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Windows Guy Tries Ubuntu 7:04: Part 2 - Two Weeks Later

So it’s been two weeks since I started using Ubuntu 7.04. I have to say that it has been a very interesting experience so far. To say that it has been easy and seamless would be a lie. However, I have to say that I’ve been able to do 99% of the things that I set out to do. Now that I’ve spent some time digging into the system I wanted to write a follow-up piece to my initial review. The goal isn’t to trash or gush over Ubuntu in any way. The goal is to point out things that I’ve run across in trying to make the transition from a polished, commercial package like Windows XP\Vista to a polished, open-source package like Ubuntu 7.04.

1. Look and Feel

My initial impression of Ubuntu 7.04 was that it had a clean, nondescript look. The tan background and big blocky icons were a throwback to Windows 95 days to my eyes. It wasn’t that it was bad, it just wasn’t flashy or fun. Note to the world - I understand that flashy and fun are not needed. I get that flashy and fun get in the way of actually doing work. Still, I like eye candy as much as the next guy. I can only guess the minimalistic look has to do with making sure the system actually will load on most peoples machine instead of pulling a Vista (though truth be told the non-Aero UI in Vista is still nicer than the default Ubuntu settings). That’s a smart choice, but a boring one.

Well thanks to several readers who pointed out that unlike Windows, I didn’t have to live with the standard look and feel of the OS if I didn’t want to - I started to tweak things a bit. Everyone told me to check out Beryl and hold onto my socks. Well I did, and I held and well, I couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. Nothing looked any prettier. There was no cool themes I could switch to, the icons still sucked. (Note: I have switched to compiz-fusion and do like it better)

That’s when my friend Anna laughed at me. That kind of condescending, you are so stupid old man kind of laugh. She told me how to tweak things like transparency, and transition effects. She game me the link to find better themes and icons. Then, after another fit of teasing me, helped guide me to configuring things more to my liking. Very cool. I was especially tickled when I downloaded a sweet set of OSXish icons for my system. The tweakability factor is about 10!

However, that’s a blessing and a curse. For a guy like me who likes to play around with stuff, it’s a cool feature. For someone like my wife, it’s something that is NEVER going to be used. She would never spend the time it takes to move beyond the default look. Being able to tweak and configure to your hearts content is one thing - NEEDING to do it to get a nice looking desktop is different. Heck even with 2 weeks of fooling around, I still can’t get the opacity quite the way I like it.

One major complaint that I have about Ubuntu (and possibly all Linux distros, I don’t know) is the font rendering. It sucks. There I said it - let the hate mail commence. The fonts are not nearly as nice as Windows. They may seem like a minor thing, but if you spend 10 hours a day in front of a screen, bad font rendering is an issue. I’ve done several things to try to fix the problem, with some limited success, but it still isn’t great. I changed the FONT settings to use subpixel smoothing for LCD screens, I added the Microsoft TTF font pack. Heck I even switched all my fonts to Tahoma (the XP font) in order to improve the look. It still isn’t right.

Granted, I understand the Microsoft probably spends more on fonts than some third world countries do on healthcare, so I’m willing to cut some slack here. I just hope it gets better in the future because my eyes just aren’t as young as they used to be.

The last thing I want to mention about the look and feel is a really small thing, but something that tickled me to no end. I was adding a few short cuts (or whatever you want to call them) to my top panel. I clicked in the middle of the panel and the icon was added there. At first I was a bit annoyed that it didn’t line up nice and neat like it would have with XP. Then it dawned on me - the icon was exactly where I had placed it. It hadn’t “snapped” into some arbitrary place, it stayed where I put it. I realized that I had complete control! It may not sound like much, but to me it clarified exactly what was so cool about the whole Linux movement.

2. Hardware Compatibility.

This was a major stumbling block for me in the past when trying various Linux flavours. Compared to Windows, hardware support (especially drivers from vendors) was lacking.I don’t care if that’s a fault with the manufacturers “ignoring” Linux (or as it should be put, wanting to maximize their ROI). I’m an end user and I want my hardware to work. If it doesn’t the OS is of little use to me. Thankfully, as I reported two weeks ago, I have been impressed with the hardware support under Ubuntu 7.04. It picked up my wireless card on the first try. It detected my video card (a NVIDA Quatro - thanks Dell$#@@) and suggested a restricted driver that worked (mostly). I’ve even been able to get my video camera, digital camera USB drivers etc. to all work.

