Migration to open sourcea personal experience

Written by Abhishek Puri | Updated: Dec 13 2012, 16:19pm hrs
The term open source (OS) arose in late 90s; although, much of modern internet infrastructure predated and evolved from active code sharing between researchers after the dawn of modern computing age. It is difficult to trace its origins due to space constraints, but suffice to say that it arose out of ambiguity in fair use doctrines, with significant access barriers for community to examine source code or modify it. Interestingly, these ideas have spawned crowd sourcing for open source hardware, notably robotics and influenced scientific publishing for open access traditionally encumbered by copyright protection. Over the time, several unique and hybrid models of licensing have evolved for implementation.

One of the most prominent examples of OS software collaboration is development, porting and extensive deployment of Linux kernel. It proudly runs on the top ten fastest super computers and nearly the entire Web infrastructure. Linux geared towards desktop usage has X Window System (notably Gnome, KDE, XFCE) and package management systems (Debian, Arch Linux, Red Hat etc.) collectively called as a Linux Distribution or a Distro. Importantly, Linux is inherently secure, scalable as well as free from any vendor lock in. However, this write up does not address the naming controversies between GNU or Linux.

This reviewer started with BASIC and COBOL on 486 based processors and migrated to Microsoft Windows after desktop computing became affordable. MS Windows was and still remains a magnet for viruses, trojans and other malicious software despite its advertised firewalls and virus scans for security. This being closed source, zero day exploits targetting weaknesses in the code base remain common for MS Windows. Additional security impacts hardware performance leading to a frustrated user experience, and this reviewer has faced endless reboot cycles for installing new software! Further, a new release from Microsoft often warrants a more expensive hardware because of bloated code base size.

From minimalist to full fledged distros, users would be spoiled for choice. This reviewer endorses Debian Linux (and its derivative Linux Mint based on Ubuntu) as the default desktop choice due to its extensive software repositories and efficient packaging system. Although rpm based distros (like Open Suse) remain excellent alternatives, it boils down to personal preference. He finds it extremely easy to install personal packing archives (ppas) for Linux Mint; although one can also compile it straight from the source tarballs.

For Windows users looking to migrate to Linux Mint, its easy to create bootable USB drives, download images (isos) of Linux Mint for Live mode (runs in RAM and checks for hardware compatibility) or install it directly. Unlike MS Windows, the device drivers are inbuilt. Users would need to have USB disk as the first boot device (from the BIOS settings).

The author wholeheartedly recommends removing Windows completely instead of dual booting with Linux. The users can run MS Windows in Virtual Box if there is any compulsion although, in the past 10 years of extensive Linux usage, this author has never felt the need to go back to MS Windows. Linux Mint has extensive documentation available online. He recommends searching the forums first before posting queries, since it is likely that it has been answered before, saving you time. You can watch movies in restricted formats, edit documents (including .docx and other proprietary protocols), surf internet, back up data, edit and import pictures in their native formats and practically everything else since Mint is a credible replacement.

In the past 10 years, the desktop Linux has been completely overhauled reaching the maturity and usage patterns of established proprietary systems. This reviewer is a tech dinosaur in terms of hardware upgrades, uses a 5 year-old laptop running long term stable release of Linux Mint (version 13). This author remains steadfastly opposed to proprietary desktop operating system (including the fancy Macintosh) since open source allows him to harness the fruits of the community and contribute back to it. He uses Libre Office exclusively for creating documentation, Impress for presentations, Thunderbird for IMAP mail access as well as Firefox, customised to nth degree, for internet access.

Through this medium, this author thanks and remains indebted all the faceless individuals, volunteers and developers working for the cause of open source. This remains essentially a tribute to them!

The writer is a practicing doctor with keen interest in technology