Is Microsoft Windows Broken Beyond Repair?

 

windows _logoFor some time now, Microsoft has gone to significant trouble to point out the high satisfaction rating of its newest Windows operating system, Windows 10. But deeper research shows that there’s trouble in paradise.

Microsoft’s Aggressive Promotion of Windows Products

The way that Microsoft has marketed Windows 10 to its customers has been extremely pushy and aggressive. One woman actually sued Microsoft and won $10,000 after Windows 10 was installed on her computer without her consent, rendering it unusable.

While Microsoft changed the dialog to reduce the chances that users will feel that they’ve been “tricked” into installing Windows 10 on their computers, the changes were minor, and for many they were too little, too late. The free upgrade offer ended in 2016. But many people felt that the Windows 10 upgrade was forced on them against their will. Some have paid hundreds of dollars to have their computers restored back to a previous version of Windows.

 

Windows Update Hell

Windows 10 also has a habit of forcing updates onto users. Windows automatically downloads updates and installs them, and there’s no easy way to disable this automatic feature. You can reconfigure when Windows installs the updates, but not when it downloads them. This has been a problem for some people with bandwidth caps on their Internet service. In addition, Windows 10 also sends updates to other users using the customer’s upload bandwidth, without their knowledge or consent. Many Windows users have upload bandwidth limits, so it seems pretty lousy that Microsoft snuck this feature into Windows without our consent, and didn’t even provide an “off” switch.

Windows’ Privacy Invasion

But privacy is biggest concern about Windows 10 by far. Windows 10 comes with a telemetry feature that tracks the way people use Windows 10, and automatically sends that information to Microsoft. Microsoft has also added the telemetry feature in updates for Windows 7 and 8, to the consternation of users who stuck with the older operating systems for privacy reasons. There still is no way to turn telemetry off completely, despite a very vocal outcry from Windows users regarding this feature.

Screwing Around with The Start Menu

The Windows 8 and Windows 10 Start Menu are a dramatic departure from the older Windows Start Menu. Many people like the widely expansive Start Menu populated with colorful tiles; others absolutely hate it. For people who like to customize their Start Menu, Windows 10 creates a pointless struggle. While most of the tiles can be removed from the Start Menu and the Menu can be resized, this is a time-consuming process, and doesn’t necessarily result in a Start Menu like the one from Windows 7. Gone are the tremendously useful “Computer”, “Documents”, “Pictures” and “Control Panel” shortcuts. They are replaced by glaring tiles for Metro apps such as “Candy Crush Saga” and “Minion Rush” and “Spotify”. (Reminds me of a few outtakes from “Megamind”, in which the film’s namesake keeps mispronouncing “Metro City”, rhyming it with “atrocity”.) While it is possible to recreate the classic Start Menu on Windows 10, it requires considerable time and effort, and doesn’t necessarily turn out looking like the Windows 7 Start Menu.

Cortana

And then there’s Cortana. While the old Windows Search Bar only searched the local computer, Cortana searches everything, including the web, for search terms typed within its field. While this seems convenient in some ways, it is another potentially privacy invading feature. And it is notoriously difficult to remove from Windows 10.

Security Holes, Vulnerabilities, and Exploits

And last but not least, Windows suffers from vulnerabilities that can allow a hacker to gain control of your computer without your even knowing about it. While Microsoft offers updates and patches to fix these problems, they don’t always work as planned, and they aren’t always installed in a timely manner by Windows users.

What We’ve Learned

Our experiences with Windows 10 have been less than pleasant. We bought a slightly older laptop for my husband on Craigslist, which came with Windows 7 pre-installed. When I saw the dialog offering Windows 10, I thought that this was my big chance to try it out. It installed fairly easily, but after installation the laptop began to run extremely slowly. Trying to install the programs that my husband needs to use on a daily basis only made matters worse. Only after uninstalling a large number of RAM-intensive programs did we manage to get the computer running smoothly again.

So I thought that perhaps the problem was that I was buying too many used computers. If I really want best results, I should buy new. So when my husband needed a new computer for business, I bought an Acer Aspire Gaming Desktop on Amazon. It shipped with Windows 10 pre-installed. Since this was a brand-new, relatively high-spec computer, I had high hopes. But within a few months of setting it up, it started to have problems. On one occasion, immediately after booting Windows 10, both the Firefox and Google Chrome web browsers crashed the moment they started. At other times, Photoshop CC crashed, giving an “out of memory” error. I dug into the settings, and found that the Windows Page File was unimaginably huge. Perhaps I should give the Acer a memory upgrade, but it doesn’t seem that any computer with 8 Gigs of DDR4 RAM should run out of memory so easily.

