Babblings of an aging geek in love with the Absurd, his family, and his own hubris.... oh, and Lisp.

The Ubuntu Experience

My sister-in-law stopped by and was complaining about how slow her computer was. This is called the geek bait, and she was essentially trolling the waters for a bit of help. I bit. I mean, its the holidays, and when I was younger, the holidays at my parent’s house always revolved around fixing their broken computer.

Besides, I wanted to try an experiment.

She told me that she mentioned her slow and ailing computer problem to some at her work, and they had told her that since she was running Windows XP, much of her computer’s resources were automatically allocated to it.

I must concur on that account. However, I normally re-install my solitary Windows machine yearly since I’m not that good at scrubbing it clean, and find it easier just to wipe it off and start fresh.

But like I said, I’ve been wanting a rat for a geeky experiment, and so I told her how much faster Linux would be. I talked it up enough that she was willing to try it out, and said that she would drop off her computer the next day.

While every Linux distribution is running Linux and most of the same software, the infinite flexibility built into that system means that every distribution is like a completely new operating system. But I had heard good things about the Ubuntu distribution.

Knowing that the KDE Desktop looks closer to Windows than than Gnome, I opted to start with Kubuntu, which is a KDE-oriented variation on the Ubuntu theme. I downloaded the ISO image, burned a CD and got myself ready.

Before I install any Linux distribution, I always boot into Windows and get all of the hardware details and driver information. Nothing else, it allows me to know what I should expect. I then booted the Kubuntu CD, and instead of an installation program, it just booted up the operating system. Very slick.

However, while the KDE defaults looked somewhat like Windows, it didn’t look that much like Windows, and the menus were a complex cacophony of geekness, which seemed to go against the sweet goodness promised by the regular Ubuntu site. So I downloaded an Ubuntu CD, and rebooted.

The warm reds and browns of the Ubuntu environment were much nicer, and the Gnome desktop actually seemed to be simpler for my sister-in-law to navigate. It recognized all of the hardware without a hitch, and clicking on the “install” icon on the desktop got things going. Score 2… or is that 3?

After installing, it was time to put it through the gauntlet. Time to introduce my sister to the Word-challenger, OpenOffice. The NT-side of her computer was already available, so I opened her resume. She didn’t do anything too tricky, but it was correct.

In all fairness, it was close. I showed her how it is better to set up tabs instead of spaces in order to actually have her Word document show up better in all versions of Word, and she thought it would be fine. The computer was also noticeably more responsive, and she seemed to like that. Another point for the Ubuntu team.

Then came the real challenge. She uses Juno for her Internet connectivity, and while they claim to work with the Linspire version of Linux, their “Debian installer” would install, but wouldn’t actually work. Is this really something that I want to troubleshoot?

She then became skittish and asked me if I would go to Plan B, which was to install Windows 2000. It was a shame to get so close. So I installed Windows 2000 (and the hundred-thousand security patches), removed all traces of Internet Explorer in favor of Firefox, and she was happy.

Summary: I still think Ubuntu would have been a good choice for someone who just surfs the web, email and does the occasional word processing document. The installation was so simple that I may have just been able to send her home with a CD.

However, I do think the desktop is still a tad cluttered for your typical Mom-and-Dad system. I immediately turned off the virtual desktop, and nuked a couple of desktop applets, but it is was pretty good in its default configuration, and nothing that someone couldn’t figure out. I was just afraid that she would accidentally hit the “next desktop” key, and think that all of her apps just crashed or something.

I also think that Ubuntu is a better long-term solution, for while I quite like OpenSUSE, it is difficult for me to recommend it for I’m not so sure it will be around with the silly deal they brokered with Microsoft.