My wife had been having issues with her laptop for quite a while. Well, that’s normal for Windows anyway, but her laptop was starting to slow down. Normally I can do a few maintenance things to get it running at a relatively decent speed again but it was becoming less and less effective. Not to mention it was getting old having to do it over and over.
I wasn’t really sure what to do about it until someone cool I know in Rome started talking about Ubuntu on Twitter. She mentioned that it nearly doubled the speed of her laptop, even when switching over from XP. That really got me thinking, because that was the main problem with my wife’s laptop, which was running Vista.
I still wasn’t too sure about the idea of installing a Linux based operating system though. I mean, it was Linux. That was supposed to be some wild, hard to use, super tech nerd operating system right? How the hell could I get it running? But then I realized that it couldn’t be that hard. Not if so many people were using it. Plus, the instructions on the website seemed pretty straightforward as well. Best part of all? You can do a test run before installing it.
So, I downloaded the disc image using BitTorrent, burned it, and then stuck it in the drive. It’s called a Live CD/DVD and it lets you run the OS on your system without actually installing it, so you can get a feel for it before taking the plunge I suppose. It ran surprisingly fast, considering it was running from a disc. That made me a bit nostalgic. Every time I would click on something, I would hear the disc spin up. It reminded me of when I was a kid, playing games on a Commodore 64. I don’t know why… That was about 20 years ago. Anyhow, I was impressed with how easy to navigate it seemed, and with how polished Ubuntu looked, even running from a Live CD.
So, we started the process of backing up all of her picture files and music and documents and whatever other clutter she had. It was amazing how many files she found hiding in corners. I stuck it all on an external USB drive.
The next day I did the actual installation. It was fairly pain free. After getting Ubuntu installed, the PC ran incredibly fast. Everything was clean, easy to find, and very snappy! The best part is that it feels so … utilitarian I suppose. It doesn’t feel cluttered. It was like crawling out of the wreckage of a downed airplane and finding yourself in a zen garden.
The only hiccup to the whole switching over process for me was understanding repositories. The easiest way to translate it into easy terms for people coming from Windows and OS X is this: It’s a way to install program that let’s them get auto-updated along with system files. They’re managed, (mostly) to some degree by the Ubuntu team so they’re pretty safe bets for installing without worrying about malware and the like. You get to your repositories by clicking on System < Administration < Synaptic Package Manager. This is where it’s sort of like Windows Update. You click on ‘Reload’ to make sure you have the latest repositories. Then you click on Mark All Upgrades. Then you click Apply. I suppose you don’t have to upgrade, but it’s probably best. Anyhow, the ugly part of repositories is that it’s mostly a bunch of file names. It’s hard to figure out what you’re looking for. That’s where Google comes in. Just Google the program you want along with the term repository and you can usually find out if it has one or not, and what it’s called. Also, some third-party programs that aren’t in the repositories already can be added in, though you should only do that with companies you trust. Basically, anything you need to do you can find help for with a quick Google search. Since Ubuntu is open source, the community for it is huge and there are help articles and threads everywhere, including Ubuntu’s own help pages.
Another thing that Ubuntu has going for it is that it’s like a blend of Windows and OS X for me. It feels a lot like OS X but it seems to honor the keyboard shortcuts of Windows.
Ubuntu really isn’t as steep a learning curve as I’d thought it would be. It’s easy to figure out. The OS is free, and all the software that you get for it is free too. Well, there are free alternatives anyway. I think I’ve seen a few paid programs while poking around, but there’s no need for them at all.
I also realized that a lot of people like Ubuntu after installing it on my wife’s laptop. Friends tell me they’d use Ubuntu exlusively if not for iPod/iPhone syncs requiring iTunes, which only runs on OS X and Windows.
Personally, I’m loving it, and I actually enjoy using it more than OS X. I use my wife’s laptop when she’s not on it just because it’s more interesting! The only thing I miss is Apple’s Mail.app. There’s just no good replacement for it, though Ubuntu’s built in Evolution e-mail app comes close.
By the way, I’m using Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala, which is where these screenshots are all from. It’s in it’s final beta stages now with the final release set for the 22nd, so I felt it was safe to just go for it.