Thursday, April 14, 2011

The switch to Linux

I was wrong to say that I won't blog here again.  For things that will not possibly identify me personally, I don't see what will stop me from blogging something else.  See how it goes.

I'm always the sort of unwilling pioneer.  I was exposed to email long before most.  Anybody can see that it's the future.  I should have find a job doing that for whatever means, instead of complaining that I have to write a letter on paper every time.  The difference is, Bill make sure that it get to everybody's desktop.  But it will still takes decades now for the post office to disappear in its present from.

I'm sure they have cable TV, but the cable company did a lot of digging and other work for me when they first delivery Internet and phone to my street.  They still call me a decade after to ask my opinion when they launch some new services.

I was under a lot of pressure to buy my last watch.  What a relief when I heard that people with a smart phone don't wear watches!  I was ahead of the era of smart phones by a few years at least.

Now I'm one of the 1% who switches to a Linux desktop.  Actually I could be 1% of 1% if I wanted to be a pioneer.  For example, the last reason that I didn't switch is because of Hotspot Shield.  Most people having a notebook computer should have a VPN when they do anything in hotels or cafes.  HSS is fast and free, and it's trivial to get rid of the ads.  But it didn't support Linux.  For this non-reason I put up with Windows longer.  It only cost a few dollars per month or even per year.  But I stuck on the free service.  Not anymore.

I can say a lot of good reasons to switch but not right now.  Today's topic is why I switch because I like free.  And Amazon web services is free (for a calendar year). 

You have to understand that trivial things necessary on your computer, perfected decades ago, became integrated part of any operating system, like Unix.  But when Windows came along, all hell broke lose.  This tiny "computers" have only 256K of memory!  And a floppy disk!

Now Windows became the dinosaur, while Linux can do what Unix mini computers could do in a fraction of the resources of Windows, and do it faster.

Take backup.  To backup to Amazon S3, you only need one command:

s3cmd sync yourfolder s3://yourbucket

Only changed or additional files will be uploaded to S3 - synchronization.  You may prefer GUI but immediately you will understand that why GUI is an obstacle.  The command itself is flexible, allowing any folders you want.  And for different destinations, you can have another command.  You can put all your customized locations in one single text file and name it "syn3", like shortening URL's.  And if you copy the file into the daily jobs directory, you will never worry losing another file longer than one day old.

Nowadays installing software is easier than Windows.  You don't even need to go through the browser to "download" !  If you try to run s3cmd, Ubuntu will tell you that you need to install it first by the command:

sudo apt-get install s3cmd

It's a single step to download and install, and then you can run it right away.  (There's a interactive program to run first to get your S3 access keys.)  Whereas in Windows you have to start the browser, find the download URL, wait for the download manager, and then run the installation program.

For me this is (one of) the killer application.  And this is the only way to upload to S3.  Because S3 is actually very slow (~100 kb/s) and unreliable.  You always fail in the middle of uploading a large backup file.  If sync fails, it will only be the current file.  And if you keep syncing, all the files will be there eventually.  There are similar things is Windows but you have to pay for it, or it won't be that convenient, and because of GUI, it can't be that easily customized.

And for a slightly conventional task, backing up your critical files into a separate drive daily.  I have been struggling to do this for years in Windows.  But in Linux, this is trivial:

rsync sourcefolder destinationfolder

Only the new and modified files will be copied.  This is part of the OS 10 to 30 years ago!  You can see the problem with Microsoft.  First they have to strip off everything to fit in the tiny IBM box.  They could have done a better job providing backup software, but they can't kill third parties for commercial reasons.  You can pay but companies do that sort of business are desperate.  Amateur developers come and go.

The other thing is, if you search there are lots of backup programs for Windows, many from 1st year Computer Science students, and some may crash your disk.  But in Linux, the developers have some standards, even that the software is free.  The bad ones will not be recommended or advertised, and the few good ones will find their way into depositories, where you can easily download and install, and even become installed by default, or part of the OS.

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