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Honey, it’s not working out … My humble experiences with Ubuntu Linux

Sep 17th, 2007 | By | Category: News & Updates, Personal Stories, Technology Brands

I’m a little heart-broken.

For the past 4 years I’ve been having an on-and-off affair.

There are moments when I’m attracted to her. (It’s usually when things are going bad with my regular love … then we experiment for a while and give “us” a shot).

Initially, she manages to dazzle me. Every time, she comes across with some new bells & whistles …

But after a while, I start noticing the flaws.

  • Like how it is to understand her …
  • She never likes to try out new things …
  • Always has to be different from my alternatives …

After four years, I’m ready to call it quits …

It’s not a girl on my mind.

It’s not a boy either (seriously you guys, you have to think of better jokes in your head … no no, the other head ;) ).

It’s something that’s a lot closer to my heart … my computer’s operating system.

I’ve been using some form of Windows since 1991 … that 15 year relationship can really give you moments when you wonder – “Do I deserve better than this?”

And those are the moments, when Linux steps in and offers something more attractive looking.

  • Linux is free!! (Never underestimate the pain of parting with $200 for buying a new copy of Windoze …)
  • Linux is geeky … being a tech entrepreneur, writer and geekhead … there’s a certain charm in getting to conquer the geekiest of operation systems …
  • I’ve been testing it for years, and it’s gotten easier and easier to set up …
  • The new Ubuntu Linux is probably the best looking Operating System out there … in my view, nicer than Mac OS X and Windows Vista …

A particular dire set of circumstances, started the affair this time …

A few months ago, my desktop died. I don’t really know why … I even had some chap at Sim Lim cheat me out out of $150 to diagnose and fix a non-existent problem. In any case, I couldn’t quite figure it out.

So I bought a new hard disk. Slotted it in. Bought a new graphics card. Slotted it in. The photo below is me trying to get my hardware to work (not that kind of hardware … I meant computer hardware … you naughty naughty girl).

Then I couldn’t find my original windows CD. I couldn’t even find the pirated CDs I used to keep in college.

So my choice was two-fold:

  1. Spend $200 to get a copy of Vista from Sim Lim
  2. Test my luck with Linux

Usually I lean towards buying Windows and getting it over with. I’ve tried Linux every now and then … and it’s just too painful to start using.

But in this case, coincidentally, my laptop was undergoing some bad spyware/virus issues. And I was exceedingly pissed because even after spending $75 a year on OneCare Live – Microsoft’s lame attempt at an anti-virus + anti-spyware … my computer had been infected.

So, to refuse handing over my S$200 to Bill Gates’ wealth, I decided to spend $0 and all my patience in trying to make Linux work.

Like I Said … Things With Ubuntu Linux Started Out Real Well …

I popped in the Ubuntu Live CD … and I booted my computer. And wallah! it worked!

(Actually things weren’t that smooth. My new hard disk was SATA and my old hard disk was IDE. And I had to play with my BIOS for several days … to bring a climax to the problem. Yeah, it sounds real kinky. But I’ll save you the technical details and skip to the fun part).

Nevertheless, so Ubuntu Linux booted up … looking clean, gorgeous and fast.

I immediately liked what I saw:

  • Most major applications I needed were already there (OpenOffice, Mozilla Firefox, a basic media player, automatic updates)
  • It automatically recognized my external hard disk! In the past, “mounting” external devices was a pain in Linux (yes, I’m aware of the sexual connotations of the phrase)
  • Networking automatically worked. For my desktop, it worked with Internet almost immediately. For my laptop (in the past), it had worked with wireless quite seamlessly too.
  • With Mozilla and OpenOffice installed – I could do my most critical tasks – check mail, read news and edit presentations.
  • It looked pretty damn nice. I love the “human” theme … (apparently that’s what the word Ubuntu means in Swahili, the south African language)

So, I thanked the heavens that I was back in touch with the world (over the virtual web, of course).

