New PC I’ve noticed that a lot of emerging church types like to talk about their Macs. Ever notice none of them talk about their PCs unless it’s in an apologetic tone with the notation that they’re misfits or just too old or something… otherwise they would be using a Mac. So I figured I’d break taboo. I am no fan of Windows, and I do not own a Mac. Oh, yes. Purist language coming… those who argue against Microsoft product on moral grounds should really go the whole way and instead of defaulting to Mac, take up the cause of Linux and Free Software. It should be a familiar manifesto… you might say that the GPL, the license under which much of the software is distributed, is simply a legal representation of the phrase, “freely you have received, freely give.” Get it?

Okay, so let’s talk about my kit… it’s a good time to do so, since it makes a good sequel to Tuesday’s post and because I recently finished building a new PC, pictured here on the bench as I completed the build. The “bench” or tabletop workspace juts out into the room so it’s accessible on both sides with shelving below; it’s just out of the frame to the right in Tuesday’s post, which also shows my computer gear in it’s normal “in-use” position. Up front, I will confess that I’m just not a one-computer kind of guy. I’ve configured all the computers in the house to be part of the ‘middleearth’ workgroup or network, and given each one a thematic host name. If the techspeak is going to lose you, I forgive you for skipping past the numbered paragraphs. If you’ve got some true geek in you though, plow on…

  1. aragorn is my laptop, an HP Pavilion dv5000 that I purchased as a refurbished unit last February. It’s got a 64-bit AMD Turion processor with 1GB of RAM and gets the job done. I knew last year that I was going to need more horsepower around the house than I’d had, and it was going to be a while before I’d be able to afford to build a new desktop. I’m running Mandriva Linux with a customized KDE desktop. It came with Windows XP/Media edition which I left intact as a dual-boot option; I got a voucher for a copy of Vista, but never cashed it in. The 64-bit AMD processor was attractive to me, and the built-in Altec Lansing speakers are a nice bonus. This is where I’ve done most of my work in the past year, and I honestly don’t recall when I last ran the Windows install on it… could be a year already.
  2. faramir is the new desktop I just built for myself… and I have to say, it’s a sweet machine. AMD Athlon-64 5000, 4GB RAM, 500GB Western Digital hard drive — SATA, just like the DVD burner. I decided I wanted a different kind of case this time, so I selected a Silverstone Lascala LC-17B home theatre type chassis and power supply. The cooler is an OCZ Vanquisher with a large fan mounted sideways to draw the airflow laterally across the processor rather than up from it. Makes a lot more sense, I think, and the large fan means fewer RPMs required to move the same volume of air… hence, it’s quieter. The whole box is very quiet, in fact. For video, I picked up an GeForce 9600 dual-DVI card, which is the best video card I’ve ever owned, proportional to the available selection at the time of purchase. It’s all plugged into an Asus M2N-SLI Deluxe motherboard with digital sound, external SATA, Firewire, and dual network cards (gigabit). I wanted to take Ubuntu Linux for a spin, but had a problem with the install disk, so I cut to the chase and installed Mandriva 2008, this time with the Gnome desktop. Since it’d be a shame to hook that up to the old peripherals, I became the happy owner of a Samsung 24″ LCD and a Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse. In addition to serving as my desktop, the extra-large hard drive size recommends it for double-duty as the network file server.
  3. denethor was my old desktop PC (also Linux Mandriva), and once I had migrated the data and personal settings, I unplugged the hard drive and dropped in a couple of drives from the old discard pile… since this computer isn’t meant to hold data, a 12GB drive is ample. It’s now an AMD Duron 2800 with 512MB RAM and I’ve got it running Windows XP. Yeah, I know. Because I’m doing web work, I need a Windows system to test on for compatibility. (This site hasn’t been entirely IE-friendly for a while, but any work for clients must be.) If you have to run Windows, you should hack it some… I once installed 98Lite on a 486. So not happy with anything that even looks Windows-like, I installed the Royale Remixed theme, nixed all the desktop icons, moved the taskbar to the top of the screen and set it to autohide, then installed ObjectDock. At least now it looks vaguely more Mac-like than Windows-like. Maybe I should consider the Fedora Transformation Pack. I hooked the audio line out into my stereo system and plugged the dual-head ATI video card into the pair of 19″ CRTs that I’d been using before. Finally, I plugged in a USB webcam and ran my lapel mic to the mic input so I’m all set up for Skype. I installed Safari for Windows on this box for browser testing as well.
  4. isildur is my old laptop, an IBM that served me well for quite a while in my prior career. It is in need of some fixing-up to be of practical use… it’ll need a wifi card and a bit more ram. Presently it dual-boots Windows 2000 and an older version of Linux Mandriva. I’ll probably give it that tuneup and install Ubuntu or something on it. One unusual feature it had that I really liked was a tiny white LED centered above the screen; a function key would activate it to illuminate the keyboard area… though you actually had to know something of the key layout, since the key labels are for a French keyboard. I bought it used, so you take what you get.
  5. elrond is our new PVR/Media server, formerly my wife’s computer and the network file server. It’s running an AMD Duron at 1600MHz with 768MB RAM. Along with a cheap ComPro TV/FM tuner card, I raided the spare parts bin to drop in a Yamaha DS1x sound card with an optical digital output for plugging into the receiver and hooked up an extended-range wireless keyboard with built-in trackball from nMediaPC. Video out is a dual-head ATI card. Against my better judgement, this one runs Windows XP with the same modifications as denethor’s. This at least kept me from having to reinstall an operating system, as it had previously been running XP for my wife.
  6. galadriel is what I pieced together to replace my wife’s PC, which is set up in the kitchen. From the spare parts bin with a bit of hardware shuffling, I pulled together an AMD 1GHz Athlon PC with 1GB RAM. Being a little underpowered, I topped up the RAM to help compensate. Video is an older 15″ LCD with built-in speakers. Sadly, another Windows XP system (same interface mods as the others); I’d prefer to yank it out and maybe put in a Mac — just to round out all the OS bases.
  7. eowyn is the old IBM T21 laptop that my father-in-law gave my kids when he got a new notebook. It runs Windows 2000, and they use it for games, web, and watching movies on road trips. Mostly at home they use my wife’s PC (and now the PVR) for games and web. I stuck in a PCMCIA 802.11b wifi card, a nice high-powered one with dual antenna connectors… so I also installed NetStumbler on the laptop.
  8. Piecing it together is done using a Linksys wifi router flashed to run Linux, plus a dLink 8-port switch and a dLink VoIP router supplied by Primus for our landlines. My cell is a Palm Treo 650, which also does my browsing and email when I’m out and about. The Windows PCs are set up with RealVNC and/or Windows Remote Desktop configured for access only from within the LAN. Since I don’t want extra keyboards and mice in my regular workspace, I set up the Windows box to be controlled by the keyboard and mouse from my main box using Synergy, which works very nicely… I just roll my mouse cursor from one screen to the other, and the keyboard follows to control whichever box the mouse is on. (You can see most of this gear in yesterday’s photo.) I also have my two main desktops, faramir and denethor, wired into the audio system in my study, so I can run WinAmp on denethor through a decent system while I work on faramir; all the MP3s are stored on elrond, which is also wired into the audio system in the living room upstairs using an optical digital connector (analog in/out downstairs in my study).

