Living with Linux – three months with Ubuntu 9.04

By on Sep 2, 2009 in Reviews |

Tux, the Linux mascot

Tux, the Linux mascot

I’ve been living in Linux for just over three months, so I thought it would be interesting to report on how I’m finding it.

The first thing I need to stress is that I really do think that the GNOME desktop environment is ideal for non-techie users. You can have “GNOME Launchers” which are just the same as Windows “Quick Launch” icons. The Windows “Start” menu idea is extended more logically as you have three menus “Applications”, “Places” and “System” all self-explanatory and logical for a new user to find what they’re looking for. One little criticism here for catering to those migrating from Windows; to open these menus from the keyboard you have to hit Alt+F1, rather than simply hitting the Windows key (know as the “Super key” to Linux/Unix operating systems). I think having the Windows key launch these menus, by default, would be more useful to novice users who are used to the Windows desktop.

The Super (Windows) key

The Super (Windows) key

That covers novice computer users, but for slightly more advanced users, Linux of course has lots of freedom to configure your environment. So much so that the limit to which you can customise is only practically limited by your own skill and willingness to learn. Also, there are the 3D desktop effects. These can mimic those found in Windows and OSX, but there are lots more effects, more than I’ve had time or cause to explore. Some are simply for show and I have chosen to them switch off, most notably the rotating desktop cube and the wobbly Windows. Although the ones I do find genuinely useful are the “Shift Switcher” (particularly for flipping through windows on all desktops), and the  enhanced desktop zoom. Other subtle effects for minimizing and maximising windows just add another layer of class to your overall experience.

A BASH terminall

A BASH terminal

Now, you can’t talk about Linux without mentioning the command line. I accept that this is not a tool for novice users, and that there is a command line interface to Windows too. Comparing the CLI’s of both platforms,  have to say, subjectively, that the Linux/Unix CLI just makes more sense to me then Window’s pseudo-DOS CLI. If I were trying to do tech support for a novice computer user of Linux, it would be a last resort for me to tell them to open the command line. Having said that, I think that if you are doing your own research into a technical problem, the ability to copy and paste some code from a trusted website into your terminal is much more efficient than following some Windows guide with a long set of “point and click here” type instructions. I am neither a computer science grade user, or a novice user, I’m probably somewhere on the advanced side of a medium level user. As such, I have really enjoyed having the command line and writing bash scripts and cron jobs to automate tasks for me. During these three months, it has really made me feel like I was using a computer again rather than just a glorified internet appliance, which is what computing of recent years seems to have turned into.

It is all these things that I do through scripts that I now find Linux indispensable. If I were to go back to using Windows full time, I’d probably need to run a Linux virtual machine all the time, because equivalents all of my bash scripts would be a lot more complicated to set up in Windows.

WINE IS NOT AN EMULATOR!

WINE IS NOT AN EMULATOR!

Now for some negative points. I don’t game that much these days, but occaisionally enough to make it a consideration. I’m particularly partial to a game of Team Fortress 2. Now, this game even taxed my laptop in XP, but I did manage to make it run in WINE, but it wasn’t the best gaming experience I’ve ever had. A 800×600 window which slowed to a halt whenever I got into any point-blank range action. Even Cedega was a let down as it wouldn’t even let me install Steam, which is a MASSIVE over sight for a program focused on enabling Windows games in Linux.

Having said that, there are some very nice open source games supplied with Ubuntu, out of the box, which are fun to play if you just want a 15 minute distraction.  My current favourite is a Lemmings clone called Pingus (yes I know, not exactly fun for all you FPS fans!)

Also, compatibility with new hardware is something that worries me. I don’t know what the current situation is, but I know my laptop is only so well supported because it is old. I am currently looking at replacing my laptop in the next 18 months. Since I want to use Ubuntu as my main operating system, I’m going to have to do more homework than I otherwise would, just to make sure the hardware is supported without me having to do a load of command line hacking that would be beyond my current ability.

So there we have it, my experience so far of living with Linux. To sum it up, I’m happy, I don’t want to switch back to Windows. The only reason I’m keeping Windows around is to run software for my smartphone, for using Chkdsk on some of my removable drives, and in the future I’ll use it again for gaming.