Linux is for nerds and geeks

Ubuntu - Why would you want to use it?

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.

Installing Ubuntu

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.


13 thoughts on “Linux is for nerds and geeks

  1. Nice post. It’s always good to see people excited about switching to Linux.

    Though I have to point out a small factual error:

    When choosing virtualisation typically people use either VMWare or VirtualBox to create a virtual Windows install (or whatever). Alternatively there’s the emulation route through WINE which provides native support for many Windows apps without installing Windows (thus saving money on the Windows license you have, right?…).

    This is a very common mistake I see people make. Virtualization (VirtualBox, etc) is essentially emulation, but WINE is not emulation. It’s right there in the name. Wine Is Not Emulation. Instead, WINE acts as a compatibility layer, meaning that running Windows applications with WINE is actually running native code, rather than running them on an emulated machine like VirtualBox does. Theoretically, running an application in WINE could be as fast or even faster than running it in Windows, if it is supported fully.

  2. Thanks for the comment and correct! There’s definitely a case for using either Virtual or “Integration” – For most users I think it would be easier to use WINE.

  3. Nice write-up. I’ve been using Ubuntu 9.04 since it came out and have found it to be stable, easy to use and quick. The only thing I need to do that is not possible in any way (yet) is create Flash (viewing is pretty darn good, if unfree). Things that I thought would be problematic have proved not to be – RAW file handling and photo manipulation is surprisingly fully-featured in GIMP/ufraw, for instance. This has made me realise that I really don’t need any of the ‘features’ that Adobe keep adding to Photoshop to extort yearly upgrades out of me.

    I think the biggest change is that, even with the excellent software update/add/remove tools, you do have to do some work to get the best out of the system. Much good software is a version or two ahead of what is in the main repositories, and you do have to do a bit of work if you want ‘bleeding edge’. That said, grappling at the command line level does feel easier to me than on either win or mac…

  4. The only thing I need to do that is not possible in any way (yet) is create Flash

    You can do this natively in linux (swfmill, haxe, etc), but those are for the programmer types like myself, not animators/artists. I’m sure some version of Flash runs in WINE. I have to say, though, I’m very disappointed in flash playback performance in Linux. It has been terrible in my experience… screen tearing is basically unavoidable on Hulu for me.

  5. For users still dependent on Windows applications, I would recommend a Wubi dual-boot over virtualization or Wine.

    Slowly wean yourself off those Windows-only apps and then cleanly move over to Linux.

    Wine and virtualization are imperfect and inefficient, respectively. Better to dual-boot for Windows apps.

  6. If I could just make one Linux Geek realize that I have yet been able to find one google entry that walks me through the process of how to install tar files. You MUST take new Linux users by the hand and not assume anything. Every step must be shown. I do not need a treatise on tar files. I just need the lousy crap download installed. Please spread the word. Also, why do touchpad cursors act so erratically in Linux, compared to Windows?

  7. I’m a little bit disappointed with the fact that there is only a C+ for web browser support in Linux.In fact Ubuntu fully supports Firefox,Chrome/Chromium,Opera,Konqueror,etc.The only 2 major browsers it does not support are IE and Safari.
    This is to desired since both are optimised for their own platforms and none of them are essentials when surfing the Internet.
    Thus if fact using Linux for browsing does not handicap you at all.Therefore I think giving it a C+ is an extremely misinformed decision.

  8. Since writing that article things have changed, so you’re right – the browser availability for Linux is on par with both Win and iOS. I don’t consider Safari or IE as “best of breed” either.

  9. Ya, Safari is just terrible in my opinion. Not sure how well it functions on a Mac, but it didn’t run too well on Windows 7 with my laptop. However, it seemed to run ok with Windows Vista on my girlfriend’s mother’s computer. I guess it just doesn’t like my hardware. That’s ok, Chrome works great, and I use Linux anyway.

    Internet Explorer is still just a mess in my opinion. No real point to it anymore.

  10. I have been using linux since earlu 2010 and love it. I could not do half the stuff with windows. Drivers are built into the kernel and guess what? 3D games are also very much possible in linux. You can tweak Linux where in windows i would get BSOE (blue screen of error).

  11. I installed the latest Ubuntu, the very first thing I wanted to do as a new user was to install Plex server, all very straight forward, there’s even a detailed tutorial in the Ubuntu forums, so it should be simple, right? … no, far from it. I spent the next few days attempting to install Plex without success. In Windows it would have been a 5 min job in Linux it was a freakin’ nightmare. These Linux ISO’s look attractive on the surface but unless you’re prepared to master using Unix and the command line, forget it, when things go wrong and packages don’t install correctly you’ll end up spending days reading through MAN pages or trawling through endless Linux forums for help. No thanks … Windows 7 for the win.

  12. I think this is the thing that keeps *nix away from the masses – there’s still a reliance on command line. Hell, when I’m using OSX some of the things I need to do still comes from cli

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