Over the past several weeks, I’ve been playing around with Ubuntu.
For those who don’t know what that is, it’s a version of Linux, a Unix-like Operating System … a completely free alternative to Microsoft’s Windows or Apple’s OSX.
That’s right: free.
In fact, technically, it’s better than free. It’s Open Source.
‘Ubuntu’ is pronounced ‘oo-boon-too’, and is named after the South African philosophy of humanity towards others. ‘Linux’ is pronounced ‘lynn-ux’, despite being named after Linus Torvalds, which is confusing, because I always thought ‘Linus’ was pronounced exactly as it’s spelled. Of course, Linus Torvalds himself pronounces his own name as ‘lynn-us’, so there you go. Oh, well … to paraphrase Linus from an old Peanuts cartoon, ‘Awl thees spellyng is haard on mey ehys’.
We’ll Do It Live!
Ubuntu wasn’t my first time trying to delve into the Linux world (but it’s been the most successful). In the past, I’d seen nice, shiny magazines in the papershop, bundled with a Live CD/DVD. Since they weren’t too expensive, and since I’ve sometimes got that whole ‘Ooh! Nice! Shiny!’ magpie thing going on, every so often, I’d buy one and give the disc a go. Kind of counter to the whole free software thing to pay money for a magazine with the CD/DVD in it, I know, but I almost never go about things in a logical manner …
Live CD/DVD is a way of testing software first, meaning you can plug the CD or DVD into your machine, reboot, and have a play with your new OS. Because it works off the CD/DVD, it doesn’t write to your hard drive, so there’s no risk of rooting up your existing OS or files. The downside is that you’re unlikely to be able to use it forever, since it’s not writing to anything but your RAM: When you turn your computer off, you lose your data (although this is changing, since some allow a USB stick to be used as Live CD/DVD with file storage).
Spin That Wheel
Thanks to a magazine, I tried the Live CD/DVD version of PC Linux OS (another version of Linux) not long after it came out, which – while fast and good looking – couldn’t detect my wireless modem, rendering it kind of useless to me (though it did have a lot of neat stuff in it).
Still, it got me a little more interested in the world of Linux Operating Systems, so I started doing some research, and found a website with a different version: Puppy Linux.
A ‘Distro’ (short for ‘Distribution’) is simply another version of a Linux-based Operating System.
Being Open Source, people who know what they’re doing can actually tinker with the source code behind the OS and make entirely new versions of a Linux-based OS with different features and looks.
Ubuntu originally grew out of a Distro of Linux called Debian. Other Debian-based versions (often called ‘Flavours’ or ‘Derivatives’) are Linux Mint, CrunchBang, etc. And each of these Derivatives might have several different Iterations, too.
In the case of Ubuntu, there’s Ubuntu 4.10 (Warty Warthog), Ubuntu 5.04 (Hoary Hedgehog), Ubuntu 5.10 (Breezy Badger), Ubuntu 6.06 LTS (Dapper Drake), and so on.
In actuality, it can all sound a little complicated, but if you were to vaguely trace a kind of ‘family tree’ of Ubuntu, you could go from Unix (OS) > Linux (OS; Unix-Like) > Debian (OS; Linux-Based Distro) > Ubuntu (OS; Grew from Debian Source Code) to, say, Ubuntu 5.04 (OS; Flavour of Ubuntu, still uses some of the basic Debian Source Code, but imparts its own look and way of doing things).
I think. 😆
Point is, you wouldn’t believe how many different versions of Linux are out there! 😯
Back in the Doghouse
So … Puppy Linux. I downloaded it, made a Live CD out of it and … unfortunately, had the same wireless modem detection problem.
And the same again for another Distro, Damn Small Linux.
Given these failures, I was reluctant to download larger distros (Debian, OpenSUSE, Fedora, Mandriva, etc) and try those out. In fact, until this latest try, I’d pretty much given up on the idea of Linux altogether.
Wubi-Dooby, Wubi-Dooby, Wubi-Dooby, Wubi Dooby, Dooby-Do-Wah-Do-Wah-Do-Wah
Then I found myself randomly browsing websites one day and stumbled upon some information regarding Wubi, a little program which enables a person to easily install a particular Linux distro (depending on which version of Wubi and which distro you use) and have it dual boot with Windows (meaning you can choose which Operating System to use on bootup).
As opposed to using a Live CD/DVD, actual installation of Linux in the past had always been a scary concept for me. I apparently had to play around with partitions, allocating space for the new OS, and risk the possibility of overwriting some of my Windows data if I didn’t know what I was doing … which I didn’t.
But Wubi took care of all this for me, quickly and easily! Live CD/DVD? Not being able to write to the disk? Risking the possibility of rooting up my Windows data? Nope: A safe, clean, dual boot machine was on the cards!
Now, given that my Vista Basic system was taking longer and longer to boot up over the years, and the fan would chug away more and more often, even when the computer was just sitting there not particularly doing anything (despite there being no viruses, spyware, crap files, etc … at least, none that came through Comodo Firewall, or that I could find with Avast Anti-Virus, MalwareBytes Anti-Malware, CCleaner, etc), and given that using Wubi was so easy, I thought I’d give it a go. After all, if it didn’t work, removal was as easy as going to Add-Remove Programs in Windows!
