Ubuntu: Faster, Stronger, Better

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Apr 15, 2008

Filed under: Personal 58 comments

Linux has come a long way.

In 2003 my wife switched to Linux for a year. She’d been using Windows 98 and was reinstalling the OS about once every four months to recover from some cataclysmic internal failure on the part of the Windows. This was just how things went for her – about the time she had everything working again, the system would implode and she’d have to start all over.

When it came time to upgrade her computer, she balked at the idea of giving her tormentors in Redmond more money. It felt like leasing a jail cell. We got a no-OS computer and she put Linux (Red Hat) on it.

The beginning was rough. I would usually find her toiling over some long list of terminal commands and altering – waddya call ’em – RPM files or somesuch? I dunno. They were these files you used to install programs, but which always needed a little tweaking first. She installed stuff. Compiled stuff. Read stuff. She spent a lot of time on it. She was getting faster as she learned, but it was clear that there was a certain terminal-window overhead to a lot of mundane activities. If you make a mistake in Windows you can crash a program or get a stupid dialog. If you make a mistake in a Linux terminal window you can create problems that will take you an hour to unravel and solve.

It was frustrating because it was clear that a lot of this stuff could be better automated. It could be easier to use. A lot of the stuff she was doing wasn’t stuff that required a human brain to do. It just involved making many adjustments to config files and the like. The stuff she was doing was annoying, time consuming, and required a high degree of knowledge even to perform basic tasks. It felt like she was trying to earn her pilot’s license in the hopes that she could someday build paper airplanes.

She sought help in various message boards, which were inhabited by the classic Linux fanboys: Guys who scorn the unwashed who attempt to join their ranks, and yet moan about the Microsoft monopoly and can’t understand why more people don’t switch. When she wasn’t ignored she was told to RTFM. On the rare occasions where documentation was actually available, it was either written for people who had never seen a keyboard before, or for Richard Stallman. Imagine you are learning English. You have two books. The first is Dick and Jane and the Big Ball. The second is Supra-segmental features and characteristics of intonation within the Indo-European family of languages. Inasmuch as it existed at all, Linux “help” was a wading pool where a sign saying “sink-or-swim” had been posted in lieu of a lifeguard. A wading pool which quickly and without warning would drop off into the crushing depths, leading you down to where eyeless creatures devour one another in the lightless abyss.

It was a lot of work, and she began to realize that she’d just replaced the time lost reinstalling Windows with screwing around in terminal windows in Linux and looking things up. Her computer wasn’t ultimately any less of a hassle to use than before, it was just uglier and it didn’t run any games. She switched back. We bought a copy of XP and concluded that Linux wasn’t quite ready for regular people just yet.

A couple of months ago she tried again. Ubuntu (Which wasn’t even available in 2003) has earned itself a good reputation for being user-friendly. Her old Linux scars have healed, and she was willing to endure a few terminal window adventures again.

She needn’t have worried. Linux has evolved since the last time around, and is now capable of walking upright without placing undue burdens on the user. She put Ubuntu on her machine and uses it daily without incident. It does everything she wants it to do. It even has a nice collection of (free) games. There is a plentiful supply of help and walkthroughs aimed at normal people, written by users who understand that writing and compiling code should not be step one of using software. It’s also good looking. I know this last item earns an eyeroll from some people, as if anything more than amber text on black is just needless and gaudy. But if you’re going to spend all day looking at an interface, it might as well be easy on the eyes. Ubuntu is sexy.

I’m just putting this up to give a nod to the people behind Ubuntu: Those folks are doing something right. While some large professional software packages and PC Games are still mostly exclusive to Windows, more pedestrian activities can be done at least as well in Linux. If all you want to do is email, web, and so on, then it’s difficult to justify paying $100 to Microsoft in order to do so. It’s like paying to use a tire swing when you can ride a rollercoaster for free.

I develop software for Windows, so I’m more or less married to the platform, but after seeing Ubuntu in action my OS fidelity has been put to the test. After fifteen years with Windows I’m resigned to our arrangement, but I can’t help but wonder if I could get away with seeing Ubuntu on the side.


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58 thoughts on “Ubuntu: Faster, Stronger, Better

  1. EksFaktr says:

    Actually, I’ve had some pretty good luck running Ubuntu on a dual-boot system. And the great news is that I didn’t even have to re-format my whole hard drive to do it. It actually auto-detected that I had a Windows partition and resized that to take what it needed.

    Now, if I could just figure out how to compare the kernel vs. the beta version of ALSA to get my damned sound card working… (me is not programmer)

  2. Jeremiah says:

    I’m more or less apathetic about the whole Windows Vs. Unix/Linux thing. I think there are things to be said for both platforms, and I don’t care enough to debate it.

    I do have to say, of the few versions of Linux I’ve played around with Ubuntu was really easy to deal with. I’ve thought about putting a dual-boot with Ubuntu on my desktop, but I just haven’t gotten motivated enough, and my Windows desktop does what I need it to do, and I haven’t had a need to play around with Linux since College when I needed some Linux tools for a Computer Forensics class.

  3. Daosus says:

    I run Linux full time (OpenSuSE 10.3 and Fedora Core 8). I tried it earlier and had the same problems. While I don’t really like Ubuntu, I can’t deny that it has great user friendliness. Even other distributions have improved. In particular, I love that you can just pick programs from a list in a graphical package manager. Sure beats having to either compile the programs or fight your way through RPM hell. There are still problems sometimes, like programs working for one distribution but not for another, but they are rare enough that I don’t bother.

    I don’t think Linux is ready for non-technical people just yet, but it’s getting there.

  4. Shadow2336 says:

    If you’re married to using Windows, but want to try Ubuntu, use Wine (Wine Is Not an Emulator).

    What it does, is it fakes a copy of windows in your Linux partition, everything, from the .dlls to the .inis

    You can run just about any program in Wine that works in Windows (It’ll run a bit slower, and there are some compatibility issues with some programs, but most work.)

