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The Big Ubuntu Switchover - 1 to 7
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General*
Windows Bob - the best!
Wed 31st Oct '07 1:48PM
4213 Posts
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Member Since
7th Apr '03
I thought I would cross post from my blog: http://monquixote.blogspot.com/

There seems to be some kind of law that if you stop using Windows and you have a blog that you must at some point write a post about your experiences and who am I to buck that trend.
I recently moved over from using Windows XP to Ubuntu on my home machines and I thought it might be helpful for those considering the switch to read about my experiences.
Since the most recent version of Ubuntu called Gutsy Gibbon (no seriously) came out there has been a lot of buzz about how it is great for every day PC users rather than just beardy computer science types so I have decided to write it with a non technical audience in mind.
I suppose that the first question to answer is what on earth is Ubuntu, and why do I use it instead of Windows?
Ubuntu is a type of Linux which is an operating system like Microsoft Windows or Apple OS X. Where Linux differs from the Apple and Microsoft products however is that it is free in two important ways: Free like free beer and Free like speech. Linux is free like beer because there is no charge for using it on your computer and it is free like speech because anyone can look at the program and change or improve it if they like (something Microsoft or Apple would never let you do however much money you had!). As a result lots of people both volunteers and people in industry continuously improve Linux allowing it to keep up with the huge investment made by its commercial rivals. Though you may not have Linux at home you will almost certainly use it every day as it is the most popular way of hosting web pages and powers such Internet legends as Google, Amazon and Ebay and quite a lot of phones and set top boxes also run it.
Lots of people bundle up Linux with a collection of useful bits and bobs in what is called a distribution or a distro. Ubuntu is a Linux distro put together by a company called Canonical who make their money by selling help and support for Linux users. The motto of Ubuntu is "Linux for Humans" and their philosophy is often compared with the Apple Mac mantra "It just works".
Ubuntu is designed to be as easy and friendly to install and use as possible and as a result it is fast becoming the most popular type of Linux with home users.
Now we know what Ubuntu is the next question is: Why did I abandon Windows and start using it? Well to tell you that I suppose I should tell you a little bit about myself.
I am what you might call a techy or a geek. I have a degree in a computing discipline and I work as a technology expert for a living however I would like you to trust me when I tell you that I am in no way a fan of technology for technology's sake. My mobile phone is second hand and exists only to make phone calls and I see gizmos as being only worth bothering with when they make our lives simpler and easier.
Whilst at university I was encouraged to install Redhat Linux on my PC by the department, but having sampled it in the lab I decided that though it had a lot of good things going for it, it was still too arcane at that point and didn't really offer me anything that I couldn't do in Windows 2000.
So what changed my mind?
As a younger person I like many people was not adverse to using software without playing for it, but as I got older I started to feel that if I got use from some software I should pay for it (I'm not judging anyone who feels differently). At the moment I own two computers. One of them is a fairly modern desktop PC which came with a legitimate copy of Windows XP and the other is a rather decrepit by modern standards laptop for which I did not own a legitimate Windows licence. Unfortunately the hard disk in the laptop had to be replaced and this presented me with a problem. The laptop had never run XP very well in the first place as it was rather too old and buying an XP licence when it had already been superseded by the underwhelming Vista was a rather unappealing prospect.
As an avid reader of the excellent Lifehacker (A website dedicated to making life easier and more productive) I kept hearing a lot about a newish and popular flavour of Linux by the name of Ubuntu. This surprised me somewhat as Lifehacker being productivity themed is typically more likely to sing the praises of Macs with their elegant interfaces and well thought out design.

So I had in my possession an old laptop, a virgin hard disk and a free operating system. What did I have to loose except a Sunday afternoon.

Having gone through an old fashioned Linux install as part of an engineering course some years back (Apparently during which if you set the scan rate wrongly it could make smoke come out of your monitor!) I was surprised at how easy it was to install (more detail of how it stacks up against XP in a later post). All you have to do is stick the CD in the drive and turn the machine on and it boots straight into Ubuntu from the CD and lets you poke around and check that you like it. Everything seemed to work and so I clicked the big install button and then other that asking me my name, time zone and the password for my wireless network everything just happened.

Not only did the machine work like a charm without me configuring anything (I've lever had to use a terminal for anything unless I wanted to) but I actually found my laptop now ran pretty fast and was very easy to use. soon I pretty much stopped using my well speced XP desktop except when I absolutely had to.