Linux migration isn’t nearly as hard as people think. The vast majority of computer users, given Firefox, OpenOffice, and Thunderbird (if they don’t use webmail) will be happy for almost all of their daily tasks. Try it on your Windows box and you’ll see. After running those for a while, moving to Linux and finding these same applications won’t feel like such a huge migration. Almost every major application has an alternative available for Linux, usually free. People (i.e., Photoshop users) claim to hate the GIMP (which works fine for me), though I understand that Krita is a very good alternative — and one person I know has PhotoShop running under Wine on Linux. There are very few applications that absolutely must run under Windows (or Mac) that don’t have a free alternative… and I just don’t fully follow the logic that people want to shell out $700 for software just so they don’t have to learn something new that is almost the same, with just a few differences. Are those differences worth that much? What if you add in the cost of antivirus and anti-spyware applications and subscriptions plus the time to deal with each? I’ve become quite convinced that if you put a Linux system in front of your average user, they’ll be just fine with it — and many won’t even know the difference. In fact, it isn’t the luddite users that have a problem switching… it’s the power users. The luddite users won’t know how to do things in Linux that they didn’t know how to do in Windows: status quo. The power users who should take to learning this stuff fairly easily will have a bit of a learning curve, and may need to get over some momentary disorientation… but it’s well worth it.

I have a lot of Windows systems running at home, but I think I’ll start converting most of them as well, keeping only what’s necessary for cross-platform testing and for the kids to play their games and have an environment similar to what they use in school. So in the end, when I’m sitting in an emerging-missional gathering and you’re counting up the Mac versus PC ratio, you’ll have to count me for neither, despite the fact my laptop doesn’t have a glowing fruit on the cover. And for all this, I get cheaper hardware, free software, and stable computing. Makes sense no matter how you slice it.

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