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A geek takes on The Man - and wins

I recently rediscovered my inner geek (or is it nerd?). A few years ago, I took up the offer of a free laptop from my then employer. It was being decommissioned, having been deemed hopelessly outdated. I reckoned, correctly, that it would still be fine for wordprocessing and internet surfing.

As time passed, my freebie laptop began to creak under the weight of all the automatic Windows software updates which installed themselves without asking. Eventually, I had to decide whether to delete all the programs or all the data. Couple that with a boot-up time, which realistically meant starting the computer up a day or so before I wanted to use it, and you will understand why the laptop remained in its carry bag for long periods.

One day in Tesco, when it was so quiet that I could browse the computer magazines without fear of anyone I knew seeing me, I spotted a guide to the Linux operating system which promised me that I'd be able to resurrect an aged PC. This blurb proved to be true, and my machine now has 10 times as much disc space and still does all the things that it used to.

For those who need to know these things, the version of Linux I installed is called Xubuntu (Intrepid Ibex edition). Linux is a free operating system which used to be the sole preserve of people who were so nerdy they talked mostly in numbers and punctuation marks. Not now, though, and in the end I allowed myself to be more geeky than I needed to be about the whole business.

Since free Linux is in competition with a multibillion-pound business, it is tempting for someone who is a bit of a namby-pamby pinko as well as a latent geek to get all dogmatic about it, to use Linux as often as possible as a way to strike out for independence from The Man. However, there are some things - not many - that the Microsoft system does better, and it would be foolish to ignore these.

Similarly, given our near neighbour's better showing in the Timss surveys, it would also be foolish to get all dogmatic and not take a peek over the border to see what we can learn from them.

Gregor Steele has not been able to fix his laptop's five-minute battery life yet.

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