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.