Tuesday, December 16, 2008
For our purposes here we are going to concentrate on the command line versus the GUI(Graphical User Interface). Linux has some native features that make it fairly secure out of the box. However this security is not fool proof without some additional configuration. Perhaps the main reason that Linux is more secure than Windows is not because it is a better product. No we cannot make that complete comparison. That would be like comparing Apples and Oranges. The reason Linux is more secure is it gets much less attention than Windows. Millions of people across the world are out there trying to exploit or lay bare the flaws in the Windows Operating System. With Linux there are not nearly as many users familiar as there are with Windows.
However using Linux out of the box without configuration changes you are leaving yourself wide open for hacks, attacks and many problems. One of the best things and possibly in some ways a disadvantage of the Linux Operating System is the amount of Distributions. There are more flavors of Linux then there are flavors of Kool-Aid. Many of these systems have slightly different structure, totally different Kernels(The central component of the Linux Operating System), different software packaging systems, and often different commands. For this tutorial we can feel safe knowing that the commands we are using are basic enough to work across distributions.
Considering many of the Linux Systems in operation are across the globe in data centers; technicians and users alike needed a secure remote system to connect to these servers. SSH stands for Secure Shell, it was created to replace many insecure connection protocols like telnet. The standard port you connect to with SSH is 22. SSH authenticates servers using an encrypted key. You can also configure ssh to connect with a public key. This would mean unless you have this public key you cannot connect. The scope of this article is a simple how to on basic Linux security. So we are only going to concentrate on the basics of SSH.
In the world of Linux the root user is God. Many servers are secured wonderfully only to login remotely using the root password. This is foolhardy because anyone using a simple sniffer program can obtain your root password and control your machine totally. Additionally as long as you use the common port of 22 for your SSH protocol, your leaving yourself wide open for potential hacks.
So these are steps you should do the first time you connect to your Linux Server:
Login to your server through SSH using user: root and your password.
Create a new user for yourself
common commands: “adduser newusername”
Password newusername – This step will ask you to set a password and then validate it
Find the directory your ssh configuration file is in. This could vary depending on distribution. You can issue the find command – find / -name ssh*conf . This file may be elusive. It can be named ssh.conf, sshd.conf, sshd_config and other names. Once you find the directory you can change the directory using – cd /directory/name
More than likely your server is using the ssh2 protocol. It is a more secure and a new standard.
You may have two config files. Only one of them actually works. It may be safe to change both. Open the configuration file/files in a text editor (vi, vim). Vi has a small learning curve, you will want to look at the man pages to familiarize yourself. Once opened you will want to find two different lines.
On the line that says Port you want to change it from the default port 22 to something else. This can be any port that is not currently in use. Such as 11215.
On the line that says PermitRootLogin you will want to change this answer to No.
After you have made these changes before logging out, in a separate window try to connect using your new port number and user name.
Now that our connection to the server is more secure, we need to add a couple of packages to our server.
1.A firewall (CSF, APF)
2.An antivirus (Fprot, AVG)
3.Spyware tools (rkhunter, chkrootkit)
You will need to choose which Firewall and Antivirus is good for your system. As far as the spyware tools I would recommend using both. These packages will check various security items on your server to make sure they are secure and not compromised.
In future tutorials we will dig deeper into your Linux Server and configuration of these security packages. The steps I have outlined here are the basic things you must do on your system before you worry about installing any software. These careful preventive measures will give you a head start in securing your Linux Server.
By Chris Collins
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Many of the CMS software packages out there are free, and all of them have "plug ins" that stretch the potential of your site. Some of examples of CMS systems are:
Wordpress - This actually started as a blogging package but with a small learning curve and wonderful templates it has become one of the leading CMS systems out there. Chosen by many for ease of use, and flexibility.
There are many more packages out there. However these are the key three. A CMS has the ability to create static pages, and the ability to post to dynamic pages on the fly. With this ability you can hire a designer to create you a professional template but can edit your own content afterwords.
The amount of features are jam packed and we could spend all day discussing them. Trust me if you want to build an easy website, a content management system is the wy to go.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
In todays world needing computer support is a necessary evil. With a decision as important as who your going to hire to fix your computer; there are important things to keep in mind. A lot of computer users make the mistake of letting a friend or relative look at their computer for free. This is actually like playing Russian roulette. Sometimes it works out, they may actually know what they are doing. However letting a hobby computer person touch your computer may make the situation worse. Think of it like this, would you let your nephew, grandson, son in-law or whomever be in charge of your money or finances? Now, if they are a trained professional then this may be exactly what you should do. The key is do not let anyone work on your computer without verifying their experience.
