This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

February 11, 2010 - move to windows

As an undergraduate, I spent a lot of time at the student billiard center. Occasionally, smooth, well-dressed pool sharks would come through on tour. They had great names, like blues singers or gangsters: Las Vegas Jimmy, Spats McDonough, Gentleman Joe, and so on.

At that time, we college players thought it was all about the equipment. We bought our own sticks, with fancy cases. We imagined that some tables were better than others. But then one of these outside jaspers would breeze through town, pull a standard pool cue off the rack, run the table, perform mind-boggling trick shots, and leave with a not-inconsiderable chunk of all our beer money.

I remember one guy saying, when we were discussing how tricky one of the tables was: "I bet I can still find the pockets."

What it came down to, aside from a good eye and nerves, was practice.

Which reminds me of computers. I've been using them for a long time. For the past six or seven years, I've been a devotee of Linux. Linux, or more properly, GNU/Linux, is a free, open source computer operating system. Several tech-savvy guys recommended it to me, and I invested many hundreds of hours in exploring it.

The good news: it works, it's fast and powerful, it is immune to all extant viruses, and it's free. The bad news: it was a steep learning curve, although more current "distributions" or brands of Linux are easier.

But the bottom line is this: Windows owns 95% of the computer market share. Apple claims maybe 3 or 4 percent. Linux comes in at around 1 percent. So if you happen to be in the computer software or hardware business, you make sure that your product works with Windows. With Linux, you can usually GET it to work, but it takes some effort.

Well, my work PC was pretty old -- over six years old, in fact. We put off upgrading equipment to address some budget issues. But I finally got a new machine. Our IT staff, with the assistance of some excellent temp folks from Kelly, set up me up with an inexpensive, thoroughly standard Windows NT PC, already configured to our network.

Understand, I haven't used Windows since version 3.1. (Then I used the Mac for awhile, then Linux.)

Step one: the night before the change, I backed up all my files to an external hard drive.

Step two: make sure that all the software I really use was on the new machine. My PC was already set up with Firefox (the browser) and Thunderbird (an email client). I downloaded two outlining and mindmapping tools (Notecase and Xmind). Then I grabbed the Palm Desktop (a calendar program that talks to my cell phone). I even grabbed Openoffice.org, although my PC also came with Microsoft Office 2003 (I needed to open some files I'd saved in the Openoffice.org file format). All of these, except Microsoft Office, are free, open source programs.

Step three: drag over my files from the external backup drive. Windows file management isn't much different than the Mac or Linux in that regard. It didn't take long.

Step four: figure out how to plunk 40 gigabytes of email from the Linux Thunderbird configuration folders into the Windows Thunderbird settings, which are in entirely different locations. That took some digging, but I got it worked out.

Step five: get it to work with peripherals. A jump drive, my Palm cell phone, a couple of printers. The setup was a little different than for the Mac or Linux, but not too hard to unravel. Mostly, you just plug things in.

And so, about an hour and a half after sitting down with a new computer, I've got all my files, I'm using mostly the same software I was using before, and I'm back in business. I've also got some new functions I couldn't do on Linux (like check out books from the library for a Sony Ebook Reader).

I still use Linux at home. But for now, at work, I'm opting for "business standard." There are too many other things more important to think about than operating systems.

But it's good to know that I can still find the pockets.

LaRue's Views are his own.

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