Way back In 1999, I installed Linux on one of my PCs. I don’t remember the exact distribution, but I remember it had a decent GUI (for the time). I remember that I could not get it to detect my wireless card and go online, neither could I get much done on the PC. Everything pointed me to the command line and VI, making me feel like I was back in DOS. So, I accepted defeat and ended up putting Windows back on that laptop.
Fast forward to the present day – last week, to be more precise. I was feeling really disillusioned with Microsoft Windows Vista, or, more specifically, the terrible way it ran on my pretty decent notebook PC. So I decided to try Linux again, having heard some pretty decent things over the past few years.
Boy has Linux come a long way!
I won’t bore you here by regurgitating any of the billion pro-Linux reviews and guides on the Internet. However, I can briefly describe my experience, and let you draw your own conclusions.
Let’s start with my PC configuration (just the relevant hardware):
- PC: Acer Aspire 5610-4648
- Intel Core Duo processor (T2350)
- Wireless Ethernet a/b/g
- 2GB Memory
- 160GB hard drive
- 15.4” LCD Screen
- DVD R/W Multi-format recorder
- A 1.3MegaPixel Webcam (Logitech OrbiCam)
- External bluetooth USB dongle
I downloaded the Ubuntu 8.04 (with the Gnome user interface) as an ISO image file from www.ubuntu.com, burned a CD, and booted off it. The installation process took about 15 minutes, and was pretty straightforward, so I won’t go into details here. The one thing I’d like to mention is that Ubuntu and OpenSUSE (and other flavors of Linux) allow you to install them side-by-side with other another Linux O/S. They install a boot loader which allows multi-booting.
After installation, Ubuntu recognized and initialized my wireless network adapter, so that all I had to do was select my wireless network by name, enter my WEP password, and I was browsing the web using Firefox 3.0 in no time at all. Same with my sound card… in fact I got a “welcome” sound when booting up, proof that my sound card was automatically detected and initialized. File sharing with my Windows network worked same way… right out of the box.
About 3 minutes later, I got a task bar notification that there were no less than 42 updates available for Ubuntu! I immediately gave permission to download and install them. This took about 10 minutes, and did NOT require a restart. Imagine doing that in Windows.
It took some fiddling around to get a few things working properly, most notably the ability to play DVD movies, as well as play MP3 and WMA files. Most of these “tweaks” involved simply installing a particular Linux package. Fortunately, Synaptic (Ubuntu’s package manager) makes this a point-and-click affair.
So now, instead of looking for a… “liberated” copy of Windows XP, I am actually using this notebook PC to do some productive or entertaining stuff. The native Linux programs listed below represent (hopefully) the “best of breed” tools for my particular needs, and possibly, most peoples
- Office Productivity – OpenOffice.org
- Web browsing – Mozilla Firefox
- Instant Messaging – Pidgin (supports all major protocols, and a few more)
- Newsgroups – Pan
- POP Mail – Evolution
- VOIP/Internet Phone Calls – Ekiga and Skype (both support my webcam)
- Image Manipulation and management – GIMP (for bitmaps), OpenOffice.org Drawing (for vectors), and F-Sport (for photo management)
- Video Capture and Editing – Kino
- Watching DVDs – MPlayer
- Listening to Music – RhythmBox
- DVD Ripping, CD Ripping, and CD/DVD Burning –dvd:rip, Sound Juicer and Brasero, respectively
Obviously this list omits a plethora of utilities that can do anything from analyze disk usage, to testing network connectivity, or even leaving little sticky notes on the desktop. Also, I omitted over a dozen little “casual” games like Chess, Tetravex, and Tetris that come installed by default.
The best part? It’s all FREE.
I am overall really impressed with the progress that the Linux and open-source community has made so far. I am confident that as the years go by, more and more people will be switching to slick “plug-and-play” Linux distributions like Ubuntu. This migration, I am sure, will be helped along by massive dissatisfaction with bloat-ware like Windows Vista.
Oh, and while listening to some New Age music via RhythmBox, I wrote this article with OpenOffice.org Writer (which can import and export Microsoft Word documents).