July 29, 2009

Do I need Antivirus like I did in Windows?

This question has been a topic of a lot of concern for many new users to Linux, and the common answer may be a little misleading, so before I give my endorsement for any tools or products I want to answer the heart of the question first.

Does Linux get viruses? No. Or to answer a little more truthfully, not usually, not easily, not to most users.

Why isn't Linux plagued by all the viruses, spyware, malware, root kits, ect. like Windows? The answer in twofold. First because Linux is set in a way as it becomes improbably that an outside program can be granted root access without the user knowing. Second because at this time the vast majority of desktop users have a Microsoft OS running their machine. If you want your virus to spread, you must write it to affect the biggest user base. For a more detailed explanation feel free to read this article.

On the other hand there are reasons you might want to have an antivirus program installed on your Linux distribution.

  • to scan a Windows drive in your PC
  • to scan a Windows-based network attached server or hard drive
  • to scan Windows machines over a network
  • to scan files you are going to send to other people
  • to scan e-mail you are going to forward to other people
  • some Windows viruses can run with Wine
  • Linux virus infections are theoretically possible
Before I give an endorsement to any antivirus program, know that I am a new user to antivirus on the Linux side and only give these as recomendations and am open to endorsements of products from people that have had real experiences with combating real viruses in Linux.

The first suggestion I have is going with ClamAV antivirus which you should be able to find in the repositories or at their website. This is an opensource software project.

The second suggestion I have is using AVAST which many of you will recognize from my windows articles about antivirus software. Although this is proprietary software, it is free for home users and you can find more detail at their website as well.

To summarize, I would not lose sleep wondering if your Linux system is being overrun by viruses, but for curiosity sake or for insurance in the future when Linux takes over the PC world I would check out these or other antivirus options.

July 27, 2009

Friendly Faces

So this weekend I took a quick trip up to rural Michigan not far from Detroit with my girlfriend to meet her family. Of course, much to my girlfriends chagrin, I got to talking about computers with her nephew and niece. I don't normally like to sit around and talk to the High School and College age kids, but while their parents were missionaries in South America they became Linux users.

Although they were used to using Open Suse, the similarities to Ubuntu were wonderfully interesting to learn. I have to be honest with my readers in that I used Knoppix a long time ago as a pre-install environment to fix windows and didn't know it was linux, and I used Mepis for about a year before I started using the Ubuntu line of distros. That's all the linux experience I have because I was an instant fan of Ubuntu. I am also dabbeling in CentOS, Fedora Core, Backtrack, and looking into possible training with Canonical for the Ubuntu server system.

I had a wonderful afternoon of total geekieness and want to give a shout out (if that's what cool people still do now days) to Ian and Ashley and wish you good luck in the coming year of school.

July 24, 2009

Getting software like you never did with Windows.

By now you've read a few articles about some great software, but how in the world do you get this software?

In the windows world you find, or more likely buy, the software and run the .exe file, but in the Linux world there isn't a whole lot of downloading and running.

Of course for advanced users you can download the tar ball, or the gz and compile the software, but before I get a migraine we'll just pretend I never mentioned this paragraph until later. Much Later.

I'm going to discuss a few new concepts today that will probably be foreign to most Windows and Mac users, but is very important to the core of the Linux community.

1. Most software is free. Free means different things to different people and in different contexts.
  • There is Free as in speech. This is free as an entitlement. This is software that is provided free of charge and open source so you can modify it and re-distribute it.
  • There is Free as in Beer. This is free for you to use, but proprietary in that you can't change it.
2. The safest way to obtain this software is from the software repository in the package manager.
  • a package is a software bundle that needs to be compiled or installed
  • software is a package that has been installed
  • the repository is a group of packages that is maintained by your distribution to insure the best possibility of compatibility
  • the package manager is a graphical interface to browse, select, install and uninstall the packages
For Ubuntu the default package manager is Synaptic. I like synaptic because it is a clean easy to understand, straight forward package manager. When I select the title of a package it has a description and sometimes a screen shot of the package. Even when I'm using a different distribution that may have it's own package manager, I alway install synaptic and use it as my go to package manager of choice.

Installing a package is as simple as
  1. finding the package you want
  2. checking the box next to it
  3. accepting and marking the dependencies that may be needed
  4. clicking apply
  • Dependencies are other packages that are needed to run the software you are asking for.
NOTE: Occasionally you will be asked if you are sure you want to install the package because it is unsupported, it may cause a conflict, or some other objection. You will have to make up your mind if you want to risk overcoming the objection or not.

Uninstalling a package is exactly the same except when you check the box you will want to select mark for uninstallation or mark for complete removal and then applying.