Wubi and Distros
A lot of people figure they can just use Wubi to install any version of Ubuntu, but that’s not the case. Each version of Wubi specifically installs a specific version of Ubuntu, so – if you’re interested in dual-booting Windows and Ubuntu – make sure you get the version of Wubi for the version of Ubuntu you want to install.
My New OS?
The particular iteration of Wubi I found myself looking at was for Ubuntu 10.04.3 LTS Lucid Lynx.
Now, Ubuntu has a 6-monthly release cycle, and (at the time) two more versions had come out since Lucid Lynx (at present, it’s three). But Lynx had something called ‘LTS’, meaning ‘Long-Term Support’.
Realizing I didn’t know what I was doing, I figured the words ‘long-term support’ sounded pretty good.
Of course, now that I know that all releases of Ubuntu (and, indeed, flavours of Linux) have support of varying lengths, it’s not really an issue.
But at the time, LTS sounded pretty good … so Lucid Lynx it was!
(I’m sticking with it until the next LTS release, though, which is due to be released in April, 2012, but that’s only because it’ll be easier to upgrade from one LTS to the next, and because I’ve got a lot of reading material for Lucid Lynx to get through, and I’m kinda OCD about that sort of thing). 😆
Anyway, I downloaded it all and went to work …
He Bunts, He Scores!
In a surprisingly short period of time, I was booting into Lucid Lynx! It was fast, my computer’s fan wasn’t whirring away, and – wonder of wonders – it detected my wireless modem, the first time any of the Linux distros I’d tried had done so!
Cast a Cold Eye …
There’s been a bit of a learning curve, but not so steep as you’d imagine. I found excellent documentation within the OS itself, books in the library, more bright and shiny magazines in the papershop, and bunches upon bunches of tutorials and answers to questions online, so there’s no problem finding information and help!
Now, naturally, the first thing I did was look to see how it compared to Windows …
Windows, of course, comes in different versions. Using Vista as my yardstick (since it’s what I’ve also got installed), you’ve got Vista Starter, then, for a little more money, you’ve got Vista Home Basic. Dig a little more out of your wallet (or purse as the case may be) and you’ve got Vista Home Premium. Run a business? One of your expenses may be licences for Vista Business or Vista Enterprise. Then, if you’re feeling particularly flush, you can get a copy of Vista Ultimate.
Each of these versions have different features, of course. A great ‘for instance’ would be the lack of the famous Windows Aero theme in Vista Basic. Bells and whistles, sure, but if you want ’em, you’ve gotta pay for ’em.
Not so with Ubuntu. If your hardware can handle it (and most can, even older machines), you get cool translucency, wibbly wobbly (but not timey wimey, I’m afraid) animation of screen elements, multiple virtual desktops, various ways of moving to those desktops (animated cubes and whatnot) etc., etc. With Ubuntu, you’re not forced to pay extra for a particular feature; it’s just there if you wanna use it.
Unlike Windows, Ubuntu comes ‘out of the box’ with pretty much everything you need, installed and ready to go. For instance, once upon a time, in Windows, if you needed office-oriented programs, you had to buy a copy of Microsoft Office. In Ubuntu, OpenOffice is installed and ready to go (though this has changed to LibreOffice in the later versions). Of course, OpenOffice and LibreOffice are available for Windows users as well (and – whether in Windows or Linux – all versions are strong on compatibility with Microsoft Office files), but the point is, you don’t have to faff about finding and installing it. In Ubuntu, it’s there, and you just get to work.
As is the case with versions of Windows, different functionality with Microsoft Office comes at increasing price. Need a database program in Microsoft Office? Get ready to rummage around in those pockets, because you’re not gonna get it in Office Starter, Office Online, Office Home and Student, Office Home and Business, or Office Standard. You will get it with Office Professional. Or you’ll get it as part of OpenOffice or LibreOffice … for nothing.
There are bunches of programs ready to go in Ubuntu, but if you want more, you can find thousands and thousands through the Software Centre. Hitting Applications > Ubuntu Software Centre brings up links to a central repository of software ready to download and use. For instance, in my version (I’ve added a few repository addresses to it, thus increasing the packages available), I’ve got 33,495 software packages I can choose to install. No more hunting all over the Internet for software to do that particular thing! It’s all in one place.
Here’s a few worth the download. (You can use these on Windows, too, BTW):
Wanna do some really advanced image editing? Got a few hundred (or thousand) dollars for Adobe Photoshop? No? Then use GIMP for free. Not as disabled as it sounds, the GNU Image Manipulation Program is a completely open source graphics and photo editing program that’s right up there with Photoshop.
Need to do some vector art? Still paying off that credit card and can’t afford a copy of Adobe Illustrator? Try Inkscape.
Excellent examples of artwork created using GIMP and/or Inkscape can be found here.
Feel like getting into 3D art? Or animation? You could lash out and spend, literally, thousands on software like Autodesk 3DS Max, but if you just wanna see if you’ve got a talent for it, or have a play, you’re not gonna want to do that. Try Blender.
