Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Choosing Linux, an Overview

Why Linux?
Deciding to switch to Linux can be a difficult decision.  If you're using a PowerPC Mac with Mac OS, you've probably come to appreciate how easy your computer is to use... or how easy it was to use.  But now virtually no software companies publish anything for PPC on Mac OS.  You're stuck using old software and possibly an old web browser with security holes.  To make things worse, you know your PowerPC machine still has tons of life left in it!  This is what lead me to consider Linux.

Or, you could be considering purchasing a PowerPC machine.  If you're comfortable with Linux, or learning Linux, buying a PowerPC machine could be a great option!  

I tried Linux a few times in the past, and its come a long way.  While there is still some tweaking you'll usually need to do, most things are easy to get up and running quickly.

  • PowerPC is well supported in the Linux community so you can use the same, up-to-date software as everyone else
  • Up-to-date, more secure web browsers like Firefox are available
  • Linux desktop environments are now just as functional as Mac OS or Windows so learning to use command prompt is really a choice (aside from possibly some command prompt work during setup)
  • Linux distributions pioneered the concept of an "app store"; you get your software through repositories which is basically the same as an app store where everything is $0.00
  • Linux allows you to customize virtually anything you want, you can change the look and functionality of your desktop drastically
  • Linux can be fast and stable, even on PowerPC 74xx "G4" machines

I remember being a little overwhelmed by all the Linux related terminology.  Starting off, its most important to know the basic terms below. 

Distribution:  Most of the time, when people install Linux, they install it as piece of a distribution.  Distributions package Linux with useful software to provide a complete Operating System. Distributions can have a specific focus.  Some focus on education and package in lots of educational software.  Others focus on gaming, audio/video production or simply running on low-end machines like netbooks.  The distributions I overview are for general everyday use. 
(Windows equivalent:  Microsoft; Mac equivalent:  Apple)

Desktop Environment:  The desktop environment runs on top of Linux and provides the graphical interface.  Modern desktop environments also incorporate an assortment of available applications.  Popular desktop environments for Linux include GNOME, KDE and LXDE. 
(Windows equivalent:  Aero; Mac equivalent:  Aqua)

Toolkit:  Also called an Application Framework, a toolkit consists of libraries and tools to develop applications.  The two most popular toolkits for Linux are GTK, which is used by GNOME; and QT, which is used by KDE.  This is not as important today as it once was because KDE can run GTK applications and GNOME can run QT applications, but it was not always this way and there can be some aesthetic and user interface differences.
(Windows equivalent:  Windows API; Mac equivalent:  Quartz)

Choosing a Distribution
Several distributions support PPC either officially or through community support.  

Debian:  Debian is one of the most popular Linux distributions and the distribution I use myself.  Additionally, many other Linux distributions, like Ubuntu, are based on Debian.  Debian was one of the first Linux distributions and is extremely well organized, with a development team of about 1000 developers.  PowerPC is an official Debian port, and they offer the best PowerPC support and stability, in my opinion.  Debian is a supporter of completely free software and will not install anything by default that conflicts with the Debian Social Contract or the Debian Free Software Guidelines.  This can cause some issues since this means you have to manually enable some drivers or firmware.  This isn't difficult once you know your way around a bit, so I recommend Debian to anyone who already has a little knowledge of how Linux works. 
Download link:

Linux MintPPC:  Linux MintPPC is based off Linux Mint LXDE and Debian.  If you are new to Linux, this is the distribution for you.  Linux MintPPC is a good distribution to start with because most everything will just work right after installation.  It includes some PowerPC-specific fixes and automatically installs tools and drivers you'll need that other distributions make you install or enable manually.  
Download link:

Lubuntu:   Lubuntu is a distribution based on Ubuntu but uses a different desktop environment, LXDE, whereas Ubuntu uses GNOME.  Lubuntu for PowerPC is released for all of their LTS releases, which are released every 2 years and are supported for 3 years.  Sometimes the software in Lubuntu's repositories is more current than Debian's, but Debian is more stable. 
Download link:

Ubuntu:  Ubuntu is a popular Linux distribution.  It is developed by Canonical and the Ubuntu community.  Ubuntu for PowerPC is a community supported port, but not an official port.  This means you can not pay Canonical for support, and the PPC port isn't available on all Ubuntu mirrors (it is available on the main servers).  Additionally, Canonical wouldn't delay the release of a new Ubuntu version because there were unresolved PPC issues, so at times the PowerPC port may be released after the official ports.  However, Canonical and the community still fix bugs when they are reported or found. 
Download link:

Choosing a Desktop Environment
There are several desktop environments you can use on Linux.  Some distributions allow you to choose what desktop environment you want to use, such as Debian.  Other distributions are tied to a specific desktop environment, like Ubuntu.  Depending on the distribution, you may be able to add or change the desktop environment after installation.

The most popular desktop environments are KDE and GNOME.  LXDE is also popular, and provides a more lightweight but still customizable interface.  All major desktop environments support PPC. 

KDE:  KDE consists of a desktop called KDE Plasma Workspaces and a wide variety of applications that cover everything from basic system utilities to a full office and graphic arts suite.  KDE allows for customization of almost anything to meet individual needs and personal style. KDE is my personal favorite desktop environment.  Its fast, visually appealing and offers the most comprehensive experience.

GNOME:  The GNOME desktop environment consists of the GNOME Shell, which is the user interface, and GNOME Core Applications, which are mostly system utilities and basic applications.  While the Core Applications group has only about 30 total applications, a large assortment of applications were designed to work well in the GNOME Shell.  GNOME places emphasis on usability.

LXDE:  LXDE is a lightweight desktop environment with some system utilities.  LXDE uses GTK but can also run QT applications.  The LXDE desktop environment is quite basic by design to have low system requirements, but it can be customized to a great extent.

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