Ubuntu trial over

The Ubuntu trial is over, and I regret to say to all Ubuntu fans that I have returned to Windows. I have reasons, make no mistake, and my time with Ubuntu isn’t over.I really wanted Ubuntu to work for me full time, and I tried my hardest with it, but I was pushing it to the limit and it couldn’t cater for me in the end. Reasons in a pinch:

  • Whilst Ubuntu could connect to various sorts of network drives (SMB and SFTP), accessing those drives was frustratingly slow and more often than not, access to them was not offered by applications when loading and saving data. This meant that I frequently had to copy a file from the network drive to the local filesystem, do whatever I needed to do to it, then copy it back. Most inconvenient.
  • Ricey pointed out Crossover Office to me, which allows certain Windows applications to run under Linux, including Internet Explorer, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and Adobe Photoshop. They all installed and ran, but were very slow due to the emulation engine under which they ran (WINE, one assumes). They also suffered from the inability to access my network drives.
  • Crossover Office also did not support Adobe Illustrator or Quark Xpress, so I was still missing my vector graphics and DTP software.
  • The whole system seemed slower. Memory usage wasn’t a problem, so it wasn’t swapping that was slowing it down. Programs seemed to take a long time to load and the processor fan always seemed to be working hard, even when I wasn’t doing anything in particular. The kernel that shipped with Ubuntu didn’t recognise my hyperthreading processor (probably because it wasn’t an SMP kernel), although I don’t know if that had anything to do with it. People call Windows a processor hog, but it seems to give my CPU much less of a hard time in comparison.
  • The iTunes equivalent “RhythmBox” software really couldn’t get its act together. Once I’d convinced it to recognise my MP3 stash, it then went overboard and indexed it twice. It would also frequently lock up, sending the CPU fan spinning into oblivion.
  • The open source office suite OpenOffice.org shows promise, but did not properly display 80% of the office documents that I opened with it. This was particularly prevalent in the word processor; the spreadsheet software wasn’t so bad.
  • I had to go through a complex process just to get it to play MP3s. Apparently, because the MP3 codec isn’t “free”, it doesn’t come with Ubuntu by default, and you have to install it separately, but that means adding unsupported repositories and other such nonsense. It seemed an unnecessary bit of red tape just so that I could play my Massive Attack album. I know all the arguments about “free” codecs versus those encumbered by patents, but this is supposed to be an out of the box OS, and what’s one of the most popular things that people use their computers for these days? That’s right.

Like I say, I really wanted this to work out for me, because Linux on the desktop has come a very long way from the days when you needed to be a sorcerer to even have a hope of getting a half-decent graphical desktop setup on a Linux machine, but unfortunately, it’s still not come far enough, at least not for my day to day work requirements. I will however attempt to get it onto my laptop and use it on there. I only use my laptop for web browsing, e-mail and SSH access, and Ubuntu can do all that just fine.

Other good points that I really liked:

  • Seems to support my laptop’s wireless network adaptor out of the box, but I can’t get it to display all the networks available, including my own. I expect I’ll be able to do it via some command line tool, but I shouldn’t have to do this.
  • This isn’t down to Ubuntu, but I was impressed at the ease of which I downloaded and installed the manufacturer supplied graphics card drivers, which allowed me to use my multi monitors with no fuss.
  • 98% of the system management functions are available using the graphical user interface, which is good. There is, however, still the 2% remaining. I suspect that use of the command line will never be fully eliminated, since at the end of the day it’s a UNIX-like operating system, and that means commands.
  • I liked the range of “familiar” looking software that shipped with it. For example, evolution looks like Outlook, RhythmBox looks like iTunes and OpenOffice.org did its best to use the good parts of Microsoft Office’s interface. The developers have made a very good attempt at trying to cover all the bases and not scare newcomers by inflicting unfamiliar software on them.
  • The installation procedure is marvelous. It’s quick, doesn’t ask any complicated questions, and seems to have no trouble in detecting and installing drivers for most if not all hardware that’s thrown at it. This is crucial if it wants to poach Windows users, newcomers won’t accept anything less.

Ubuntu is a very solid, if relatively limited, operating system distribution, and it’ll work a treat for the likes of my laptop and my Dad’s PC. The developers have done a fantastic job, especially as it’s been made available for free, and must keep up the good work.

Unfortunately, in my case, it can’t support my day to day work, and I don’t have endless time to hack it and tweak it, and even if I did I would still have to make compromises. I don’t expect it to 100% look and act like Windows, not only is that unrealistic but it would completely defeat the object of offering an alternative operating system. Windows, for all its fault and reputation, is fast, responsive and very well supported in terms of software, and that’s what I need, at least at work.


