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Article: Switching from XP to Ubuntu »

FERDY CHRISTANT - MAR 10, 2007 (11:51:31 AM)

 

Since about 2 years, I have some experience with Linux. I run Fedora core at home as a web server, application server, and repository server for my projects. I'm not the typical command line guru, but with a bit of help, I can get by in the operating system. Next to my server needs, I also tried switching my desktop to Linux, without much luck. I got things to work when I tried OpenSuse and even Fedora, but found the whole desktop experience too limiting, compared to Windows XP. I like XP, it is functional, stable and I feel comfortable with it. I don't find it too expensive either, an OEM license is cheap nowadays.

Still, I could not ignore the steady stream of good critics concerning Ubuntu. It is currently the most popular distribution, based on the very stable Debian OS, and is targetted towards a friendly desktop experience. Tempted by these claims, I decided to try to install Ubuntu 6.10 on my new laptop. In this article I will explain my installation steps, findings and opinions of using Ubuntu as a Windows XP desktop replacement.

Installation

My choice of installation is Ubuntu 6.10, Edgy Eft, currently the latest stable release. I downloaded it from here, and burned an image DVD from it. You can also let them ship the DVDs to you. Once I burned the DVD, I inserted it into my drive and rebooted Windows. Because my BIOS is set up to boot from CD/DVD first, a menu appears that allows me to install Ubuntu.

After about two minutes, Ubuntu has started. This is great, I'm running Ubuntu from the Live CD, without it affecting any of my prior installations. I can now check if my hardware is compatible should I choose to actually install it later. The basics seem to work, so I decide to continue the installation by choosing the "Install to HD" link that is placed on the Ubuntu desktop. A wizard appears to ask me some basic installation questions and starts the install. In the meanwhile, I can continue working with the Live CD in the background. Cool.

Less than 10 minutes later, the system prompts me to eject the CD and reboot. After rebooting, a menu appears, allowing me to either boot in my prior Windows XP installation, or in the new Ubuntu installation. I boot into Ubuntu, and a shiny, clean desktop welcomes me. This was all too easy.

Hardware support

Now that I'm running Ubuntu, it is time to check if my hardware was detected. The sound works, I heard it at the login screen. My Logitech mouse is mostly detected, I can use 5 out of the 7 buttons. The keyboard works fine, even the media keys work. The video card is not detected, but I was prepared for that. Ubuntu does not ship with propietary video drivers, I will need to install those later. USB works fine, both my memory stick and external hard disk are usable right after plugging them in. Now for the most important...the network. No problem, Ubuntu detected my wireless network card. After enabling it, and configuring it to use my wireless network identifier, I am online. Right after establishing the internet connection, I am notified of system updates. Installing takes a single click, and no reboot. I then checked out the system monitor, to find my dual core processor and memory detected. So far, so good.

Video support

On my laptop, I am used to running the widesceen resolution 1440x900. For this to work in Ubuntu I will need to install the Nvidia driver. In addition, one of the things triggering me to switch to a Linux laptop is Beryl. Beryl is a 3D desktop engine that produces some amazing effects, comparable, but probably better than Aero on Windows Vista. The process of installing the driver and Beryl and making them work together was extremely frustrating to me. I used the instructions from this guide, but had to search and try other things for many hours. When I was at the point of giving up, I rebooted and all of a sudden it worked. The process was so confusing that I cannot even document how I did it. Use the guide mentioned above, and remember this: if you screw up your display, hit Ctrl+Alt+Backspace to restart your display.

Despite the troublesome install, all of it was worth it. I now run Ubuntu at my prefered resolution and Beryl works very smoothly. I have listed some screenshots of my desktop at the end of this article.

Accessing my files

I have my music, photos and movies stored on the partition that holds my Windows XP installation. I surely do not want to store them seperately into Ubuntu. Luckily, it is quite easy to access an NTFS partition from Ubuntu. I followed the instructions of item 2 of this list and got it working right away

Media

Windows XP provides quite a rich media experience. So, what does it take to  realize the same in Ubuntu? Not much. Ubuntu by default does not come with propietary codecs, such as mp3. Installing them all at once is easy, I followed the instructions of item 7, 9 and 10 of this list.

