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 :)