Ubuntu Linux

I’m trialling Ubuntu Linux for a period. I didn’t plan it, but a series of particular events lead me to begin such a trial.

It started when Dad’s installation of Microsoft Word broke. He can still use it, but every time he loads it a series of dialogue boxes come up, along with Windows Installer. It’s just a question of cancelling each one, but it’s frustrating and confusing nonetheless. So I planned (and still will) go down south this weekend to generally update and fix his PC, since it’s running Windows Millenium (something that we’d all rather forget about). I could just install XP, but I don’t have any spare legal licenses for it, and neither do I have the same for Microsoft Office. Added to this, I thought I’d take the opportunity to replace the OS with something else, since installing XP would just give Dad more of the same thing, which he doesn’t fully understand.

So at the weekend I posted a message on a techie mailing list to which I’m subscribed asking for suggestions about a possible parent-friendly Linux distro that could easily offer basic computing tasks, such as word processing, web browsing, e-mail, picture downloading and viewing, and printing from all of the above. The overwhelming response was, that if I didn’t want to by a Mac, that Ubuntu Linux was a fair bet, so I downloaded the live CD.

I was well impressed with it. It worked out of the box on both my desktop PC and my laptop, even going so far as to kindly connecting to my neighbour’s unsecured wireless network for me. So that’s going on Dad’s PC at the weekend. I can make it ultra-simple for him, and while obviously using any computer requires some thought, there will be less to confuse him. There’ll also be the added benefit of not being susceptible to all the viruses and spyware on the Internet that target Windows machines.

The subject of which brings me to yesterday. Somehow, and I don’t know why, my PC contracted a spyrus (malicious software that is both a virus and spyware). Don’t ask me how, because I don’t know. I am the most careful person in the world when it comes to running hooky software and my PC is well firewalled. It’s the first time I’ve caught anything like this in all my years of using Windows (12+).

Try as I might with an armada of anti-virus and anti-spyware tools, I couldn’t get rid of the damned thing. The cleaning software would detect it, delete it, and consider its job to be done, but then when I rebooted, it was back. I searched through the registry, the filesystem, everything. Then it started to download some of its virus and spyware mates, and before I knew it I had half a dozen different infections, popping up adverts on my screen, etc. One even installed a Sudoku game, which suddenly appeared in my start menu.

It’s possible to spend days and days trying to eradicate this nonsense, as a colleague discovered to his peril some weeks ago, so I decided to cut my losses and dump the whole Windows installation. All my data is saved on various servers, so it’s not a big deal to do that, assuming of course you can spare a day to reinstall. So I thought what the hell, let’s give this Ubuntu a go, since I’m going to be inflicting it on Dad.

It’s the latest beta version (Dapper Drake or something), but it seems pretty sorted. The setup process was quick and simple and asked no complicated questions. It downloaded TONS of updates, which is good, nothing wrong with that. I found manufacturer drivers for my graphics card and got dual monitors working, so that’s good. All my other hardware was detected and installed automatically, with the exeception of the scanner, which I’ll sort out later (if I can). There are software equivalents to Outlook, MSN, mIRC, SecureCRT, Word, Excel and iTunes, which is all perfectly acceptable. It reads and writes CDs and DVDs and can read my flash drive. It has drivers for and has successfully connected to the office printers.

There are however a number of reasons why I still consider this a trial and not a done deal. Firstly, I need to get to grips with the Gimp, since I am now deprived of Photoshop. I’ve dabbled with this in the past and I frankly didn’t like it, so it’s going to be a difficult learning curve. I also still need to test stuff in Internet Explorer, which means I’m going to need a permanent Terminal Services window open, which is a little inconvenient. I’m currently downloading the Linux version of Zend Studio, so the jury’s out on that one at the moment, although I don’t imagine there’ll be much of a problem with it since it’s written in Java and therefore will be the same everywhere.

There’s also then the issue of software that I run less often, but still run nonetheless. I use Adobe Illustrator, and I know of no Linux vector graphics package, much less one that has the capabilities of Illustrator and can read and write Illustrator files. This is a potential problem. Following on from that, I sometimes also use Quark Xpress, and of course, that ain’t never going near a Linux installation. So I am faced with having to reboot into Windows when I want to use such software, which will be a right royal pain, unless anyone’s got any other suggestions?

I’ll also have to reboot into Windows to play games, but I’m not unhappy about that. Overall, this has been an eye-opening experiment. The Ubuntu developers really have managed to create a Linux based operating system that works out of the box and that can be operated by normal humans. I’d never use it for a server of course, but then I’d never use Slackware as a workstation. Different Linux distributions are suited to different purposes, this is by no means news.

I’ll let you know how I get on :)