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KELLNER: Operating systems offer some gains

- The Washington Times - Monday, May 25, 2009

I don't know how Charles Darwin would explain it, but imagine that we're each born with an "operating system." For most of us, this inner programming works well, even if it becomes a bit bruised and battered over the years. We adjust and move on.

If only life were so simple for the operating systems that run our computers.

Let's start with Linux, or more precisely, SimplyMEPIS Linux. The 8.0 version, available via free download at www.mepis.org, or via subscription at $50 a year or on a CD for either $18 in a basic package or $30 with all sorts of programs added. The download "subscriptions" get you updated versions as the year progresses.

It's built on the Debian flavor of Linux, which is a specific set of interfaces and accouterments that sit on top of the Linux "kernel," or core. In plainer language, SimplyMEPIS is a version of Linux that claims it is easy to install and configure on most computers, at least those with Intel (and compatible) processors.

Because the Linux system's cost can be much, much lower than that of Microsoft Windows or Apple's OS X (which is supposed to run only on Apple-made hardware), the appeal is having a computer system on the cheap but with enough power to do what needs to be done. The other big "draw" of this product is that it's smart enough to figure out all your devices, install the necessary drivers and let you rock 'n' roll quickly.

Well, I'm still hopeful, but so far, not so good.

Using a Dell Vostro 1310 as my base unit, I had a promising start. You can boot SimplyMEPIS from a CD, and the computer will fire up. You get a "desktop" and applications with which you can work, including the OpenOffice.org suite and Mozilla's Firefox Web browser. In fact, there's enough basic software to make this quite appealing.

Try as I might, I couldn't accomplish two things of some importance. One is to get the system to recognize my wireless network and connect to it. The computer, under this Linux flavor, could "see" my wireless net, but it wouldn't connect. Installing it as a permanent OS on the computer might help, but no sale there, either.

I'm sure that with enough hacking and effort, I can overcome these things. But, you do remember the name, "SimplyMEPIS," right? That's "Simply" as in simple? Well, any time you have to start hacking, in my opinion you lose simplicity, which has been the chief problem in getting Linux to achieve greater general acceptance in the marketplace.

At the same time, I'm wrestling with the "release candidate" of Windows 7, which Microsoft should bring to market some time this year. The news here is that Win7 is moving forward, and that's a good thing.

Those who have worked with it say that it clears up a lot of bugs found in the public Beta version, although, frankly, I didn't encounter many. It took a couple of tries, but I was able to install this version in a "virtual machine" mode on my Intel-based MacBook Pro, so now, some would say, I have the best of both worlds.

Regardless of your operating system orthodoxy, it's nice to see Windows evolving. I am not a big fan of hegemony, either in terms of totalitarianism or operating systems. Now we're on the verge of getting a better version of Windows, a new-and-improved Mac OS, and maybe a Linux for the masses, if the MEPIS folks can overcome some issues.

Not a bad horizon, I'd say.

E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.