Finally! After almost two years of weird tics and random freezing, I finally had it. The solution, or so I hoped, to all my woes on my desktop computer. The newest version of Ubuntu had come out and I had it in my grubby little hands. YES! I took the .iso file (which is an image of what a DVD or CD will be when it's burned. Think of it as a winzip file for disks.) and dropped it onto my desktop. I had a new program that I wanted to try out. A new way of installing operating systems that didn't involve a CD/DVD rom drive. Which, if you've ever tried to reinstall an operating system on a netbook or an ultralight Toshiba, you know why this is a good and wonderful thing! So I copied the disk to my hard drive and let the new program go to town. When it was doing that, I carefully made sure everything I had on the desktop was moved over to either my 1 terabyte drive or my 250 gig external. I didn't want to lose anything, so anything of value went over.
When that was all done, I unplugged my external drives and away I went. I plugged the USB drive I was put the installation CD on into my USB port and rebooted the computer. Nothing...wait what? Oh yeah, I forgot that I had make my computer boot from USB drive first. If you used the CD this wouldn't have happened as that's the default for almost any computer under the sun. Except maybe HP, but they're kinda evil anyway. Try it again, and BAM! It starts loading...the new operating system.
Yes, Ubuntu installs via a Live CD. What is this you ask? Well, it's a great way to play with the operating system and not have to commit. I'm sure men thought this up, but it's great. While it's slower than it would be if you installed it on an actual hard drive, you can do anything you want to it. Check it out, take it for a test drive, all while not touching anything on your computer's actual hard drive. Can you do that with Windows I ask? The answer is NO! I played around with it for a few minutes, just checking out all the new pretty of the artwork and then I clicked on the button that says "Install."
I've gone through more OS installs than I care to remember. From Win 3.11 to Vista, I've done most of them at least once. In college I swear I was reloading about every semester as I broke something or as another component on my old 486x mutant Gateway died. Man, that was an awesome time. I don't know, let's try this! That didn't work? Um...let's try opening it up and reseating it! Yeah, that'll totally work. I was a bit of a Dr. Frankenstein in college. At least when it came to computers. The bottom line is, I know OS install procedures. From simple to pain in the ass and the Ubuntu install? As easy as they come. It's all graphical, point and click, and as long as you don't want to do something, like say change your default file system from ext3 to ext4, it's a breeze. Of course, I can't manage to do anything simple, so yes, I went looking for the ext4 file system. It's there, if hiding in the manual partitions. I actually had to ask another geek where it was, which...sigh, probably means my geek cred has gone down. But I finally got it, gave my machine a bit of extra room, swearing the entire way, and sent it on it's way.
The best time to install any Operating System, unless it starts with the word Windows, is right after release. Especially if you're on dial-up or any other type of limited weebage. This is because when install you'll have to get updates. Every operating system under the sun has bugs in it. It's just impossible to find them all before release. The longer you wait, the more updates you'll have to install right after your install. If you have good Internet, it's not a problem, if you have crappy internet that's capped and they shut you down, it can be a problem. Needless to say, I had very few updates that needed to be installed.
It finished installing and told me to reboot. This is my first chance to really get a look at the artwork. Now, Ubuntu really does have issues on that part. It's not exactly the sexiest looking operating system out there. Especially with their determination to use company colors of brown and orange. There's just not much you can do with brown and orange. But they tried, and I have to say the splash screen is a definite improvement. They obviously decided to capitalize on the whole Battlestar Galactica craze as it now has a very Cylon feel to it. Of course, we won't mention that the Cylons are the bad guys. Still, with the yellow dot sliding back and forth across a red line, it's definitely channeling the old school Cylon look and I for one really like it. It's head and shoulders above the old yellow bar that was filled up in increments.
Speaking of splash screens and boot times, did I mention the newest version of Ubuntu boots in 35.8 seconds? No? Oh yeah, it boots in 35.8 seconds. This is a huge improvement over even the eeebuntu on my netbook that boots in 1 minute 35 seconds and Vista's boot time of a cup of coffee and three Supernatural magazine articles. *glares at the Vista laptop* I do like the fact that this version of Ubuntu gives you the option of having a log in screen or logging in automatically. Currently I have it set to logging in automatically but with the lock on the screen saver. Because I'm only a little paranoid, not completely. Unfortunately, this means that I cannot evaluate the artwork of the login screen, but you can change it if you hate it.