I know these concepts and procedures are new and will take some getting used to, but I want you to start thinking of the Software Repository as a free candy store where you can come and go as you please and take as much as you want without having to worry too much about the dentist or getting a stomach ache.

Creating text documents, spreadsheets, presentations and databases; almost like you did in Windows.

One of the hardest parts of switching to Linux for me was how was I going to replace the Microsoft Office Suite. Ok, in reality this was almost painless for me. A little story about my past... At one time I left a comfy desk job to work at my old companies shipping dock and was eventually promoted to the lead clerk and had my own office of sorts. I had an antique pentium 3 computer with no productivity software whatsoever. I asked our local IT departments "computer expert (1)" for a version of Microsoft office even if it was only 97 or 2000 but I was denied because I didn't need it. Well anyone who really knows IT, knows that a no is just an opportunity to find another way. So I found my way to the great people at Sun Microsystems and their Open Office free productivity suite. I was able to do all my documents and spreadsheets and that was enough for me at the time. So enough about my ancient history.

According to their website, Open office is the leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages and works on all common computers. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose. As an introduction only I'll give you a rundown on their products and the Microsoft equivalent.
  • Writer: This is almost identical to Microsoft Word. You can open almost all word documents with the only exception I've found so far is the newer graphical add in's found in Office 2007 like the colorful spreadsheets and such.
  • Calc: This is almost identical to Microsoft Excel. You can open all excel spreadsheets and be able to use the calculations. The only exception is that macro's are not compatible.
  • Impress: This is almost identical to Microsoft Powerpoint. You can open most any PPT presentation from powerpoint.
  • Draw: This similar to Microsoft Visio. The graphics aren't in my opinion nearly as nice as in Visio, but... you can get graphics from anywhere... but I'd never suggest to do anything to infringe upon other software products. Enough said.
  • Base: This is somewhat similar to Microsoft Access. You can open Access databases with Base, but only the tables will import. As an advanced database programmer I was disappointed that the forms are not compatible... at this point. I'm holding out hope that at some point in the future this will be "fixed". In the meantime I'm still looking at base and may learn how to create forms and do all the things I do now with Access.
One other program that I relied on heavily from the Office Suite was OneNote. A beautiful and easy way to take and organize notes. There is a program in Linux that I love just as much, but that is for another article. One thing to remember is that no set of software is perfect and so easy that it can be mastered in one sitting. It took me 10 years and 5 versions of office to consider myself a power user and perhaps a SPE (software product expert) or SME (subject matter expert) so give yourself a break and take time to learn Open Office and it's own set of special features and tricks.

(1) a two year degree in computer science from the local junior college shouldn't be construed as being a computer expert by any means.

July 23, 2009

Reducing fear durring the switch

Lets take a pause in the middle of my list of things to make switching to Linux easier.
Perhaps you want to switch now, or are in the middle of the switch and you're asking yourself "what happens if I can't do something that I used to do in Windows?"

This is a normal question that every Windows user I know, including myself, asks. Don't feel bad. First of all, I have never run into a situation where I couldn't find my solution in Linux. Second of all, you don't have to quit Windows cold turkey. I'm going to show you how to put Windows on the back burner, but keep it close at hand like a security blanket, just in case.

What I'm talking about is being able to run Linux while not uninstalling Windows.

Solution 1. Use the Live CD. Most mainstream Linux distributions have a Live CD,
that is a CD that can be booted up from and has the stock, out of the box OS ready to be used in RAM. You can install and use programs, Access the internet, use your wireless connection, create documents, ect. Just know that anything you change from "stock" will be lost when you turn off your computer.

Solution 2. Run the OS virtually. This is one of my favorite options for more powerful computers. In essence this is running a virtualization program like Sun's VirtualBox which emulates an X86 processor and allows you to install an OS from a CD or ISO file. In this way you can be booted up in Windows and then "boot up" Linux inside the Windows environment. On a different note, once you go to Linux you may want to run a virtualization program in Linux to "boot up" windows inside the safety of Linux.

Solution 3. Dual Boot Windows and Linux. This is probably the most common option used. Unlike Windows, most Linux distributions require fairly modest hard drive requirements so you could easily install Linux in a partition. Using this option will also install the Grub boot loader which will bring up a menu when your computer boots up. By default Ubuntu will be first in the menu along with the Ubuntu restore mode, Ubuntu Memory tester, the Windows and Windows recovery mode (if available).

In a future article I will go over the Grub boot loader and how to change the countdown timer to load as well as the order that OS will be displayed.

To summarize though, DO NOT feel bad if you want to hang on to multiple operating systems. This is your computer and you should use it the way you want to. For me however I find that I boot into Linux more often than not.