But slowly, it dawned upon me … that many of my needs weren’t being met

  • None of my movies or music would work. Apparently mp3, wma, divx, avi are all protected file formats … so installing codecs would be illegal. Took me hours to find and download the right codecs to play my 200GB of movies!
  • I couldn’t use so many of my fancy hardware devices – my windows mobile PDA-phone, my portable scanner, my external sound card etc etc
  • Software installation is quite a pain. There’s a known repository of software that will install the windows way (download setup files and then install) … for everything else, there’s a whole bunch of command line tweaking required.
  • The damn thing can’t recognize screen resolution properly. On my laptop, it stretched a 1024×768 resolution on my widescreen. On my desktop, I had to go find custom drivers by ATi (my graphics card manufacturer) to enable my 1280×1024 resolution on my LCD.
  • All my regular Internet Marketing applications wouldn’t work! My web design, graphic design, adwords editor, email client etc etc … and that’s really mission critical to me …

The above screenshot shows the kind of web design and graphic design work I have to do in windows … and when you’ve spent 3-4 years getting used to the interface of one application … switching over is real hard.

But those same applications don’t seem to work in Linux. Now, I’m a resilient guy and so I thought I’d make do with open source alternatives instead …

  • Instead of Adobe Dreamweaver, I decided to try Nvu. Actually I’ve used it before … it’s okay, but no match for Dreamweaver
  • I thought I’d try GIMPshop (a copy of Photoshop) … instead of Adobe Fireworks, my regular graphics design app.
  • I tried to use OpenOffice Presentation to replace MS Office Powerpoint … but OpenOffice is no match there (on the other hand, the OpenOffice word document can stack up very well against MS Word)
  • I didn’t know which BitTorrent client to use. And because Linux downloads everything from their servers, their servers are super slow … so half the applications wouldn’t install.
  • I even tried this thing called Wine – it’s a way of running windows applications on Linux. I got some of my appz to install properly … but they didn’t run right.
  • Somebody on a forum recommended that I install Windows as a virtual desktop … great idea jackass … if I’m spending $200 on buying windows, then I’d want to use it properly. Not spend my efforts getting used to Linux.

But those open source applications just don’t do all that I need … I am working on a new product that is a series of educational videos. So, the content for the product had to be done in presentation format.

I tried switching over to OpenOffice … but it’s just too hard to use. Instead, when I moved back to MS Powerpoint, life seemed easy again … simple things like text resizing and font setup are a lot more intuitive here.

Then, the final straw came when even Linux started throwing the blue-screen of death at me.

In the middle of things, it would hang and die. In all fairness, I probably don’t know how to configure it right. Or it could be the fault of my hardware. But I don’t care … all I want from an Operating system is an easy learning curve.

Ubuntu Linux is a commendable step forward …

I’ve seen Linux over the years, and it has matured tremendously. For home users, who only need to see movies, browse the web and check email … it’s as good as Windows.

I particularly love the Ubuntu distribution of Linux … it looks beautiful … and it has a Live CD (so you can run the OS off the CD without messing up your existing installations) … and it can even install as a software inside of
Windows (try Wubi … it’s a risk free way of trying Linux without messing up windows).

But it’s not good enough for Advanced Users …

But it won’t do it for advanced users. If Dell sold a desktop bundled with Ubuntu, I’d feel confident giving it to my grandma. But the learning curve to do important things is just too much for me.

So if you need to pick up a new skill (let’s say photo editing, web design), then try an open source alternative. If you can learn them on one platform, you can use them anywhere …

  • Use Mozilla Firefox for browsing the web. It looks the same across Windows, Mac & Linux
  • Use OpenOffice for office applications. The Word processor is awesome. The Powerpoint & Excel alternatives are just OK. But its FREE.
  • Use Nvu for web editing. If you’re just beginning, it may be good enough for you and its cross-platform.
  • Use GIMPshop for photo editing.
  • Use Inkscape for vector & graphic editing.
  • Use Ubuntu as a secondary operation system. Install it within windows and get used to it … before you switch.

For working professionals, who focus on something special … don’t bother unless you have a lot of patience and free time. Test these software on a secondary computer in your free time … they have the potential to mess up my livelihood.

So, my advice to anyone who’s very comfortable with Windows – don’t switch.

Yes, it costs extra money to buy Windows, Office, Dreamweaver, Photoshop etc … But if you’re already adept at using those things, those extra 1000 dollars are well worth it. They will save hundreds of hours of re-learning and frustration later on.

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  1. Oh my freaking god! Rachit you’ve come a long way to arrive at the geeky side! Look at how geeky you are! :D

    Wait… did I just say “come” a long way? I meant “gone” really…

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