Worse, even though we’ve paid nearly $800 for a brand-new computer, we’re forced to watch advertising that’s built into the Windows 10 interface. I spent hours removing tiles for things like “Get Skype” and “Get Office”, only to watch them magically reappear at every update.

Microsoft’s Near Monopoly in the Open Source Market

Most people turn a blind eye to the fact that Microsoft dominates the operating system market with a market share which hovers around 90%. Microsoft’s recent acquisition of GitHub has been met with similar complacency. Many people seem to think that it’s wonderful that Microsoft has bought one of the most important websites for open source developers. After all, Microsoft is the largest contributor to open source code on GitHub. But other people see Microsoft’s purchase of GitHub as a dark omen of even more privacy invasion, monopolizing, and impinging on the development, distribution and use of free and open source software. Microsoft is a direct competitor of many of the software programs, such as LibreOffice, which are distributed on GitHub. So as a result, many developers are abandoning GitHub in favor of other sites.

Most people don’t seem to be aware that there’s a problem. If a single company dominated any other important aspect of our lives, such as cars or groceries, we would be up in arms. But if Microsoft dominates the operating system market, we think that’s just fine.

Richard Stallman has written an excellent article called “Reasons Not to Use Microsoft”. It is well worth a read. While I’m not a purist like Stallman, and I do use non-free software, I am making an effort to reduce my dependence on Microsoft software.

For many people, there are no easy alternatives to using Microsoft Windows. In the operating system market, only Mac OS and Linux have given Microsoft any real competition. Fortunately, many Linux distributions are free to download and install.

Free and open source software are an expression of our right to freedom and privacy. They offer an alternative to overbearing influences like Microsoft. We need to protect free and open source software. There are many ways that we can contribute.  Why not give Linux a test drive today?

 

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Ripping DVDs to Your Hard Drive with HandBrake in Linux

Handbrake_Preview_Rip_DVD

If you have a large collection of DVDs, it’s often very helpful to have some of your favorites on your computer’s hard drive. It’s also necessary to rip DVDs to the computer if you want to watch them on a mobile device, such as a tablet PC or mobile phone, or a computer or TV with no DVD player, for example. HandBrake is a free, open source software program that will encode the DVD files so that you can enjoy them on your chosen device.

There has been some controversy regarding the legality and the ethics of ripping DVDs to your computer’s hard drive. Typically, if you own a DVD, it is legal to create a copy for your own personal use. So as long as you use your copy for your own personal viewing, and you don’t do anything illegal (i.e. contribute the file to P2P or bittorrent sharing sites, upload it to video sites, copy it and sell it or give it away or charge admission for performances), you’ll be fine. If you sell the DVD or give it away, be sure to delete the corresponding files from your devices.

This tutorial was performed in Ubuntu 18.04 Bionic Beaver. The steps should be the similar for any other Debian-based distro. The instructions for your Linux distro may be slightly different; check your system’s documentation for specific instructions.

Install HandBrake

To install HandBrake on Ubuntu, press CTRL + ALT + T to open a terminal window, then type the following commands:

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get upgrade

sudo apt-get install handbrake

There are also some dependencies that are required for encoding certain types of DVDs. (Before installing these, please check your local laws to make sure that libdvdcss is legal to install in your area.) Depending on the version of your Linux distribution, you may need to run one of the following commands:

On Ubuntu 12.04 through 15.04

sudo apt-get install libdvdcss4

sudo sh /usr/share/doc/libdvdread4/install-css.sh

On Ubuntu 15.10 and later

sudo apt-get install libdvd-pkg

or

On most Ubuntu distributions

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted-extras

or

On other Debian distros

sudo apt-get install libdvdcss2

Before continuing, type these commands again:

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get upgrade

Check the documentation of your particular Linux distro to determine which of these programs you need to run HandBrake.

Once successfully installed, you can run the program by typing “handbrake” at the command line or by selecting the command from the program menus. (Please note that if you use the terminal to open a program, you must keep that terminal open until you’re finished using the program.)

Open the DVD Source

In this tutorial, I’m using the DVD for Kung Fu Panda. To open your DVD, you can select File – Open Source or File – /dev/sdx where “x” is the number of your DVD drive. You can also try cleaning the DVD and trying to load it again. HandBrake will scan your DVD. Be patient: this process may take a while.

Handbrake_Open_Source_DVD
In this example, the DVD player is “sd0”.

If HandBrake has difficulty loading your DVD, try selecting File – Open Single Title.

If you still get the “No Title Found” error after trying to load the video several times, it may be because the DVD is copy protected.

