Lately my Windows XP SP2 machine has been having hiccups. In fact, I think it’s developed a degenerative form of cancer. Now, I’m not one of the hardcore open source guys who despises Bill and hates winblow$. Windows has it’s good points; it’s fairly simple to use, has great hardware support, and it’s ubiquitous so there are few compatibility issues when sharing files between friends and coworkers. But it has it’s downsides too. Windows is loathed by the hacker community and is therefore a target for malicious software, customization is extremely limited since Microsoft won’t make the source available to developers who could make it better, and it’s expensive.
I read a lot of technical publications and have lately been seeing more articles praising the Linux distrubution Ubuntu. I’ve had Linux installed on at least one computer of mine for the past five years or so. I’ve never switched to Linux full-time because, well, I haven’t needed to. With the problems I’ve been having with Windows recently I thought it was probably time to jump into the deep end and give Linux a go full-time. I’m glad I did!
I chose Ubuntu because it seems to be the one most people are excited about and because I haven’t been wowed with previous versions of Red Hat’s Fedora. The installation .iso ran from the CD in a trial mode. How cool is that?! I clicked the “install” icon in the browser, answered about four questions about time zone and language, then was on my way. The install took about ten minutes (I didn’t time it; that’s just how long it seemed) and was ready to go. I connected to an ethernet cable to get the updates which took only a few minutes and was TOTALLY automatic. I didn’t have to install any malicious software detection tools, security updates, or geniune software advantage programs. It was a dream.
So now I had a computer I could use. No problems. Seriously, a caveman really could have done it and would have had a tremendous sense of satisfaction. Sound, wireless internet, and video all worked…kind of. But then the dream was over and I suddenly woke up! I had to enter the terminal and type on the command line to download and configure the video driver to expand the desktop across both 19″ monitors. Then I had to configure Bluetooth to recognize my keyboard and mouse from the terminal. It took a LONG time trying to figure out how to configure my two Linux network file servers.
There are still minor things I have to fix when I get time, like configuring the mouse so I can use more than two buttons and getting DVD codecs working. But my system works and I haven’t used Windows since. It feels good. The more I struggle the more I learn. The learning curve is sharp but the ascents to small summits are rewarding.
Linux is definitely ready for the desktop, sort of. I love it and am certainly a fan. It’s powerful, customizable, and totally free. I have games, educational tools for the girls, graphics programs, web development programs, office programs, and I can SSH to my 100 gigabyte web server in the UK from the local terminal! But it’s not ready for the novice user who has a complicated plethora of unsupported hardware. The average user who doesn’t care what operating system is on their machine and who doesn’t think they have a choice isn’t going to be able to configure their own system. Linux has come a long way toward this goal and with every new distribution I install it comes a whole lot closer. The average user, however, only needs a web browser, email client, and text editor. For these people Linux is perfect!
One criticism of Linux that needs to be put to bed is that of support. Because Linux is developed by a group of disparate developers people claim that support isn’t available for when things go wrong. This couldn’t be more untrue. Ubuntu Forums has well-written solutions for just about every problem anyone has ever had. When I needed help I turned to the forum and was provided the solution complete with the exact commands I needed to enter to get my system up and running. My experience with the forum has been better than any of the times I’ve used the Microsoft Knowledgebase.
So, if you’re more than a casual user and you’re up for a tiny challenge I’d absolutly recommend at least creating a dual-boot system. That way, when you boot up you can choose Windows or Linux. What’s better than that (I know what you’re thinking: Windows, Linux, and OS X)?