So what questions should you ask? When choosing someone to work on your computer, you should ask the same kind of general questions you would ask any contractor. Whether its working on your home, car or any other project.
What is your hourly rate? What are your operating hours? Are there any hidden costs?
How long do you estimate this job will take?
What if the problem comes back? Will you still charge to re-fix it?
What is your experience level?
Will you show me how to fix smaller issues like this?
Can I have references?
These may sound very simple. However its often easy in the heat of the moment to not concentrate on these issues. Many technicians are more charismatic than their skills can back up. Don't worry just remember these questions. When you have verified them, you can feel more secure that your job will be completed properly.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
To make matters worse now many of the software companies have inflated there packages so much that they actually are causing many computers around the world to fail, run slow, and cause more problems then they solve.
For every piece of over inflated software with the exception of the biggest problem software (Windows) I can show you a nearly equal if not better free or shareware software package. There are not many exceptions to that rule. I say that Windows does not have a better freeware version because Linux has not grown up enough yet. Although they are so close.
Overall the recent practices of some of the larger corporation software companies in a way could be interpreted as criminal. You combine that with the poor support they most often offer and most end customers are screwed.
I will say one server software that is hard to beat. Windows 2003 Server is frankly still an awesome package. To bad the regular operating platform of XP or Vista cannot be that good.
Monday, March 31, 2008
The easiest and most effective way to reach this diagnostic part of Windows is to totally shut your computer down. Once it is shut down, press the power button to load it. When you turn your power key on the first screen is the Bios screen. The Bios is a hardware chip on the Mother Board of your computer. It give your system preselected option to start up your system. This is called the Post. After the Post, your screen goes black for a minute. As soon as it turns black you must press F8 on your keyboard. This bypass's a normal Windows load. This will allow you to enter the advanced Boot Menu. For these purposes you are only concerned with two options. One is SAFE MODE, and one is SAFE MODE WITH NETWORK SUPPORT.
Safe Mode will load Windows with only the most minimal drivers needed by Windows to run. Safe Mode With Network Support, loads Windows with minimal driver support, plus a network card. Meaning you will have Internet Access. In many cases the option with Network Support will fail. This is worth a good try though. Regardless of whether you have Network Support or not Safe Mode usually is an effective way to un-install programs and disable startup options.
Another great feature of Windows Safe Mode is that it will allow you to enter the computer as Administrator User. As long as you have the password for the Administration Mode this is preferred. In addition to being the Super User on your computer, often this will load a separate User Profile that will load minimal programs and options. Once you have entered Safe Mode you can do almost anything you would in Windows without most interference.
Do not be alarmed your sound will not work, your Ipod, your printer and many other devices. While troubleshooting your computer it is better they do not. From this diagnostic option you can remove programs, remove startup options, disable services and work in the registry. This is only to be considered by someone who knows what they are doing. However for the laymen out there you will be able to Un-install offending programs. You also can run your Anti-Virus and Anti-Spyware programs. If you do use SAFE MODE WITH NETWORKING SUPPORT, you can connect to the Internet for help or to download helpful programs. When you are done with Safe Mode you can restart your computer manually.
Safe Mode will help you diagnose and fix your computer in many cases. If your Windows cannot enter Safe Mode then more than likely you either need to hire a technician or consider reloading your system. Otherwise you have found a tool that can use that is liable to make your browsing experience, and computer experience much more enjoyable.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
If you are a Technical Support Professional or a Consulting Company the rules are the same. No matter what part of the computer industry you are in, customer service is the number one goal. Yes your job is about solving computer problems, but you must remember the customer at all times. If you are savvy at all you can quickly decide how much computer knowledge your customer has. You must never assume that what seems simple to you is common knowledge to a customer.
We live in an uncommon era where older adults and younger adults are divided by one simple fact. If you are under the age of 40, you grew up with emerging technology and many of you have gotten quite good at it. If you are under 25 you grew up in the middle of a technology revolution. Computers are almost second hand to your generation. Many of the tasks some find daunting may come easily to you. Most of the average Forty Year old and up adults in our world, found dramatic changes in their life around the mid 1990's. All of a sudden computers had taken over their lower technology world.
