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Wednesday, 5 July 2006

Ubuntu [DrDave]

Warning: Herein lies faggotry. Lunix faggotry.
Okay, okay, I normally get excited about Linux distributions and thenchange my mind about them when it comes to the nitty gritty ofactually using them. I appreciate this. But listen up chumps, Ubuntu,both the OS itself and my approach to it, is different.
See, Vista is coming out next year. I've used it, been on the betaprogram for a while and tried it out on my desktop as the main OS fora while. Unfortunately, it's a dog. Microsoft have gone bonkers on thesecurity side of things, meaning that to delete a shortcut off thedesktop (for example) takes four or five clicks and password entries.It's madness. On top of this, they've filled it full of OSX stylegraphical trickery which has rendered it useless on all but thehighest end graphics card. I don't see Vista as an upgrade path, notyet.
So you're left with XP. Now, XP is a great operating system. It justworks, is secure, looks okay, plays games. Ideally, I wouldn't want tojump away from it. However, with Microsoft tightening up their control over pirated keys, and releasing the hideous WGA application in critical security updates, I can see that the days of the casualpirater may be numbered. And I'm not going to buy a copy of XP... that would be silly!
So I was looking for an alternative main operating system for at leastone of my machines. Probably a laptop OS, since I don't play games on this, just casual surfing and internet stuff. I played around with Mac OSX for a while, and though it is very nice, the homebrew drivers aren't sufficiently mature that I would have a fully working system anytime soon.
So thoughts turn to Linux. Linux seems to have changed a lot in thelast few years. The distribution of choice for the casual home user isno longer automatically Red Hat or Suse or Debian, but a newcomer to the block: "Ubuntu". Like a lot of distros, it comes on a bootable Live CD that gets you up and running in a few minutes. As well as having a Live aspect, there's also an "install" icon on the desktop that, predicatably, installs to the hard drive like a normaldistribution. It is very quick to do, about 30 minutes on my oldlaptop, and also quick to boot. Then again, you can boot MSDOS in seconds, but you wouldn't want to actually use it. So how is Ubuntu in everyday use?
Right, I approach Linux these days in terms of looking at things thatannoyed me the last time I used it and trying to assess how these have improved. From the last time I looked at it, my major Linuxbugbears were:
1) Hardware not being installed and recognised (especially wireless);2) Package management;3) Having to eventually get into script editing at a fairly low level;
Firstly, the install picked up ALL of my hardware. This is a threeyear old centrino laptop, so it's hardly bristling with obscuredevices, but it was impressive nonetheless. Sound worked from the off, ethernet, wireless was detected and running, it even picked the right resolution. Very impressive, since not even XP can manage to get the right drivers straight away 100% of the time. What's more, everything is easily configurable via a nice graphical interface - I'm thinking mainly of wifi here. You have a notification icon that tells you signal strength, you click on this and set up your SID and WEP/WPA settings. It's great.
Next up: package management. This is generally where I screw up alinux distro eventually. Usually by getting so annoyed with satisfyingpackage dependencies that I force an install and break something else. My own fault probably... Ubuntu does away with downloading packages and installing with the command line like in the old days. Instead, there's a single app called "Synaptic" that lists every package available for the OS. Installing is just a matter of finding it and clicking on it - package installs, dependencies satisfied. So far,I've found it flawless, though I worry about how you'll go aboutinstalling something not in the list. Luckily the list seems fairlycomprehensive. The OS also takes care of software upgrades - like windows, you get a notification icon telling you when upgrades are available, but not just to the OS, to packages as well. Very nice.
Actually, I'm being a little kind to Ubuntu here. Synaptic isn'tquite all you need. Because of licensing, Ubuntu doesn't ship with MP3, DVD or several video format codecs. Nor does it have lots of essential firefox plugins like Flash. Some may see this as a goodthing. However, to get around this, someone has put together an appcalled "automatix" which can be used to "finish off" the operatingsystem. It also allows you to install a ton of other software (acrobatreader, Skype etc), and turns out to be quite useful for getting a base system up and running.
Finally, the age old problem of Linux: having to get your hands dirtyby editing config files manually. So far, so good on this. Thus far,I've had to fire up vi twice - once to change the default grub bootoption and once to remove a mounted drive from fstab. Actually,thinking about it, there's probably a graphical way of doing it thesedays, but because I knew how, I automatically defaulted to editing aconfig file. I would be interested to know how a complete novice goton with running a Ubuntu system.
Luckily for novices, the support forums are nothing short of revolutionary for a Linux distribution. They're comprehensive, well organised, and don't treat the newcomer like a fetid leper.
I have to say, it looks good for Ubuntu. I've been using it now as mymain OS on the laptop for three weeks and I've not really missedanything of windows. I can't see this being the case on my desktopthough, purely because of the games aspect. But for everything else,Ubuntu looks to have addressed most of my major concerns. I do stillhave qualms about it, though these are mainly cosmetic - I don't likethe default browness of it, sometimes it can feel a bit "flungtogether" - but it is entirely useable. And I'm dying to try outXGL/Compiz for all that cubic desktop nonsense!
Erm, Linux, yay!


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