A bigger screen?

A recent bit of thinking has caused me to cast my mind back over all the screens that have sat in front of me while working with computers over the years. Well, things have come a long way from the spare television that I used with a Commodore 64 that I occasionally got to exploring the thing. Needless to say, a variety of dedicated CRT screens ensued as I started to make use of Apple and IBM compatible PC’s provided in computing labs and other such places before I bought an example of the latter as my first ever PC of my own. That sported a 15″ display that stood out a little in times when 14″ ones were mainstream but a 17″ Iiyama followed it when its operational quality deteriorated. That Iiyama came south with me from Edinburgh as I moved to where the work was and offered sterling service before it too started to succumb to aging.

During the time that the Iiyama CRT screen was my mainstay at home, there were changes afoot in the world of computer displays. A weighty 21″ Philips screen was what greeted me on a first day at work but 21″ Eizo LCD displays were set to replace those behemoths and remain in use as if to prove the longevity of LCD panels and the validity of using what had been sufficient for laptops for a decade or so. In fact, the same comment regarding reliability applies to the screen that now is what I use at home, a 17″ Iiyama LCD panel (yes, I stuck with the same brand when I changed technologies longer ago than I like to remember).

However, that hasn’t stopped me wondering about my display needs and it’s screen size that is making me think rather than the reliability of the current panel. That is a reflection on how my home computing needs have changed over time and they show how my non-computing interests have evolved too. Photography is but one of these and the move the digital capture has brought with a greater deal of image processing, so much that I wonder if I need to make less photos rather than bringing home so many that it can be hard to pick out the ones that are deserving of a wider viewing. That is but one area where a bigger screen would help but there is another and it arises from my interest in exploring countryside on foot or on my bike: digital mapping. When planning outings, it would be nice to have a wider field of view to be able to see more at a larger scale.

None of the above is a showstopper that would be the case if the screen itself was unreliable so I am going to take my time on this one. The prospect of sharing desktops across two screens is another idea but that needs some thought about where it all would fit; the room that I have set aside for working at my computer isn’t the largest but it’ll need to do. After the space side of things, then there’s the matter of setting up the hardware. Quite how a dual display is going to work with a KVM setup is something to explore as is the adding of extra video cards to existing machines. After the hardware fiddling, the software side of things is not a concern that I have because of when I used laptop as my main machine for a while last year. That confirmed that Windows (Vista but it has been possible since 2000 anyway…) and Ubuntu (other modern Linux distributions should work too…) can cope with desktop sharing out of the box.

Apart from the nice thoughts of having more desktop space, the other tempting side to all of this is what you can get for not much outlay. It isn’t impossible to get a 22″ display for less than £200 and the prices for 24″ ones are tempting too. That’s a far cry from paying next to £300 (if my memory serves me correctly) for that 17″ Iiyama and I’d hope that the quality is as good as ever.

It’s all very well talking about pricing but you need to sit down and choose a make and model when you get to deciding on a purchase. There is plenty of choice so that would take a while but magazine reviews will come in handy here. Saying that, last year’s computing misadventures have me questioning the sense of going for what a magazine places on its A-list. They also have me minded to go to a nearby computer shop to make a purchase rather than choosing a supplier on the web; it is easier to take back a faulty unit if you don’t have far to go. Speaking of faulty units, last year has left me contemplating waiting until the year is older before making any acquisitions of computer kit. All of that has put the idea of buying a new screen on the low priority list, nice to have but not essential. For now, that is where it stays but you never know what the attractions of a shiny new thing can do…

Whither Fedora?

There is a reason why things have got a little quieter on this blog: my main inspiration for many posts that make their way on here, Ubuntu, is just working away without much complaint. I have to say that BBC iPlayer isn’t working so well for me at the moment so I need to take a look at my setup. Otherwise, everything is continuing quietly. In some respects, that’s no bad thing and allows me to spend my time doing other things like engaging in hill walking, photography and other such things. I suppose that the calm is also a reflection of the fact that Ubuntu has matured but there is a sense that some changes may be on the horizon. For one thing, there are the opinions of a certain Mark Shuttleworth but the competition is progressing too.

That latter point brings me to Linux Format’s recently published verdict that Fedora has overtaken Ubuntu. I do have a machine with Fedora on there and it performs what I ask of it without any trouble. However, I have never been on it trying all of the sorts of things that I ask of Ubuntu so my impressions are not in-depth ones. Going deeper into the subject mightn’t be such a bad use of a few hours. What I am not planning to do is convert my main Ubuntu machine to Fedora. I moved from Windows because of constant upheavals and I have no intention to bring those upon me without good reason and that’s just not there at the moment.

Speaking of upheavals, one thought that is entering my mind is that of upgrading that main machine. Its last rebuild was over three years ago and computer technology has moved on a bit since then with dual and quad core CPU‘s from Intel and AMD coming into the fray. Of course, the cost of all of this needs to be considered too and that is never more true than of these troubled economic times. If you asked me about the prospect of a system upgrade a few weeks ago, I would have ruled it out of hand. What has got me wondering is my continued used of virtualisation and the resources that it needs. I am getting mad notions like the idea of running more than one VM at once and I do need to admit that it has its uses, even if it puts CPU’s and memory through their paces. Another attractive idea would be getting a new and bigger screen, particularly with what you can get for around £100 these days. However, my 17″ Iiyama is doing very well so this is one for the wish list more than anything else. None of the changes that I have described are imminent but I have noticed how fast I am filling disks up with digital images so an expansion of hard disk capacity has come much higher up the to do list.

If I ever get to doing a full system rebuild with a new CPU, memory and motherboard (I am not so sure about graphics since I am no gamer),  the idea of moving into the world of 64-bit computing comes about. The maximum amount of memory usable by 32-bit software is 4 GB so 64-bit is a must if I decide to go beyond this limit. That all sounds very fine but for the possibility of problems arising with support for legacy hardware. It sounds like another bridge to be assessed before its crossing, even if two upheavals can be made into one.

Aside from system breakages, the sort of hardware and software changes over which I have been musing here are optional and can be done in my own time. That’s probably just as for a very good reason that I have mentioned earlier. Being careful with money becomes more important at times like these and it’s good that free software not only offers freedom of choice and usage but also a way to leave the closed commercial software acquisition treadmill with all of its cost implications, leaving money for much more important things.