The two things that turned me from a dabbler to an advocate came when my other half who is as non techy as can be and had previously only really used XP asked if she could borrow the Ubuntu laptop I was using rather than use the XP machine because she found it easier to use and another occasion when I was showing a Youtube vid to a friend and he asked if my machine was Vista because it looked much nicer than his XP machine at home.

After this I soon changed the XP machine into a duel boot Windows/Ubuntu machine (I had paid for the XP licence so it seemed silly to delete it) and I have never looked back.

Next time I hope to do a feature comparison between the two so you can make your own mind up if you are considering making the switch.
    

Spanners*
Misses his big brother :(
Mon 5th Nov '07 6:07PM
4597 Posts
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Member Since
7th Apr '03


Though you may not have Linux at home you will almost certainly use it every day as it is the most popular way of hosting web pages and powers such Internet legends as Google, Amazon and Ebay and quite a lot of phones and set top boxes also run it.


As does TheDaddy.org

I heartily agree with General. Modern Linux distibutions are very easy for lifelong Windows users to adapt to - on the most part they have fairly similar looking desktops, icons, program menus etc. The file system is laid out in a slightly different way but learning to look for your files in /home/spanners instead of My Documents is the tiniest of leaps.
I'm quite familiar with Ubuntu, Archlinux and DamnSmallLinux and can heartily recommend any of them. All of them can be installed straight from a CD without worry. All have an application browser thingy which allows you to pick any application you want from an extensive library and download and install it with one click. And of course all use about a tenth of the system resources of Windows and almost never crash.

And if you're worried about file compatibility and finding software to to what you want then worry not:
Open Office does everything that MS Office does and is compatible with all their formats.
The GIMP is an image editor that is easily as powerful as Photoshop
Firefox is available on every Linux distro I've seen and works exactly the same
Thunderbird is an MS outlook equivalent made by the same people that do Firefox

Give it a go, you won't be disappointed
    

Malcolm*
My ape goosed a Bishop. Who are you?
Mon 5th Nov '07 7:43PM
1673 Posts
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Member Since
3rd Jun '03
I like the idea of switching to Ubuntu a lot, and in fact recently tried it on my laptop. The main things that interested me about it were
(a) the fact that it's all completely free (I don't use pirated software at all any more; even my Windows-based laptop uses 100% open-source or freeware stuff, and is none the worse for it)
(b) the increased stability and decreased stress, worry and fiddling (the main reasons why my desktop computer is now a Mac)
and (c) the Tiny laptop for 169 thread - I thought to myself, "If i ever need (and decide) to replace my laptop, I'm getting myself one of them". So I thought I'd get a start on looking into this Linux business.

So, I downloaded the CD and tried it out. Took several days to figure out how to even get through the installation procedure because my laptop has a smaller-than-usual screen and the installation procedure was in a window that was bigger than the screen but couldn't be resized, and therefore the "Proceed" button (or whatever it said; I never found out) was beyond the bottom of the screen and inaccessible.

Anyway, I got through that in the end - can't remember how now - and then spent a while trying to work out how to get the touch screen on my laptop to work. I was making slight progress in figuring out how it might be possible but never entirely succeeded. And I still had the problem of several programs not being shrinkable and therefore unusable on my screen.

Still not having sorted that out, a few days later I was switching my mobile phone over in order to get one that would be better for internet access on trains. In order to use this feature you need to install its software, which of course isn't available for Linux.

At this stage I decided that life is significantly too short for all this business. One of my main reasons for considering Ubuntu was that life is too short for endless fiddling around trying to fix things , download updates etc. Ubuntu does indeed look very nice, and I'd be happy to use it, but frankly there are thousands of things I'd rather be doing than attempting to get the damned thing to work the way I want it.

I reformatted my laptop (no, there was no obvious way to remove Ubuntu without destroying everything on there) and started again with the original Windows disk.
   

General*
Windows Bob - the best!
Mon 5th Nov '07 10:37PM
4213 Posts
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Member Since
7th Apr '03
Ouch sorry to hear about that.

Some people do have trouble with the Live CD installer especially if your screen is a non standard size or it is very old. For that reason you can also download a text mode disk if you have problems which isn't as pretty, but is just as easy to install.

I'm planning to write a bit of a comparison guide to Windows Vs Ubuntu and though I practically never use my XP install any more I do still boot it up to get photos off my phone because there is no Erikson app available for Linux and though there are some home brew ones I've never been bothered to try them as life is indeed too short.

Unfortunately there are still quite a few bits of hardware which don't have Linux drivers and laptop touch screens probably fall into that category (What type of laptop do you have? It sounds kinda cool) The other thing to watch out for is really bleeding edge stuff like new graphics cards which don't tend to get drivers until someone writes them though hopefully with Dell committed to making drivers for all there hardware it should get better.

