Ubuntu – an amazing alternative to Windows

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Anyone who knows much about me knows that I’ve been a strong advocate for alternate energy, and that I’ve put my money where my mouth is by putting solar power projects on my home as well as at Little Chico Creek School in my former role as CUSD Trustee.

Now I’m going to push an alternate way to do home or business computing.

A couple of months ago I wrote about the upcoming release of Windows Vista, and how I was disappointed that this new release from Microsoft and all of its Digital Rights Management (DRM) nonsense made the operating system turn your PC into a version of George Orwell’s Big Brother.

A friend of mine, school Trustee Rick Anderson recently dumped his PC and bought a Mac Mini because he said he was tired of all the viruses, spyware, upgrades and the like. I pointed out that if all he needed to do was do email, web browsing, word processing, some digital picture work and maybe some video editing, then the Mac Mini would be a good choice since it comes with all those things right out of the box.

It’s an important point, because what I described is what the majority of non technical people need in a personal computer. So why go through the expense and hassle that has become Windows? That got me to looking at an operating system that I once only thought of to be the domain of the uber Geeks – Linux.

For those who don’t know about Linux, or have the view that you have to be one of those people that stares at a computer screen until 3AM and then falls asleep on a stack of empty pizza boxes, that used to be the case. But Linux has grown up. While there are still a few distributions aka distros out there that cater to that some new ones have emerged recently that are as easy to use as Windows. They even come with applications like word processors, spread sheets, etc and the best part is they are free or low priced. Some work right out of the box, requiring only a simple install.

Since Microsoft had me so ticked off because of the expense and corporate control issues in Vista, I recently started experimenting with a Linux distro called Ubuntu. Now don’t let the weird name scare you, this is actually the most amazing thing I’ve seen in awhile. Ubuntu is as African word meaning “humanity to others” and the company that is distributing it bills the software as “Linux for Human Beings”. The company seems to be setup like a philantrophy, they want to bring computers to people whom can’t afford it. With Vista costing upwards to $500 for ll of its features, they are positioned well to do that.

I recently installed it on a blank PC, and was instantly impressed. Best of all it’s free if you know how to download it and burn it to a DVD. If not, they have lost cost media you can buy.

My installation experience was fast and easy. And I had Ubuntu up and running within 30 minutes. It was just as simple as putting in the DVD, answering a few simple questions about configuration, and off it went. It came up, updated itself automatically wiht the web connection and was ready to run.

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It comes with everything a home or small office might need. Word processor and Open Office Application Suite, Firefox web browser, Email, and a bunch of other applications including a cool paint program called “gimp” that rivals Adobe PhotoShop. Ubuntu comes installed with a project management application called Planner. The tool allows users to create simple Gannt charts, tasks, and allocate resources. There’s even a Microsoft PowerPoint clone. And you can read or save Microsoft document formats for all their office applications.

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There are hundreds of other free aplications available for download.

Ubuntu recently announced they are offering a free video/graphics/audio editor to make DVD’s and edit video from camcorders and sound/music tracks. You can see a preview of Ubuntu Studio here

If you can run Windows you can just as easily run Ubuntu Linux. It’s fast, relaible and virus/spyware free.

I gotta say that if you just want a simple and reliable student, home, or office PC at minimal cost, one that will actually run effectively even on older inexpensive hardware, Ubuntu is it.

Microsoft is going to lose some of their edge to unique companies like this.

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3 thoughts on “Ubuntu – an amazing alternative to Windows