With the codecs installed, it is time to put it to the test. After inserting a DVD video, it starts playing automatically, in full quality. Likewise for the mpegs and avis. Playing mp3s works fine too, but I do not like the default player, and therefore installed Amarok.

Ok, what else? Ripping CDs into mp3 files. I had to install the lame mp3 encoder. After that, I installed Grip from the Ubuntu catalog, tweaked some settings, and got it working fine, although a bit slow. Organizing photos was no problem either, there is a default program for it that works just fine. As for photo editing, Ubuntu comes with GIMP. I don't like it too much, but it comes reasonably close to Adobe Photoshop, for free. 

Software

With the basics in place, I continued installing software and tweaking settings to get that full desktop experience. First, I installed Flash, and it worked right away. Next, I installed the Google toolbar for Firefox, so that I can access all my shared bookmarks, which I store at Google. I then installed Windows true type fonts. Both the Flash and font installation instructions can be found here.

I noticed how Ubuntu does not give me an overview of the wireless networks around me, so I installed Wifi-radar, a network scanning tool. It works the same as Windows XP's native functionality. Cool.

Next, I installed gftp as my FTP client, Google Earth, and Eclipse. All a matter of pointing and clicking. What's way better than Windows is the centralized repositories and update tool. By selecting something from the repositories, I know it will work, will be safe and will be free. The update manager allows me to update my entire OS, including all applications with a single click.

Good enough

In my move to Ubuntu, I did not include gaming, or running Windows-only applications in Linux. Frankly, there are only a few applications (Photoshop, Visual studio, games) that I require Windows for, and I have a dual boot setup for those occassions. Having come this far, I did not want to lose my perfectly working Ubuntu installation, so I backed it up using these instructions.

The result

Below are some screenshots of my Ubuntu desktop:


A clean desktop, with my Windows XP drive mounted for sharing files

 


My home folder, and one image opened. Notice the transparancy?

 


A console window, Wifi-radar and Amarok playing a radio stream

 


This site opened in Firefox, and gFTP as my FTP client

 


Eclipse, the Gimp and a calculator

 


Movie player and OpenOffice

 


Beryl's mini view port allows you to see all open windows at a glance

 


Beryl's 3D cube. 4 desktops. one cube to rule them all!

 


Beryl's 3D cube. 4 desktops. one cube to rule them all!

 

Conclusion

To me, the switch has been successfull. Ubuntu is amazingly friendly to install and operate. I will use it as my default desktop from now on, but still occassionally switch to XP for the Windows-only applications. As for the good aspects of Ubuntu, I find the OS installation, stability, performance, flexibility, community support and software installation process remarkable. As for the bad aspects, I think the still inevitable command line and sub optimal hardware support may scare of new users. Luckily, the Ubuntu community recognizes these flaws and will likely fix them in future versions.

After years of promises, I think Linux will be ready for its prime soon, at the very least for me.

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Comments: 14
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COMMENT: RADU CADARIU emailhomepage

MAR 12, 06:59:40 AM

comment » so you finally switched to ubuntu instead of fedora.... traitor 18

though I have to admit that ubuntu seems friendier than fedora, at least from what I read on the web. I haven't tried ubuntu, holding to fedora. Ur article might tempt me to become a traitor as well :) «

COMMENT: FERDY

MAR 12, 07:32:13 AM

comment » Radu,

hehe, trust me, Ubuntu is way better than Fedora. You would not regret switching to it. «

