February 26, 2013

In praise of Linux

"Linux is much more than just another operating system. And it is more than just a great operating system. It represents a fusion of the superb craftsmanship of UNIX with a new, superior way of organizing creativity."  
-- a Bellevue Linux Users Group member, April 2004


1. The popularity of Linux
2. High Inverse Contrast
3. Firefox colors and sizes
4. More productive in general
5. Specifically: Zim
6. For persons with ME/CFS or Sjoegren's

About ME/CFS


I wrote yesterday about contamination, and the story of Henrietta Lacks' cells, as told by Adam Curtis, because I think it is an interesting story about contamination, also relevant to persons who have followed the XMRV-story unfold; about cancer and medical research, that tends to promise more than it delivers; and because it is an interesting documentary by an interesting maker of documentaries.

It seems to have interested others as well, but while I intend to return to the subject of documentaries by Curtis, I today change the subject to something that seems not very popular, namely Linux.

1. The popularity of Linux

The following is from Wikipedia's "Usage share of operating systems", as found today:

Usage ofOSs on desktops

As the title says this concerns desktop computers only, which is what I normally use and have used.

That only 1.2% of desktop computers run Linux is disappointing, in case you are interested in open source software, free software, or good operating systems - and the links in this paragraph are all to Wikipedia articles.

It is still a whole lot of personal computers, but that the percentage of the use of Linux on desktops is less than Mensa entry-level (1 in 50, approximately, in IQ terms) is disappointing, a bit counterintuitive, and probably mostly due to the fact that Microsoft forces most retailers to sell new computers with MS Windows installed on it.

Put in context, Linux is mightier than it appears, also in terms of usage: On phones, mobiles, servers and supercomputers, for example, Linux is much better represented, and indeed it is for quite a few different kinds of reasons a much better OS than MS Windows, or indeed OS X.

But I will not here and now praise the virtues of Linux in general terms, but only the virtues as these unpacked for me - who got bad eye-problems very soon after I had started to use Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, which I still do, through quite a lot of updates since May 2012.

So what follows - there is more on my GNU/Linux.Ubuntu experiences here and here, that include useful tips and links for those who start or might want to start with it - is quite personal and quite practical, and also is not the full story.

2. High Inverse Contrast

The reason that I have been able to keep writing Nederlogs and maintaining my site since June 2012 is very plain and simple: It is the High Inverse Contrast option in the System Settings menu of Ubuntu. What this does is what its name suggests: In menus - of which there are many, that one also needs to use often - it turns white (the standard background color, also on MS Windows) to black and black (the standard text color) to white.

Since the eye problems I have are most manifest and most painful when looking at a bright white screen, this turned out to be most helpful, and indeed as a condicio sine qua non for my use of my desktop computer.

As far as I know this is totally absent on MS Windows, which is an additional reason to mention it, also because eye problems (Sjoegren's disease, keratoconjunctivitis sicca) are considerably more frequent in people with ME/CFS than in the general population:

If you are afflicted like I am, you are MUCH helped by this possibility of Ubuntu. The same goes for the following:

3. Firefox colors and sizes

I prefer Firefox anyway as browser, and use it normally, if not exclusively, since I also use SeaMonkey and Elinks for various purposes on Ubuntu, while I also used it as my main browser on MS Windows.

The Firefox on Ubuntu is specially tweaked for Ubuntu, and I do not know whether the following features are also present on other OSs:

  • In the Views section of Firefox (on Ubuntu) there is a Zoom option, that has four options: Zoom In, Zoom Out, Reset and Zoom Text Only

The first two correspond to Ctrl-+ and Ctrl--, that are also present on other browsers, but what I haven't seen there are Reset (since the In and Out settings are saved, and retained until rezoomed or Reset), while the Zoom Text Only, if switched on, as I generally have it, does what it says, which is usually what I want.

This again is VERY helpfulwith my eyes, and with the fact that these vary in quality through the day, as is this option

  • In the Edit section of Firefox (on Ubuntu) there is a Preferences option, where one can tweak many settings, notably in Content - Colors, where one can set the text and background and link colors that Firefox uses, also with various additional possibilities.

One of these various possibilities is Use system colors, which in the High Inverse Contrast case also applies, which turns out to be not so helpful then, for it makes things disappear against a black background that could be seen against another background.

I have used various color settings, depending on my eyes, and found this again very helpful and pleasant.

4. More productive in general

In general, I get more done per unit of time in Ubuntu than with MS Windows, wholly apart from my eyes, and the reason is that Ubuntu has more possibilities, is better organized, and makes more sense.

How productive one can be with a program or set of programs is generally a matter of organization of the programs one uses and the facilities of one's operating system, and what the program can do, and how they may interact, and some of this may be more apparent to people who know how to program than for others, but it makes a considerable difference.

It is also not always true: For the site I maintain I need a good WYSIWYG editor, and I haven't found one on Ubuntu that I really like: Composer in SeaMonkey and its derivative KompoZer are buggy, though useful, while I did not like earlier releases from Amaya on MS Windows, and have not tried out the latest, from January 2012, on Ubuntu. [1]

5. Specifically: Zim

What I do like a lot and helps me be more productive is Zim, which is a hypertext editor that uses Wiki markup, which is more simple and less powerful than html, but does allow simple formatting, and images, and various other useful things, while still saving files as plain text, which tends to be the most convenient format, provided it has hyperlinks and some basic formatting.

I like hypertext a lot, and worked a lot with it, in various forms, the last 25 years [2], and Zim does it really well: It is very pleasant to be able to link all manner of notes, sketches, ideas, and to maintain them in one comprehensive program, that allows one to survey the lot, and make or see new relations.

In fact, the present Nederlog's first version was written in Zim, and then put through KompoZer to make it part of my site.

In case you don't run Linux: Zim is written in Python, with well commented code, and also is available for Windows.

6. For persons with ME/CFS or Sjoegren's

Finally, one important reason to write this Nederlog is my observation that I could not have used a computer, maintained my site, or written Nederlogs since June 2012 if I would have needed to use MS Windows and would not have had Ubuntu.

So for people with Sjoegren's disease, which according to the medical literature I read is considerably more common in people with ME/CFS than with others, my message is that one does not need to despair: If someone can install Ubuntu, one can use one's computer with much fewer problems than with MS Windows.

And in any case, Linux is the much better operating system, and makes one more productive, while with Ubuntu the step towards Linux is small and easily taken, and does not require any special knowledge.


[1] There are more WYSIWYG html editors for Linux. which I haven't tried yet (because from the last link they look as if they are not what I need to maintain my site).
[2] As it happens, I have used computers almost daily for 25 years now. The first hypertext I saw also was 25 years ago, in the form of a very good DOS help program. And I wrote a good hypertext editor for DOS ca. 1991, called Edith, that I then used for about 5 years to run my own computer, since it could start programs and I could provide explanations for all programs I used as hypertext, from which the programs could be started, and returned to after finishing. (I found it more useful than DesqView - which I liked - because that needed a lot of swap space on the hard disk I used then, that had all of 20 MB space.)

About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

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