August 26th, 2008


I'm filing for divorce this weekend.

Divorce from Windows, that is.  I found out I could get a modest mini-tower desktop for about $350.  I had no idea.  And that includes everything but a monitor.  I can touch three monitors with my bare feet from where I'm sitting.  All I need to do is take one of them out from under the table and put it on top of the table.  And you get a respectable machine for that money these days: 2.4GHz dual core processor, 2GB of RAM, 250GB hard drive, CD-ROM/DVD thingy and Ubuntu loaded to boot.  I probably should have gotten FreeDOS and loaded Ubuntu myself.  They asked and I wasn't thinking.  Ubuntu loads itself; there's no need for any professional assistance there.  I also get another mouse and keyboard for the closet shelf.  They don't give you anything off for not getting a keyboard and mouse.  In fact I think you had to pay $15 to get them not to ship it.

I have an IBM-brand keyboard that I dearly love.  When IBM started making computers they started using the keyboard they had used on Selectric typewriters for years.  That keyboard had been ergonomically vetted by every government agency, most major corporations and all four branches of the military.  It was designed to "feel" just right, to give you enough tactile feed back so that you definitely knew whether you had pressed a key or not, but, at the same time, let you type as fast as your little fingers would go.  Also, the key contact is precisely tied to the break-over on the mechanical switch, so if you feel the little "snick" under the key, you've typed a character.  If you haven't felt it yet, you have not typed a character yet.  I've used some "tactile feel" keyboards where the mechanical break-over has nothing to do with the electrical contact and it's really distracting.  If you can't do the tactile feature right, just leave it off, OK?  And this thing is built like a Western Electric 400 Series telephone: it would make a fine murder weapon if the need should arise.  I bought it at Sears when they were getting out of the 'puter biz.  Shortly thereafter IBM got out of the toy 'puter biz, and no one's given a rat's ass about quality keyboards since.  The only thing I don't like about it is that you can hear the keys very distinctly over the telephone, so I can't be, like, writing LJ entries while I'm talking to someone without them knowing it and wanting me to quit typing and give their story about the mole on Uncle Wendel's neck my full attention.

So I'm making a list (and checking it thrice) of all of the shit I need a computer for and I will, little by little, app by app, try to switch completely over to Linux.

Of the stuff I care about, Electronics Workbench is the only one I haven't identified at least a trial replacement for.  Electronics Workbench is a toy SPICE simulator that is so useful that most of the really good designers I know have a copy squirreled away that they own personally and would deny owning if they didn't know you.  The problem is that the folks who wrote it never ported it outside of Windows and they have long since stopped supporting it in favor of their current products which nobody likes (sound familiar?).  So, most of the engineers I know have a copy of Electronics Workbench that they would kill to keep, and what's-their-faces will never write a Linux version of it because they don't think anyone should be using it anymore.

There are definitely other SPICE simulators out there.  They range from $500 to $50,000.  There might even be some open source ones (which I will definitely audition), but from what I've read so far, no one's matched the sheer utility of old Electronics Workbench (which started life as a freebie, by the way).

I'm keeping my expectations low and my adaptability high.  I really have worked at two places that were all Linux all the time.  They did tend to do mostly boring stuff, I admit. 

One was Linux for religious reasons.  The main guy simply hated Microsoft with a passion.  The other place had banks of quad-core server-grade machines on which they would run simulations that ran literally for days.  Windows is an operating system with an agenda of its own.  It can decide that it needs to perform housekeeping functions at any time day or night and it will do it, by God.  And ruin your test run if it has to.  To Microsoft's way of thinking, there simply isn't anything on the planet more important than the Windows Agenda.  A lot of people a lot smarter than me have thought they had the Windows Agenda beat only to have it shit all over them 87 hours into a 96-hour test.  No, Windows is still, after all of these years, not ready for prime time.  If you have serious scientific or engineering shit to do, shit that matters, you use Unix or, nowadays, Linux.

Anyway, the point of that rave is that I think my computing needs may just be unglamorous enough to be well served by Linux.

We shall see.