  5. Josh says:

    Ubuntu has come a long way, but some people make the mistake of thinking that Linux will soon become the equal of Windows or OS X on the desktop merely because the users/developers of Linux have learned their lesson. This is not so. Windows Vista and OS X have much greater amounts of effort behind their polish and ease of use than Linux’s community can bring to bear. The same goes for device drivers. Every manufacturer who creates a sound card or mouse will also write device drivers that work with Windows. In Linux, there may be a technically advanced user who will write a driver that must serve for several related devices.

    People often underestimate the scale of effort required to make Windows XP or Vista, and then lambast a company like Ubuntu for failing to accomplish the same goals. The truth is that there is not as much demand for desktop Linux as there is for Windows. There is not as much work going into it (by orders of magnitude). It isn’t anyone’s fault – it’s just a result of the network effect: Windows has market share, so it will benefit a developer most to produce products for windows.

    The momentum behind Ubuntu continues to grow, and there may come a time when it can satisfy the mainstream in spite of Microsoft’s crushing dominance. But Microsoft isn’t stupid. They are fully aware that putting their software in the homes of children is critical to maintaining their mindshare. Just look at youngsters now: most people under the age of 30 will refer to directories as “folders” without a trace of irony. This is a direct result of Windows 95 and its successors, where Microsoft deliberately chose that nomenclature.

    Microsoft will likely begin cutting the price of the basic OS to keep it in the household, while the superior gaming support of DirectX draws in younger users. Whether this strategy can last over the very long term is uncertain, but it will definitely carry them for several more decades.

  6. Your wife’s experience is not uncommon, even these days. The sandals and ponytail crowd still hasn’t gotten their heads wrapped around (as you put it) “…writing and compiling code should not be step one of using software.”

    What kills me is most of the RTFM people are the first ones to whine about Microsoft being evil and how Linux will one day rule the desktop.

    I use RedHat on servers at work because I have to – its still pretty klunky in my opinion, but maybe I’ll check out Ubuntu and see what they’re up to.

    I can load an Ubuntu VM up on my Mac and give it a whirl right alongside of my XP VM.

  7. rmg says:

    On the topic of Wine… as a developer, you may be interested to know that Wine provides Windows compatibility libraries that you can link against to allow you to compile your Windows source natively on Linux with minimal changes.

    Or you can go the other direction and use the toolkits commonly used in Linux in your Windows development, since most are cross-platform. Gtk+ and Qt being the two main options that come to mind.

    Just be careful, you might get addicted to not having to initialize 3 pages of struct members before using a function…

  8. I’m a (primarily) Windows developer at work, but I switched over to Ubuntu for home use completely a few months ago. I like having a home working environment that’s different enough from my work working environment, and Ubuntu’s VPN and remote desktop tools work plenty well enough for me to still work from home.

    That and, while I couldn’t tell you why exactly, I feel much more compelled to work on my personal projects in an open source environment than I ever did in Windows. Weird, that.

    That said, there’s nothing wrong with setting up a dual-boot configuration just for messing around.

  9. Craig says:

    Some people are definitely paying attention to usability. I use Ubuntu one of my home machines and haven’t had any real problems with it. Over the weekend I saw that mod_rails for Apache had been released. The installation is drop dead easy, and even helpful. I was missing several things it required, so it told me the commands I needed to type to get it to work.

    This is just evidence that some bright brave people have started following the ‘New Linux’ model of making things easier and less scary for new linux users.

  10. Deoxy says:

    “Windows Vista and OS X have much greater amounts of effort behind their polish and ease of use than Linux's community can bring to bear.” ETC

    AMOUNTS of effort? Sure, I won’t dispute you on that. But actual results? Eh, it’s getting fairly close.

    “People often underestimate the scale of effort required to make Windows XP or Vista”

    Having written an OS back in college, I completely understand the scale of effort – it is huge. Walking across the US on foot huge.

    But that doesn’t mean Microsoft gets a pass for doing a bad job of it.

    Very few people successfully walk across the entire US straight. If someone does so, but it takes them 10 years because they get lost 500 times and continually have to back track, is that an accomplishment to be proud of? Yes, they accomplished a huge task, but they did it badly.

    Microsoft is the same.

    Their primary skill is in business, not product. “They [MS] are fully aware that putting their software in the homes of children is critical to maintaining their mindshare.” Exactly. They don’t really care about producing a good product, just so long as everyone uses it (and currently, the only reason everyone uses it is because everyone else uses it… including me, unfortunately).

  11. JB says:

    What is harder to use, Linux or Windows?

    It depends on how familiar you are with the respective operating systems. I’m using Linux on a daily basis, but do fire up Windows XP now and then to play games. And in my mind Windows cannot match Linux at all when it comes to power, flexibility and ease of use.

    For example, on Linux I never have to fiddle with firewalls, anti spyware and virus killers. It’s just not an issue.

    Then I have the package manager from which I can install and update system components and other applications. I never have to deal with a lot of different programs having their own specialized updating routines, some who demands to reboot the machine at inconvenient times.

    And then there is the most important feature of the GUI, well integrated virtual desktops. None of the third party apps for windows trying to do the same works very well in the long run.

    I also love having a good command line interface (CLI) at my disposal. I could browse the file system with a graphical browser, but I find the power and flexibility of a good CLI much faster to use. This is of course not something the average non-expert user will find helpful, but user friendliness is not only about non-experts is it?

    These were some examples where I find Linux more user friendly than Linux. I am sure there are examples were Windows is are more user friendly than Linux too. But my point is that one should be careful about claiming that one is more friendly than the other. Most people will of course find what they’re familiar with easier to use than what they are not familiar with. And since most people are more familiar with Windows, they will find Linux harder. But that doesn’t mean that Linux is less userfriendly in the long run.

