That might have been true at one time. However today’s Linux is marketed more towards the “regular” user and so with a fresh laptop and a wing and a prayer, I’ve decided to delve into the unknown and install Ubuntu.
I don’t aim to “convert” anyone (including myself!) in the process, but hopefully this article will give some insight into what Ubuntu (and other distributions – or “distros” as their known) brings to the party.
For the purpose of this article I will presume that you know what Linux is and all the difference flavours of it – if not, read this first. It introduces all about Debian/GNU Linux. For those not too familiar with Ubuntu, I would also recommend reading this Wiki.
Ubuntu doesn’t stop you from using Windows
Personally I’ve been a Windows devotee since Windows 3.1. This was for a couple of reasons – price, software, but also because it had games I wanted to play (remember LucasArts X-Wing or Wing Commander?). At that time Macs were expensive and Unix was not really in the mainstream.
However times are a-changing. Operating System are now all about usability with flashy, intuitive user interfaces. Add to that multi-core CPUs, large amounts of RAM, Hard disk space and all singing/dancing video cards. Season with software integration layers and virtualisation means that Windows can run Mac can run Windows can run Linux can run Windows.
(For Linux) When choosing virtualisation typically people use either VMWare or VirtualBox to create a virtual Windows install (or whatever). Alternatively there’s the “integration layer” route through WINE which provides native support for many Windows apps without installing Windows (thus saving money on the Windows license you have, right?…). WINE installs a set of Microsoft type libraries which many Win apps require.
There are pro’s and con’s to each one – mainly WINE can potentially run faster where as Virtual means more support all round. Regardless, running Windows apps is possible. Here’s a good primer talking about the two choices.
RESULT: B GRADE. Ubuntu’s options for running Windows apps are good – but for Virtualisation you need a beefier setup.
It’s EASY. Select your language, username, password, what sort of install you want. GO! I installed on a clean MPC T2200, 20gb HD, 512mb RAM, ATI R9000 graphics card and a generic USB wireless card with no driver CD (lost). So this system isn’t exactly new (built in 2005 or 2006). Everything was installed perfectly. Ubuntu even made the generic wireless card work without needing anything extra. I did have a Linksys WPC54G PCMCIA card which Ubuntu did choke on. There are ways to install this but it does mean you need to open a terminal window and start typing characters and words oft spoken in hushed terms. Fortunately there’s a healthy Ubuntu forum group which are full of friendly advice to get around these annoyances.
RESULT : A GRADE. Ubuntu’s easy and quick install removes the complication that Windows introduced in XP.
General Performance – Ubuntu vs Windows
Even though the target machine is relatively ancient, the Metacity desktop flies like a dream. From experience I would say there’s significant performance over the Windows XP equivilant (say). I would summise that Vista and Win7 are no better.
RESULT: A GRADE. Ubuntu makes best use of the machines power – alternate distros such as Xubuntu can even help those with low performance boxes.
Installing new software
Good bye Windows “Add/Remove Programs”. Ubuntu comes with an Add/Remove function that has a list of built in repositories (that you can customize) which allow you to install all manner of software – and being internet based, that list can be updated. Each app is rated, described and categorised so you really can understand and find the app you want. Major improvement over Windows.
Pf course you can install packages outside of this – they are mostly with the .deb file extension. Very easy. Very straightforward. Here’s a link to more about the Add/Remove function.
RESULT: A GRADE. Adding applications through the Ubuntu interface is far more accessible than the Windows equivilant.
Playing games on Ubuntu
There are games that are playable on Ubuntu – infact you can play some PC games on Ubuntu including Call of Duty 4 through WINE. However the number of games is insignificant to that of Windows.
RESULT: C- GRADE. It’s not bad, but it’s no gamer platform.
Installing UI Customisations
Many people use Compiz-Fusion to extend their desktop experience. This does require that your computer has enough power to use it – mine didn’t. However the experience is far greater than many Windows users can expect. Check out this great little demo of Compiz Fusion in action. There are alternatives such as KWin which also does a great job, however the net result is that your Ubuntu desktop experience can be extremely comprehensive.
RESULT: A GRADE. Great effects brings the need for great performance. However the desktop extensions really bring it. Windows 7 looks limp in comparison.
Web Browser Support
There are a fair spread of browser available – but it seems the best browser to get is Firefox. At the time of writing, Opera have released a beta version of Opera 10 which apparently wil give Firefox a run for its’ money. To date Opera has been notorious for blocky font rendering. Using the MS fonts (see, there are some dependencies on Microsoft!) can help alleviate this.
RESULT: C+ GRADE. No (proper) support for Google Chrome or Apple Safari leaves a little to be desired for the user looking to have a choice. But the choice they have isn’t THAT bad.
Conclusion to date
I really like Ubuntu so far. It’s a slick, professional package that occaisionally shows some flaws and aspects which might daze and confuse users (editing config files or using terminal commands for example). But these flaws are no more significant than found in other OS’s. I’m going to continue to put it through its’ paces by installing WordPress (with development) and see what I can do compared to an equivilant Windows setup.