I do not mean to sound derogatory in the slightest. The world may not have had as much technology but the people over 40 trying to learn this technology are just as smart if not smarter than you. Anytime we are faced with products that are new there is a break-in period. Anytime we are faced with a product that changes every other year there is a break-in period. Anytime we are faced with a group of products(Microsoft) that seems to be full of bugs the break-in period can be daunting. In addition you have to think of all the people whom for whatever reason are maliciously hurting computer systems.
So the mistakes may seem to be evident now. However I will review them. Technicians and Consulting Companies are guilty of assuming that the end user has what they feel is common knowledge. Many users are not comfortable with computers. They have learned certain niches about their computer systems. Outside of these comfort areas on their systems many do not travel. When something happens that breaks the functionality of their computer many also panic. You have to realize they know that their business, financial and personal data is at risk. What seems easy to you may drive them up the wall. This is a major mistake many technicians make. To make matters worse they tend to make the customer feel inferior. Would you want to pay someone that made you feel inferior?
Another common mistake that is made by the technical savvy is that they take customers for granted. Doubting your customers brain power because they are computer inept is a major mistake. This also perceived as very insulting.
It is a simple fact we all make mistakes. I have made these mistakes and you may have also. By remembering to be personable and respectful you will gain the respect of your clients. In addition there is one tip that I find to be one of the most important.
By training your customers as you support them, you will make more money. You may dispute this, however more complicated problems can be addressed if the user can troubleshoot the small ones. Many companies maximize their brand of support by cleaning startup programs and computer infections. Sometimes this is a necessary evil. However the less you have to do the monotonous troubleshooting you will find your profit margin raising.
There is nothing worse than losing your password. You should always right it down and keep it in a safe place. However we are human and can make mistakes like no other. With Windows Vista it is actually pretty easy to recover your password. You will need two things, some time and the Windows Vista Disk that has come with your computer.
You will need to place the Vista Disk into your CD-Rom drive. Then reboot your computer. You are waiting for a message upon boot that says “Press any key to boot from CD or DVD” . You will receive a message telling you that it is loading and will install Windows Vista. Do not be alarmed you should not lose your data. The first screen will ask you the appropriate language to install. You want to choose English or your native language. Then press Next. Then it will ask you your time and currency format. Then press Next. Upon pressing Next you will be asked for your Keyboard or Input method. Then Press Next.
You will want to choose the option that says “Repair Your Computer“ Select the Operating System you would like to repair and click Next. However on some systems you will alternatively be asked if you would like to install or use System Restore. If this happens choose System Restore and click Next. This final page will give you about 4 dates for a Restore Point. What your looking for is the last date that you remember your password. If that date is not in the list you will choose the help button. You are then brought to some options and one of them will be “Restore Options Older Than 5 Days”.
You will choose this option if your date was not among the 4. This should bring you to almost a calendar where you can choose the day with the nearest restore point to when you remember your password. Once choosing this Restore Point you will be asked if you are sure and you will click Next. Once again you do not have to worry. You will not lose your data. Windows will automatically begin restoring files that have been deleted or changed since this Restore Point, including your password file. This process time will vary depending on how long ago the Restore Point you choose is.
Once this process is completed you will receive a confirmation, and will want to reboot your computer. Once you have booted into Windows you should be able to login using the password from the time of the Restore Point you chose. If this did not fix your issue, you will want to repeat this whole document, choosing a more accurate Restore Point.
After you have been able to login to Windows you will need to change your Administrator password. You will also need to write the password down and store it in a safe place.
In the technical support industry it is often a poor support model to get in the habit of just doing something for a customer. When it is a technical task they will never have to do, that is one thing. However there are many tasks in a computer environment every day users will have to do at some point. Adding your email address to Outlook, Outlook Express or another email program will be something you have to to do at some point.
First of all an external email client or program allows you to download your Internet email to your computer. You can think of an email client as the manager of your email. In order for you to add your email account into this manager you will need some important information.
Your email address and the form of your username, full email address or the part just before the @
Your email server information including any settings your email provider has
There are two main types of email servers you will have with your provider. The first is the most widely used and it is called a POP3 server. Most Internet Email providers use a POP server. The second is IMAP, Gmail is one provider that uses an IMAP server. The difference is with a POP Email Server your mail is downloaded directly to your computer. With IMAP your Email account is actually connected directly to your Email Server and folders are sychronized on the server side.