July 22, 2009

How to IM just like you did in Windows

One of the next requests I normally hear from new linux users is how do I send instant messages? Although I'm not as bound to instant messaging, it is a major part of other peoples lives.

I've used the Yahoo IM in the past and the first thing I looked for was how hard it would be to install the yahoo chat client on Linux and after reading a few forums I realized that installing Yahoo IM would be a disaster. Sorry Yahoo, but true is true.

So I looked around a little bit and found a program already installed by default that would handle my yahoo IM's and more.

From the pidgin website they state "Pidgin is a chat program which lets you log in to accounts on multiple chat networks simultaneously. This means that you can be chatting with friends on MSN, talking to a friend on Google Talk, and sitting in a Yahoo chat room all at the same time."

Pidgin supports the following chat clients AIM, Bonjour, Gadu-Gadu, Google, Talk, Groupwise, ICQ, IRC, MSN, MySpaceIM, QQ, SILC, SIMPLE, Sametime, XMPP, Yahoo and Zephyr.

The only downside to this that I can find is that it can become confusing. I set up my yahoo account and my MSN account and before I knew it I had a long list of people and it was unfamilier who was messaging me from which list.

You can try to install individual IM clients for Linux if you can find one, You can try to install the Windows version using WINE, but for ease of installation, just stick with pidgin and enjoy.

Checking your e-mail just like you did with Outlook

If you are new to my blog site, I am in the middle of a series on how to switch from Windows to Linux. I am not a Windows basher by nature and by my nature I will continue to use Windows as well as Linux and to a small extent Macintosh.
About three months ago I noticed that my Microsoft Outlook 2003 kept freezing up on me and become unstable. I tried upgrading to Outlook 2007, but the problems kept persisting. I couldn't find any help at Microsoft or much help online. All I really wanted to do is get my Gmail through IMAP, and have a handy dandy calendar open at the same time.
I had a few options available...
  1. suck it up and keep working with outlook
  2. check my g-mail with the website and start using a calendar google provided
  3. start using thunderbird and do without a calendar
  4. other
I decided on the other option. I already had Ubuntu dual booted (as I still do) and decided to see what was going on there. What I found was the default e-mail client Evolution. I was a little doubtful as I shamefully always am, but what I found was a full featured e-mail client with all the tools I was already looking for.
  • POP and IMAP support
  • HTML message capable
  • A calendar with day / week / month views with an event alarm feature
  • To-Do tasks
  • RSS feed reader
Importing my G-mail account was easy. I could have went to the g-mail homepage and probably found instructions there, but instead I did a google search and found a fellow blogger that has a wonderful step by step tutorial on setting up g-mail with imap. You can find the article on Victor's blog.

NOTE: if you are trying to set up multiple g-mail accounts using IMAP you will probably run into problems because your computer can only sign into one g-mail account at a time. I got around this annoying problem by having my different account all forwarded to my main account.

July 21, 2009

Browsing the internet with Ubuntu just like you did with Internet Explorer

So now that you have your desktop looking a little more familier to you, it's time to start "using" your computer to do all the things you would normally do.

The first thing that most people ask about is "how do I surf the web?" and this is a good question.

Some of the common Linux browsers are Epiphany, Midori, Chromium and Seamonkey.
While still using Windows I started using Mozilla's Firefox. This is a cross platform browser for Windows, Macintosh and Linux.

Here is a list of things that are the same.
  • tabbed browsing
  • bookmarks (just like favorites)
  • RSS reader
  • search box
  • uses standards for compatibility with most webpages

Here is a list of things that are different.

  • smaller memory resource needs
  • inherantly more secure
  • if it crashes there is a way to restore back to the last pages you were viewing

How do I move my favorites from Internet Explorer over to Firefox in Ubuntu???

  1. From the Internet Explorer file menu, select Import/Export. (If you don't see the menu bar, just click the key to make it appear.)
  2. When the Import Export Wizard launches, click Next. Select Export Favorites and click Next.
  3. Select the folder you wish to export and click Next.
  4. Choose to export to a file. And save it in My Documents.
  5. Click Next and click Finish to close the wizard.
  6. Copy the file to a CD, usb drive, FTP site, or e-mail it to yourself so that you can open the file on your Ubuntu system.

  7. Now in Firefox, select the Bookmarks menu, then select Organize Bookmarks.
  8. In the Bookmarks select File, Import.
  9. Choose From File, then click Next.
  10. Select the file from the location where you saved it, and click Open to start the import process.
  11. Ha Ha Ha Ha, there is no further steps. It is just that easy.

Now as long as you are connected to the internet through your cat5 cable or wireless router you can start surfing, facebooking, blogging, reading your RSS feeds and everything you would normally have done when you were using Internet Explorer.

