I Rediscovered Linux

Posted: 6th September 2009 by Mike Trent in Technology
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Mike Trethowan Pen Truth Contributor

I am a PC guy and a Windows guy and have been for over 20 years, however, things change.  When I wear my design engineer hat I design microcontroller devices.  These are small computer like electronics that have software in them.  Much of the electronics world today is dominated with microcontroller devices, µC is the common designator or acronym for these devices which generally refers to the chip but can be used to describe the whole device.  They are small, fast, easy to design and program and can be designed to do anything on a budget.  My designs are used all over the continental U.S. controlling Tower Clocks. 

For a few years now off-the-shelf µC devices have been available as single-board computers.  These are not like PCs, but more like the computer that operates your car. These premade off-the-shelf µC devices also have been pricy and were mostly used for prototyping, learning how to integrate the µC chip into a final product.  Later on single board PCs became available with all of the functionality of a full size PC on a board with a small footprint.  These have everything a PC has except for hard drive capabilities, so operating systems would be basic embedded firmware that the engineer would write.  Some were java compatible making it very easy to write small easy to run software.

The next step has arrived.  Linux embedded solutions are here and they are changing the way products are designed.  Now writing a program for these µC devices is as easy as writing a C language or Java language program and running it in a DOS type environment.  Anyone old enough to have used and programmed PCs prior to Windows would have no trouble learning how to program these devices.  They typically have SD card slots, LAN interfaces, DB9 serial interfaces and LCD ports.  I have just purchased such a device and now am learning how to use Embedded Linux.  Since I am in need to acquire these skills, I decided to load a Linux operating system called Ubuntu on one of my computers.  Wow.  Not the Linux that I knew 10 years ago.  I loaded Ubuntu onto the PC which creates a dual-boot system so that I have both Windows and Linux on the same PC and can choose between the two at startup.

After only half an hour I was so impressed with Ubuntu that I decided that the replacement Laptop I was going to buy would have Linux only.  I soon discovered that this was near impossible.  Sales guys said that I could dismount Windows and load Ubuntu, but then I would still be paying for Windows.  There was a notebook available with Linux and it was $100 less and special order.  This had a limited flash drive with only 8 megabytes of space.  So, I went online and soon discovered that it was near impossible to find a Linux Laptop/Notebook computer.  When anyone did have the Linux option, it was only $20 less.  Why?  In a land with so many choices there were essentially only two, MAC or Windows.  Maybe because Linux is free?

  1. Kelli Garner says:

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