Non-nerds may wish to tune out for this one. 🙂
I use Windows XP at home, and for the most part I’ve been very happy with it. People claim to hate it, but it sounds a helluva lot better than Vista! Someday I’ll be forced to upgrade to Vista (or the next overhyped, bloated behemoth Microsoft comes up with), so I’ve been thinking about possible alternatives. I don’t want to spend an absurd amount of money on a Mac (I prefer building my own PC) and I’m not sure I like Apple’s OS X enough to want to switch, so what else is there?
Well, there’s Linux of course, but my gut reaction to anything Linux has always been “Yecchh.” I want to deal with command lines and shells as little as possible, because I’m a GUI sorta guy. Various flavors of Linux with a GUI have been around for a while, but from what I’ve read, they still rely heavily on command lines for various things. Sure, I’m computer-savvy enough to learn all those cryptic commands, but nowadays I shouldn’t have to bother with all that because it’s counterproductive. Imagine if your iPod made you type out a bunch of crap just to play a song. Who’d bother, right? (This kind of complaint makes Linux geeks snort, because they’re right at home using shells and can rattle off those commands with speed and ease. But people like me just don’t have the desire or patience!)
Anyway, over the past year or so I kept seeing this word Ubuntu thrown around the tech blogs. At one point it was coming up on Digg at least twice a day, and I always ignored it because it was related to Linux. There are a zillion flavors of Linux and I ingored them all, having zero interest. But it was such a popular topic that one day I gave in and started reading about it just to see what all the crazy fuss was about. Suddenly I was intrigued. Look, it’s Linux — but it’s prettied-up for people like me who need a GUI! It’s got tons of quality free software, easily installed with a click! It runs some Windows programs! It boots faster and runs with less bloat! It’s well-supported and often updated! It’s loved by both programmers and casual users! There’s almost no threat from viruses! The driver issues are steadily going away! A free Office suite is already installed! Holy shit, it was a revelation. Maybe someday if I had to give up Windows, I could use this. Maybe.
So one day I got adventurous and downloaded the latest version. I was amazed at being able to boot the OS (with internet access, even) right from a CD…that’s something I haven’t seen on Windows. I installed it on an empty partition, which was easy once I figured out how to properly map the swap drive and all that, and after a quick bootup, presto — a new OS. It soon began to download updates which was almost completely automatic, which was nice. I installed a few apps to see how they worked: a graphics editor, a music player, Picasa, some video codecs, a chat client, a BitTorrent client, Firefox, and Opera. The media players had a few minor kinks, but everything seemed to work fine. I even installed the fancy GUI tweaks which make the windows stretch and wobble like Jello-O when you move them around…neato. The tricky part was figuring out how to get it to dual-boot Ubuntu and Windows XP, but after some experimentation I finally got it set so I can pick either OS, and if I don’t choose one within 10 seconds it boots right into Windows. Awesome. (It’s way easier if you just have a dedicated PC to use it on, but dual booting works fine once you figure it out.) And the best part? I hardly ever had to screw around with a command line, and whenever I did, the commands were for something very specific and were easily found online. Copy & paste, baby.
I really like it, and I’m having fun playing around with it. Computers are a big part of my life, and after 15 years of using only Mac and Windows, it’s a huge mental shift to accept that there’s a 3rd choice out there that’s as user-friendly as I need. The idea of running a well-supported, 100% free OS is highly appealing not only to my inner nerd but my practical side as well. Its growing popularity is also a huge benefit (many have actually ditched Windows for it), because it means that it’s constantly being updated and improved. It’s not 100% idiot-proof by any means, but it’s come a long way from the primitive Linux that a friend tried to interest me in a few years ago. Dell is even selling PCs and laptops with Ubuntu installed, which is kind of shocking for a company who’s pushed only Windows all these years, so things are getting very interesting in the OS market right now. Various flavors of Ubuntu have also been created, some of which are being included on ulta-low-cost PCs. (Interestingly, some hardcore Linux purists are taking offense to Ubuntu’s rise in popularity, calling it a “dumbed-down” flavor of Linux. I disagree — I think it’s “smarted-up” quite a lot, because it has the potential to draw people like me away from the Microsoft teat.)
So this isn’t a “review” of Ubuntu exactly, but you can find plenty of those online. You’ll also find lots of “How I switched to Ubuntu” articles detailing peoples’ experiences with it, and here’s a Why Switch? article in case you get any crazy ideas. 🙂 Are any fellow dorks out there using this? How do you like it? Have you dumped Windows for it? I’m curious!