Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My Ubuntu Tips

by Alan Zisman (c) 2006, 2009

I'm not a Linux guru, just someone who's pretty comfortable working with Windows and Mac OS X systems who wanted to see to how well I could get Ubuntu Linux up and running as a replacement for those systems. There are some nice things about Linux and about Ubuntu in particular that make it a potentially appealing choice:

  • Linux doesn't suffer from the plague of Internet-borne viruses, spyware, and vulnerabilities to hackers that plague Windows systems
  • Unlike the (equally secure) Mac OS X, Linux can be installed onto the hardware that most people already have-- standard PCs. Many Linux-capable computers can be purchased cheaply or even obtained for free. For instance, I'm running Ubuntu Linux on a 2001-era HP Omnibook notebook... this Pentium III-800 MHz system cost US$4100 when new; I bought it recently for CDN$250. With 512 MB RAM and a 20 GB hard drive, it runs Ubuntu quite nicely.
  • Ubuntu is free and comes with a range of equally free applications such as the OpenOffice.org office suite, The Gimp photo editor, and more. Lots of other free applications and utilities are available for free installation.
However, there are some things about Linux and about Ubuntu in particular that are less appealing to people like me:

  • There are a large number of Linux distributions. While on the one hand, that means there are specialized packages for users with different needs (for instance free distributions vs paid distributions for people or organizations more comfortable with a formal support structure), it can be confusing. Moreover, some applications require different versions for different distributions, or are more easily installed in some distributions than others.
  • Similarly, there are a multiplicity of potential interfaces; two major desktop interfaces: Gnome (used in the standard Ubuntu package) and KDE (used in the Kubuntu varient) and lots of others. This too is both a good thing and a source of confusion. I chose the standard (Gnome-based) Ubuntu, in part simply because I like the way it looks compared to KDE.
  • There may be no Linux drivers for some hardware peripherals, or driver-installation may only be possible with more fussing than many users are comfortable with. When drivers do exist, they may be lacking some of the features of the commercial drivers for Windows or Mac OS X. While Ubuntu's scanner utility recognized the scanner in my HP PSC950 all-in-one, I couldn't actually get it to scan, for instance.
  • There's a down-side to Ubuntu's being free and open source. For licensing reasons, it doesn't include software that isn't also free and open source (under the Gnu Public License- GPL). So free software such as Real Player or Adobe Acrobat isn't included. Even though there are Linux versions of these programs, they aren't open source and licensed under the GPL. Users have to download and install them on their own. Out of the box, Ubuntu is somewhat multi-media challenged- though it's getting better!
Full list here: My Ubuntu Tips

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