt in around 2004 with a new mother board and an Intel P4 2.5GHz CPU and a legit OEM copy of Windows XP, 512Mb Ram and a 40Gig HDD. Also by this time I had upgraded to what passed for Broad Band at that time, which was a 512Kbps ADSL line, 10 times faster than dial up and you could use the phone at the same time as being on line, it seemed blisteringly fast at the time.

Over the next couple of years I became a little more confident with not only using the PC for office and other tasks, but I started to learn more about Windows and became adapt at rescuing broken systems, and reinstalling Windows from scratch onto systems that were beyond rescue. In 2006 I decided that I would have a go at building a PC from the ground up using some old parts I had acquired over the years and a couple of old PC Towers I had, nothing modern in fact they were both early P2 base units and as such were not really capable of running Windows XP very well, even though in theory they met the minimum specification for the original XP release, which can be seen here:

This was when I thought I would give Linux a shot. I had been reading more and more about Linux in particularly a new distribution called Ubuntu which in it's Xubuntu variant was supposed to work on old, low specification hardware. I got one of the PC's into working order and having downloaded an ISO of the Xubuntu live CD, (by this time I'm a cable customer with a 2Mbps connection) I set about installing it onto the PC, remember that this was late 90's hardware but running a modern OS. The install went smoothly and in a short time I had a fully functioning XFCE desktop, and as a bonus I had a fairly comprehensive package of free software from the start. What I did not have was the ability to play all video and audio formats such as DVD's and MP3's out of the box, but visiting various forums and remembering an article I had read in one of my computer magazines I found the Medibuntu website and was able to figure out how to install the necessary repositories into the OS to enable the necessary codec’s to run DVD's and MP3 files in a media player.

Having a working PC with Xubuntu on it I was able to explore what it had on offer, and if it was really a full replacement for Windows. Over the next few months I realised that I could use software that was freely available for Linux that would just about replace all the windows software I had been using. I set up a dual boot system on my main desktop PC and started to find and become familiar with the software I would need if I was going to replace Windows as my main OS. At the same time I was also refurbishing and recycling old PC equipment through the Freecycle/Freegle networks and the experience of configuring these systems to run Linux (as many did not have a Windows licence) gave me a crash course in this new (to me) OS. In 2009 I finally did away with the dual boot and have Linux installed on my desktop PC and  on several laptops and my 2 net books.

Fast forward to 2011, I now run an Intel core 2 duo system running Linux Mint for all my day to day computing needs, including photo editing and all the office tasks I need to do. for the one piece of windows software I can not replace I run an XP install in Virtual Box which is booted up as necessary and runs the required task in the background while I get on with other things. I am also an active member of my local Linux user Group here in Blackpool, and have taken part in a number of events in the North West of England, to promote Linux and other free Open source software. This evening while writing this blog I have just installed Lubuntu 11.10 onto my Acer Aspire One Net Book (1.6 Atom, 8Gig SSD and 768Mb Ram) which could well be the subject of my next post.

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