COMMENT: DEREK J. PUNARO homepage

MAR 12, 01:20:39 PM

comment » I tried to go the Ubuntu route for my wife's laptop for two weeks before I finally gave up and went back to XP. I might have survived if I found that "13 tips" article, since it was the lack of DVD playback support that ultimately pissed me off to no end trying to get enabled. My days of spendings days surfing through websites, discussion boards, wikis, and more trying to figure out which library, universe, or multiverse needs to be enabled and what the next cryptic command line command is that needs to be entered are long gone. I want the thing to work when I install the OS and boot it up. I want it to automatically find the drivers it needs to run my wireless card. I want the DVD to play when I put it in the drive. Microsoft certainly has some lackluster products, like IE7, that can be easily beat by open source counterparts like FireFox, but when it comes to the end-user desktop OS, my time and sanity is worth far more than the $100 it costs for a Windows license. Ubuntu has a long way to go. «

COMMENT: ALASTAIR GRANT

MAR 12, 14:55:57

comment » Hi Ferdy, Have you managed to get the Notes client to run on it?... Cheers, Alastair «

COMMENT: FERDY

MAR 13, 07:20:40 AM

comment » Derek, I can fully relate, trust me. I too have spend too many hours hunting down CLI commands to do things we take for granted in Windows. But still, my point of the article is that with Ubuntu it has been improved a lot, compared to Linux distributions two years ago. It is still not equivalent to the user-friendliness of XP, but getting damn close.

The few things that were not automatically installed by Linux, are recognized by the Ubuntu community as something that needs to be fixed in a future release. I'm guessing that one year from now, these problems are fixed, and non-techies can install and use Ubuntu without touching a command-line. As for the techhies, with a little bit of preparation, you can already use Ubuntu right now. «

COMMENT: RADU CADARIU emailhomepage

MAR 15, 11:52:30 AM

comment » I back you up Ferdy, these days, the linux distros (your ubuntu, my fedora, other's suse) have improved significantly over past ... 4-5 years. I remember I installed a Domino mail server on a RedHat 8 (I think) .... boy was it something .... the X server sucked big time; for that server in particular I didn't even launched it. What I mean is that now, after 4-5 years since I last mocked with linux, I found fedora core 6 to be quite good. Choosing linux over windoze it's not about the money, it's about the freedom of choice. «

COMMENT: JAMES emailrating

AUG 3, 09:42:22 PM

comment » I enjoyed Linux however I always ended up going back to XP because of certain applications that I absolutely needed [photoshop, etc].

I was curious do you think you could provide a link to a good tutorial on how to dual boot? I'd appreciate it.

Thanks :D «

COMMENT: FERDY

AUG 4, 01:58:25 PM

comment » James,

I'm not sure you require a tutorial. Make sure you have Windows installed first. Then install Ubuntu. Ubuntu will automatically create a boot menu for you that lets you boot either Windows or Ubuntu. It's that simple! «

COMMENT: TERRY PEARSON emailhomepagerating

DEC 28, 06:00:48 AM

comment » James, dual booting Ubuntu is easy. It has to be one of the easiest installs of an operating system I have ever done.

On a more general note, I have loved using Ubuntu for a while, but I moved a couple months ago and my hard drive crashed weeks before. I got windows installed (I need it for Dreamweaver), but I had not had a chance to install the latest version of Ubuntu. Anyway, I ordered a new hard drive so I can boot from separate drives once I reinstall.

Once my new hard drive comes in the mail, I will be installing Ubuntu again. I love the system. In fact, I just had three friends install it with basically no problems at all.

Way to go Ubuntu community! «

COMMENT: FERDY

DEC 28, 08:57:18 AM

comment » Terry,

Could not agree more. By the way, most Windows programs, such as Dreamweaver, you can get to work perfectly in Ubuntu using Wine 18 «

COMMENT: IAN homepage

MAR 17, 2008 - 09:19:21 AM

comment » If you want a solution to windows only applications to virtualBox, I can't believe how quick it runs - I have fedora as my default desktop and use virtualBox to run Adobe apps... thanks for the openGL/eclipse notes.

Ian «

COMMENT: MASTERLUKE emailrating

SEP 22, 2008 - 08:50:11 AM

comment » I stumbled across this post while looking for a Visual Studio equivalent for this Ubuntu install I'm on.

I agree that Ubuntu is another step closer to XP/Vista style functionality but having some pretty eye candy on the desktop is a long way from from pulling developers like me into the mix.

