Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Rather Switch Than Fight 

By the way, bonus points if you "get" the pop-culture reference in the title. Nothing else, just bonus points!

We have 7 computers in our home. The one I'm composing this blog on is about the newest, a Dell Latitude E5400 laptop running Windows Vista. I have no complaints about it. I suppose I should mention that I usually buy refurbished Dell computers. The price is right, they do everything I need to do, and I just like them. Most of our computers in use currently were purchased from Discount Electronics though I do have one I got through Ebay and a couple that were gifted.

My wife's laptop, my desktop, and my "backup" laptop are all older Dells running Windows XP. Now, I've had a very good experience using XP so far, and I've been using it since it came out, more or less. My use of personal computers, as I think I've outlined elsewhere, runs back to the Radio Shack/Tandy Color Computer and some low number version of MSDOS. 

The quandary lately is concerning Microsoft and their dropping of support for Windows XP early next year. Of course, the software won't abruptly stop working, but security will be more and more compromised. It will be very risky to continue to use those computers online.  Rather than spend a small fortune (to me) to upgrade to newer computers or even newer Windows software which may or may not run on the older machines, I've been contemplating switching over the older machines to Ubuntu, which is a popular version of Linux. (Also, need I say "FREE")!

For the most part it's no big deal. I have put Ubuntu on a small Asus laptop that I have to check it out, as well as setting up my larger desktop PC for dual booting. I can boot it up as either XP or Ubuntu for a session of exploration. So far, however, a couple of things have stymied me. 

Much of the work with Ubuntu strongly relies on going online. I'm still not savvy enough on Ubuntu to figure out how to make it work with our Sierra Air card. It's supposed to be pretty easy, but it has foiled my attempts to make it work. That's one problem, we don't have any form of wi-fi available at home except for the aircard we have. Now, we may be able to affordably work something else out, now that we may not need the air card for other things. We originally got it to have the ability to run credit cards, etc. when we worked Sherwood Forest Faire, or other outside art fairs without access to wi-fi. Now, we're going to the Square on our iPhones and won't need the air card. Possibly we can find a local wi-fi service that will cost about the same as we were paying for the air card. However, that's another situation. Back to Ubuntu.

I can network the other laptops with my Vista laptop when it is on the air card. The wireless networking built into the laptops works with Ubuntu just fine, or appears to so far.  Getting the wireless USB adapter I have for the desktop to work with Ubuntu is another story apparently. Not exactly plug and play.

Most of the software packages we use regularly have replacements in Ubuntu that are also free and work quite well. However, I have a lot of time invested in one type of CAD package that only runs on Windows. I won't name it, but I'm reluctant to change. There is a very good alternative called Draftsight that I have been looking at that seems to work very well, but I am reluctant to switch horses on it unless I really have to. 

Another critical program is yWriter 5; a writing software that I am using for my novels currently. In this case there is no Linux version available. 

Theoretically these and many other Windows programs will run through another software called Wine that sort of acts as an interface to enable Windows software to run on Linux. I've been running into some snags getting that scenario to work.

The key seems to be solving the networking or the air card problem, since some of the installations are pretty automatic once you can get online. Otherwise you have to download things separately and jump through several hoops to install manually.


Maybe I just need a Linux tutor to guide me through some of it.

Once I get things working the way I want, I may even switch over the Vista laptop, though Windows will keep supporting Vista for quite a while longer. 

The last ditch option would be to just keep the desktop as my main CAD machine, leave it XP and just don't get online with it. That would work for quite awhile, probably. I don't make my living with the CAD anymore, but I still use it almost daily. I'm always helping my wife by drawing or copying patterns for intarsia woodworking or stained glass. I also prefer to use it for desktop publishing-type functions, since I'm accustomed to using the fonts and drawing capabilities. 

Admittedly, some of this is just stubbornness.  Do I really need this many computers? Probably not. When I used previous laptops, they weren't fast enough to run the cad programs, nor did they have the storage I needed. It was necessary to have the "big, powerful desktop" to run the serious drafting software, while my lighter duty laptop could go with me to a hotspot and browse the web. The desktop is also easier to work on, of course. I can replace whatever part may be going bad. Laptops are almost made to be disposable. If something breaks, it's usually easier to replace the whole thing!

Times change. My current laptop doesn't really have the power problem, it runs everything just fine. With external hard drives and flash drives getting larger and cheaper all the time, the storage isn't so much a problem either. 

Having two working laptops all my own is a bit of a luxury I guess. I like having a backup. It's paid off a few times. However, we find ourselves doing more and more of our online stuff on our iPhones. I even posted one of these blogs directly from the phone awhile back. It was a challenge, I admit, but I did it. 

In fact, the lines between PC/laptop/phone/TV/stereo/radio are getting really blurry, aren't they? It is rapidly getting to where smart phones can do just about any "usual" computing task we want to do. I can now even view CAD files on my iPhone. 

And reference work? I think we've about reached Isaac Asimov's Encyclopedia Galactica. We have more and more reference resources available every day. I used to spend hours running down references in the library in dictionaries and encyclopedia. I called it hunting rabbits, since I easily got sidetracked and ended up finding information that had nothing to do with whatever I started on. Now I have the whole internet to get lost in. Pure joy!

Now if I can just get the Ubuntu to behave!