  12. Dihydrogen says:

    Yeah Ubuntu is pretty easy to use. I installed on a friend’s family computer (No one in their family are skilled computer users) awhile back as they were having huge virus problems and had lost their Windows install disks. They like it as its prettier than XP or even vista with a correctly configured Compiz Fusion and malware isn’t as big of a deal to them anymore.

  13. Tom says:

    I recently bought a cheap Windows laptop as my second computer and promptly installed Ubuntu on it. Installation did not go off without a hitch, but after finding modded drivers for the daft wifi card and reinstalling everything while hard-wired to the ‘net (instead of relying on wireless), I had a dual-boot system that has since performed flawlessly. The Ubuntu development team has indeed done a great job, but even Ubuntu is a long ways from where I could recommend my parents, for example, to switch from their Mac. There’s a lot to be said for the configuration work that the OEMs perform before shipping product.

  14. Mark says:

    I really like Ubuntu, but I don’t care for GNOME and Kubuntu isn’t yet to the main distribution’s level of polish. I take comfort in knowing, however, that any time I want to abandon Windows, there will be a Linux distribution that I can use with confidence.

    Definitely going to try out this month’s release.

  15. Phlux says:

    @4: Or instead of installing Ubuntu and then using WINE…you could just install Virtual PC 2004, which is free now, and run a Linux VM alongside windows.

  16. Nilus says:

    I think OS preference is a lot about what you are use to. I don’t like OSX but thats because I don’t use Macs. I don’t have a problem with Windows but its not my OS of choice most times. I love most brands of unix. HPUX is a pain(HP’s unix), but I love AIX(IBM’s unix) which if you ask most unix people is crazy talk. Thats because most unix admins don’t use AIX, unless they work for IBM. While a lot more use HPUX, Solaris, or the many brands of Linux.

    In the immortal word of the Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie. Every OS sucks


  17. scragar says:

    I’ve been using linux for a while now as my primary Desktop, in terms of speed, ease of use and tools for everything I want to do it’s unmatched as far as I can tell(let me know then windows offers KDE’s libary integration, instead of that stupid .dll rubsish, and don’t get me started compairing compiz [fusion] to vista’s effects).
    I was using a pentium 3 for a long time(without knowing the exact graphics card), and it all just worked, and fast too(given that XP SP2 was at 640 with a whopping 4 colours, and taking around a minute to load). Almost anything I want get’s added to the repo’s and can be installed with minimum effort(either open package manager and pick what you want or use apt-get from the command line :P).

    linux even comes with tools to compile for windows(using wine and a few other programs along the way to provide a basic layer that let’s it build .exe’s).

  18. WysiWyg says:

    Being a “nerd” I always was ashamed that I don’t use Linux, so I have tried it a couple of times, always different “versions”, and always the versions that is said to be the easiest.

    And it has always been hell. It’s always SOMETHING that doesn’t work. The final insult came when I was going to move all my files from my windows partition to a new linux dito. It told me that I didn’t have the privileges to write to the target partition, which shouldn’t be that much of a problem right? Just fix the privileges. Problem is that I had choosen “move”, and that meant that even though the program couldn’t write the files to the target, they still removed them from the source.

    Just “undelete” them, right? Problem is, that option wasn’t available. It scoured the internet for well over a week, taking heed not to use the computer I had been messing with, before I realised that all my personal document, pictures and the like was gone forever.

    And since then I gladly pay Microsoft. No, I don’t think Linux will ever work for the average joe, sorry.

  19. Vegedus says:

    I wanna try other OS than windows so badly, but the “no gaming” aspect is not so appealing. And I’ve never really understood the point of dual booting.

  20. Kanthalion says:

    For a while I had a laptop running Ubuntu gutsy gibbon, and I liked it, it was easy to use and ran most everything I needed. I also had one with XP on it. Over time though, I noticed I used the XP one more and more and the Linux one less and less until I finally put XP back on the Linux one and sold it. I haven’t missed it.

  21. Nilus says:

    Vegedus, the advantage of Dual booting is to run an OS that is faster and less susceptible to virus and spyware, in theory. When you want to play a game you boot to windows but for the other major stuff you do(internet browsing, torrent downloads, word processing, whatever else you might be into, etc) you run in linux where it will be in theory more stable, less viruse/spyware prone, quicker.

    Honestly I am thinking about playing with Ubuntu again. I just bought my wife a new laptop(running Vista, which I honestly don’t find as bad as other people told me it is), so I am inheriting her old desktop. Which means I can scrounge all the working parts out of it and get my linux server(it was running Fedora core, but I never really liked it) that died a year ago back up and running.

  22. Stark says:

    I use linux for specific purposes – in a specific task context it it is wonderful but I still find that XP is more useful as a general purpose machine. I use linux for file serving and media serving on my home network – works great and windows can’t compare for cost of implementation. Most recently I’ve converted a few old laptops to wifi connected, self updating, digital picture frames using Damn Small Linux (DSL), FEH picture viewer, and bash scripts to run the whole thing – works like a champ and would have been quite hard to achieve in Windows. That being said, these sorts of projects are not something an average user ever does or considers doing… but for the tech savvy Linux is a beautiful thing. It brings a level of power and customization that can’t currently be matched by any other platform.

  23. trousercuit says:

    #8 (Darcy Casselman):

    I feel much more compelled to work on my personal projects in an open source environment than I ever did in Windows.

    Likewise. I think it’s because my subconscious mind figured this one thing out long before my conscious mind did: it’s just easier to develop on it. When I developed primarily on Windows, if I needed a tool, language, or library there was a good chance I’d have to either pay for it or spend at least an hour finding a good free implementation. On Ubuntu, it’s almost always in the package repository.

    Lending support to my hypothesis: it wasn’t nearly this easy on RedHat or Mandrake, so while I fiddled with those, Windows was still my primary development environment. SUSE was close, but Ubuntu made it painless.

