The Ubuntu Revelations
As Windows 7 was being launched I mentioned that we needed a bit of an in-depth hands on. It was one of those volunteering efforts where you realise that you haven't taken a step forward, but everyone else had cunningly shuffled one step back. I protested that Tim Anderson had done us an excellent review – in fact a very model of concise writing – and there won't be a better two page summary of Windows 7 on the web. All in vain.
Oh, well. It's dirty work, but at least you can make it interesting. How would Windows 7 compare with Linux? I thought it would be a pushover, so handicapping it in favour of Linux, to make it more even, I used old as well as new hardware. The compressed air duster was applied to a Thinkpad X31 (Centrino 1.6Ghz), and I had use of a Dell D430 (dual core, 4200rpm disk).
The first stop was Xubuntu. This appeared to be just the ticket for a less-than-bleeding edge hardware spec. But Xubuntu didn't get on with my laptops. I found myself hunting down an ndis wrapper for an ancient and popular 802.11 card, just as I had done years ago. This was supposed to be Ubuntu, but leaner and meaner. Was this as good as it got?
I moved on to Kubuntu. KDE was as exactly as I feared.
Now you may already know this, but if you haven't followed open source development politics for ten years (and, er, maybe you have had something better to do) the tale of KDE is a fascinating and sad story. Something strange happened to KDE in the last decade. Ten years ago it was a robust, decidedly unglamourous desktop. The design was very German. It worked. They took pride in that, and not being like the flakey and fancy Gnome kids.
Then they went mad. They went 4.0.
The most pithy experience of KDE 4 was written by Slashdot user called orthogonal, and you can find it here.
KDE had seriously lost the plot, and steered into Strategy Boutique territory. (When you no longer have a product that satisfies users, bullshit is the only option.) This actually was a blessing for Linux, because with one of the two desktop environments removing itself from the picture, development focused on the one that was still waggling its little legs. It seriously blighted SuSE, a good choice back in the day. SuSE's font rendering was horrific.
So finally, and after too long, Ubuntu Karmic Koala went onto the Dell. And Ubuntu turned out to be quite smashing.
I don't know why I hadn't started with Ubuntu. It seemed to be trying a bit too hard, the last time I looked. It was the only distro with the Collected Speeches of Nelson Mandela, and a 13-part Lingala language lesson in the startup folder.
But Umbongo was truly a revelation.
Setting up Wi-Fi was simple. A 3G dongle worked first time. So did another, and then another. Ubuntu even found a peculiar printer arrangement of mine right out of the box, and without prompting (it's a Laser attached to the USB port of an Apple base station). This had stumped Windows - even Windows 7 with the aid of Bonjour. And when you put Ubuntu to sleep, it really fell into a deep, sound sleep, and then woke quickly and reliably ready for work. Windows XP had never done this – except perhaps on the day of its installation [#]. XP would more typically decide, at random, to beep loudly at 3am, just for the hell of it, or cause the X31 to turn on its fans - like a grumpy child having a nightmare. Ubuntu didn't. It was getting quite Mac-like.
And all the old reasons for using Linux were still there. Network operations were fast. You could customize the keystrokes that mattered (I could care less about most operations, but a few really do matter); the Debian installer was underneath. Security was not an afterthought or a “Message: we care” cue-card, as Thomas C Greene put it.
The menus were clean and logical. My only reservation was that the aggressive power management wasn't quite there – losing 15 minutes from XP with a three-ish hour battery, for example. But this was no worse than Vista or Windows 7, I figured, and I'd get round to fiddling with the power settings some day.
There were and are still rough edges. You didn't have to go very far to find them. As well as smoothing things out, Ubuntu had hidden a lot of options, and unlike SuSE, it wasn't so easy to find them. (This is true of the window controls shifting to the left, Mac-style, in Ubuntu 10. You have to know, or Google it, or download an Ubuntu "PowerTools" app to put them back over to the right. A simple clear setting would help.)