This is not a discussion as to which type is more or less efficient. Chances are you are using a POP Server. To obtain the specific email information you need you can go to your Email Providers website. For most everyone your Email Provider is the same company that offers you your Internet. More than likely you already have your Username and Password. The information you will need to obtain is the POP Email Server address and the SMTP Email Server Address and any settings you need to set. By default, certain settings are already chosen for you. These will work fine unless specified by your Email Provider.
The SMTP(Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) is what you use when you send your mail. POP3 is what you use when you receive your mail. The default port for sending mail is port 25. Many mail providers block port 25 on their servers. This is a common problem that is easy to solve. For instance if you have a work Email Address that uses a work Email Server and your Internet provider blocks port 25. You can use your Internet providers SMTP server address to send your mail.
Setting up Email is easier than it may look. I tried to keep this document clear, simple and concise. By reading this you can become somewhat more familiar with your Email and what all the information means. This will allow you to have a better understanding when talking to support professionals. It may also allow you to enter the information yourself without someone doing it for you.
Friday, March 28, 2008
FamilyFellowship.com is one of thousands of companies that has bought reseller writes to an internet filter. At the time I worked with them they were reselling the Netsweeper internet filter.
I don't want to get into high detail but let me just set say that they are promoting Christian Internet filtering. I worked for them on their old website and through numerous changes nearly everyday there was a bill left when they suddenly got frustrated and chose another developer.
This Christian based company promotes safe family Web Browsing, yet they are unable or do not want to pay their bills.
People do not seem to understand, when you are in the technical industry, you work for them and try to give them what they want. If you spend over, lets say 100 hours working for them and changing things. When they are not satisfied when you give them what they ask for, they still owe you for the hours you worked.
Out of desperation I even tried to credit a certain amount of hours so that I could be paid some. I am suspect of a Christian company that cheats the people it contracts.
Anyway any company that sells internet filtering, make sure if you are planning to buy, they are the manufacturer of the product.
Everywhere you may find guides on finding a Telecommute job. It is unfortunate though for the business that wishes to hire a remote professional there is very little help. For some companies hiring a remote professional could be of high importance. There is certain information that you must verify before hiring anyone to work for you in your business. These same rules apply when hiring someone to work on a telecommuting basis.
In the interview process you need to make sure they have a complete understanding of the job they are applying for. Requesting a resume and verifying the information on it. This will do several things, it will allow you to verify their credentials. You can verify their employment and match the experience they have against what you need. You will also need references, this can say a lot towards the character of a candidate.
After verifying they have the skill set and integrity for the job. Next you will want to know they can complete the job properly. A successful telecommuter will have a complete home office in a quite environment. Essential items in a successful home office are a dedicated phone line, a fax machine, a printer, and a backup system in place for their computing environment. In todays day and age any successful telecommuter will have a broadband connection for Internet browsing. A dial up connection just will not offer the speed you need for working.
After choosing a candidate for working remotely you will need certain documents that will protect you and your company. A Non Disclosure agreement basically states that any person in communication with your business will not divulge sensitive information. These agreements are readily found all over the Internet in a blanket form. You can easily edit it to match your specific situation. You may also wish to have an employee sign a Non Compete agreement. I am not a fan of Non Compete but it may be essential in your situation. Often in a Non Disclosure agreement there is a Non Compete clause that has a specified time limit. Non Compete essentially means that any individual will not enter into a business that matches yours and compete for customers for a certain amount of time. Another essential document you need is a copy of any individuals Drivers License or ID.
One of the final things you will need to decide is what kind of employee you will have. You may be paying them as a contractor where they pay the taxes. Or you may decide to hire them as an employee where you are holding taxes back. Also How will you pay them? By check, through Paypal, by Direct Deposit or by bank transfer.
Hiring a telecommuter can bring productivity to your operation and projects. However it is not something you should do lightly. By collecting all of the information you need and knowing what venture you are about to undertake you protect yourself. If things work the way they should you have gained a valuable employee. On the other hand if things do not occur in a positive way, you have protected yourself.