  24. JFargo says:

    I considered taking my old system and turning it into a Linux machine, something that I can play with to learn what all the other geeks are talking about.

    In the end I decided I didn’t need the machine and donated it to a charity that was giving them to schools or kids.

    Much better use, I think, as I don’t think Linux is ever going to become something that takes over the world like Microsoft has. Not saying that’s a good thing, just saying it is what it is.

  25. Locri says:

    @15: Except for the fact that VirtualPC is dog slow. If you’re going to use a VM, might as well use VirtualBox which is as snappy as VMWare Workstation, but free as well and has an Open Source edition too (which lacks a few small features). AND, you can use that in Linux to emulate a Windows PC or in Windows to emulate a Linux PC… you aren’t tied to any particular OS. Nice, eh?

    Oh, forgot to add. I’ve been using ArchLinux for a year solid now at home and I love it. There is something comforting about not having your computer off doing random things on you that you don’t know about. Windows always seems to feel like you never know what’s all going on with the system.

  26. Davesnot says:

    I dunno.. I like to bash MS as much as the next guy.. and..yeah.. something else is always better.. but as we learned in “data processing” in the early 80s.. it’s all about what your machine will run.

    And since most people don’t wanna see the wizard behind the screen.. well.. they want windows… it runs their stuff.. sometimes it doesn’t work… so they turn it off and on and now it works.. fine..

    Now.. obviously it should work better.. so should you and I.. but we don’t until we have to.. and even then sometimes we don’t.. we just look like we do….

    It is the way of things… the sage stays behind and thus he is ahead.. and all that mumbo jumbo.

  27. Stu says:

    I started using Linux about 6 years ago. I used Slackware and it kicked major booty for a lot of reasons. Some of these included being blazing fast, it actually worked consistently and it looked nothing like windows. (yeah, yeah… Linux is Linux and customisability is up to the user, whatever – I know already)

    From about 2004 ish when my computer started to verge on ‘getting on in years’ I went Windows free (Hey, if it can’t play games anyway then there’s no need for Windows)… then something bad/good happened. Visual Studio 2005 came out around the time I was at MS and this package was neat enough to completely drag me back – I stuck windows on my machine, Linux was nowhere in sight anymore.

    I skipped a few details: Going windows free was around the time I started using Ubuntu and I was consistently impressed with new ubuntu releases. I rarely had a hardware problem barring a few niggly issues. I began to hate the idea that there was, in fact, stuff in my PC – I’m a big believer in abstraction, so my PC should only make me aware of what I want. Telling me that an application tried to reference address 0x44463564 but for some reason couldn’t doesn’t interest me at all (and I’m a programmer… I can’t imagine what my mother thinks of these crazy messages. Can we make a consumer OS now Microsoft?)

    but I digress, I decided that Windows isn’t a bad ol’ spud, I picked up VS and was happy. For a while… but then I started to feel the itch again… Windows lacks fundamental tools and functionality that just can’t be replaced by a bolt on development environment – at its most basic level I simply can’t call it an OS. However, at the same time I really didn’t want to go back to Linux which had it’s own blend of niggles and doubts. (Part of this has to do with the way Linux apps are being written today… bulky monsters like Gnome and KDE who run their own services as part of a whole. What happened to small applications that do one job well? Why can’t I run a subset of gnome services from within a fluxbox session? Why can’t I use the excellent xscreensaver daemon as a replacement to the kludgy Gnome screensaver?)

    My solution was to wait until I was heading back to university for my final year and get a Macbook. Switching to Apple has been the best move ever. One one hand I get a robust unix system – I’m free to delve into the dark depths of the command line. I also get a wonderful Graphical Interface and End User Experience. I can be that ‘regular guy who just want to check their email’ and I can also be the ‘stuck in the early nineties geek reading the nethack newsgroup.’ And Apple have never tried to tell me how it works, my magic box just does!

    (disclaimer: I’m aware of how computers work, but I still don’t care – sometimes I just want them to get on with it)

  28. Jobat says:

    Dear everyone who says they would like to try linux but do not want to dual boot or delete windows or VM or whatever: Ubuntu and many other distro’s of linux (slax, pclinuxos, etc) have iso’s you can download from their site and burn which, when you boot up with them in your cd drive, they install the OS into your RAM. This can take about 10 minutes to boot up, but once it does you have the freedom to try the full OS without installing it on your system, and once you turn it off, the RAM is wiped and you can go back to using windows or osx or whatever.

  29. Kobyov says:

    You know that pretty much sums up my experiences with linux. I’m now the go-to guy at work (I work at a university helpdesk) for linux issues, simply because I’m the only one who went back after having early failure, and the other people are too tainted from their old issues to realise that things are better now. Still a long way from perfect, but usable. Oh and if you want to save yourself a lot of trouble, run “sudo apt-get install gconf-editor” – hopefully you’ll never need it, but its invaluable when something happens like your computer has a wireless password stored that it wont forget and so you cant use the new one – its basically regedit for linux. Oh and going into “update manager” (should be under the system menu) and changing your update settings can really boost the speed of doing that – a local server and setting it to get the patches you want really improves things.
    Personally I’m using XFCE so i cant comment on looks (gnome and kde dont work very well on an eee) but stability and performance are great now. And I saw a laptop with the 8.04beta, man did that look nice.

    make sure you have the build-essential package installed (‘sudo apt-get install build-essential’ on ubuntu) – that should give you all the tools youll need. You can also try using ndiswrapper – think of it as a windows driver emulation layer – you get the normal windows driver, coat it in ndiswrapper and linux can talk to it. There is a small performance hit, but it should work fine

    Oh and personally I think anyone who says RTFM should be taken out and shot. If the documentation is available say so, it costs you nothing to say “could you please read ” and I’ll help you interpret it”. Most newcomers dont even know where to find the manual, let alone how to read documentation written for programmers. I know if I ever said RTFM to a customer, I’d be fired instantly.

