Back in my university days, when Netscape was the latest web browser on the scene and the Pentium MMX was the power user’s processor of choice, UNIX was part of my everyday life. Since graduating, my chosen desktop operating system has been Windows of some variety. This is partly because it was the most readily available consumer desktop operating system and also because it served me well for the most part.As with most other Windows users I know, I’ve experienced my share of frustrations, lost data and the expense of buying software licences.
With the recent release of Windows Vista, there’s been a big push to get existing Windows users to upgrade although looking at the Vista hardware requirements I’d need to upgrade more than just my operating system. By many accounts, Vista is resource hungry and would require more processing power than my computer hardware can offer.
That doesn’t mean I’m in a bad position because I’m ’stuck’ with Windows XP. I can do everything that I want to with my current set-up so there’s nothing to encourage me to upgrade to Vista. I can continue to build websites, develop software, surf the web, use email, create PDF documents, edit graphics, carry out SEO, in fact everything that I need to run a web design business whilst developing online income streams.
As someone who loves to dabble with gadgets and new technology, I once tried to install SUSE Linux onto a spare PC, but encountered problems early on with drivers for an ethernet card. This put me off Linux for a while, but recently I chanced upon Ubuntu and I must say I’m very impressed with how different the whole experience has been.
If the thought of Linux brings about images of command lines interfaces, having to compile software before you can use it and geeky nerds then you might be surprised to learn that all of those things are still there, but today’s Linux is also graphically driven and very user-friendly.
Unlike Windows Vista, you can take Ubuntu for a trial run by booting your computer with a Live CD. This allows you to run Ubuntu directly from the CD with no need for any installation. Not only do you get to find out how Ubuntu performs with your computer hardware, but you also get to test drive the operating system as if it were installed.
Contrast that with a recent account I heard of someone attempting to upgrade from XP to Vista and after several wasted hours they were left with an unbootable system. Cue a complete reinstall of Windows XP.
If you decide to take the plunge and actually install Ubuntu, if you find you can’t drag yourself away from Windows completely then dual-booting is an easy option and you can simply choose whether to boot into Ubuntu or Windows each time you start your computer.
What about applications?
An operating system alone isn’t going to get very much done and when it comes to Linux there are thousands of software titles to choose from. Some will be already be familiar with Windows versions already in the mainstream such as Firefox, GIMP, Open Office and then there are the Linux-only applications too.
Installing new application software couldn’t be easier. No longer do you need to visit a website to download installation files. Almost all of your software needs can be fulfilled by the built-in application installer. Just search for the functionality you want, choose the applications you want to install and you’re ready to go within a few minutes.
The screenshots below are actually from my Kubuntu installation. The Gnome desktop that comes with Ubuntu was fine, but the KDE desktop was more tempting to me and so easy to install onto Ubuntu. Okay, there was some command line involved, but when was the last time you installed a replacement desktop under Windows?
Upgrading software is also a very user-friendly process with the built-in Update Manager. Unlike Windows Update, Ubuntu’s Update Manager maintains all of your installed software and not just the operating system. This feature alone can save you a huge amount of time as you’ll no longer need to maintain each individual piece of software separately.
Ubuntu had absolutely no trouble in recognising and installing the appropriate drivers for almost all of my computer hardware. The only issue it had was with the wide screen monitor I was using, but with a quick search I found a forum thread that provided the solution (Setting 1440 x 900 resolution for Samsung SyncMaster 940BW on Ubuntu). Admittedly, the workaround I had to apply wouldn’t be the most intuitive for the typical Windows user.
Getting online was a cinch. Not only did I connect to my secured wireless network successfully with the first attempt, but Ubuntu also recognised my Palm TX PDA!
When it comes to system resources, Ubuntu runs very lean. Whereas you’re going to need at least 1GB of RAM to get any decent mileage from Vista, Ubuntu will run quite happily with less than half of that. Go with Xubuntu and you’ll only need 256MB for a fully-functional installation.
Ubuntu as your primary operating system
There are still a number of Windows-based applications that I rely on, but with some determination I’m confident I could adapt to a Linux-only life. Should Windows XP no longer be a viable platform then I will definitely consider abandoning the Microsoft ship.
If you’re interested in seeing whether or not you could survive with Linux then I’d suggest trying the Live CD or setting up a dual booting system.
Even if you’re a die-hard Windows user, one way in which Ubuntu could benefit you is to resurrect any obsolete computer hardware you might have. Got an old Windows 98 laptop that you can’t use any more because the battery is spent before the OS finishes starting up? Xubuntu might just transform your old hardware into a useful piece of equipment again.
I’ve only scratched the surface of life with Linux, but all I can say is “watch out, Windows!”
With Ubuntu, Linux is becoming the safer, more user-friendly and pocket-friendly operating system of choice for today’s and yesterday’s computers.