I'm now logged in and this is one of the biggest differences between Windows and Linux. Unlike Windows, where if you do a clean install you only get whatever is part of the Windows operating system, with Linux and Ubuntu specifically, you get a fully working computer out of the box. What does that mean? I means that I get an email reader, firefox, a media player, Office equivalent, games, PDA sync ability, and more without having to install more programs. That isn't to say I won't, as I don't like some of the default programs, but point is I don't have to. Yes, I understand that Linux and Windows have two very different ways of doing this and that Windows is a for profit operating system and that an entire ecosystem has been built around people buying and installing programs they need. I'm just saying, I like the ability to be able to use my computer after just install and not spend days installing other programs to make it useful.
Of course, that's not to say there aren't things that need to be tweaked. I do this regardless of the OS I'm using. With Linux, I'm changing out the defaults for programs I actually like. For example, I always install Thunderbird with the lightning extension instead of using Evolution, the Outlook equivalent in Linux. I usually add mplayer or VLC instead of using Totem. (Though this time I haven't done it as I'm kinda digging the ability put in the DVD and see the menu on it) However, this is quite easy with Ubuntu. The program Synaptic Package Manager has over 26,000 packages that can be installed on Ubuntu. Some are simply libraries needed to run other much more cooler programs, but they're there. Right in a program that's tied to the OS, and waiting to be installed. These are specially tuned to your system. No more going "dammit but it said it worked in Vista and now it doesn't and I can't take it back and dammit Jim, I'm a gamer not a computer geek!" And if you're old school like me? You can absolutely use the command prompt to type out what you want. Which, awesome!
This brings me to my main point. Just about everything you would need to do in this OS? You can now do with a point and click. No more command line unless you want to use it. Want to put in pretty animation a la Aero in Vista? Right click on the desktop and go to visual effects. It will install the necessary drivers and then add it. Need to add a printer? Go to System, Preferences, Printer. Not only is it probably already installed, but right there you can add it and make it default. How sweet is that?
I will say that I love the fact that Ubuntu now recognizes my sound card and hey! I didn't have sound issues, except for the fact that the sound system really really wants to use my SoundBlaster card instead of my built in sound card. Which wouldn't be a bad thing except I think there's an issue with the mic port on the SoundBlaster. But hey, I only use the mic for Skype and Gizmo. This was a simple fix, just telling Gizmo to use the built in sound card instead of the default. HA!
I'm an expert in sound now. Really truly, after fighting with it in every other Linux distribution I've ever installed, I know sound. I even have friends that say if I ever write a tech book or a memoir, the title should be "Surprise, I'm having sound issues." So it really was a nice surprise that my only sound issue was that I plugged the speaker cord into the wrong sound card.
The wireless also worked flawlessly. Wireless, traditionally, has always been a sticky wicket with Linux. Considering very few wireless manufacturers build Linux drivers for their cards they all have to be reverse engineered. This takes time and means that Linux usually lags behind Windows and Apple. Well, can I just say, this is usually involves manually fix the wireless and is such a headache! With this new version I didn't have to do anything with the wireless. It saw the card, saw my network and said "Oh hey! This is WPA2 encryption, would you like to put in the password?" Yes, it's that simple and it. just. works! Not only does it work? These new drivers have fantastic range. OMG, I can totally see my neighbor's completely unsecured wireless network on my desktop. Something that until now, I could only see on the netbook with it pressed right up against our adjoining foot thick concrete wall. And even then it'd be maybe a 5% signal. I'm easily getting 20 or 30 percent on the desktop which is across the room from the adjoining wall. Hallelujah! Praise St. Isidore!
Bottom line? If you've been toying with the idea of Linux for a while, this distribution is the one to finally take that plunge. You won't be disappointed.
*The distribution is free to home users and can be found at Ubuntu.com