    Oh and tracking down your local LUG is a good option, they probably have a mailing list, and they are generally sociable enough to be friendly – just dont let them play with your computer without explaining what theyre doing, you may have found the groups ‘tweaker’ who makes your system ‘just a little bit better’ until it stops working…

  30. Kobyov says:

    Darn it the edit timer ran out….

    Just a wee warning to people looking to try out linux, NEVER run any command with the word ‘sudo’ in it unless 1. you’re very sure you know what it does, or 2. you really really trust that person. ‘sudo’ means ‘I am root (super-admin who can do absolutely anything) and you will do what I say no matter how retarded it is’. You should also NEVER EVER EVER run the command ‘sudo rm -rf /*’. That is linux-speak for ‘please delete everything on my computer (including the operating system) and make my system about as useful as a boat-anchor’. (or more accurately delete everything within the directory ‘/’ – linux’s version of ‘My Computer’ – recursively – ie. and inside all those directories etc., and dont warn me that I’m deleting things I shouldn’t). There is a small group of pricks who think its funny to trick people into running into that. You’ll probably never run into one, but just in case…

    Another useful thing you can do is open up your .bashrc file (its in your home directory, and should always be backed up before editing), go to the bottom, and add the line
    alias rm=’rm -i’
    save, logout and login. What you have done is tell your computer that whenever you try to delete something from the command line, you want an ‘are you sure’ prompt. Very useful if you type ‘rm * ~’ (remove all files in this folder and then the file ~) instead of ‘rm *~’ (remove any file that ends with ~ – generally backups or autosaves)

  31. Kilmor says:

    My wife, who is not tech-savvy at all, has been using Ubuntu for about 9 months now, and loves it. As she put it, “Its So Easy!”
    Which is mostly true, the only real problems I’ve had are driver-related(there apparently is no driver for the onboard video in her shuttle pc, so it has to use vesa drivers. And the resolution-changing mini-app is a piece of shit.) I’ve had to spend a bit more time futzing with it then I would have liked, and there was no graphical installer available that would let me set up raid anything(just a raid mirror, thats all! why can’t I have a graphical installer for a basic 2-drive mirror?!).
    But yeah, if you aren’t playing games and just want something to surf the web, its great.

  32. Kanthalion says:

    Kobyov, reading your posts has me almost ready to go dig out my ubuntu disc and return to linux.

  33. Pete Zaitcev says:

    I think suggestions of Wine for Shamus are misguided. He needs 100% bug-for-bug compatibility. Xen/KVM/VMware, that might work, depending. You can get near-native performance out of them. But then, why bother unless your customer requires it?

    In any case, Linux vs. Windows is trivial if you limit yourself to the base OS, even including the GUI frills. What I would like to hear from Shamus though is an opinion on the perennial Photoshop vs. GIMP and Illustrator vs. Inkscape debate.

  34. GAZZA says:

    I recently built a series of machines to use as personal media centres. My goals were to keep the cost down, and to write as much as possible of the controlling software myself (I know all about MythTV. It’s cool. But there’s a satisfaction to be had from writing your own stuff).

    Managed to get some <$100 US refurbished desktops from eBay, SFF video cards (with S-Video output) for about $12 US each, and large (250-500Gb) hard drives for about 23c (Aus) a Gb. So the hardware costs were tiny.

    When it came to the OS, I had a mate (who actually inspired me to start this) who had everything running on Windows. But I decided to save myself the software license, and put Ubuntu on instead. Haven’t had any real dramas at all – about the only thing that was a bit of a pain was the Linux Infared Remote Control module that Ubuntu can install didn’t work, and I ended up having to build that from source. On the minus side, I wouldn’t really expect your average user to be able to do that. But on the plus side, your average user isn’t going to be building media centres with his own Java code controlling them either, so that’s not really a concern.

    If it wasn’t for games, I’d switch my main desktop over to Ubuntu as well. It’s certainly fine for any other need (OpenOffice, Firefox, and so on).

  35. Aufero says:

    I recently rescued a dead Dell laptop from a relative who was going to throw it away, and facing the problem of either convincing Microsoft that since it had been sold with an XP license they should authorize me to install XP for free on it from another set of CDs (iffy in my past experience and involving hours on hold) or buying another copy of Windows, I decided to try Ubuntu as an introduction to Linux. I have next to no previous Linux experience, but installation was easy and took less time and fiddling than a comparable Windows install. I haven’t had a single problem since.

    It’s fast, the interface is sexy, security is great, OS updates are a breeze, and there’s tons of easy-to-understand advice available when I have a question. It won’t run the games I play on my main system, but who cares? All I do on a laptop is email, web surfing, word processing and spreadsheets, and all the applications I was already using for those things are multi-platform. If anything, OpenOffice and Firefox work better in Ubuntu than they do in Windows.

    I think I’m a convert, at least as far as non-gaming systems go.

  36. Uninverted says:

    I’ve had Ubuntu running next to Windows on my machine for a while now, (It’s where I do almost everything since I got it running) and I really really like it. It’s my first *nix, so real shell scripts were news when I installed it. And it has piles and piles of free (libre) compilers, debuggers, text editors, etc. (I fell in love with Emacs). A whole bunch of stuff went wrong during the install, though, (I had to manually get apt and gnome working, completely command-line at first) so I’d recommend at least having a geek nearby during installation.

  37. Josh says:

    Vegedus, the advantage of Dual booting is to run an OS that is (…) less susceptible to virus and spyware, in theory.

    I just wanted to point out that this is reversed. In practice, Linux is less susceptible to viruses and spyware: you never see those things in Linux. In theory, it is just as susceptible. Many people speculate that if Linux were to be used as much as Windows, people would begin to write viruses to exploit it.

  38. Blurr says:

    @ 37

    Many large corporations use Linux for their servers. I was led to believe that one of the focuses of most Linux distros was in fact security. I’m pretty sure that those distros actually have far fewer security holes than Windows does.

