The genealogy program GRAMPS 2.0 was released in February. A few weeks ago, the Linux Genealogy Desktop CD version 2.0 was released. The two are separate products: either one may be used without the other. However, they are also very complementary products. I will write two separate articles, one for each product. However, I will frequently refer to the other product in each article.
Not everyone is happy with the continued domination of the desktop computer market by Microsoft Windows. Some of us "malcontents" prefer to use either Macintosh or Linux systems for any number of reasons. The reasons for turning one's back on Windows have been discussed time and again in this newsletter as well as in thousands of other newsletters, magazines, and online discussion forums. I won't repeat the arguments here. Suffice it to say that, if you are considering a switch to a more reliable operating system, you will find it easy to do so these days. Once there, you can find alternative genealogy programs for the better operating systems. There are not as many genealogy programs for Linux or Macintosh to choose from, but some of the ones that are available are excellent.
I have the luxury of using several computers, including Windows XP, Macintosh OS X, and three different versions of Linux. Each operating system has various advantageous and disadvantages; there is no perfect operating system that I would recommend for everyone. I prefer Ubuntu Linux for my own work, however. The advantage of Linux is that it is faster and more reliable than Windows. It also never crashes or locks up the operating system. Finally, Linux is available free of charge, unlike Windows and Macintosh.
One confusing difference is the many Linux variations available. Windows always comes from Microsoft and looks about the same when used on any computer. The Macintosh OS X operating system is available only from Apple and, again, it always looks about the same when installed on Apple's computers. In contrast, there are dozens of versions of Linux, and each Linux producer customizes the operating system as they see fit. Each vendor is also free to add various applications. Red Hat Linux will look very different from Xandros Linux, and both of those will still be quite different from Ubuntu Linux. The underlying Linux "kernel" will be the same on all of them, but the "look and feel" as well as the included applications will vary widely. The rest of this article focuses on Ubuntu Linux and a customized version of it made for genealogists.
NOTE: The word "Ubuntu" is found in several African languages. It means "humanity to others" or "I am what I am because of who we all are." The nonprofit Ubuntu community represents the efforts of many people who work together to provide a complete Linux-based operating system, freely available with both community and professional support. The Ubuntu Philosophy states that "software should be available free of charge, that software tools should be usable by people in their local language and despite any disabilities, and that people should have the freedom to customize and alter their software in whatever way they see fit."
Further information about Ubuntu Linux may be found at http://www.ubuntu.com.
Earlier versions of Linux were difficult to install and awkward to use. However, major changes in the past few years have changed all that. Most major Linux versions are now easier to install and use than Windows. If you can move a mouse, you can use Linux. Using word processors, spreadsheets, web browsers, genealogy programs, and more on Linux is now as easy as doing the same things on Windows or Macintosh. Installing new programs on Ubuntu and several other versions of Linux is actually much easier than installing new programs on Windows.
This week I obtained a free product called the Linux Genealogy Desktop CD version 2.0. It is a complete implementation of the latest version of Ubuntu Linux along with several pre-installed genealogy programs. The Linux Genealogy Desktop CD fits everything you need onto one CD-ROM disk and operates in two modes: live session and as an install disk. Let me first explain the differences.
The Linux Genealogy Desktop CD allows you to take Linux for a "test drive" on any modern computer that will also run Windows. Best of all, you can use the Linux Genealogy Desktop CD without disturbing anything on your present Windows operating system. All you need to do is insert the Linux Genealogy Desktop CD into your Windows computer's CD-ROM drive and then reboot your computer. The computer then loads Linux from the CD-ROM disk and operates as a complete Linux system. You can run the genealogy programs, word processors, web browsers, games, and more, directly from the CD-ROM disk without using the computer's hard drive at all. The Linux Genealogy Desktop CD never writes any data to your computer's hard drive unless you specifically tell it to. Once you are finished, you remove the CD-ROM disk from the drive, reboot the computer, and go back to Windows as before. Nothing has been changed on the computer's hard drive.
Using a live session is an excellent way to experiment and learn about Ubuntu Linux and the various Linux genealogy programs. You can insert the CD and reboot to use Linux, or you can remove the Linux CD-ROM disk and reboot again to use Windows, as often as you wish. There is no need to ever change your Windows operating system if you don't want to.
Using a Linux live session CD also can be a lifesaver when your Windows system dies and refuses to boot. Assuming the hard drive is not the problem, you can boot from a Linux live session CD and then copy all your documents and other critical files from your hard drive to another computer.
While you can run programs from the CD-ROM disk, saving information obviously requires some sort of disk drive for storage purposes. While you always have the option of storing data on your computer's hard drive, other choices for storing data include floppy disks, USB jump drives, and CD-ROM disks.
The second mode of operation is as an install disk. In this case, you boot in exactly the same manner as before. However, once loaded, you click on an INSTALL icon and then follow the menus to install Ubuntu Linux and several Linux genealogy programs onto your computer's hard drive. Then you then can either use Linux as your only operation system, or you can dual boot: have both operating systems installed side-by-side and choose which one you wish to use each time the computer is booted. You won’t need the CD-ROM disk after you have installed Linux onto the hard drive. You will also notice that Linux runs much faster when loading from a hard drive than when loading from a CD-ROM disk.
For most of this article, I will focus on the live session; using Linux without touching the computer's hard drives. The INSTALL option is described near the end of this article.