If you like, you can select the “Show Preview” button to see a preview of your video.

Select a Preset

The presets are fairly self-explanatory, but they’re still worth some review. For example, if you just want to watch the DVD on your computer, you could select “Fast 1080p30”. This preset may also be compatible with other devices, such as a tablet or a mobile phone. However, there are also presets for Android, Apple, Chromecast, Fire TV, Playstation, Roku, Windows Mobile, and Xbox. They sound good in theory, but for example, I tried using the Android preset to rip The Matrix, and found that the file was actually larger than if I created the file using “Fast 1080p30”. So it’s worth taking some time to try several different presets to see which one gets the best results.

Handbrake_Preset
Select a preset, such as “Very Fast 1080p30”.

The default file format for HandBrake is “m4v”. This is basically just a different version of the “mp4” file format. The m4v format compatible with a large number of different devices. I successfully got this file format to play on VLC media player in Linux, as well as on my Android-based Amazon Fire Tablet. I also managed to get m4v files to play on my Roku 2 through the Plex Media Server.

Select a Destination

At this point, it’s a good idea to create a new folder for your ripped DVDs. Then select the folder from the drop-down menu next to the “To:” field. If your folder doesn’t appear in the list, then click “Other” and navigate through your computer’s menus to find the folder you wish to use.

Handbrake_Encode
Select the name of the file and the destination folder.

Get Ripping

Click the “Start Encoding” button to start the ripping process. Or if you prefer, you can click “Add to Queue” to encode the DVD at a later time.

Keep in mind that the encoding process can take several hours to complete. You may need to disable your computer’s power management and screensaver or other scheduled tasks to finish it. Also, don’t shut your computer down or put it to sleep during encoding, or the ripped file will be corrupted, and you may have to start over.

If you absolutely have to turn the computer off or put it to sleep, then press the “Pause Encoding” button before doing so.

After your DVD has finished encoding, try loading it in a media player such as VLC to see whether it has encoded properly or not. Then you can use a USB cable or SD card to transfer to file to your mobile device, or a flash drive to transfer it to another computer.

Ubuntu Linux: One Distro to Rule Them All

 

ubuntu_1804
Ubuntu Linux 18.04: Codename Bionic Beaver

I’ve been running Ubuntu on several computers for the last few years. Prior to that time, I was a hardcore Windows addict. But that’s not the beginning of my story. I got started with computers back in the 80s when I took a class in a room chock full  of 12-year-olds and TRS-80s. My mom had a Commodore 64 installed in the kitchen. She used it for astrology charts. I used it to copy BASIC programs from an oversized paperback guide book.

I had a number of computers over the years, many of which displayed glowing green text on a black screen. My husband, David, and I had some impoverished years during which we limped along on an old hand-me-down computer with DOS and a screen with only two colors. I tried running games on that dinosaur, in misery over the lack of color diversity. Couldn’t I have three colors? Or maybe four? I stared covetously at high-power PCs with 256-color displays at the local electronics store. But alas, in those days, we didn’t have enough money for a new computer.

Ubuntu_KDE_Plasma
Ubuntu 18.04 with the KDE Plasma Desktop

So in the early 90s, we bought a used computer at auction. Stupid me, I didn’t realize that there was a good reason why the other bidders didn’t want an old PC with a 25 Mhz processor.

But that computer was running Windows 3.1. It was my first introduction to the Windows operating system, and I had plenty of time to practice with it. Windows 3.1 was simple, lightweight, easy to manage. Then we went through inevitable computer replacements and a succession of Windows upgrades. We moved on to Windows 95, then 98, and skipped 2000 and Me.

Then we moved straight on to Windows XP. Aaaaahhhhh. It was the best Windows operating system ever devised. No Windows version before or since could ever hold a candle to it. I remember it fondly.

But then I bought two computers at Best Buy in 2009, both with Windows Vista, a laptop for myself and a desktop PC for my husband. I somehow just barely missed the chance to get a Windows 7 upgrade. So we were stuck with what has been labeled the worst Windows operating system in history on our two brand-spanking-new computers. I seriously considered downgrading to XP. But that didn’t seem like a smart thing to do.

One day we watched a documentary called Revolution OS, which was on the topic of Linux and open source software, and a light bulb came on over my head. I realized at that moment that Linux was the wave of the future, whether other people realized it or not. I managed to download Ubuntu Linux on a painfully slow Internet connection, and installed it dual-boot with Windows Vista.

There was no turning back.

I started annoying my husband and sons by installing Ubuntu on their computers whether they wanted it or not. My sons warmed up to their Linux installation, and my husband griped about having to deal with GRUB every time the computer started. But I was in heaven.