  1. I must disagree with you on this one Anthony. While Linux has done a lot of growing up in the the 15 years since I started in the IT business, with major leaps in the “use-ability” category in the last 5 years or so, I do not believe that it is ready for the masses.
    Sure, while you have software like Open Office, Gimp, and various desktop interfaces that make Linux more user-friendly than ever before, it can still be a tricky OS to get installed and, perhaps most importantly, to maintain. Most “day users” of computers (those that use them for their jobs and hardly touch them at home) are hopelessly addicted to Windows. The word “addicted” is an important one. Microsoft has spent BILLIONS of dollars putting Windows on 95% of all the PCs in the world. You think they did that because they really believed it was the best OS out there? Microsoft did it so that the public would be so hopelessly addicted to the Microsoft way of computing that changing to any viable alternative would be both expensive and frustrating. People have to learn a new interface, new applications, new ways to maintain their systems, the list goes on and on. Sure, many distros try to make operations as “Microsoft-ish” as legally possible but there is still a fair amount of training to be done to take a person from being a hopelessly addicted and assimilated Microsofter/BORG member to a productive, free thinking Open Source user. Ok, I exagerated a bit (about the free-thinking part) but the point is the same. Linux is not ready for the masses. More importantly, the masses aren’t ready for Linux.
    You also have to consider the cost of support. Even the most clueless Windows users can usually find a kid or relative who knows someone who knows a guy that can fix their computer. Linux gurus? A little harder to come by. And if you go into any of the Linux forums around the Internet and ask a question that shouts to the world that you are new to Linux (that is assuming that you haven’t goofed up your Linux box to the point where you can no longer get online), you are in for a rude awakening. Most Linux gurus are pretty harsh on noobs. Not all, but most. How is a person that, as you say, wants a simple, reliable student, home, or office PC at minimal cost going afford (or even find) a Linux guru to come out and fix their problems?
    And speaking of office users, who do you think is going to pay for all that training to teach the employees how to use the new OS? I know, I know, Ubuntu is almost identical to Windows so not much training is required. Not so fast. Do you know what the first question I got was when I presented one of my office receptionists with a SUSE Linux PC? “How do you change the background?” It took her 20 minutes to figure out how to do that. To say nothing of how long it would have taken her to figure out where all the new Open Office features were hidden. She has her keyboard shortcuts memorized. Open Office changes most of those shortcuts and many of the advanced features in MS Word and Excel aren’t even implemented yet in Open Office. No enterprise in their right mind is going to retrain their administrative staff to use an entirely new OS and application set unless there is a darn good reason. And, believe me, I looked long and hard for one. Lower cost in hardware and software? Yes, that’s true. But what about support costs. Many IT professionals are as addicted to the Microsoft way of computing as the users are. Just because someone works in IT doesn’t mean they know Linux. Is the IT department of an enterprise supposed to dump their Windows guys in favor of a new set of Linux gurus? Not likely.
    Wow, I went on and on. For all those reasons, and many more, I think Linux on the desktop will remain the thing of gurus and hobbiests for quite some time.
    But, hey, I agree about the Mac. Even though I am a PC diehard and Macs used to be my sworn enemy, the latest Intel-powered Macs are looking sexier and sexier. We have a person in our office that has a 20-inch iMac with another 20-inch flat panel monitor attached to an external port. With Parallels software, he is able to run both OSX and Windows on the same computer in two different monitors. He effectively has two computers in one.
    IMHO, the Mac is going to gain some serious ground on Windows in the home market. Given how easy it is to get your content onto the web these days, the Mac gives you the tools right out of the box to participate in the fun. With a PC you have to buy all that software seperately and it is usually a lot harder to use than what comes on a Mac. I agree with you about the Mac. If you want to go out on the Internet and join in the fun, get a Mac.

  2. Hi Thomas,
    Thanks for the well thought out comments. I used to be in exactly the same place you are. And you make some excellent points.
    I tend to be an end user and n00b advocate in my software designs (it drives my programmer, Darryl crazy) and I always look for ways to make the interface simpler and more obvious.
    Linux – I used to dislike with a passion, mainly becuase it had commands like “grep”. Who knows what that is except an annointed few?
    Macs – I was the same way, but for the opposite reason. It was like a religous experience. No need to think here folks, just go on faith.
    But both OS’s have become more “centric” in their approach lately. And that approach is to mimic the success of Windows. Windows could arguably be the most popular brand on the planet, surpassing Coca Cola.
    But with Ubuntu, I wa surprised when I found:
    1) It didn’t crash on install – or throw up some cryptic requirement for input
    2) With just a little experimenting, I could easily run it. Never having run it befoe
    3) It’s been up for over two weeks now, and isn’t complaining
    4) It had most every application a home PC could want.
    5) Its free – darn hard to argue with that.
    Its time may not be here yet, but I see it coming one day soon.

  3. Hi Thomas.
    While your previous points are valid – regarding user addiction to Windows. I must disagree 100% with Linux users being harsh on ‘n00bs’.
    Although this may have been the case before Ubuntu, it is not the case anymore. The users at the Ubuntu forum, IRC channels and blogging sites are amazing! Everyone wants to help you!
    I remember I once had a problem where my 2nd harddrive wasn’t being detected. 2 users from Ubuntu’s IRC channel and numerous users from the forum stuck with me for hours late at night to get it fixed.
    I have been a M$ beta tester and TBED engineer for over a year now. However, the disappointment assosiated with Vista (dropped features, DRM etc) tipped me over the edge.
    I had a friend who told me about Ubuntu 6 months ago, and I haven’t turned back yet!
    Ubuntu delivers so much more than it promises. I find myself missing it when I’m using Windows at work.
    To everyone who hasn’t tried it; at least try the live cd.

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