I downloaded the Linux Genealogy Desktop CD image from the developer's web site and saved it onto a blank CD-ROM disk as an ISO image. This can be done on most any Windows, Macintosh, or Linux computer. It does not need to be the same computer that you want to use with the Linux Genealogy Desktop CD. More information about creating CD-ROM disks from ISO image files can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iso_image.)
Next I inserted the CD into an old 800-MHz Pentium 3 computer that I have not used in some time and then re-booted the computer. A few seconds later, a menu appeared, listing several options. I chose the first item on the list: boot from CD-ROM disk. About a minute later Ubuntu Linux finished loading. My computer's screen displayed a modern-looking user interface, not the same as Windows or Macintosh, but not radically different, either. Seven icons appeared on the main screen:
- Start Here
- GRAMPS Genealogy System
- GRAMPS Live Chat
- GeneWeb (a genealogy program)
- LifeLines (an older genealogy program for Linux)
While not displayed as icons on the desktop, I also later found PhpGedView and GenealogyJ, two more genealogy applications that the CD installed on my computer. All are available at any time from the live session without touching the information on the computer's hard drive.
A toolbar appeared across the top of the screen with many pulldown menu options. (If you wish, you can move the toolbar to the bottom or side of the screen.) I clicked on the various menus and found many applications available: FireFox web browser, Thunderbird e-mail program, OpenOffice.org word processor and spreadsheet program, GIMP graphics editing, various CD-ROM recording programs, games, and more. This free disk includes a lot of applications equivalent to those on Windows or Macintosh that cost hundreds of dollars.
I selected "Start Here" and soon was reading a lot of information about how to use the Linux Genealogy Desktop CD and its applications. I then spent a lot of time experimenting with the many free applications, including several of the genealogy programs.
I eventually decided to end the Linux session. I used the mouse to find the shutdown commands. The system eventually prompted me to remove the CD-ROM disk and press the Enter key. I did so, and then the computer booted back up, loading Windows. Nothing had been altered on my Windows system; everything functioned exactly the same as it had before I experimented with Linux.
I was not entirely happy with the Linux operation from a CD-ROM on my older 800-MHz Pentium 3 computer. It operated properly but was a bit slow. At the same time, it seemed to be no slower than the hard drive's Windows 2000 that I normally use on this computer. I know from experience that placing Windows XP onto a 800-MHz Pentium 3 would result in glacial performance, so I have never done that.
I moved the Linux Genealogy Desktop CD to a 2.4-gigahertz Pentium 4 system and went through the same procedures as before. Using a computer with three times the processor speed and double the memory made all the difference in the world. Now the Linux system was flying! In fact, Linux on a CD runs faster on this system than does Windows XP on the same computer's hard drive.
I spent more time experimenting with the various genealogy applications included with the Linux Genealogy Desktop CD. I will write about GRAMPS 2.0 in a separate article later. I have written about the other included applications before:
LifeLines: This is a very old-fashioned genealogy program that I would not recommend for anyone other than a hard-core Linux character mode aficionado. I have no plans to write a review of this program that hasn't been updated much since 1994. However, you can find a lot of information about LifeLines at http://lifelines.sourceforge.net.
All in all, I am pleased with the Linux Genealogy Desktop CD. In fact, I am so pleased with it that I inserted the disk into my regular Linux system and re-booted. Once loaded, I selected INSTALL and then followed the menus to install this Linux system and its genealogy applications to my hard drive. Several installation options are available; I elected to completely reformat my computer's hard drive and install the Linux Genealogy Desktop as the only operating system on that computer. I could have elected to "dual boot," have both Linux and Windows installed side-by-side and then choose which one I wish to use every time the computer is booted. Since I already have other computers with Windows installed, the dual boot option isn't of much use to me. However, if you have only one computer, you will probably prefer the dual boot option.
Ubuntu Linux asks fewer questions during an installation than does Windows XP. The toughest technical question asked during my Ubuntu Linux installation was the requirement to set my time zone. The same installation also detected and automatically configured my wireless network, something that Windows still cannot do automatically. Once installed, Linux is easy to use. If you can move a mouse, you can use Linux.
Running Linux from a hard drive is much faster than running from a CD-ROM disk. I now run the latest version of Ubuntu Linux and have all the better-known Linux applications already installed and available. These are all full applications; there are no demos or otherwise "crippled" programs. I also no longer need to use the CD-ROM disk. The cost to me? Zero. The software is free, and I used an older computer that I already owned.
Again, the Linux Genealogy Desktop CD software is available online as a 690-megabyte file. That will be trivial for anyone with a broadband connection, but I wouldn't try it on a dial-up line. Either way, use the BitTorrent download option if at all possible. (Information about BitTorrent is available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bittorrent. For Windows, I strongly recommend µtorrent available at http://www.utorrent.com.)
If you do not have a high-speed Internet connection or a CD-ROM drive capable of creating ISO image disks, you can purchase a Linux Genealogy Desktop CD disk for the modest price of $14.99 (U.S.) or $15.00 (Australian). While the software is free, the producers of the disk have to charge money to cover the cost of the disks, labor, and postage.
If I owned only one computer, it would be a PC with both Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux installed in a dual-boot configuration. That way, I could have the best of both worlds. My second choice would be a Windows computer and a Ubuntu CD-ROM disk that I could insert and run in a live session whenever I wished.
For more information about Linux Genealogy Desktop CD version 2.0 or to download this great free genealogy package, go to http://www.gramps-project.org and click on "Linux Genealogy Desktop CD 2.0 released."
NOTE: This article was written with OpenOffice.org, a free word processor included with the Linux Genealogy Desktop CD version 2.0.