  39. Shawn says:

    No, that’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”

  40. Daosus says:

    The thing with Linux security, as far as I can tell (and I’m no expert), is that the base system is designed for multiple users. So, if manage to get a virus, it’s likely to completely cause havoc with that user account, but:

    1. It won’t be likely to touch the root filesystem and any critical files.
    2. It won’t require a reboot to fix.

    The second part is probably the more important, actually, because, as you all probably know, web hosts aren’t supposed to go down much.

    Now, Windows has had that kind of protection since NT, but most people I know ran XP logged in as an administrator account, so no protection there. Can’t say much about Vista, as I’ve not had a chance to play around with it.

  41. GAZZA says:

    A lot of the security of Linux falls into one or other of the following categories:

    – User accounts are not typically privileged. As Daosus says above, this limits the damage you can do to whatever that user is allowed to do – and especially for webservers, that is typically “very little”.

    – Files are not executable by default. A whole host of “get the user to click on this” exploits – email, web browser exploits, and what not – are just not possible under any *nix because of this. To get a file to execute requires that the user explicitly make the file executable, and that’s a lot harder to get people to do “by accident”.

    – It’s open source. That means that while any potential hacker has full access to read and find exploits, it also means that anyone who knows how to close those holes can also find them and close them. There’s no corporate sensitivity that might lead to exploits being covered up. In practice this tends to mean that the code has fewer security holes.

    It’s certainly not true that Linux is utterly bulletproof against hacking – buffer overflow exploits still work, if you can find them, for example – but much of the “low hanging fruit” that plagues Windows isn’t there.

  42. CoarseSand says:

    I’ll toss in my two cents, though I feel like I’m a bit late getting in here 40 comments later.

    I started my Linux-ing on Ubuntu last spring, and it’s been pretty pleasant, and have since switched to Arch. I won’t go into details, but I’d like to make a few suggestions.

    Don’t use Wine. Yeah, it’s great, run some Windows app in your base Linux environment, but there’s a ton of configuration time involved that often requires an existing Windows installation to copy files from. There’s a better option if you absolutely must have something in Windows: virtualization. Assuming you already have an existing copy of any Windows edition, just create a virtual machine, insert your disc, start the machine and install it the way you would normally, then use your software through that. You get the advantages of running Linux, and if Windows crashes it doesn’t interrupt anything you had going on Linux side, like coding into a text file that the virtual machine can read through a shared folder (you know, for the programmer we all know who happens to run this blog). That virtual machine will also start faster if it goes down; my virtual copy of XP reaches desktop in under 5 seconds after pressing the “start” button in VirtualBox.

    There is a caveat to virtualization of course: you shouldn’t try to run a graphically intense application in a virtual environment. Gaming and video editing that way will end in tears.

    Now, Ubuntu isn’t a bad starting point in Linux, but you might eventually start to feel that it’s a bit… bloated? I call it the Windows of Linux. It hides a lot of things you might want to configure and starting at 7.10 it can take several minutes to reach the desktop on certain systems. Arch doesn’t have this problem. It installs a very basic command line for you, gives you an excellent package management system and also centralizes configuration files. Once you’ve been using Ubuntu for a few months, it’s no great exercise for you build it from there, and you’ll undoubtedly wind up with something lightning fast. I reach command line in under 30 seconds on my system right now, then start up the graphical environment manually. I could just as easily automate that though and have it reach graphically in the same amount of time, I’d just prefer that it went to command line if something broke.

    I’ll end with this: between Linux and virtualization, I can reach Windows XP and any special tools I need to use for college in under 40 seconds from boot. I have an extremely solid, nearly virus immune backend when I’m forced into using Windows, and I have a customizable, beautiful desktop system with the latest free software when I can just “settle” for my Linux system. Windows on its own can’t hold a candle to it.

    And of course, pics or it didn’t happen people can go through my link to see a quick shot of my system. I’ve got XP down to 1024×768 right now, but it’ll go all the way up to my full screen size of 1680×1050. My panels are usually hidden, so the panel manager is open so you can see them.


  43. Zaxares says:

    I’ve always promised myself this:

    When the day comes that PC games are released for Windows and Linux at the same time, with full support for Linux, I’ll switch to Linux. Until then, as long as the vast majority of games are made for Windows, I’ll stick with Windows.

  44. Insanodag says:

    When I got the new desktop, I spent a total of about 2 hours trying to get Windows XP installed on it. There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears involved, but as my girlfriend demanded something ‘normal’ on our computer, I had to do it.
    I struggled for another few days with graphics and sound drivers(As I am near-iliterate when it comes to computers). I then installed Ubuntu to see if the graphics issues I had were due to problems with the screen itself. Half an hour later, life was good and I had a perfectly fine computer. I was pleasantly surprised.

    I had expected an arcane hippie OS, and instead I got the most out-of-the -box usable OS I had ever seen. It seems Canonical Software, and the Ubuntu community have been largely succesful in their goals for the software. Now, I do not know how their books look, but considering the almost bottomless pockets of its founder, Mark Shuttleworth, who forked out 20 Million for a trip to space, I can only hope they will stick around for a while.

    Ubuntu is a lot more user friendly than windows for the ‘Word processing, e-banking, webbrowsing and email’ style user. I use Ubuntu exclusively for anything that is not gaming, and use my windows partition for all the fun stuff.

    While it took me about half an hour to figure out how to set-up the GRUB loader so that it defaults to Windows(thus letting my girlfriend get to her ‘normal’ computer), and some of the software I use, rely a bit too much on terminal commands for my liking, the fact that I get almost the same capabilities for a lot of my specialised software for a fraction of the price(if they cost nothing at all), of their windows equivalents.

    All in all, Windows is only a gaming platform for me now.