Other hardware has been a little hit or miss. At work it seems to find my Microsoft wireless keyboard and mouse when booting up with no problem. At home it does not (same model too). While both the keyboard and mouse work fine once Ubuntu starts, the lack of detection means that I can’t change into Vista if I need to. Of course, if a Microsoft OS did the same thing I’d hear howls of protest - imagine “MS keeps users from choosing Ubuntu” :) Anyhow the USB detection at boot is a pain, not a killer.

A bigger issue to me is the video driver. This is complete newbiness on my part, I admit, but it’s a pain in the rump none the less. I want to switch to the latest NVIDIA driver for my card but can’t seem to figure out how to do it. I found the driver on the NVIDIA site. I downloaded and tried to follow their instructions. I keep getting an error that says I need to exit X before I can install the driver. The problem is, I couldn’t figure out how to do that. I tried CTRL+ALT+Backspace but that just logged me out. I tried CTRL+ALT+F1 but that didn’t seem to do the trick. I know there is just something I’m missing, but compared to launching an .exe file and having a program install the driver for me, it’s harder.

I need to figure it out too, because of a very irritating video problem that I am having. I tend to have a lot of windows open at once. Often under Ubuntu windows tend to go “black” on me if I have several opened at once. I have to minimize them all before I can read the one I want. It is a major pain in the ass. I’ve been told that it is a problem with the NVIDIA driver (this maybe BS, but it’s the best lead I have). Until I can get the new driver installed, I can’t test to see if it fixes the issue. If anyone out there has a solution, let me know.

Finally, if you are a laptop user like me, be warned that the Suspend function is broken, at least with my Dell Latitude 620. It DOES suspend the OS, but when I try to bring it back to life, the screen is black with a tiny little white square block in the middle. I have to reboot. I’ve read there are various attempts to fix this. Maybe now that Dell is selling machines with Ubuntu there is a fix already. Once again, if anyone knows how to correct the problem, let me know.

3. Ubuntu At Work

We have a windows network at work. Other than my laptop it is completely homogeneous. I was curious to see if I could use Ubuntu at work at do my day to day network admin tasks. By and large the answer is a resounding yes.

First, logging onto our Windows 2003 domain was a piece of cake. I could access all the network resources in our office. I was able to print to printers (your mileage may vary), connect to shares, surf the web through our firewall etc. I was even able to use the Terminal Service Client Applet to RDP into my servers and manage them. It was a little more complicated to setup than the MS RDP client, but not incredibly so. Frankly anyone needing to connect to my servers should be smart enough to figure it out.

I used the Evolution e-mail client to connect to Exchange 2003 and in a few minutes had access to my e-mail and calendar and contacts. Since it uses OWA to access my account, I was able to fire up the client at home and have the same nice UI that I used at work. It is a solid piece of software. It doesn’t replace Outlook 2003 or 2007 in my mind, but it may be the next best thing. It was much nicer than trying to use Firefox with OWA.

With the help of the community, I was able to get my PPTP VPN client working. OK here is a stupid user confession. I’m so used to right-clicking on an icon when I need to access the “context-sensitive” functions, that I thought the PPTP program that I installed wasn’t working. People kept telling me to click on the Network icon in the corner to launch my VPN connection and I didn’t see it. I didn’t realize you had to LEFT click in order to access the menus. DOH! Well lesson learned and VPN established. It works just as well and just as fast as the MS version too.

All in all there are few reasons that I couldn’t use Ubuntu at work to do my job. Sure I have to RDP into a server in order to run many of the server tools (is there an ADUC management tool for Linux? If so I’ll try it next), but I do that most of the time now because it’s faster than running the tools on my laptop. Depending on what you or your users need to do, you might be able to get away with Ubuntu instead of Windows. Application support is still the deciding factor there, but at least the gap has narrowed.

4. Misc Observations.

Windows needs a package manager. After using the Synaptic Package Manager for two weeks, I’m finding it to be a royal pain to have to Google for software in Windows. The Package Manager is a fantastic time saver. I’ve been able to install 90% of the stuff I needed without having to hunt for it on the Internet.