It's always worth setting up a PC with a data partition and an OS partition so you can blat the OS without messing with your docs & photos if you don't like it.

To be honest Ubuntu is just UNIX with an easy to use front end which is exactly the same as OSX so if you have a Mac you probably get less from changing over than a primarily windows user. If I had the 1,200 to buy a Mac Book Pro without my wallet crying bloody tears then I probably would.

EDIT: http://gadgets.boingboing.net/2007/11/05/google-phone-its-and.html
Ooo hopefully the phone thing will go away when they are all open source
    

General*
Windows Bob - the best!
Wed 7th Nov '07 12:39PM
4213 Posts
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Member Since
7th Apr '03
The first part of my comprehensive round up of Ubuntu Vs XP will be posted up shortly, but in the meantime here is the Ars Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon review.

http://arstechnica.com/reviews/os/ubuntu-gutsy-gibbon-review.ars/1
    

Agentgonzo
There's no pee in catheter!
Wed 7th Nov '07 1:32PM
811 Posts
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Member Since
8th Aug '06


Spanners was bold enough to comment:
Thunderbird is an MS outlook equivalent made by the same people that do Firefox


Evolution is more of an MS Outlook equivalent. Thunderbird only does mail. Evolution does mail, calendars, syncing, tasks, todo etc...
  

General*
Windows Bob - the best!
Thu 8th Nov '07 2:08AM
4213 Posts
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Member Since
7th Apr '03
I was planning to do this part of the story of my switch over to Ubuntu eventually, but hearing that fellow TDDOer Malcolm has had a less than fun time trying to use Ubuntu and had to give up on it I thought I would crack on with it and let you know how it stacks up with Windows. Unfortunately I don't have a copy of Leopard or Vista to hand, but I've spent some time with a decently speced Vista laptop and a fair bit of time on a Final Cut Pro machine which I believe was Panther on a Power PC based G5 Mac Pro so though I don't feel well informed enough to do a comprehensive comparison I will chip in with points where I can. I will focus the first part of the article on core OS features and will talk about applications in the next part.

Installation



Ubuntu
At the time of installing both of my machines the current version of Ubuntu was 7.04 Edgy and so I haven't had any experience of the new versions installer, but I must say it was an absolute breeze. The PC booted into the Live CD and then during the installation all I had to do was set the time zone and type in my name and that was it.
I must note that two people I know have had problems installing Ubuntu one with a very old machine and the other with a non standard screen in this case there is a text mode installer which is just as easy to use but doesn't look as pretty it's annoying that you have to download this separately and it doesn't detect the problem and switch into text mode.
For more advanced users Ubuntu comes with superb features for making a PC duel boot and repartitioning the disk. While installing my desktop PC I repartitioned my fragmented XP system partition and it worked like a charm without any scares.

XP
XP is the easiest Microsoft OS I have installed, but I have had a few problems with it. The first one is the classic have a cup of tea and leave it going problem. You set it up and leave it to do its thing for half an hour and then come back to find a dialogue box popped up seconds after you left and its done naff all in the time you were away.
I've had XP hang on installation more than once and had to reformat and go back to the beginning and I've also had Windows become confused on a rebuild and recreate all the user folders a second time prefixed by the computer name and a dot.
XP is also blighted by the fact that many vendors don't provide a proper Windows disk and some don't even provide a recovery disk.

Verdict
Had two of my friends not had a bad installation experience I would have given it to Ubuntu as it is I'm calling it evens.

Registration


Ubuntu
No registration is required unless you take out a support contract woo hoo!

Windows
Initial registration is not hugely arduous and easily circumvented if you are so inclined however I must mention the blight that is Windows Genuine Advantage. This is a special application the job of which is to check you aren't doing anything you shouldn't be with Windows. Having bought my desktop PC and reveling in my first paid for legal Microsoft product since the Postman Pat game I had for my Amstrad in 1985 I allowed the Genuine Advantage app to install its self as an automatic update. My PC then promptly spent the next month flashing up messages that it was pirated and refused to update. I later discovered that Norton Firewall was blocking the connection to the authentication servers online so it had decided to call me a thief rather than give me the benefit of the doubt. What depressed me about this episode is that if I had cracked Windows none of this would have happened so I was effectively being punished for being honest.
Verdict
Genuine Advantage is one of the things that made me loose faith in XP so it's an Ubuntu win hands down.

