The Digital Darkroom Part 3

The Operating System (OS)

No doubt most people are familiar with Microsoft’s Windows 10 or some earlier version, however there are other alternatives that may not at first be evident. You may well ask why would you need anything other than windows?

The most obvious answer to that is you may not, however when you consider the types of hardware currently being used it becomes a little more complex. By far the greatest number of PC’s have a copy of Windows installed, and is what is most familiar to most users.

But what about your smart phone? Its probably running Android or some form of mobile Apple OS. Then theres the Mac  desktop computer with a more grown up version of  what your phone may run.

Then theres Linux Desktop powered PC’s, which currently is my OS of choice and the one I will spend some time on.

In the past I have used early versions of the Mac in a professional environment and quite enjoyed the experience but Apple computers are notoriously expensive when compared to a standard PC. By and large they also tend to be very proprietary in nature meaning that they dont always play well with different software sources although in the last few years we have seen a softening of this stance.

I have used windows extensively over the past 25+ years since the days of MS-dos 6 and Windows 3.1 through to Windows 10. By and large Windows served me well, but from Win 7 onwards I have become increasingly displeased with the performance and vulnerability of the Windows platform. Especially when it comes to how Windows reports back to Microsoft and the ever increasing dictatorial attitude from Microsoft regarding what you can and cant do with your operating system. And lets not get started on the sheer avalanche of viruses and malware that increasingly bog your system down by requiring more and more “Security” patches and updates to alleviate these pests. The requirements to subscribe at your own cost to get better than rudimentary protection is in itself a huge negative when it comes to your decision on whether you use Windows or not.

Suffice to say that approx 12 months ago I took the plunge and went for  a Linux based OS. I tried several distros ( distributions ) before settling upon my current OS, KDE Neon.

KDE Neon is considered cutting edge and has a very minimal software suite when installed. If you aren’t comfortable using a bare-bones install and selecting  software to suit then I would opt for the latest version of Kubuntu which is pretty much identical to KDE Neon but has a full compliment of software installed, bear in mind however that you will still need to select and install photo and editing tools of your choice.

In regards to editing software, if you are using  Adobe products or other Windows based editing tools they may not be available to you. The likes of Photoshop will run  but can be tricky to install and get running correctly. YouTube has many videos on the subject and it would be wise to research this.

If like me you long ago ditched bloatware such as Photoshop & Lightroom, then theres plenty to choose from. I also run my favourite Windows based photo editor Photoscape quite happily on my current machine. The Photoshop alternate in the Linux world is Gimp , and I use RawTherapee as my Lightroom replacement. For more standard types of photo editing, theres Shotwell, DarkTable, Digikam to name just a few. Several of these have a Windows based version as well so you can try it before switching.

For video editing one package you will see repeatedly is KdenLive and for astro photography Siril is an excellent tool and of course Stellarium runs very nicely on Linux based PC’s.

Depending upon the distro you choose there is pretty much something for every user level, however I would tend to opt towards KDE offerings with the Plasma Desktop environment as a good Windows replacement and a system that should look and feel very familiar to those considering moving away from the Windows Platform. The level of refinement you can make to your desktop is another bonus that Win10 cant really get close to, so If you like making your desktop look unique then Linux is for you. This video will give you a taste of what you can do with the KDE Plasma desktop.

If you like tweaking your system you will enjoy KDE Neon and the Plasma desktop.

Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of Linux is that its open source .. for the fiscally challenged this means its free to download and use almost all Linux Distros. Some of the server and commercial versions do require you to pay for a copy but for the average user this isn’t an issue. Add to this that all Linux distros come with software built in and repositories of software to install,  free for you to download and use. No paying for software or on going yearly fees. All the programs I mentioned above are one click installs from the inbuilt software centre called Discovery in KDE Neon. Other Linux distros have similar methods for downloading software but you arent limited to just this method, there are several other ways to obtain software and install it. In fact this is such a large subject it is beyond what I can cover here. Suffice to say for 99% of all the software I use can be installed via Discovery and occasionally I need to resort to command line use for the odd rarer or less main stream software package.

Probably the best news for Windows users is the ability to use Linux from your current PC. Most distributions when you download the ISO file will need you to either write the ISO file to disk or create a self booting USB stick. Theres usually instructions on how to do this and once done you can boot from your USB device and have a functioning Linux desktop. Depending upon the distro you can do a great deal of what you currently do just by booting up the system using the USB device as your operating system. In other words try before you buy, and its free. This video shows you how.

No matter your choice, be it Windows, Linux, Mac, Android or something else its important that you are comfortable using your OS as it makes post processing so much easier. Its fair to say that in most cases these days you will get a good result no matter what you choose to use, but especially for the fiscally challenged and those who dont like Win 10 try Linux you might just be surprised.

As a parting thought, for those with older PC’s that are showing their age, installing a Linux distro and a cheap SSD can make a massive difference to how your machine operates. In reality it can seem like you have a new machine and I highly recommend this option if budget is a major issue.

Photo and video editing should be a pleasurable experience and if you OS isn’t doing it for you dont be afraid to change.