The Linux Experiment

Smooth Surfing

I can't say that my experience of the Web was much different in Linux. In Windows I used Mozilla because I liked its capabilities much more than Internet Explorer's. In Linux I also used Mozilla, and this edition of the browser worked identically to the Windows version, as far as I could tell. (I installed Internet Explorer through CrossOver Office but found that it was even shakier than Word.)

In some parts of the Web, though, Linux users are not invited. I'm a fan of RealNetworks' Rhapsody, a subscription music service. But the required Rhapsody player works only on a Windows PC running IE. Real has no plans for a version for Linux users, and I can't blame them. A group with a hostility toward paying big companies for computing resources doesn't seem like the most fertile market.

So I was back to playing the MP3 files stored on my hard drive. But at least I could get to them. One nifty thing about Linux is the ability to access files on your Windows partition. I used Totem, a video player with audio playback that--along with thousands of other applications--came free with Mandrake. Using Totem after using a Windows player such as RealOne is a bit like camping after staying at a hotel: You have to do a lot more things for yourself.

RealOne will scan your hard drive for music files and arrange them in a library. To play them, you don't have to know the files' location--you just click the album name you want. And, using ID3 tags, RealOne knows what order the tracks were in on the original CD. But Totem has no library. To hear anything, you have to find the files in their folders. And if the folder has scrambled the order of the tracks, you need to drag them one at a time to hear a symphony, say, in order.

One other critical difference separates Totem and RealOne: Totem didn't pop up messages on my desktop every time I logged on to my PC. It never urged me to listen to the latest hit by 50 Cent. And it never harangued me about upgrading to the paid version (because there isn't one).

Upgrade Upheaval

Flphoto, a basic Linux image editing program, allows you to automatically correct contrast or focus problems.
I was fortunate to have help setting up my Linux system. But sometimes you want to change your setup, by adding either new hardware or new software. My results doing so were mixed. When I plugged in a USB flash drive carrying MP3 files, I was allowed to transfer the files easily. When I connected an Olympus C-750 Ultra Zoom camera, the system not only mounted the camera but also popped an icon onto my desktop for Flphoto, an image editor I never knew I had. But when I plugged in a Gateway DC-T20 camera, Linux failed to recognize that anything was attached to the PC.

I also wanted to find a Linux substitute for FileMaker Pro 6, a database program. I couldn't find anything among the software packages included with Mandrake. So I searched on the Internet and found Gaby, which sounded like it might be a Linux alternative. Then I found out how different installing software in Linux can be as opposed to doing so in Windows.

Windows programs generally have everything they need to run, or they know where to find the required resources on your system. But Linux programs are more reliant on other programs that--you hope--are already on your machine. If those other helper programs aren't on your PC, you end up in what Linux veterans call "dependency hell."

In my case, Gaby squawked that I didn't have a certain necessary component. Once I found the file on the Internet, I saw the list of programs it needed and began to despair. I didn't know whether I had this stuff or not, or how to check.

I asked Matthew for help. He went to and found a version of Gaby that was built to automatically install in my configuration of Linux. If he hadn't unearthed it, I don't know whether sorting through all the dependencies manually would have been worth all the trouble.

Subscribe to the Best of PCWorld Newsletter