Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Ultimate Ubuntu Test

So I think Linux is finally ready to be used by actual, you know, people. I have an old laptop that I got 2 yeears ago for $800 which was 2 years old at the time, still a good machine, 2GHz, 512MB RAM, etc., but just nothing I needed a use for since I already have the work laptop and the iMac, so I figured I'd give it to the parents since their last hand-me-down computer was my 500MHz HP Pavilion.

It had Windows XP Home on it, the original install. If I had more initiative I'd have probably removed that and put in Windows 2000 but I never got around to it. But there were just enough flaky, weird things going on with it that I didn't want to give it to them as-is. So the Ubuntu 7.04 CD that I burned for the heck of it came in quite handy.

Installing Linux has always been easy ever since RedHat 6.0 or so. Anyone who thinks it's hard has never installed Windows from scratch and realized that your network card didn't have any drivers and no way of easily seeing what model it was from software. But now I didn't even have dig out my old Partition Magic floppies to partition the hard drive. It had a nice drag-stuff-around interface for clearing space, and worked fine resizing NTFS partitions. Still not something my parents could have done themselves but that's not really expected.

The one really great thing I found when installing Ubuntu was that you could tie a user account on it to a Windows user account, and it will automatically link the Documents and Music and other folders to the respective folders on the Windows partition. It's something I always do manually so it was nice to have it done for me, and the shortcuts in all the file dialogs were all that seem to be needed to aleviate any anxiety my parents had about finding their files.

Hardware-wide I've had no problems so far, and this is on a laptop, and those have always been pretty sketchy for Linux support. Even the wireless card I slapped in there was detected fine, and Ubuntu developers have finally come to the realization that no one should have to enter a root password just to switch wireless networks. In fact, doing that is easier than on windows, there's just an icon in the task bar that drops down with the list of networks, just like in OS X.

My general rule here is that if I can teach my parents to do it and they acutally remember then it must be easy, and for the most part using Ubuntu is pretty much no different for them than using windows. They even moved the task bar from the top of the screen to the bottom, just to make it look the way windows looked, and all the icons for OpenOffice and Firefox and all the rest all look the same as the programs they were already used to. At this point an Operating system is largely irrelevant.

I had to do a little tweaking to remove some annoyances, like demanding a login password every time the laptop lid was closed, but to be fair the same amount of tweaking is considered necessary to make any windows installation bearable.

The one major criticism I had was the process for installing software that isn't in the Ubuntu repository, specifically Google Earth. There is simply no way my parents would have known that they had to open a terminal window, change the downloaded .bin file permissions to make it executable, su to root, execute the file, and know to put it in /opt. Funny that once it was installed Ubuntu silently inserted it into the application menu, but there's just no way I'd have known how to install it without knowing a fair amount about Unix. Maybe if Ubuntu takes a stranglehold on the desktop Linux market software makers will just put their programs in the Ubuntu repository, and have some way of getting to them from a web browser.

There's still nothing that comes close to Mac OS X's method of installing and removing software, by just dragging the program to your applications folder and then to the trash to uninstall. Maybe Ubuntu could take a sharper departure from its Unix roots like Apple has an create something like software bundles, the directories that look just like a single file to the end-user. There's no reason a user needs to see all of the files that make up an application program.

All in all, though, I think I can leave them with this setup and the fact that I won't have to come over every couple of weeks to remove spyware and fix accidentally-changed settings is a big thumbs up for Ubuntu.

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By al - 10:05 AM |

I have a couple of Ubuntu servers running at work.

One secretly runs VMWare server edition with Win2003 + MS Exchange server.


Who says Exchange can't run on Linux???

I've seriously considered installing Ubuntu on my old Toshiba. I just bought a MacBook for my personal work computer.... so that Toshiba is free-ed up.

Peace Al!
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