I would switch back and forth between Windows Vista and Ubuntu whatever-version-it-was back then, maybe 10.04 or 11.10. I don’t remember.

420px-Tux.svg
Tux the Penguin, the erstwhile mascot of the Linux operating system. Apparently they’ve replaced him; but I refuse to accept it.

Recently, Canonical released Ubuntu Linux version 18.04 LTS (Long Term Service), which is supported for the next five years. I upgraded my 16.04 LTS installation, broke a couple of software programs, then repaired them. Then I downloaded Ubuntu 18.04 and installed it in VirtualBox. It looks a little bit different. The GNOME desktop installs by default in the download, but I still had Unity desktop installed on my laptop.

The trouble is that I hate Unity with a purple passion. It is the slowest, most bloated desktop environment I have ever used. Even Windows Vista was sleek and fast by comparison. So now whenever I install Ubuntu on any computer I think RUN . . . DON’T WALK . . . to the command line to install the Lubuntu and LXDE desktops. Especially because of my penchant for holding on to computers I bought new until doomsday and buying outdated computers on Craigslist. I usually have about ten to fifteen computers in the house, including several dead ones with burnt-out power supplies.

Ubuntu_1804_LXDE
Ubuntu 18.04 with the LXDE Desktop

Typically, older computers don’t have a lot of memory or processor speed in comparison to the new computer models coming out now. But with Ubuntu LXDE, or Lubuntu, my ancient computers run super fast. Ubuntu comes with Xorg graphics by default. LXDE and Lubuntu, by comparison, use X11, which is much lighter weight. If you need Xorg for to run a program, you can always switch back to Unity or GNOME. But I find that the LXDE/Lubuntu desktop runs every every program I need like a charm.

I’m also not thrilled with Ubuntu’s default purple and orange color scheme, but that is also easily remedied with the installation of a new desktop. It’s super easy to do at the command line:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get install lxde 
sudo apt-get install lubuntu-desktop

Another popular desktop is KDE. Install it with:

sudo apt-get install kubuntu-desktop

In Ubuntu 18.04, this installs the Plasma desktop environment by default. The desktop also installs a large number of useful apps, which can be easily identified by the starting letter “K”.

KDE_Kubuntu_Plasma_Menu
KDE Plasma program menu in Ubuntu 18.04 LTS

Now, back to Unity; not everything about Ubuntu’s former default desktop was bad. I loved the Dash, which allowed me to search for any software program installed within Ubuntu with relative ease. I didn’t need to memorize the names of the programs I ran. But Unity was such a behemoth, and ran so horribly slow, that ultimately it was less time-consuming to just learn the commands I needed to run my programs and give up the Dash altogether. Anyway, in LXDE/Lubuntu, the “Run” field functions similarly to Dash. If you know the first few letters of a command, then “Run” will give command suggestions.

Now, the new version of the GNOME desktop in Ubuntu, 18.04 Bionic Beaver, doesn’t come with Dash. Instead, it comes with a “Show Applications” button in the lower left-hand corner.

Ubuntu_Show_Applications_Search

When you click “Show Applications” a little “Type to search” field appears directly above a group of program shortcut icons that does essentially the same thing as Unity Dash.

Ubuntu_Search

So a quick search on “terminal” turns up the Terminal and Konsole apps, as well as a few other software suggestions, such as Terminator, MATE Terminal and XFCE Terminal. That’s plenty to choose from, and when I choose a program, I can add it to the favorites, much like I used to be able to pin it to the launcher back when Unity was a thing.

One thing I really like about the new GNOME desktop in Ubuntu is the new placement of the minimize, resize and close buttons, and the program menus. In the old Ubuntu Unity desktop, the buttons were strangely placed on the left side of the window. And instead of appearing within the window itself, the menu items appeared in the top menu toolbar of Ubuntu itself! This was extremely confusing, especially for someone coming to Linux from Windows. Now the buttons are on the right, and the menus are within the program window where they belong.

Ubuntu_Menu_Bar
Finally, the Ubuntu menu items are back in the program window, where they belong!
Ubuntu_buttons
The minimize, resize and close buttons are on the upper right of the window. Great for anyone transitioning from Windows to Linux.

There are some rather confusing things about the new GNOME desktop. The top navigation bar displays a crazy-making series of icons and menus which are not entirely self-explanatory. It’s unclear at first how to log out of or switch user accounts,  power off or restart the computer, manage power settings and network connections, etc. In addition, like its predecessor Unity, the new GNOME desktop is slow and sluggish and unresponsive on older hardware.