Crapware


Windows XP and Vista
Some of you may not know what I am talking about when I say Crapware, but believe me when I say that this is one of the most significant problems facing the Windows platform today. Crapware is catch all term for the software that you didn't ask for which came preinstalled on your machine usually with some kind of limited trial or some kind of advertising revenue attached. The most common forms of this are Norton Antivirus, pre installed ISP services and the Yahoo toolbar. With my current PC Windows was so broken by this software it would not uninstall correctly that I had to rebuild it.
My mums PC has the same problem, but because it doesn't have a proper rebuild disk and has some proprietary media centre hardware built into the mobo I can't even do a restore!
The fault of this does not lie with Mictrosoft who I understand are very unhappy with the situation, but with the manufacturers. Dell have speculated about having a no Crapware option in there options list, but estimate the PC could cost as much as 50 more as a result.
Ubuntu
Thankfully free from this abomination.
Mac
Apple have sensibly avoided this problem and well done to them for not taking the quick dollar at the expense of the user.

Verdict
Windows in last place all the others are tied.

Hardware Compatibility



XP
XP is the current market leader and it's been around for a while so it's fair to say that if you want to make hardware that people will buy then you make it XP compatible. XP will also run on a few processor types though the Intel x86 is the most common.
Vista


A disappointingly large number of companies haven't written any Vista drivers so it is still very likely that an upgrade will stop some hardware working. Companies like Creative make it a deliberate ploy not to write soundcard drivers for subsequent OS because they think you will shell out for new stuff. This will of course change

Ubuntu and Linux in General

Though a lot better than in days gone by you are still likely to find problems with esoteric or very new hardware in Linux however this is getting better all the time and the only bits of kit I have that don't work are the memory card slot in my laptop (the one in my desktop is fine) and some of the 3D acceleration features aren't supported on the esoteric graphics card on my desktop.

The hardware situation gets better all the time. Only a year or two ago Printers, Bluetooth, Multi Monitor set ups and USB WiFi adapters were all known to be problematic, but are now working out of the box.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Skype headsets and Touchscreen support is still pretty poor.

Ununtu gets support for the longest list of platforms supported with: x86, Power PC, SPARC, PS3 and Itanium all being supported.

Mac OSX

As Mac increases it's market share more people consider it a must to write Mac drivers. The real bummer is that Apple won't let you put their lovely operating systems on your own PC which is a shame as there boxes are super expensive and the reasoning is purely to maximise profits and keep them exclusive rather than any technical reason. I understand the commercial sense of this decision, but I don't have to like it.

OSX can run on x86 and Power PC, but only on Apple provided hardware without contravening the licencing agreement.

Verdict

XP is on top here with Vista and Linux in second place and OSX in last place.

Installing Software

Ubuntu
This is one area where Ubuntu absolutely shines. You add and remove software from the Package Manager much like Windows, but where it comes into its own is that you can search or browse any of the software that is available for Ubuntu from the package manager, click install and you are all done.

XP
Compared to installing directly from within the package manager having to download zip files, unpack, and then go though an install shield seems positively archaic in comparison.
Verdict
Ubuntu wins hands down

Security

Ubuntu
Ubuntu is in the UNIX family so it has an excellent security pedigree. Ubuntu comes with a capable Firewall, Antivirus is available, but not really needed. Another excellent security feature is Sudo. In Ubuntu you are never really logged in as administrator (or Root in Linux terminology) instead when you need to do something that only admins should do you do a "super do" or sudo which asks you to put in your password to check that you really mean it. This is brilliant because it means that even if malicious code gets onto your machine it can't do anything naughty without your express permission and even then only for that session.
XP
XP gets a bad rap but most of the security problems it has are due to the fact that it's the biggest target, but with a bit of tweaking it is fine. It comes with an adequate firewall which is switched on by default, but doesn't come with antivirus which is a must.
On the downside logging in as an administrator leaves you vulnerable and switching between user and admin accounts, or using run as is a pain in the arse.
Vista
Vista has much improved security over previous Windows products, but the obsessive paranoia gets in the way of the user and it seems that their need to prove themselves as super secure has been at the expense of usability.
OSX
Mac users are famous for their arrogance about security and that worries me a lot. OSX is also built on UNIX so theoretically it is very secure but there have been a couple of things recently that have worried me. One is that Panther comes with the Firewall switched off by default and is of a poor quality, but the main thing is that Apple's ascendancy is making them a much bigger target and the first commercial hacks are starting to appear.
Verdict
Ubuntu in first place, despite my worries OSX goes in second place followed by Vista and XP

Boot Time

XP
This one is a bit of a tricksy one. XP gets to the log in screen slightly quicker than Ubuntu, but it's still working furiously behind the scenes. Once you log in it takes quite a while before the PC becomes responsive.
Ubuntu
It takes a little longer to get to the log in prompt, but one thing that's really nice is that once you log in and the Window manager starts up you can start working really very quickly.