Deskbar (a little applet you can install) kicks ass as a search utility. It’s faster than the Vista search in my mind. it finds your files, allows you to launch programs etc..

Automatix is a godsend for Linux newcomers like me. I was able to install and configure the bulk of those “extra” programs that made the OS shine. It was a snap to install different IM clients, media players, codecs etc with just a few clicks. I was even able to install WINE and Crossover. If your new to Linux, check it out. It will make your life much easier.

The Linux Community: I’ve been active in the Windows community for a decade. There is fantastic support out there if you look. That said, I have never experienced the passion, dedication and willingness to help that I did in my first brush with the broader Linux community. Every problem that I ran into, I found someone willing (if not able) to help. While some people were real idiots (”Windo$e Sux man!” or “M$ users are stupid” demonstrate a level of ignorance that that defies explanation) most people were very nice. I hope as I delve deeper into Ubuntu and Linux in general that the same level of community and camardarie continues to exist.

In the end I’ve been very impressed with Ubuntu. After two weeks of banging under the hood and using it as often as I can, it has shown itself to be stable, fast and customizable. Hardware support is solid and application support is good. It is a tweakers paradise. I can work at work and and home. If I had to I could use it as my day-to-day system and not have many regrets. I’m still not as comfortable with it as I am in Windows, but I’m getting there. I may not be a convert yet, but I am a fan.

(PS Funny Note: The response to my original review was so overwhelming that our website crashed repeatedly. Like many hosting plans, our former host (Bluehost.com) just couldn’t keep up with the DIGG and Reddit effect. In a moment of drunken clarity, I decided to move BIO from a hosted solution to a self-managed virtual server with VPSlink.com. That’s right, two weeks after writing about Ubuntu Linux, I’ve managed to build and configure an Ubuntu server running Apache, MySQl etc. and port 14 blogs over. It was a real eye opening lesson. Being able to do that all remote, all from the command line, was sweet. I almost threw my laptop through the wall a few times when I screwed up and had to start over (firewall rules are fun when you are working remotely), but in the end I got it working. Thank you to all the people who put together the great walkthroughs on setting up Apache, MySql, Ubuntu and Webmin. )


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26 Comments in 26 threads.»

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Pingback by Windows Guy Tries Ubuntu 7.04: Part 2 - Two Weeks Later « Linux and Unix Top News
2007-10-12 10:58:29

[…] read more | digg story […]

 
Comment by Lol Lolovici
2007-08-21 06:36:22

For your suspend problem read down the page here:

https://wiki.ubuntu.com/LaptopTestingTeam/DellLatitudeD620

I think the only thing that matters for suspend to work is in fact that post video changed to false. You really must get it to suspend and wakeup, get frozen and reboot two times before it works. Seems stupid to me but after that it works.

The hibernate didn’t work for me but maybe I need to do the two times frozen thing here too. Or maybe I should have left the hibernate line in the config alone. Mind you, those settings are for Ubuntu 6.06.

Anyway I suggest you get the Ubuntu 7.10, Gutsy, and check it out. For now it’s alpha 4. Soon it will be beta and the final version comes out in october I think. It has compiz-fusion built in and that cool search anything anywhere feature from macosx (also copied in Vista, duh).

 
Comment by KS_japan
2007-08-07 23:32:49

I agree with many comments above regarding KDE being better than GNOME. But one thing that made me switch to GNOME: Desktop access button in KDE. It is a totally crazy way of minimizing the window and then flooding with all the previously open windows afterwards (it compels us to minimize each an every window by ourselves). It is really a nuisance for may be most users. And KDE is not listening as well.

 
Comment by Keith
2007-08-07 04:55:35

Ubuntu is probably the best linux distribution among all Linux distribution for anyone who is switching from Windows. In terms of professional linux suite, I would still go for Debian, but Ubuntu remains one of the best-made operating software. There may be some incompatibility issue with drivers, but that can be sorted out as I believe there are others who had done that before.

 
Comment by g2g591 Subscribed to comments via email
2007-08-05 19:29:02

Hmm for some reason my font rendering seems a lot better than the screenshot above. Perhaps kde is a bit better, see @ http://img57.imageshack.us/img57/9594/minelooksbetterkubuntuvt9.png

 
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