Regardless of the iceberg pace of its default desktop, Ubuntu Linux is extremely  practical in its default installation. Lots of great programs come with an Ubuntu 18.04 installation, such as Nautilus File Manager,  Firefox web browser, Thunderbird email client, and LibreOffice productivity suite which includes the  LibreOffice Writer word processor and the LibreOffice Calc spreadsheet program. Usually I install GIMP, my favorite photo editor, and Audacity, a sound editor, uGet, an excellent download manager, Xscreensaver, PlayonLInux for installing Windows games, and VirtualBox for trying out new Linux distros, as well as Google Chrome and Google Earth. Ooohhh, so many sticky, sweet software goodies. And most of them are open source, or at least I think they are.

And of course, I still have several machines running Windows 7, 8, and 10, just in case. My husband is a graphic designer, and an expert in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, which I’m sorry to say don’t really run on Linux. If anybody’s gotten them to run on WINE (the Windows Emulator) then I haven’t heard about it. He’s also a teacher who gives classes on Illustrator and Photoshop. So he pretty much has to have Windows.

So, Microsoft is still good for something, eh? Nevertheless, I would like to take a bite out of Microsoft and Windows and hand it over to the Linux movement. For the life of me, I really don’t understand why more people don’t use Linux, or at least try Linux out, because it is just so very advantageous, especially when Windows XP and Vista have gone out of support, Windows 7 is on its way out, and Windows 10  sucks so hard.

Anyhow, I strongly recommend that you give Ubuntu 18.04 a trial run.  There are several different ways you can try it out without installing it, including creating a bootable USB Linux flash drive. Have fun!

 

 

 

8 Reasons Why You Should Give Linux a Try

 

These days, Microsoft Windows holds a near monopoly on the operating system market for desktop and laptop computers. Mac OS holds a very small share of the market, which varies between 10 and 15 percent.  Linux, on the other hand, holds only a minuscule share of the operating system market, usually hovering somewhere between 1 and 3 percent. I’m here to let you know how completely crazy that is.

Linux_Mint
Linux Mint 1 “Debian” with the Mate Desktop

Linux is Easy

The reputation that Linux is hard to use is based on the Linux of yesteryear; the good news is that things are different now. Modern Linux desktop distributions are extremely easy to use and maintain, especially if you follow a few basic rules regarding maintenance and care. Also, very few viruses are written for Linux, so in most cases, you won’t even need a virus scanner, although anti-virus software is available for Linux if you’re the cautious type. So all the time you would have spent on the phone with tech support, or fighting with viruses, severe system slowdowns or the Blue Screen of Death, you can instead spend learning about how to use and maintain a Linux installation and keeping it running beautifully. Linux even provides backup software so that you can protect your valuable files in case you have to reinstall the operating system from scratch.

Most modern Linux distributions have a gorgeous Graphical User Interface (GUI)

Linux isn’t just about the command line. In fact, today’s Linux is a lot like Windows. Most Linux distros allow you to get everything done in the GUI. But unlike Windows, the software that you need to use on a daily basis comes pre-installed with the operating system, or can be easily installed from the trusted Linux repositories. The software programs that come with Linux are carefully selected for their quality and functionality, and in many cases have been around for decades. Also, Linux typically updates most of the software in the system whenever it performs an update, instead of just operating system files. If you’re just getting started with Linux, your best bet is to try Ubuntu or Linux Mint, which are the easiest and most user friendly distros. Linux is extremely versatile; there’s even a program called WINE that emulates Windows and allows you to install your windows programs. Also, Linux can be installed dual-boot with Windows so that you can continue to run your favorite Windows programs without interruption.

Bodhi_Linux
Bodhi Linux, the Enlightened Distribution

Linux is completely free to download and install

There are many Linux distributions that will cost you nothing more than your time and an empty DVD. They include Ubuntu, Mint, Musix, PureOS, OpenSUSE, Fedora, Debian, CentOS, and Slackware, and many more. What that means is that if you’re leaving Windows for Linux, you’ll never have to pay for an upgrade ever again. Instead, the upgrade for your Linux operating system, including additional alternatives to Windows software such as LibreOffice productivity software and the Thunderbird email client, is absolutely free. In fact, you can switch distros any time you want without having to pay a cent to the software developers.

antiX_17
antiX 17

Linux runs well on old computers

If you have an old, slow computer that’s past its prime, you don’t have to throw it out or pay thousands of dollars to replace it. There are many fast, lightweight Linux distros that run very well on older hardware, including Lubuntu, Bodhi Linux, AntiX and Damn Small Linux (DSL). In fact, with a lightweight Linux distro, you could get that old computer running faster and smoother than a brand new computer. Or you can even buy an older computer for cheap, specifically for the purpose of running Linux. So if you’re low on cash, Linux is one of the best things you can get to boost your financial bottom line.