Sorry, but I can't figure out the continual disconnect here. I'm not opposed to a Linux OS but lets get with the 21st century. I started programming 30 years ago in assembly, Pascal and basic and have programmed in nearly every other popular language over the years since. With Visual Studio on Win 2000/XP/Vista, I can build a robust, fully functional database driven web or GUI app in a few hours and 90% of it would be drag and drop components with a few clicks on their properties. Back in the day (or if I was limited to linux programming guis'), It would have taken days or weeks to code an equivilant app.

Not only that, Installing VS was a few clicks of the next button - no command-line bs and its free.

I just don't get it, every time I try to install a new Linux system and inevitably need to search the web to figure out how to get things working properly, the majority of the forum posters are whinning and complaining about MS and saying how much they enjoy doing things from the command prompt or in a text editor and then can't understand why more ppl dont want to do it that way - lol

Someone, somewhere in the linux community needs to get with the program here and write some programming IDEs/GUIs that can AT LEAST do what VS has done. and if I hear one more person tell me I should try codeblocks, as though it could even come close to VS, I'll scream! Write something that works like VS and I'm all in, but I sure as hell aint gonna revert back to the stone age of programming just to spite a company that provides a plethora of great products that make my and 1.5 billion other peoples lives easier.

And another thing, there are WAYYYYYY too many freaking versions of Linux out there. Theres nothing wrong with a few options but sheesh! lol - you gotta be kidding me.

Every year I slick one of my computers and look for the most touted Linux flavors available and install it just to see how its progressing and, my God, its getting outta control, Redhat,Debian,Fedora, Ubuntu, Linspire ... blah blah blah and on and on the list goes - all different with different installers, cores, packages, and ways of doing things - and so on - something works on one but not on another... And a whole lotta junk that needs to be done on the command line - man, I honestly can't remember the last time I needed to type something on the command line in any of the 3 Windows OS that I use - honestly! I do remember though, that the last time I compiled code from the command line was using MASM on MS Dos 3.X back in the late 80's, which is right about the time Borland and MS started making really nice programming IDEs - and I've never looked back.

Well, I'll be uninstalling this Ubuntu for now and check back again next year - maybe by then someone will make something I can use. Just think about it, make it easier and nicer and you'l attract more programmers who will write more easy to use apps for Linux which will attract more of the regular non-tech type people making Linux a more a viable option for a larger number of users.

Ya gotta standardize and you simply HAVE to make it a seamless, point, click, drag and drop world for the enduser; because frankly, command line scares the hell outta the average user and annoys the hell outta ppl like me who know that it IS being done better somewhere else.

You know, with all of the complaining about MS in Linux forums out there, I honestly don't think that most of them have ever tried Visual Studio to even have a clue of what I'm trying to say here.

I recently turned a linux/php programmer friend of mine on to VS and it took me less than 5 minutes. Thats how long it took me to open Visual Web Developer Express, create a database with a few tables, create an encrypted, database driven, user/role security login page, and another page with a fully operational data grid (Add/Edit/View, paging, alternating row visual effects and column sorting), all incased in MasterPage framing, with navigationally intelligent indicators, (Home > Page1 > Page2 ...), "Logged-in as" and logout Link, and it also featured AJAX partial page postback rendering to the database (thus providing flicker-free Add/Edit, Column Sorting and paging operations) - it was ALL done using drag and drop, with no third party addons needed (even the AJAX components and SQL database are included in the free version), all integrated in one single GUI/IDE window and not one line of code was hand typed! And my friends two word response, "HOLY SH#%!" He never mentioned codeblocks again. :)

Good job so far on Umbuntu, but still much to do.

Until next year, good luck!

MasterLuke «

COMMENT: X-IT

DEC 15, 2008 - 08:18:59 PM

comment » MASTERLUKE, and u call that "Programming" ?? «

COMMENT: CHRIS email

AUG 12, 2010 - 01:14:35 AM

comment » What is the meaning of 'VS that you reference in last paragraph? «

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