Hooked On Linux

KeyboardI don’t remember when I first heard about Linux, or even Unix, but I do know it was a long time ago. My first impression was that Unix was an OS for mainframes and comp. sci majors. When I learned that it was capable of multitasking and running a GUI, my brain nearly fell out. Years later, when I learned of Linux, I got basically the same impression—it seemed like trying to run a mainframe OS on a little desktop box.

At a time when I was spending countless hours of my life endlessly tweaking my Amiga and whatever crap PC I had on hand, or trying to devise the perfect partition/directory structure, spending 3 hours compiling something just to get the machine to boot up seemed like a colossal waste of time. As time went on, the idea of Linux as desktop OS was becoming less ridiculous, but there still seemed to be a giant learning curve. It was hard enough keeping Amiga and DOS cli commands and syntaxes straight, much less learning an entirely new one!

A few years ago, I finally got a Macbook at work, running OS X, which is Unix based. As I learned more about the Mac—and kept running into brick walls of broken or missing functionality—I started to dig into the command-line. I got a little more comfortable with it as time went on, to the point where I was seriously considering a personal switch to OS X, and finally ridding myself of an unfortunate dependence on Windows.

Somewhere around this time, my personal laptop (which had been in and out of the shop) finally got classified as a “lemon,” and I got to pick out a new one to replace it. Unfortunately, I was told that I couldn’t replace it with a Mac, but instead had to go for the closest spec-equivalent machine in the store. I ended up picking out a Gateway model, a few years more advanced and well-appointed than the old one, which was pre-loaded with Windows Vista.

Now, I’d already heard the horror stories, and was prepared for things to go wrong. But, I still wasn’t prepared for quite how quickly it would happen. As it turned out, the machine didn’t even make it through it’s first boot. It crashed and restarted, and then maybe on its second (or third) boot, it finally managed to get to the desktop. After I attempted to run some innocuous program like notepad or something, the machine crashed again, and I turned it off and downloaded and installed Ubuntu.

I haven’t looked back since then, and now have Ubuntu installed on both my personal machines, and my desktop at work.

Honestly, without the time spent playing around on the Mac, I never would have felt comfortable enough to take the Linux plunge, and likely would have downgraded the machine to XP. The great thing about Mac OS X is that, for the average user, it’s simple and uncomplicated, but for the geeky expose-the-wiring types, it offers so much more power and tweakability than the older Mac OS ever did.

And, with Ubuntu now pretty much the desktop Linux leader, things are shaping up. I wouldn’t classify Linux as “Mom-ready” quite yet (not my mom, anyway), but it’s getting there. And for someone like me, who enjoys getting their digits a little dirty typing in esoteric commands and tweaking settings ’til their eyeballs dry out, well, Ubuntu is pretty much perfect.

4 Responses

  1. Mandrew says:

    Totally agree about OS X… but not a fan of Ubuntu. Have had several serious issues (works for 20 straight boots, then unexpectedly crashes and requires hours of research/command line tweaks to get it to work again), and smaller issues (sound stops working, find online that I have to adjust via a mixer through the command line).

    Compatibility still an issue, mainly with sites that “don’t support Linux”. Ever try to stream shows from abc.com? Or watch espn360? After hours of installing IE/FFox/Opera through Wine, trying a User agent switcher, etc. I gave up.

    Love the UI for the most part, but add/removing/updating programs is clunky.

    IMO it’s certainly not “mom-ready”, and it’s probably not ready for those that want it to “just work” either.

  2. matt says:

    No doubt it’s not perfect, but it’s been making leaps and bounds. There are occasionally issues, but again, digging in and solving little problems like that are part of what I enjoy about computing. I personally don’t think I’ve ever had a browser incompatibility problem, but I don’t stream live TV either.

    I have to disagree with you, though, about the adding/removing/updating programs thing… Ubuntu has a built in directory of programs, all free, that is easily searchable and ranked by popularity/usage. Neither Windows nor OS X has that (by default, anyway). Installing a program is as simple as selecting it in a list and clicking a button. After that updates are handled transparently by the system… you never have to think about updating the software you’ve installed this way. Just do the semi-regular updates when it prompts you, and your whole system will be taken care of. If there’s a program that’s not in the list, there are other ways to get those, but Ubuntu’s list is fairly comprehensive for the average user.

    All that being said, you’re totally correct. Ubuntu (and Linux in general) is not ready for those who need it to “just work.” But it’s getting better.

  3. Mandrew says:

    Hmmmm… good point about the add/remove/update programs thing. There are definitely benefits. It’s more of an annoyance for me, which I think boils down to three things:

    – It’s different than the existing paradigm created by Windows (my fault yes, but still a hurdle for new-to-Linux people)
    – I’ve had sporadic issues with programs breaking. For example, Wine stopped working, it showed up as “not installed” in Ubuntu, but couldn’t re-install. Running “apt-get autoremove wine” worked, then I was able to reinstall it.
    – The whole “update” paradigm is confusing. When I use the update utility provided by Ubuntu, I see a ton of stuff that I’ve never heard of. Do I take the time to update those programs? Do I selectively update? Dunno…

    Oh, and other compatibility examples:

    – Couldn’t get pictures to upload to Shutterly or Kodak or something using their provided upload utility… this really pissed Cassie off.
    – When you don’t “Safely remove” a storage device from a windows machine… you get that error when you try to use it. The command line solution is intimidating… and plugging it back into a Windows machine then safely removing it is annoying

    Again, Ubuntu probably great for people that want to take the time to figure this stuff out/deal with the annoyances for the potential benefits… but I have to imagine that’s a (vocal) minority.

  4. matt says:

    All true. Flash support on Linux is still… a bit shaky. Haven’t been able to get flash plugin to work on my 64-bit Ubuntu 9.04 at work.

    Haven’t tried real hard, but still.