Ubuntu_KDE_Plasma
Ubuntu 18.04 with the KDE Plasma Desktop

Linux is extremely customizable

The high degree of user customization inherent in Linux is one of its best features. You can install multiple desktops on a single Linux installation, and customize each one to your personal preferences. You can choose a Linux distro and a desktop that looks and functions just like Windows or Mac OS, or you can choose a version of Linux that is completely new and different from any operating system you’ve ever used before. Customization isn’t just limited to wallpaper, either. You can change the colors and sizes and locations of icons, fonts, windows, launch bars, dockers, etc. Also there is usually a wide variety of software programs available for any specific purpose, so you’ve got options if the built-in software fails to please. So for example, if VLC isn’t working for you as a media player, then you can try another media player like GNOME Mplayer, Rhythmbox, Banshee or Clementine.

ubuntu_1804
Ubuntu 18.04 Bionic Beaver with the Gnome Desktop

You can run Linux without installing

One of the best features of Linux is the ability to run the software from a Live CD, DVD or USB stick. This means that you can keep Windows on your computer, and try Linux out without having to install it on your hard drive. Another option is to run Linux as a virtual machine in a software program such as VirtualBox. So you can continue working on Windows while giving Linux a completely safe test-drive for as long as you want. If your Windows won’t boot, you can use a Linux Live CD, DVD or USB drive as a rescue disk to back up the files on your otherwise non-functional computer. This is because in Linux, you can see all the files, drives, and operating systems on a computer, not just the files and drives in the Linux system.

Damn_Small_Linux
Damn Small Linux 4.11 RC2

Linux support is readily available, and absolutely free

There are multiple websites that offer free support from the community for your Linux installation. They include LinuxQuestions.org, Linux.com, LinuxForums.org, and  AskUbuntu.com, among many others. The people who frequent these forums are very knowledgeable and friendly, so if you have a problem, chances are you will get a solution. In fact, chances are that if you’re having a problem, somebody else has had the same problem, and has already received an answer. So it’s pretty easy to search various forums to get answers to your Linux questions. It’s like getting free tech support, forever. And the best part is, you’ll never have to wait on hold again.

PCLinux
PCLinuxOS with the Mate Desktop

Linux is Stable

Linux crashes far less frequently than Windows, so you’ll never have to deal with the Linux equivalent of the “Blue Screen of Death”. Also, you don’t have to reboot or shut down Linux in the same way that you have to reboot and shut down Windows. In fact, you can leave your Linux operating system running for days, weeks, months, or in some extreme cases, even years, without a reboot, which is why Linux makes such a good operating system for servers.

But wait a minute . . . I know there’s a catch.

Most of the time, Linux works perfectly out-of-the-box, even on older computers and computers with lots of proprietary hardware, like my HP Pavilion dv7 laptop. But, like other software, Linux isn’t perfect. There are a few hardware components that simply won’t work in Linux, no matter how hard you try to install them. Also, many Windows programs don’t run on Linux. Linux from time to time can develop technical problems that will give the average computer user a headache.  But then again, the same can be said about Windows; it’s just that Microsoft isn’t as upfront about Windows’ flaws and failings as the open source community is about the various issues that crop up with Linux every now and then.

So, if occasionally you hear something negative about Linux, just realize that unlike Bill Gates, the open source community is honest about Linux. When it comes to the free distros and accompanying software, at least, they’re not trying to sell you anything. Microsoft will never warn you that your shiny new Windows installation will become infected with viruses or that many of its fancy features will stop working within a few months of installation, with positively no hope of repair. But the open source community will be honest with you about the parts of Linux that often break, and then they will get their hands dirty and fix them for you, totally free of charge.

So why not take the plunge, and download a Linux distribution today? You’ve got nothing to lose!

 

Solve Problems in Ubuntu and Debian the Easy Way

There may come a time when your Ubuntu or Debian Linux installation starts to run very slowly or suffer frequent crashes. This can happen when Debian “packages” get broken during or after installation. When this happens, a little bit of basic maintenance can solve the problem quickly and easily without poring through log and crash dump files.

Type CTRL + ALT + T to open a terminal and type the following command:

sudo apt-get update --fix-missing

Check to see if the problem persists, then try this command:

sudo apt-get install -f

These commands will help to fix any broken packages on your system.

Next, use these commands to do some basic housekeeping:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get autoclean
sudo apt-get clean
sudo apt-get autoremove

Keep in mind that the command “sudo apt-get upgrade” can cause problems in certain Debian distributions. Please check your system documentation before using this command.

