FOSS … operating systems

ice covered berries

Icestorm – December 2013

Although FOSS advocates, we do use proprietary operating systems such as Microsoft and Apple operating systems for specific tasks (although for some of these tasks we could use FOSS) and most of all for testing our creations on different systems, even if they are developed entirely with FOSS tools. And for development we typically do use FOSS tools, including the operating system.

In our case we use Linux. To keep it simple, just like most people, we speak of Linux as an operating system, but it isn’t. It is a kernel (the core system) around which the operating system is built with all kinds of additional software. Linux (the operating system, not the kernel) also comes in different varieties, called distributions or distros for short. There are an amazing number of Linux distros out there. Amongst the best known are Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSuse and Slackware. Often these come themselves in different varieties, such as desktop versus server varieties, but also often varieties based around different window managers. So it definitely is not a ‘one system fits all’, which it typically is with proprietary systems.

We use a few specific varieties of Ubuntu, according to the different characteristics of different pieces of hardware we use. We are aware that we could use any number of other distros just as effectively, but our familiarity with Ubuntu, and specifically with its package manager (Synaptic), has made us stick with Ubuntu. All be it not the main variety known as Ubuntu, with its Unity window manager. It would take us too far at this moment to explain this. But we would like to point out that this should not at all be interpreted as criticism on the Unity system. As a matter of fact we consider Ubuntu to have been ahead of the curve with Unity, in comparison with its proprietary competition when it comes to integrating smartphone, tablet, netbook, notebook and desktop computing. Development however is typically done on desktop computers, and big screens, and ‘touch’ doesn’t come into it.

A traditional desktop window manager based on KDE or older GNOME derivatives therefore is our preferred choice. Ubuntu officially supports such a version, called Kubuntu. On lower performing hardware, one might want to have a look at Xubuntu, or even Lubuntu. Also note that even on these versions running on older, lower spec equipment, you would still be running a kernel that dates back only a few months and with software which was updated, well, in Linux, that could well be today…

It may surprise you that beneath the surface there are quite a few similarities between the Apple Mac operating system and the Linux distros. The reason being that the Linux kernel was created to mimic the Unix operating system, and years ago Apple switched from its own system to one based on a version of Unix. This stems from Job’s short stint with a company called Next, which after limited success in hardware (NextCube), open sourced its NextStep operating system (Unix based). NextStep led to the new Apple OSX operating system. Of course depending on the window managers used by any given Linux distro, it may look more similar, or less, or even not at all like a Mac system. Some mimicked MS Windows systems, some even the old Amiga systems.

As a matter of fact there are also some Unix distros available for free use, such as FreeBSD and OpenBSD.

Point is, we have an abundance of choice, or what in French may be expressed as: l’embarras du choix’.

Chris Rogiers for CeaRO Corporation, January 16th, 2014

3 thoughts on “FOSS … operating systems

  1. Floy Lewis

    Hi there! Quick question that’s totally off topic. Do
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    1. cearo Post author

      The web blog is WordPress based. WordPress has many plugins available. At least one of these should help you make your blog more mobile friendly.


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