October 12, 2009

Computer hell and heaven

A few of you might be wondering why I haven't posted a new blog entry for a couple of weeks. Well, I've been to the hell realm computers, other people's computers - not mine.

First, the Director's assistant's computer was gasping it's lasts breaths. Not bad for a computer that I think is over 10 years old and rumored to be the oldest computer used at the Center. Well, finally found an original, legal copy of Windows XP and proceeded to reload XP back onto a freshly formatted hard drive (after I backed up all Boloroo's files). No go. Tried to load three times and every time ran into a critical error on the install. What to do? I swapped out the CD drive three different times because it seemed to be the problem. Finally got XP to load but when I started to load other programs like antivirus software and word processors, every install failed. I threw my hands up in surrender. The only real option seemed to be to buy a new computer, but where we'll find the money for that I'm not sure.

So, in the meantime, Boloroo has been working on the Director's computer to get her work done (our new Director doesn't start work until November). I'm not sure how or even when, but we suddenly realized that it had been infected by a hijacker virus. After a lot of time and effort, I was able to get the computer working again but the experts agreed that the only for-sure solution was to backup all the data, erase the drive and re-install Windows. Oh, no, here we go again.

The huge problem here in Mongolia is that computer viruses are rampant. I mean every time one of my students asks me to copy something for them on their flash drive, my anti-virus software detects four or five viruses. Some students are even surprised when none are found. With old computers and this PC plague, I wasn't sure how our center was going to cope.

Now, you might be wondering how I got all involved in this. Well, be default, I have become FPMT Mongolia's Information Technology 'go to' guy. Truth be told, I don't mind most of the time. But, like these past two weeks, I lost more battles than I won which doesn't help my willingness to do this job. But, still, what to do.

Then I remembered a Linux disc I had sent off for. For those not computer savvy, there are many 'operating systems' for computers, the top dog being Windows. And my MacBook uses OSX. But another which could really change the world is Linux. I have to agree that in the past, I thought you had to be a computer whiz to understand Linux and that might have been true a few years ago. But, today, it's a whole new world and I think Linux is ready to start telling 'big brother' to move over.

Some of the confusion might be because there are literally dozens, if not more, 'flavors's of Linux. The framework is basically Linux, but the package has been put together with specific needs and uses taken into consideration. The one I had was called Ubuntu, which while it is argued that it isn't the best Linux distribution out there, it is by far the most popular because it has been specifically put together to be easy for a non-techie to understand.

How does this all fit in with my problems. Well, the biggy is that it is almost virus free, almost. Viruses are very specific in their targets, a Windows virus has no effect on OSX or Linux. And the same is true for OSX and Linux virus have no effect on Windows. The problem is that there are only about 70 know Linux viruses compared to 60,000 for Windows. Pretty simple math to see what OS might be just the solution here in Mongolia.

But making the decision to change operating systems isn't an easy one. You have to take into consideration the computer hardware, available programs, and probably most important, the willingness of people to change. Hardware is an easy one because Linux can actually do the same activities as Windows using about half the memory. There are some issues of equipment like Wifi cards not working, but it seems people are working hard to fix these problems. I was genuinely shocked to find out that my Ubuntu was packaged with tons of free 'open-source' software that was equal if not superior to software commercially available. And if it wasn't on the disc, downloading new software was a breeze with Ubuntu.

But how to convince folks that Windows, the operating system that they took their first baby steps with, was not the only game in town. Somehow I needed a test computer where Ubuntu could be seen to work without forcing it on someone for their day-to-day computing needs. PTE (Publications, Translation & Education) has a computer that Khulan and I have been wanting to turn into the Dharma Archive, a place where we can store many audio and video teachings recorded over the years, along with the 10,000 photographs taken here at FPMT Mongolia. I bought a new 500Gig hard drive for it a while back but was only now getting ready to start using it as the archive.

Bingo, Ubuntu would be perfect. The added benefit is that students can download teachings to their flash drives and we don't have to worry about all those viruses destroying our important spiritual archive.

To install Ubuntu took 27 minutes exactly, from formatting the hard drive to actually running. Amazing. I've only started scratch the surface of this operating system, but so far I am very impressed. I've added accounts for Regzedma in the Children's Program, and another account for the Kopan nun's. I love her to death, but Ani Samten knows absolutely nothing about technology or computers. I was able to find a typing program (free of course) so she can start to learn to use the keyboard. Hopefully next month when our new Director comes on board, I will have more experience with Ubuntu and just might have a viable solution to some of our computer problems in the future.

If you'd like to try Ubuntu, it couldn't be easier. You can get (or download) what they call a LiveCD that will allow you to test drive Linux without loading it on your computer because it all fits on a CD. If you still like it, you can do three things - erase your old OS and install Ubuntu (and don't look back), dual-boot both Ubuntu and your OS (which does take a little more technical work but not impossible), or do what I ended up doing, loading it VIRTUALLY.

Here are some links that might be helpful:

Linux.org & Linux.com

Ubuntu on Mactel (Intel Mac) “Easy Install”
Installation of Ubuntu on Mactel computer
If you want to also load Windows and/or Vista
Apple Intel Installation (multi-OS instructions)

How to dual boot Linux on a Windows XP PC

VirtualBox to run any OS on another OS
The most amazing technology I've ever used!