But I was impressed that Linux had found the benevolent dictator it needed to sort out the UI mess. This was the Shuttleworth effect – and he seemed to have done the impossible. I was particularly impressed by Ubuntu's mission to stomp out the very minor UI idiocies and inconsistencies that add up, such as inconsistent or nonsensical labelling or dialog messages.
So if it's got this far without anyone really noticing, what's next? That's what I'll explore in the second instalment. I fear this is where things get quite hairy, but even more interesting. ®
[#] Back then I carried the Reg around with me – 20,000 html files - this was The World Before Google, and there were no fast or comprehensive search engines.
[#] By the time I reached Linux, I'd endured: BSD on a VAX, Microsoft Xenix, Ultrix, SunOS, AIX and OSF/1.
"many people rely heavily on PowerPoint"
I, for one, have never in my entire life, met a single person who "relied on Power Point" who wasn't completely superfluous to the organization. As a consultant, if a middle-manager is introduced to me as "our Power Point expert", that manager is usually the first to be fired. Power Point has wasted more man-hours, more CPU cycles and more meeting-dollars than any other line of purely corporate bullshit that I can remember in my over a third of a century of trying to get Corporate America to work efficiently with computers.
I don't get this snobbery i have seen in the past, over Ubuntu. "I'm a diehard Linux head, I used Spazware v0.00001 when it had no kernel and we were hardcoding the boot sequence by hand! Ubuntu is just like Windows. I want my life to be hard and never get anything done than building software from scratch!" Jesus!
As you rightly said, computers are a means to a end, a way to get things done. I work in IT as an Oracle DBA/Unix SA and I use Ubuntu as my main desktop, plonked in front of it for 8-9 hours a day almost always running dozens of simultaneous multi-tabbed terminal windows, it has never ( touch wood! ) let me down. The Windows machine I have to have for Outlook has to be rebooted every 7 days, company rules. My Ubuntu box get rebooted once a month, usually just to ensure kernel updates are taken up OK. Ubuntu is simple, quick and slick with Gnome, it's just the ticket for maintaining terabyte sized DBs and dozens of servers.
These daft planks deriding Ubuntu as "too easy", I thought we wanted more normal people to use it?! Thanks to Shuttleworth putting his large wad where is his mouth is, we finally get something useful and worthwhile which even the "norms" are using without issue, yet the planks still come and keep slating it as being "Linux for Dummies!".
Well I am happy to be a simpleton, using my Mickey Mouse version of Linux! More power to your elbow Shuttleworth!
I'm cutting out windows too
I'm fairly OS agnostic, I'll use whatever is "best for the job in hand", got a firm windows background but have been using linux every day for coming upto 3 years now.
But I have decided to stop using windows where possible. I have used it since 3.11 and ran every version since apart from ME. I used to know 98 like a pair of well worn slippers but then loved 2000 before succumbing to XP. I didn't mind vista too much, it did what I needed it and Win7 is ok, better than vista but it isn't the user experience I want anymore.
I don't want an action centre nagging me as it hasn't been able to run my AV, or that there are 4updates on top of the updates I installed the other day and you need a reboot now too do you? What do you mean libraries? I was happy with simple folders and directory structure, jeez, windows defender updates oh and you want to scan now do you? Well I only want to nip online for a second to find out which bins I need to out tomorrow and don't want to have to wait for you to scan, I'll do it next time I logon.
Train of thought there but every time I turn my Win7 home pc I have to do something in addition to the thing I turned the pc on for in the first place. I work in IT, I fix computery things for a living, when I go home I want something that works so I don't have a busman's holiday every night.
I use fedora during the day but it disagrees with my home pc so I stuck ubuntu on there the other night, dual booted with win7, just in case and I am addicted to my itunes play counts so still need windows sometimes.
So far so good, I'll put up with a bit of config to get the pc how I want it then I can just leave it, will get the odd update but will get a much more hands-off experience and I will be in control of my pc not my OS telling me what it needs to do to just sit there.