The newer Office 2007-2008 package that has been released this year overall is a good product. However it has brought some changes, many of them unwelcome to the customer. In particular on of the new changes is the default Style Set in Word 2007. This has caused some interesting changes. For some reason Microsoft would have us believe that a double spaced document is more pleasing and easier to read.
Without going into a debate on that topic lets just say that this will be an unwelcome change to many people. As an everyday user you will also be very discouraged when trying to go to the help menu because there is no actual information as to how to single space the document. When you actually use the tool-bar and try to choose single spacing or changing the spacing number from 1.5/2 to 1 this still will not work.
An Internet Search unless you know what to look for will also discourage you. After all, you just want to be able to type your document and be left alone. Finally you might find the solution buried in the depths of Microsoft KB articles. Luckily someone has already done the ground work. Word 2007 does allow you to change the default Style you are using back to the comfortable Word 2003 format.
You will close any open document you have. Then you will click the home tab. This tab is located at the top of the screen when you are in Word 2007. When this menu has been opened, you want to Change Styles. This button is located in the Styles Group. At this point use your mouse to click on the Styles set. In this box you want to look for Word 2003. This is the style that you want to use. Make sure the button that says choose this as the default style is checked. Once you click Word 2003 this menu will close out.
At this point you should be able to type your document with the single spacing that you remembered well. The original Knowledge Base article for this fix is located at
This document also gives you some other brief information regarding parallels between the Styles in Word 2007 and Word 2003 depending on the language version you are using of the program. In addition it is always a good idea to bookmark this page. You can use the search box to find other Microsoft related issues.
Friday, March 14, 2008
One of the biggest mistakes made with any online company, is not following through with the services and products they offer on their website. For instance, when you provide a software, its a simple notion that you have to provide documentation for the software that matches its performance. This also means the software has to perform just like you say it will. The same applies for any service you provide. A mistake that is made time and time again by many companies is not updating the content of their website, or the documentation of their products.
When customers purchase a product from a web company, it is the same as any other binding contract. Companies that do not follow through are obliged to refund any purchases they do not honor. For a dose of common sense, realize this is a direct violation of any business model.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
The Open Office project can be downloaded from www.openoffice.org or you can order a CD. It is a multi-platform office package that has been released for Windows, Linux, Unix and other operating systems. One of the other wonderful enhancements is that it is natively multi-lingual.
Upon downloading the lightweight Open Office platform, installing is fairly seamless. You have a choice to register or not. It will ask you for your name and information and then ask if you wish to register with their website. A surprising box will open to ask if you wish Open Office to automatically open Microsoft Office documents namely Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. Thats right you read that right. Open Office has its own native document formats but you also have the options to save as a word document, html document and other platforms.
The packages that come with Open Office are a writer, spreadsheet package, database package, presentation package and other Office applications we have grown to come accustomed to. You have as many options for document enhancements as you have come to expect from any office application. Your font selection is wide and your formatting options are full.
Support for these office applications come from a full open source community of developers and users. Often this method of support is preferred over some of the more difficult costly options you have with a product you have purchased.
From its initial development stage Open Office has grown up dramatically to become a major contender in the office application market. From a consultant who has worked in the industry for over 15 years I would recommend this product to anyone. Now may be the best time that everyone turns to open source applications as an option for their software needs. For many reasons, one of them being to stop major application providers from raising prices so high.
Firefox supports tabbed browsing natively and has a very user friendly interface. Caching is handled within the Firefox application directory under the users Documents and Settings Folder. Often for any connection Firefox will load pages much faster than its competitors. Another wonderful benefit is built in pop up blocker support, and integration with many different media plug-ins. Firefox offers support for expansion. A large developer community has released many plug-ins to expand Firefox's ability.
With Internet Explorer it is a native built in part of the Microsoft Windows operating system. Any Windows function that requires an Internet browser opens with Internet Explorer. You cannot easily change this, and to make matters worse most applications will open Internet Explorer even if you have chosen another browser as your default. Caching within the Windows operating system is basically built in. When you remove browsing history, cookies or other pieces of information browsing information is still held in index files. Even in the Windows registry you can find large amounts of information regarding sites you have.
Using Firefox there is much more anonymity within your browsing habits. This lightweight Internet browser lets you browse they World Wide Web much faster. You can expand the functionality of your browsing experience and ease of use. You control what information is left about your browsing habits. Firefox's security enhancements are very comparable to Internet Explorer. Spyware, Virus's and other security dangers have a harder time landing on your computer using Firefox. Since it is not built in to your Operating System you are able to disable things much easier.