NOTE: In order to see embeded media on webpages, you will need to install the Adobe flash, Macromedia flash, Gstreamer base and Gstreamer good plugins including all the suggested dependencies. Don't worry though, these can all be found in the free package repositories. (of course package repositories are free to the consumer by nature)

July 20, 2009

Making Ubuntu look more like Windows

The first thing I did to make Ubuntu feel a little more familier to me was to bring the desktop more in line with the way I was used to working with. These instructions will work with any distribution of Linux that is using the Gnome desktop.

To make the Ubuntu header bar and kicker bar look more like the windows start button, task bar and system tray...
  1. Delete the lower bar (kicker) by right clicking and deleting it (don't worry you can add it back later if you want)
  2. Move the upper bar (header) by right clicking on it and selecting properties. Change the orientation to bottom.
  3. Add the open windows list to the new bottom bar by right clicking on it and selecting add to panel. now choose windows list and select add.
  4. Finally drag the double dotted bar to the left and right click and select lock to pannel.

To add familier desktop icons...

  1. open any of the terminals known as the command line window
  2. Type gconf-editor
  3. press enter
    This will bring up the configuration editor
  4. now select apps, then select nautilus, and finally select desktop
    This will bring up a list of items that can be placed on the desktop.

I selected computer_icon, home_icon, trash_icon, and volumes_visable
you can now close the configuration editor window and the terminal window.

For an added touch, I renamed the icons...

  • Computer to My Computer
  • user Home to My Documents
  • Trash to Recycle Bin

Now that Ubuntu looks a little more like home you can relax a little bit more and get ready to learn how to use some common features that you are already familier with.

For a desktop that looks amazingly like windows try the suggestions at this site

July 16, 2009

Going Linux

If you've been reading my blog for any legnth of time you have to realize that I've spent my whole computing life in the windows world. Other than a few jaunts in college with Macintosh in the early 90's, I've always been a Microsoft fanboy since DOS 4.0 even before the days of Windows.

Now that I'm "all grown up" I spend all day fixing windows problems. OS crashes, spyware, viruses, software incompatibilities, Vista issues such as compatibility modes and UAC controls or someone needing training on a Microsoft office product. I'm not upset about this, it's a job. I just never get any good easy calls.

Then after the day is done and I get home, there always seems to be a friend or family member that has a broken computer that they need my help with.

Needless to say, when I get home and all I want to do is read my e-mail, watch a webcast, work on my book, or play a simple game. The last thing I want is to look at another Microsoft Product.

So now days when the 5 'oclock whistle blows, I go home to my beautiful girlfriend and Ubuntu Linux. I know what most of my Microsoft associates and classmates are thinking. Isn't Linux is hard? There's no software for linux is there? No one seriously uses linux do they?

Well over the next few articles I'll go over why and how I use Linux and how I could easily switch over and never use it again. I want people to know that I'm not a Windows or Macintosh basher.

A computer is just another tool. How well are you able to use your tool?

Thats right. Remember you bought your computer and you should make it work for you, not the other way around. Your OS shouldn't controll how you work, but you should controll and be able to change your OS and how it operates. If the enjoyment in using your computer has been replaced with a frustrating uphill battle then stop and take a deep breath and get ready to see how your computer was meant to be used.

I will cover some basics on what I use to make the change easy and painless (well mostly). Watch for these articles coming up...

  • How to make your desktop more familier to users recovering from Windows
  • How to browse the internet just like you did with Internet Explorer
  • How to check your e-mail just like you did with outlook
  • How to create documents and presentations like you did with Word and Powerpoint
  • How to play music and video just like you did with Windows Media Player
  • How to IM just like you did with AIM, Yahoo, MSN
  • How to make notes just like you did with OneNote
  • How to find new software for free like you never could with Microsoft
  • How to set your firewall like you thought you could with Windows (even if you don't need to)
  • How to use antivirus software (even if you don't need to)
  • Why don't I have to manually run check disk
  • Why is defragging not an option or even needed with linux

Untill then rest assured that I will not be abandoning my Microsoft articles or my use of Microsoft, but I will probably be deviding my time. I am also considering a monthly podcast. If anyone would like to donate articles, or perhaps join me in developing a podcast feel free to contact me with the e-mail contact button on the blog site.

July 06, 2009

Vista incompatible... really?

I'm starting to get a little tired of all the whining from people telling me that they can't use Vista because none of their old programs work with it. Of course I heard the same thing when XP and Windows 98 came out, so I shouldn't be so surprised.

Before you cry to your local I.T. guy try right clicking on the program icon you are trying to run, click on properties and set the compatibility mode for XP service pack 2 (or an older version if needed).

Give it a try, you might actually be surprised that Vista isn't the worst OS that Microsoft ever developed.

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