If you determine that a specific program on your Ubuntu or Debian Linux system is causing a problem, then you can remove it using this command:

sudo apt-get remove (package name)

Or this command:

sudo dpkg --remove -force --force-remove-reinstreq (package name)

You can always reinstall the program later, or find an alternative program in the Ubuntu or Debian repository. For example, if you find that the Google Chrome web browser is slowing your computer down, causing another program to malfunction or causing your computer to crash, then you can uninstall it and install another browser, like Firefox or Chromium instead. To install a program at the command line, simply type the following:

sudo apt-get install (package name)

This command installs programs directly from the Ubuntu or Debian Linux repositories. If the program isn’t available through the repositories, you may be able to download and install it using the “dpkg” command. First, download the program using wget:

wget (URL of Debian file)

Debian files end in the .deb extension. If the file is compressed or archived, (for example, if it ends in .tar or .gz) extract it.

Then, install the file with this command:

sudo dpkg -i (Debian file)

These tips should get your Linux system up and running smoothly again in most situations. Good luck!

GIMP Photo Editor Tutorial: How to Brighten Yellow or Dark Portrait Photos Using the Curves Tool

GIMP_portrait_before_after

If you take a lot of photos like I do, chances are you have quite a few pictures that are too yellow or dark. This can happen when you take pictures under low light conditions such as a room with a light bulb or light coming through a closed window.  This technique can also be used to save precious old photographs that have become yellowed or darkened with age.. Underexposed or faded photos like these can be easily salvaged using software in Linux. My favorite tool for editing photos is GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program, which is an image editing program similar to Photoshop. GIMP will also work on Windows or Mac, if you’re not ready to try out Linux just yet, although the only way to install GIMP on a Mac at this time is by using a Macport. In many Linux distributions, you can install GIMP directly for free directly from the repositories. You can also download GIMP for free from the GIMP.org website, from Sourceforge.net, or from Github.com.

The typical solution for editing photographs in GIMP is to use the Brightness and Contrast tools. However, for some photos this simply isn’t enough to get a beautiful effect. For these photos, the Curves tool will create the best color and brightness and contrast to make your picture really stand out. The tool may result in a somewhat painterly effect, but this will not detract from the attractiveness of the portrait.

When the picture is the portrait of a person, the best way to use the Curves tool is to first use the GIMP Free Select Tool to select part of the picture. Before you get started, crop the picture to get a good framing around the face.

portrait_original

The example portrait is a photo which I took of myself in the bathroom mirror with a Canon 5 megapixel digital camera under a combination of LED and fluorescent lighting. I’m an older woman, so I chose a portrait pose that was lit from above, but in which both my face and eyes were directed upward, which reduces signs of age in the photo.

In this example, I selected the face area first. Select along the hairline, using areas of light and dark as a guideline. When you do this, you will see a light dotted white line around the selection area. Use CTRL + Left Mouse Button to remove areas from the selection, and press SHIFT + Left Mouse to add areas to the selection. When you’re satisfied with the selected area, select Colors – Curves from the menu.

It’s important to make sure the colors and shadows in the photo not only look right, but also look like the subject of the portrait. If you are the subject of the portrait, you can take a look in the mirror in good light to ensure that the image looks right. Or if the subject is another person, you can of course look at them in person.

Using the free select tool in GIMP, select the area around the face within the portrait photograph, then edit with the curves tool.

Next to “Channel” select “Red”. Move the line upward toward the right, and downward toward the left. You can create several nodes along the line. If there is a gray area within the window, try to keep the points inside it. This will brighten the red highlights and deepen the shadows. Then select the “Green”, and then the “Blue” channel and repeat the steps above. A good facial skin tone for a white person should be slightly peach colored, with whitish-pale peach highlights and a good balance between red, green and blue. If the skin tone looks too orange, red, pink, blue, purple or white, then you’ve gone too far with the color adjustment on one or all of the three channels. To get the right color in the eyes, you may have to experiment a bit. In the case of my own portrait photo, I  accentuated the blue of my eyes by increasing the blue channel while keeping the red and green levels relatively low. For your own portrait, go ahead and experiment with the tools. If you don’t get the results you want, you can always select “Reset Channel” and start over. When you’re happy with the way the portrait looks, click OK.