Although Firefox has many qualities at times there are a few disadvantages. Firefox does not have the ability by default to read Microsoft Active X Controllers. There are plug-ins however on certain pages, you still may need to use Internet Explorer. In my browsing experience this has happened to me twice in five years. I am on the Internet up to 10 hours a day so this occasion seems rare.
Along with already release enhancements regular updates for Mozilla Firefox are given. Certainly for ease of use, portability, fast browsing and ease of use Firefox is a choice for anyone.
I explained this scenario, the exact way it has happened for thousands of people. It's important you read this article carefully. It may just save your identity. The email you received, you may not have guessed, is a carefully thought out fake. Companies such as EBay, Paypal, your bank, or any other financial institution; will never send you an email asking you to enter such sensitive information. They also do not have members of there organization contact you over the phone, or by email, asking for specific identification nor verification.
If you have received an email such as this, it is a false forgery, and its purpose is to defraud you of whatever money or information it can. Today's internet criminals use sophisticated tools to steal your important assets. Let's discuss a few of these now.
Ø Email, forged to look like the address it came from is whomever they are using. Most of the time, this is EBay, Paypal, your bank, or another internet icon, they can use to earn your trust.
Ø A Spoofed URL, they are carefully planned to look like they are coming from the company in question.
Ø Stolen Web Designs, you are directed to a site that looks like it is the company they have used to bait you.
Ø A Professional Demeanor, the pages do not have misspelled words, the forms look professional, and they are well thought out and put together.
The goal of this internet criminal is to make you give up your information. I am sure that this may make you feel like you may want to give up, and stop using your computer all together. However there are many ways to combat these criminals, and simple tips to make your internet browsing be safer.
Ø Install a spam filter for your computer.
Ø Do not answer emails asking for sensitive information.
Ø Do not use email linked urls to visit sites, unless you are absolutely positive it came from the company it says it has.
Ø Always change information by logging into the actual websites of these companies.
Ø Triple check that a URL is, www.ebay.com, www.paypal.com, or whatever institution you're visiting, before you ever enter sensitive information.
Ø Never answer sensitive questions from people calling you, only do this if you have called them.
Ø In addition to the above steps, always make sure you have anti-virus, and anti-spy ware programs installed.
Following these steps and making them a habit, will ensure your safe browsing on the internet. It is important for me to repeat, these companies, or any other will never ask you for sensitive information directly. Before you become a victim, make sure to educate yourself on these safe practices. An internet criminal, will find new ways to try and steal from you. Don't give them the opportunity. Protect yourself now.
In todays world Linux has grown up. Driver support is one area that has finally gotten much easier than it ever was before. Many drivers are auto recognized simply and easily. This is especially helpful when using a laptop and a wireless connection. You automatically have a connection to the World Wide Web.
For desktops there are two major choices, KDE and Gnome. Both of these desktops have become very comparable to Windows. Each of these have the built in Linux option to have two desktops at one time. Knoppix even offers a 3d desktop option and the graphics are out of this world. One of the more popular things the world of Linux has always offered is comparable software that is free. Several word processing suites, many graphics packages, media players and games are all offered for no price.
Many activities that are harder in Windows become easier with Linux. These Live Linux versions also automatically recognize your Windows files. On the other hand with all of the achievements that Linux has made, it is still not ready to compete hand in hand with Microsoft.
Some of the issues you can run across still affect major operating areas. Sometimes you have to manually enter information that most users would not know. I would generally always recommend trying Linux to a technical savvy person. However it is not for the faint hearted and if you do not have a lot of technical knowledge I would hold off loading any Linux version.
Linspire has gone a long way to release a user friendly Linux version. This should not be considered an option for a technical person. However for the layman who just wants a computer that works the way it should Linspire may be an option for you.
No matter what you decide Linux is here to stay. Several hundred thousand developers world wide are doing there best to improve the Linux system In the next few years we may very well see these operating systems being able to take on Windows in a very real way. For a small time Windows Vista was being considered to run on a Unix back-end. For a long time Apple has ran on a Unix back-end based on FreeBSD.
With so many developers and technicians contributing to the Linux operating system, it will not take long for it to become a viable alternative to Windows. Using these Live CD's will give you a wonderful ability to test the waters.