  45. KnottyMan says:

    Ubuntu 8.04 is 8 days out! http://ubuntu.com

    I agree that Ubuntu can feel like the “windows of linux” but for normal people, I think it is the best.

    Sure, if you know what you’re doing, full on Debian, or some other distro might be better for you. But the OP is about linux for normal people. Which is what Ubuntu is all about.

    I still run it on my 5Tb file server at home and it works great.

  46. GAZZA: Good points. I understand there’s one other important security issue in terms of Windows vs. Linux. Linux is much more modular. Windows apparently is written in quite a rat’s nest fashion–everything has hooks into everything else. Traditionally the most dangerous aspect of this is the deep hooks Internet Explorer has into the operating system, but it’s a general feature of Windows.
    The result is that an exploit into what one would expect to be something fairly superficial may be dangerous at deep system levels. This is not true of Linux; you can see it at levels as simple as the distinction between OS and window managers.

  47. Lee Davis says:

    I just switched to Macs after running Linux* exclusively for the last six years. My primary use was to administer Windows servers. I’m not a gamer, and I found that for just about all other purposes I could get Linux to do exactly what I wanted, how I wanted, when I wanted, with the UI I wanted. I switched to OS X solely because I realized I’d been spending a lot of effort emulating its GUI, was happy with the hardware Apple offered, and I could keep on using the tools I’d gotten used to on Linux.

    Saying Linux documentation needs work, however, is like saying a black hole could stand to lose a few pounds. If you’re not comfortable reading config files, searching forums, and using lots of trial and error, get another Linux user to recommend your hardware and help you with setup.

    * Gentoo; I dabbled in SuSE and Ubuntu, but I was happier with the configurability of Gentoo.

  48. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    That seems to be a common problem with projects run primarily by technicians.

    Other good examples are Emule clones: “No, the search function is still shitty but by recoding everything we saved 3 bytes on each transaction.”

    and the LateX crowd (Pretty much the same either “too simple” or “too complex” documentation problem. Along with arcane newsgroups, self congratulatory backslapping and a site seemingly primarily designed NOT to make find stuff findable (http://www.ctan.org/)).

  49. BlackBloc says:

    On the topic of Wine… as a developer, you may be interested to know that Wine provides Windows compatibility libraries that you can link against to allow you to compile your Windows source natively on Linux with minimal changes.

    Good luck with that. As a developer, my experience has been that anything outside of code that’s directly used by extremely popular sofware (eg. games) is mostly duck-taped together. To be fair, it’s a hell of a job to basically reverse engineer Windows, and MSDN is often a tad out of the loop with regard to actual implementation details.

  50. Jeff says:

    The only reason I don’t use anything but windows is games. Gotta get my fix.

  51. Takkelmaggot says:

    Mrs. Young’s experience mirrors my own to a remarkable degree. Many moons ago (c. spring 1999), I experimented with a copy of Linux for Dummies which came with a copy of Redhat.
    It was challenging. It was fun to work with a different UI. It was a pain in the tuchus. I progressed to the point where getting any better at Linux meant learning to code, which is where I gave up.
    About six months ago, my office got a new laptop in for use with a display monitor. Due to network requirements it had to run XP; unfortunately, the display and sound drivers were Vista-only. After several weeks of collecting dust, I threw the current Ubuntu distro on and gave it a whirl.
    Yes, it has indeed come a long way since Redhat 5.0. The display worked at appropriate resolutions right away. The sound took a little longer- five minutes of Google and a config edit and it worked like a champ. Yes, Ubuntu is good enough for pedestrian use, and that’s saying something.
    I still have my complaints. Installing software seems rather Byzantine. Mounting external USB drives sometimes require console commands. All minor stuff, I think. I agree with Shamus- Ubuntu is definitely good enough for non-geeky use.

  52. Zaidyer says:

    Shamus, if you want to do actual work with your computer, you might want to approach Ubuntu with caution.
    True story:

    Earlier in 2007, when Windows Vista was just around the corner, the Internet rumor mill was awash in claims about how it would eat your computer and ruin it forever, then add a lock and key. Knowing that an eventual upgrade would be inevitable, courtesy of Microsoft’s threatening to discontinue support for XP, I asked myself “Why do I want to pay for this?”

    Now normally, this would have been the part where I might have just gone out and bought a Mac, but the way our unique economy ran in 2007, it was a choice between that or food and gas.

    Then I heard about Ubuntu, and how it was the second coming of Linux and how it’s so awesome it can turn lead into gold and cure cancer. Naturally I figured this was an utter load of crap, because come on, we’re talking about Linux here, the operating system you only use when you’re sure you want to get nothing done with your computer other than keep it running. But more and more blog articles and videos cropped up that demonstrated how it might actually be a decently-constructed operating system, so after some hesitation and a lot of backing up I decided to burn a Live Install CD and give it a go.

    The first thing I noticed about Ubuntu is that it has a curiously slick interface. Normally, Linux interfaces are designed either by one aesthetically-challenged programmer or by committee, which usually results in a steaming pile of obtuse garbage that relies heavily on the command console when you actually want to do anything useful. Ubuntu almost doesn’t have that, in fact I’d even say it’s positively intuitive, although the default orange color scheme brought to mind things like caution tape and road construction signs.

