Geek Alert: My Linux Soiree

Ok. Fair warning everyone. This is definitely a geeky subject and you'll probably stop reading after the second mention of "EFI," in bewilderment. I'll do my best to avoid that by giving you relatable examples illustrating a technical concept. At least I'll try. Anyhoo, here goes.

Linux is an operating system. It's behind-the-scenes software that takes care of all the housekeeping on your computer. Imagine you're rich enough to have a butler who takes care of virtually everything in your life while you sit in one spot. He takes care of your banking and brings you the largest newspaper on the planet (updated every second). He takes care of your correspondence (phone calls, emails, texts), and brings you games to play. And the weird thing is that he's invisible; the stuff he does and delivers simply appears before your eyes. That is an operating system. Sort of.



By now, we've all encountered operating systems, especially Windows and Macintosh. I went primarily Mac, although I keep my toes in the Windows pond to stay current. Along my IT history, I've purchased lots of computers, and one of those was a 2008 Mac Pro, lovingly known as "the Cheese Grater." From a software perspective, this was a strange beast. It was a modern 64-bit computer (versus older 32-bit designs). However, it relied on a legacy 32-bit EFI system boot partition. Think of the boot partition as your butler. The EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) is the butler's brain. When he's awaken, he runs around your house checking everything, looking for problems with power and plumbing. Once everything appears OK, he unlocks the doors, turns on the lights, opens the window shades, starts the coffee pot, and sits by your bedside waiting to hand you today's newspaper. However, if our butler has only a 32 IQ, he's relatively dumb. He can only do so much at once, and can only move so fast. The 64 IQ butler, however, is twice as smart and capable as our moron.


I still own this Cheese Grater. It's built like a Ferrari, with beautiful engineering and expandability. The aluminum case is a work of art. For the longest time, it sat idle since Apple abandoned the Cheese Grater with the release of operating system OS X El Capitan in 2015. However, after recently becoming an Amateur Radio operator, I learned that I needed a ham shack computer. It would connect with my radio, decode digital messages, display the radio spectrum on a big screen, log my contacts and keep me informed of the radio world. What better that the idle Cheese Grater?


I proceeded to finagle a working Windows 10 installation, which operates well, but delivers that "Windows experience" which I don't like. (I compare Windows to someone who compassionately views you as a semi-moron, and is duty-bound to protect you from yourself because it just knows better. A classic liberal?) During a recent ham radio teleconference, I encountered "Linux in the Ham Shack" (LHS) featuring two like-minded computer/ham geeks specializing in Linux-based computers for all their ham operations.


With their encouragement, I began researching Linux on the old Cheese Grater. Fortunately, I found Mr. Matt Gradient's excellent resource, and soon I was getting my Mac to boot Linux! However, I quickly learned that Linux isn't just Linux. Many versions with different user interfaces (UI's) evolved over the years. One that rose to the top is Ubuntu, which itself offers several "flavors." Another is "Evolution" which promises a Mac-like experience.


I had my first try with Evolution. It was lightweight (meaning it didn't ask too much of your butler), but it really didn't appeal to me. While it ran well, the UI "tried too hard" to be Mac-like, which raised my expectations (as a Mac-bigot), but left me disappointed.


Next up was Lubuntu - an Ubuntu "flavor" offering a modern, clean interface with great performance, aided in part by a minimalist set of basic apps, but suffering in capability. Stuff I was able to accomplish with Evolution didn't work in Lubuntu.


On to Ubuntu itself - with no flavor added. It's a big chunk of software but offers a nice UI experience with plenty of built-in apps to keep it fun and productive. I'm continuing to build my software environment with an app collection as suggested by the LHS guys, and will soon be on my way to delving deeper into the geekland world of ham radio.




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