Something new for the weekend Sir?

“Frustrated, sleepless nights, nervous tense moments? Plagued by permanent upgrades? You’re running a Microsoft Operating System!”

Yep, it comes to us all at some point but how many of us actually do anything about it?

In an attempt to inject something a little lighter into a Sunday afternoon and to motivate our sponsor to give something new a whirl, here we go.

By default there are countless millions of PC’s on the planet running some permutation of Microsoft’s operating system and as a result they get to make a lot of the rules, which unfortunately aren’t always in the best interest of the end user.

For the average Joe being able to turn on a computer and it work with all the familiar things being in the familiar places is all they want, but like everything that comes with a cost. People are up in arms at the thought of governments collecting personal information of the masses to keep us safe, but has anyone ever questioned multinational corporations doing exactly the same thing? Why should your computer usage statistics, browsing data, contact data, personal photos and geolocation data be sent back to corporations servers as part of the default setting? To improve the end user experience possibly but more honestly to bombard you with targeted marketing. There are possibly other slightly darker uses for your data and if it’s not for keeping you safe in your bed at night perhaps people ought to be a bit more savvy!

That aside I’m getting more and more hacked off with how the new iterations of Windows look to keep the user safe from the inner workings.

In the dim and distant past when you sat a computer you were greeted with a black screen and a prompt C:\

If you didn’t have a serious beard, glasses and the brain the size of a planet this was typically where your involvement with all things computing ceased. As things evolved nice graphical front ends appeared buffering the user from the nasty code which lurked beneath, but for those wishing to tweak and enhance what their computer is doing this move to a corporate computing front end can act as a real barrier, especially if your knowledge is above that of the average user but below that of a serious coder! There aren’t enough hours in the day to research how to get around Microsoft’s new baby, cock it up, go back to scratch and then get it right. Don’t get me wrong, that’s how you learn but there comes a point where until you have all the free time in the world you need a Plan B.

For a long time I’ve been a fan of the other computing options out there but have never made the leap of faith to the other side.

Now the plan here is an alternative desktop PC free from the constraints of Microsoft.

If we’re talking money Mac is the way to go. Here we have the Mac Mini.

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Now what isn’t there to like about that? Exactly, but unfortunately these things hold their value. Usability gets a big thumbs up. Everyone can use an iPhone or iPad and these things give you that safety blanket element along with the ability to get at the inner workings of the Unix based operating system to tweak and adjust packages to suit.

We are going to end up with a Linux beast to replace the Microsoft ball and chain so how do we do this cheaper?

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The Intel NUC has been a consideration on previous occasions for other projects and they are really neat but they are barebone systems which require RAM and an SSD to get you up and running making them quite expensive little toys. There are other manufacturers out there such as Gigabyte BRIX, Zotac ZBOX and Asus Vivo but unfortunately the manufacturers have tended to tack their colours to the Microsoft mast and to a degree there are warnings of “There be dragons!” if you venture off piste with your operating system.

Enter the the Acer Revo

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I must admit to having three of these things dotted around the house already. Two are dedicated media centre boxes sat beneath TV’s and one is a server. They’re small, self contained and an absolute steal on eBay second hand.

Here’s my new desktop PC in the flesh

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And to put things into perspective, my Windows PC is sat beneath the desk on the floor!

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Now I can hear people say it hasn’t got a CD drive. So what? There’s a large move away from tangible media and if you really need one plug an external drive in.

It comes with all your usual connections, media card slot, HDMI connectors so you plug it straight into a telly, USB 3 and USB 2 ports, 4GB of memory and a 500GB hard disk.

Some what bizarrely the unit originally shipped with FreeDOS as its operating system but the seller on this one had done me a favour and had pre installed what I was already after, Ubuntu.

Now I’ve courted Ubuntu on and off over the years and have had dedicated laptop drives installed with the OS which I’ve had to physically swap out when I’ve wanted to play, dual boot systems, you name it. Enough of that shash, this is a pure bred Ubuntu machine.

But it’s different to Windows I hear you cry! Yes it is only as much that the graphical front end looks a little different. So have all the versions of Windows that have existed.

Screenshot from 2016-04-17 16:17:16

Here’s a screenshot of my current desktop. The launch bar / dock is on the left. You can change that. Look down the launch bar. Oh yes! Firefox, Chrome, Thunderbird, Open Office, VLC, Dropbox

Sound familiar? Where do you think these oh so familiar packages on your Windows machine originated from?

Ah but if doesn’t run Microsoft Office or Photoshop. “Au contraire Blackadder!” I put it to you that Open Office and Gimp do it far better than a product on a Microsoft machine and for the grand total of nil of your hard earned pounds. Equally, did I mention that Ubuntu is free, where as Microsoft want to take you far well over £100 for a home copy of their OS’s.

Think about what you do with a computer. You shop online, you read your email, you write letters, you run spreadsheets and you interact more and more with online services which are OS independent as they are being delivered to you without a need for a prescriptive architecture to use them.

As such, does it matter what you do that on?

For me, playing radio there is a whole host of amateur radio tools lurking around in the Ubuntu package ether. My main weapon of choice for digital mode work, Fldigi also originated here.

With the current chaos and carnage my server failure is descending into, it’s useful to have a machine that is running the same OS in front of me to test bed various packages and options before I go anywhere near my server with them.

Am I happy? Yep

Will I be staying here for a while? Yep

Will I ditch my Windows machine for good? Nope, I have to admit there are some things you may still need a Windows machine for in the short term.

It’s just nice to have options! Have a think.

 

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