Vihara Penguins

4:47 am analog

I have been an active member of the Oregon Buddhist Vihara for the past year or so. It’s been my pleasure to meet many Buddhist monks, as well as some wonderful Sri Lankan and Western dyakas.

A few months ago my friend Scot agreed to let them host their web site at Birdhouse for free (thanks Scot!) and I set up a content management system for them. Last week I decided it was high time they learned to operate the site themselves, and Bodhiseeha and I agreed to meet this weekend for some instruction. Typically, things weren’t that easy.

Bodhi’s computer, a Dell PIII, runs WindowsXP. When we booted it it took a full four minutes from the time the desktop appeared until the machine was actually usuable. No hyperbole. Four to five minutes. Part of this problem was the fact the machine had a mere 64MB of memory, but most of the problem was software. Being trusting, when getting a new printer Bodhi installed all the software from CD. Same when he got DSL. Same when he got a link from a friend. Spyware, adware, and malware galore.

We were able to cannibalize some RAM from another donated machine and get his up to 192MB. That helped. I ran Spybot and removed the stuff it found. That helped a little more. However, a ton of malicious software remained that I couldn’t remove effectively. The problem is that Spybot doesn’t classify this stuff as malicious, because it does give the user the option of not installing it. But it does not appear in Windows’ “Add and Remove Programs” panel because it’s not truly benign. Of course, trying to remove it manually is like pulling teeth because of Windows’ screwed up registry.

So, quiz time. What’s the path of least resistance to make a malware-infested Windows computer usable?

Answer: Cannibalize the hard drive from that other computer and install Linux. Ubuntu Linux, to be precise. I would say that 90% of Bodhi’s time on the computer is spent writing documents, surfing the web, writing e-mail, and listening to the Sinhala Real streams from the BBC. All of which can be done with Linux without effort. OpenOffice, Firefox, Evolution, and RealPlayer for Linux all provide simple, elegant, fault-tolerant, stable, and, above all, secure, solutions.

Not to mention that Linux (and Ubuntu in particular) is made for people like Sri Lankans. They’re technologically curious, but desperately poor. There is no reason Sri Lankans should be paying Microsoft (the richest company on the planet) for the … ahem … “right” to use Windows and Office. It makes no sense.

So, after 2 afternoons of installation, configuration, and tutorial Bodhi is now an Ubuntu Linux user and loving it. He can still dual-boot Windows so he can use any Windows-only apps, but I installed Firefox and OpenOffice on the Windows side of things for consistency. And you know, he’s really beginning to see the light when it comes to free software. He gets it. He wants to send donated computers back to his village someday, and as of this weekend, those machines will run Linux.

Score one for the good guys. And I mean both users and developers.

And I’ll get to the web site tutorial in the next week or so, knowing the computer won’t be an impediment to getting work done, but rather a vehicle. What a concept.

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