Verdict
From switch on to log in XP is a little faster. From switch on to starting to do things Ubuntu wins.

Updates

Ubuntu
As standard Ubuntu will check for updates once per day. Like XP it checks for updates to the operating system, but the superb thing is that it will also update all of the applications that you install with the package manager. So your automatic updates also make sure you have all the latest versions of, Firefox, Java, etc. Updates are notified with a balloon which pops up to tell you that you have updates and you simply click on it to install them. Reboots are seldom required after updates.
XP
XP also features automatic updates, but unfortunately they are one of the most broken features of XP. A problem I had recently illustrates the point
I logged into my Windows PC a couple of days back for the first time in a while and as well as a balloon popping up to tell me that I needed to update Windows I had balloons from my Java notifier telling me Java was out of date and also one from HP telling me that my printer drivers needed to be updated and another that Avast was out of date. In comparison to the slickness of Ubuntu this looked positively backward.
I was in a hurry and needed to set my PC ripping a DVD then transcoding it into a format for my portable. This is a time consuming process so having set everything up as a batch of rips and codes I left my PC for a couple of hours and came back to find that shortly after I had left to room Windows had decided that it needed to apply a critical security patch and so without consulting me it had installed the patch then rebooted the machine all without any user intervention. Though applying updates as the rule rather than the exception is a good thing this kind of big brother behavior is what has increasingly put me off spending any time using Windows.

Verdict

Ubuntu by a country mile.

Networking

XP
Networking in XP is pretty good. Though settings and preferences are set out in a slightly esoteric manner I have found wireless configuration to be very easy and something that works most of the time.
Ubuntu
Apparently wireless networking in Ubuntu used to be a nightmare but since the previous version it is really quite easy. The menus are laid out rather more logically than XP, but the experience is not quite as seamless as Windows. I have had a few minor problems with Wireless my desktop with a USB wireless antenna works like a charm, but my 5 year old laptop would not auto detect the name of my wireless LAN though it connected fine when I typed the name in by hand. I have also had a couple of problems one where Firefox would not recognise that the network had come back for a few minutes if it had been disconnected and another time when after coming out of Hibernate the machine would not connect wirelessly until I did a reboot. One advantage Ubuntu does have is a nice network tools GUI that lets you do ping, netstat, whois, finger lookup. trace root and lots of other handy tools from one interface without having to negotiate the terminal.
Verdict
I have had less problems with XP networking than with Ubuntu so XP is the winner here

Upgrading

XP
I haven't upgraded a PC from XP to Vista but I have done so from 2000 to XP and though there are some useful tools for maintaining some settings and backing up data it has never worked very well for me and I've always found it easier to just format the disk and start again.
Ubuntu
This is another of the areas where Ubuntu works far better than anything else I've ever used. When Gutsy Gibbon the most recent version of Ubuntu came out last month a little icon appeared on my update manager saying upgrade to Gutsy and when I clicked it the machine downloaded all the packages taking about an hour and then installed the updated operating system taking about another hour. Once it had completed everything continued to work seamlessly and all the settings and data was preserved. A new version of Ubuntu is released about every 6 months so you are able to benefit from a continuous stream of updates rather than having to worry about the more substantial shift involved in the 5 years or so it takes MS to get a new version of Windows out.

Verdict
Ubuntu is far more impressive.

Performance and System Requirements

XP
XP will run on most PCs that aren't ancient. It used to run ok on my 900mhz laptop, but the 256MB of ram made it painfully slow to load applications. On my 3.8Ghz 1GB P4 desktop it ran nice and fast.

Ubuntu
Makes my laptop runs significantly quicker though there is still the issue that Firefox is a memory hog (no more than on any other platform mind you). If you have an even more ancient machine than me then you can use Xubuntu which uses a different Windowing manager and runs even faster.
Vista
This is one of the area where Vista has been a rod for Microsoft's back. In it's full glory with the Aero Glass interface Vista really needs a modern multicore processor and high spec graphics card to get the best out of it. If you aren't buying a new PC then it probably won't run Vista all that well and even new laptops can struggle if you buy a cheaper one.
Verdict
Ubuntu is noticeably faster than XP. Vista is so resource hungry it is a serious problem.

That concludes my discussion of the core parts of the operating system.
Next time I want to cover software and who I would recommend to try Ubuntu.
    

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