Next, use GIMP’s Free Select Tool to select the hair. Repeat the steps above to enhance the color, brightness and contrast of the hair. Consider the coloration of the subject when making your color choices. Is the subject blond, brunette, or red-headed? Is their hair shiny or matte? Try to achieve a good contrast between the highlights and shadows to give the hair a nice volume in the photo. For example, since I am blond, I increased the green channel considerably on the right to get a yellow highlight on the hair. However, when you’re working with hair, remember that blond hair is not yellow and red hair is not red. Blond hair will have a honey, straw, mustard or orange-brown color, whereas red hair will have an orange or reddish-brown hue. Click OK.

Using the free select tool in GIMP, select the hair, then edit with the curves tool.

Then use the Free Select Tool to select any unedited areas of clothing. Bring up the Curves Tool and begin to enhance the color channels just enough to blend the clothing in with any previously edited areas in the face and hair. When you’re finished, there should be no glaringly obvious lines of contrast between the different parts of the portrait photograph. If there are obvious sharp breaks between the areas of the photograph, select the area of the contrast in the photo, then select Filters – Blur. Be sure to select only a slight area around the area of sharp contrast; if you select too much area, your picture will look uneven and splotchy.

Next, select the clothing, then edit with the curves tool in GIMP.

Next, edit the background of the portrait. Now, in this example, the Curves tool isn’t a very good tool to edit the background. So instead, I selected the background and then selected Color Balance, and then Colors – Hue – Saturation.  I reduced the saturation and increased the lightness considerably, then increased the hue slightly until the wall became a light gray color. Lightening the background more than this will cause the subtle contrast between the hair and background to be lost, and will cause an unnaturally sharp line between them. You can try this if you want, but you will probably need to use Filters – Blur or Filters – Gaussian Blur to decrease the contrast in order to prevent the image from looking strange.

Next select and edit the background in GIMP until the color is a pale gray.

Use the Hue-Saturation-Lightness tool in GIMP to remove any remaining excess color from the background.

Then check to see if the features look right. For example, is there any red-eye, are there blemishes, or are the features too pale or the wrong color? In this instance, after editing the photo, there was some pink in the whites of the eyes. So I selected the whites and edited again with the Hue – Saturation Tool. I selected the red channel, and brought down the saturation, then selected and brought down the yellow channel, too.

Now, select the whites of the eyes and use GIMP's Hue-Lightness-Saturation tool to whiten the whites of the eyes in your photo.

The next step in my portrait was to darken and brighten the lips. I did this by selecting the Curves Tool and increased the red and blue channels more than the green. I also went back and used the Curves tool with the “Value” channel selected to darken areas of the hair and clothing that seemed too light.

Select the border around the lips in GIMP, then use the curves tool to brighten the highlights and darken the shadows.

When finished, the edited portrait photo should have a professional look, with a cohesive color theme. In my portrait, I stuck with an earth-tone palette, since that looked right for the hair and clothes. Then I used the Hue – Saturation – Lightness tool to decrease the overall saturation, and added the Blur filter again several times. And viola! The portrait is much more vibrant and colorful, and worthy of framing!

Reduce the overall saturation and contrast of the photo and you're finished editing your photo.

 

My Favorite Linux Distribution

When I first got started with Linux, like most people, I started with Ubuntu. I did this in part because it’s easy to install dual-boot with Windows. But I also like Ubuntu because of its elegance and ease of use. You don’t have to worry about hosing your operating system with a simple update. But the resource-intensive Unity desktop doesn’t run very well on older hardware, like the old HP dv7-1285dx laptop that I’m using right now. So I installed the LXDE/Lubuntu desktop instead, and now the laptop runs like a charm. I prefer this to running Lubuntu, which limits the software I can install on my system.

ubuntu_lxde_screenshot

As you can see, this desktop looks a lot like Windows, in its organization of the quick launch icons, taskbar, icon tray and desktop shortcuts. It’s nice to have this setup if you switch between Windows and Linux frequently, since you instinctively access features where you’re accustomed to accessing them. The desktop shortcuts were very easy to create using the menu on the lower left corner of the desktop. You just left click on the Lubuntu “Start’ icon on the lower left, then hover over the item, right click and select, “Add to Desktop”.

I tested out quite a few other lightweight Linux distributions in VirtualBox, including Linux Mint, AntiX, Elementary OS and Bodhi Linux, but I still kept coming back to Ubuntu with the LXDE/Lubuntu desktop, because it’s so familiar. I think that definitely, people just starting out with Linux should start out with Ubuntu, Lubuntu, or Linux Mint, as these are the easiest distributions for beginners.

Now, there have been some issues regarding Ubuntu and privacy. These issues only affect the Unity desktop, which sends information to third parties without the user’s permission. Any other desktop environment, such as LXDE, Lubuntu, KDE, or Gnome, will not send data without the user’s permission.