These Open Source programs aren’t somehow lesser versions of their commercial cousins, either. Example? This was made using Blender!
Still, there’s a few things I can only do in Windows …
When I want to quickly rename a handful of files, instead of firing up some sort of batch file renaming program (like CKRename, for instance), I’ll do it by hand. F2 works when you click on a file in either Windows or Ubuntu to allow you to start renaming the file, but I can’t then hit TAB and go to the next file; I’ve gotta click onto the next file with my mouse to continue, or – upon clicking enter – the file sorts itself automatically how I’ve told the file browser to sort it (alphabetically, for instance) – a problem if you have hundreds or files in the folder and just want to move on and rename the next one. As far as I know, there’s no TAB equivalent in Ubuntu to simply move on and rename the next file, which kind of interrupts the workflow.
In Windows I can tizzy up my folders by selecting pictures for icons (say an Opera logo for a folder full of things to do with the Opera browser, for instance). There’s a great deal of customization for Ubuntu, and – for all I know – I can do this in Ubuntu as well (though I haven’t figured out how yet).
In Windows I can make custom menus on the taskbar and put links directly to files in there. In Ubuntu, it seems, I can’t do custom panel folders (I can customize them, sure, but not with files, only locations and programs).
In Windows I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to use Paint Shop Pro and Photoshop (yeah, I know I can run ’em through Wine or virtualization, or whatever – I’m still learning about that). In Ubuntu, I’ve gotta try and get used to GIMP. Don’t get me wrong: I’m looking forward to it! It just works a little differently, but it’s a powerful program!
I’ve customized Microsoft Office Word 2003 to within an inch of its life to make it the way I want it. Sure, I can do this with Open Office or Libre Office, but I spent a long time making it the way I wanted Windows, so I’ll have to spend a long time doing the same thing in LibreOffice.
I have links to any possible file or folder I might use or refer to throughout the course of my day.
Opera is configured exactly how I want it. Theoretically, I can import my Opera settings from Windows via Opera Link, though this didn’t work worth a damn for me, unfortunately. If I could actually delete what’s already stored there and maybe start from scratch … and if things kept the same damn order I placed ’em in, instead of appearing in a random jumble, I’d consider trying it again.
On the other (Ubuntu) hand, Gwibber (Ubuntu’s social networking client) didn’t work worth a damn for me, either. I couldn’t even add my Twitter account to it for a while, although I found a workaround … sort of. But then I got tweets from months ago, instead of the latest ones! Yeah, I know there’s bunches of support out there, but I’m going with Turpial as a Twitter client on Ubuntu.
And I’m using Pidgin for instant messaging instead of the built-in Empathy (hey, I’m using Opera instead of the default Firefox) because Windows Live Messenger breaks every time they have an update, and none of the so-called ‘solutions’ out there ever work for it. So at least I’ve got IM again. Now if I only had people to talk to … 😕
There’s a few other little bits and pieces, but this is turning into a really long post, and it wasn’t meant to be.
And the Verdict is …
So .. after all this, what’s the verdict? Am I a convert? Will I be completely erasing my version of Vista and taking up the Ubuntu banner?
Now, before I go any further, I will say that I’ve been spending more and more time in Ubuntu, primarily because it’s much faster. I turn the computer on, choose Ubuntu as the OS I want to use and I’m in, connected to the internet and computing away in 30 seconds, tops. In Vista, I’d turn the computer on, go to the loo, come back, log in, go make some coffee, come back, get all comfortable, turn the TV on, flick through some channels until I found something I could stand as background noise, then sit and wait for the firewall and anti-virus icons to finally appear before getting to work.
And I’m not even joking.
So, yes, that’s the main reason I’m in Ubuntu so much now.
But there are folks out there who are absolutely rabid in their support of varying operating systems, and some of them would be completely gobsmacked at what I’m about to say next:
I like both.
That’s right. I’m happy either way. So long as they’re both working right.
Ubuntu has some more advantages over Windows (you don’t have to pay more money (rather, any money) for different versions to get the eye candy, for a start). But …
I’ve spent years getting everything set up in Windows just the way I want it. It works for me when I’m in there (even if it is slower than Ubuntu).
(Of course, if I’d started out with the decision to dual boot, I’d have organized things differently, but I didn’t, so I haven’t).
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that there’s a lot of learning, customization, organization and general farting about … but I suppose that’s true of any computer or Operating System.
Soon I’ll be getting a little netbook computer (paid in installments starting earlier in the year) with Windows 7 Starter on it, which I’ll use as an ersatz eBook reader, and I’ll have to do some learning, customization, organization and general farting about on that to get it the way I want it.
(Okay, maybe not customization, since Windows 7 Starter apparently doesn’t allow much in the way of customization).
But, yes …
I like both.
But I’m spending more time in Ubuntu …
Although … if there’s one thing regarding Ubuntu that I have a real problem with, it’s how much time I spend faffing about with it! I haven’t done anything resembling actual work since I put the thing on my computer! I’ve been spending all my time learning, customizing, organizing and generally farting about with it! 😆