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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Is Ubuntu Linux ready to replace Windows?

Four years ago she went on the Clueless Newbie Linux Odyssey to see if Linux was ready for prime time and concluded that there was much work to be done. On the news that Dell is prepared to sell laptops with Ubuntu Linux pre-installed, she decided to revisit the most user friendly flavor of Linux.
My non-negotiable requirements for a new operating system center on simplicity for me:
1. It must have a GUI interface for installing and configuring the system.
2. Existing hardware must remain usable and the new operating system must make it "just work" without my having to edit text-based configuration files.
3. Existing software must remain usable unless the new operating system has equivalent features to the ones I use, and I can switch without losing data or doing much work.
4. Because I need to use software that has no Linux substitute, the Linux distribution must make it easy to create a dual-boot system. It has to recognize and preserve the existing operating system and its data during installation, and give me access to the data on the Windows drives after installation.
She walked through the installation process and was pleased to see that it was extremely user friendly. However, the second odyssey wasn't without hiccups.
Problem 1: The NVIDIA graphics card needs non-Linux drivers to get full benefit of the card's features. The Ubuntu help on their website explained how to install what they call "restricted drivers". Their solution was clear, easy to understand, and best of all, it worked. This is definitely an improvement.

Problem 2: Even after installing the correct drivers and rebooting, my 1280x1024 monitor could only be set to 1024x768 pixels. The answer is in the Ubuntu "community documents" area, and it works. It involved opening a terminal and using the command line (I cheat, I cut and paste instead of typing), but it also worked.

Problem 3: Although CDs played immediately, to play DVDs I had to locate and install some files that bypass content protection coding. The website I acquired them from, , warned me that I might be installing something illegal, but I said, "Yarrr, matey", and clicked the install button. Automatix installed itself, then I selected what I needed. More files were downloaded and installed ... really automagically! After that DVDs worked. I have no clue what it did, and that's the way I like it.

Problem 4: The Linux Flash players did not work with YouTube, and Adobe's Flash video player was extremely difficult to install. I have a 64-bit microprocessor, and installed 64-bit Ubuntu. Although 64-bit Linux has been available for more than five years, Adobe hasn't bothered to develop 64-bit version of Flash for Linux yet. My live-in geek tracked the problem down for me, and Adobe is reportedly working on 64-bit software.

Problem 5: Google's Picasa does not work. Every time I launch Picasa it locks up my computer and sends the CPU utilization to 100%. The problem is Google, not Ubuntu. Instead of writing real Linux software, all Google did was take their Windows version and wrap it in WINE (fake Windows) to make it work in Linux. I expected Google to do better than that.
Note: My wife would second the criticism of Picasa, having had the program import the last batch of pictures from our camera to the "Exported Pictures" section. What?

I'd say that several of these issues are non-trivial. Problem #2 involves the terminal, which is verboten according to her own rules. I encountered the same problem when I installed Ubuntu and that immediately flunks easy user configuration. Problem #3 is also non-trivial, since it shouldn't require a hack to view a DVD on your computer. Finally, while the Picasa failing isn't a deal-killer (she's still got a Windows partition), the Flash bug is a problem. Increasingly, flash is the internet. You need a native solution. Adobe's to blame, but it doesn't make a difference to the Ubuntu user.

Verdict: You're probably more secure from malware, viruses and rootkits running Ubuntu, but if you can't view YouTube, will you care?

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