    Ignoring my instincts, I fiddled around with the Live CD for a while before deciding to install it. Now this is where things start to get more fun, assuming you equate fun with hours of toil and hardship. Ubuntu is supposed to install very easily as a primary operating system, but since I still have a huge pile of computer games, as well as a need to use my computer to do actual work, I chose to set up a dual-boot configuration with my existing Windows XP installation.
    Note my emphasis on how Ubuntu is supposed to install easily. Part of setting up a dual-boot configuration is resizing the hard drive partitions so each operating system has its own share. Ubuntu can do this automatically, but the problem is that it screwed up. I only discovered this after the fact, but apparently there was a flaw in the 7.04 partition editor where it would actually attempt to mount the partitions and read from them while it was still modifying them. In my case, this caused an error and left me with a crippled Windows partition that no amount of attempted repairs could fix. That would have sent me flying into a murderous rage if I hadn’t already backed up all my files, so instead I was only just really pissed off as I attempted fruitlessly to rescue my partition.
    During this process, I began to notice just how obtuse Linux really is. Technical problems like this are generally resolved by extremely specific command-line functions, with hours and hours of searching through documentation and internet forums. The next day, I finally found out this was a real problem and not just something stupid I did. Hoping for answers, I sadly discovered that the five other guys who had the same problem were told they were out of luck.
    Now, I’ll give Linux points for being able to read the broken partition perfectly, even though Windows couldn’t. But after two days of this horrible, unnecessary adventure, work was piling up. Realizing at last that Linux had no support for Photoshop or any of my preferred graphical or musical creation tools (They call it “The Gimp” for a good reason) I decided it wasn’t worth it. I scrubbed the whole hard drive, reinstalled XP and never looked back.

  53. Vegedus says:

    Not long after I read that post, I tried out Ubuntu. I had heard about Ubuntu before, been intrigued, and had forgot about it until then.

    And I still run it.

    I wouldn’t call it a marvel, fantastic revelation or something that has changed the way I use a computer forever, but it’s pretty good.

    If you’re not going to do a lot of fancy stuff on the computer, I’d argue it’s waay better than windows. It’s intuitive to use. It comes prepackaged with all the essential softdware, and it’s a cinch to install more (if the software in question is supported by ubuntu). It’s more stable and generally less annoying (I dunno if those nanny messages (“do you really want to open this program?”) are actually useful to some less savvy users, but they aren’t to me). Wine isn’t perfect, so it’s obviously not ideal for gaming on, but it’s not half-bad if you stick to older games, like Shamus tend to do.

    The biggest problem with the Ubuntu is, whenever you have a problem or want to install something Ubuntu hadn’t anticipated, you’re left to tinker with obscure commands in the konsole, like every other iteration of Linux. Luckily, this shouldn’t occur that often for the average user, and when it does, it’s mostly a matter of searching the help section, and you’ll get a complete set of instructions about how to to do.

  54. ArchU says:

    Ubuntu worked just fine for me except that (at the time I tried it) my widescreen monitor could only be supported at 1024×768 rather than the 1680×1050 native resolution. But it was definitely far friendlier and easier to use than some other linux flavours *coughGENTOOcough* and previous iterations.

    I’m told you can run a lot of Windows applications on linux with the right runtime environment (rather than emulation, which is also possible), which was previously called WINE, but for Windows game support some payment may be required.

  55. Cuthalion says:

    I installed Ubuntu 6 as a dual-boot with Win2k so that I could use some Linux-only (read: free) software that I couldn’t get on Windows, like LMMS and Rosegarden. The results? With internet, it’s beautiful. Without internet, installing stuff is a nightmare. It took hours of repeated bugging of my dad to get all the stupid urls to be unblocked so that I could get all the zillions of layered dependencies to get sound(uncategorized websites are blocked by default on my home’s astaro network firewall).

  56. Frymaster says:

    Dual booting is even easier now that wubi exists ( http://wubi-installer.org/ ). Rather than resize your windows partition and stick linux in the space, then override the windows boot process (with an option to use it, of course) it installs linux IN A FILE ON THE WINDOWS DRIVE, and the linux bootloader is called from the windows one instead of vice versa.

    This makes the one-toe-in-the-water approach a lot easier, and apparently the only downside is marginally slower disk performance and a slightly increased chance of problems if you get a power failure during disk writes. (tho both NTFS and EXT3 are quite resiliant)

    The main superiority of Windows to Linux is a) Much larger chance of it working on disparate hardware without problems, and b) Much easier to create multi-computer many-users-one-per-workstation systems (ie Active Directory)

    In fact point a) is so much the case that my university can (using a linux boot disk), cause a windows image to be downloaded to a computer and installed, and work on pretty much any computer in the university, in about 10 minutes. Followed by another 20 or so minutes of first-boot malarkey where it installs all the applications.

    For individuals who do not need windows specific apps (games etc.), and even for some that do (WINE), and assuming hardware support, i feel Linux is more controllable, and seems more “sane” – there’s always a good reason for a specific action happening.

    But windows still has better hardware support (and it’s not just coz people write more drivers for windows – look at all the random stuff the XP setup program does trying to find non-plug-and-play hardware) and better many-computer-systems support

  57. Damian says:

    I yearn to return to Ubuntu as my primary desktop environment, but I just can’t. The most pressing things are:
    * a decent terminal emulator. It beggars belief that a command-line environment doesn’t have a terminal with the functionality of, say, SecureCRT. Some terminals I can do a select all of the text, most I can’t. Some I can drag-select, most I can’t. Some I can change the hotkeys so they work, most I can’t. Etc. Precisely none (that I know of, opinions invited) of the terminal clients for Linux offer this. However, VanDyke have hinted that they may be porting it Real Soon Now, which is great.
    * a small and simple thing like PureText – the most useful piece of software I’ve ever used.
    * better panel support – I traditionally like my taskbar to auto-hide on the left, and have the programs stack up vertically, making them easier to read. Is this possible in GNOME/KDE? Is it hell. Of particular note is the way the fuzzy clock in KDE ALSO turns sideways when you put a bar on the left. Way to go, guys.

  58. kamagurka says:

    I’m one of those weird people who actually enjoy doing everything by hand. I don’t think I ever have less than two terminal emulators open at any given point in time, and I like it that way. When other people look at my screen I get that little moment of smug superiority when I see the respect in their eyes. Of course, it might be gas. Or, you know, pity.

    But my hat’s off to Ubuntu; I tried it out once, and that’s what I’d slap on my granma’s computer. You see, it’s so easy, even a dead woman can use it!

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