After becoming increasingly frustrated with Windows Vista, I began searching for an alternative operating system. An “upgrade” to Windows XP seemed like the only other option, but Skatter Tech’s senior editor, Sahas Katta, suggested I try Ubuntu 9.10: Karmic Koala. Naturally, after years and years of using Windows based systems, I hesitated to install Ubuntu. First off, I did not like using Linux. I never got into the habit of learning all the different commands and functions of a Linux OS and did not want to start now. I believed in this stereotype that only very tech-savvy computer engineers used anything Linux related. Therefore, I winced after Sahas suggestion as I knew that Ubuntu was built on the open source Linux kernel. But alas, Vista drove me nuts and I became fed up. Finally, I weighed my options: I could either go back to Windows XP (older, but I know it worked) or try out the free, open source Ubuntu OS (new, but mysterious). So I figured, what’s the worst that can happen if I try Ubuntu?
Right off the bat, Ubuntu earned my respect. Installing the entire OS, after deleting and creating new partitions, on my less-than-average HP dv5z took less than 20 minutes. (Side note- the HP dv5z disappoints me greatly. I do not recommend this slow, unstable, and easily-overheating laptop to anyone. I hope the new laptops in this series fare better than this.) I thought it would take a painful hour or more, so finishing the installation in this amount of time pleased me. After downloading all the necessary updates for the system, which went by pretty quickly, I restarted my computer (Ubuntu booted up in about 20 seconds), took a deep breath, and dove in.
The simple layout of the desktop and destinations make using this system fairly easy. The three tabs at the top—Applications, Places, and System—are the Ubuntu equivalent of the Windows Start, Explorer, and Control Panel functions. However, Ubuntu organizes all the files, folders, and programs better. For example, in Ubuntu, if I want to open up the mouse preferences, I simply go to System, then from the drop-down menu hover over “Administration”, and then click on the “Mouse” preferences. In the cluttered Windows XP & Vista, I click on the Start Menu, then on the Control Panel. I then have to browse through the control panel in search for the Mouse preferences item. That once again opens up another window. With Ubuntu, only one window opened up, the Mouse preferences, unlike Windows where I had several already. Everything feels faster to do too. And like I said above, I can click on any file or program up in this fashion and do it quickly and cleanly. Also, as an alternative and supplement for Linux users, Ubuntu features a console and similar Linux programs.
In addition, I enjoyed toying around with the highly customizable user interface. One of my favorite features, I get to change almost every aspect of the desktop. I can add new panels (a.k.a. taskbars) and place folders or programs on them. In addition to changing to the provided theme, I can make a completely new one, with my own color, image, and font scheme. Other than the desktop, the animation effects increased the fun and cool factor using the OS. By downloading free software called Compiz, I am able to use many different effects including making my windows wobble, opening/closing files using a “magic lamp” animation, or starting a really big multicolored fire on my screen. A user can spend hours customizing by just using Compiz: the possibilities are endless. While some of those features are definitely gimmicks, others truly help with productivity.
Continuing on the idea of possibilities, by going to the Ubuntu Software Center, I have the ability to download almost any open-source program or software for free. There are many alternatives to replace programs on Windows or Mac. A few main stream ones, such as Mozilla Firefox or the VLC Media player, can already run on Ubuntu. Others, such as Adobe Photoshop, cannot, but Ubuntu remedied this problem by finding a somewhat comparable alternative to download, in this case, Gimp. I found every program that I used on Windows, whether it be the Linux version or an alternative one through the Ubuntu Software Center. Even if I did not like the comparable Ubuntu software or if I run into issues, there’s plenty of new applications being added by developers from all over the world and a huge community to offer support.
As great as Ubuntu runs, there are a couple problems that cannot be overlooked. For one, the wireless connectivity, at least for me, works poorly. More often than not, I cannot connect to a network. If I do end up connecting, the connection to that network frequently drops. Although a solution to this problem most likely exists, it is nonetheless still an annoyance. But again, this only happens with a few of my connections, not all of them. (It could also be an issue with my HP hardware.) Another issue I can now overlook, but probably will come up again concerns the use of software. Although alternative software remedies this issue, it does not solve it. If a new updates hits the internet, I am unable to use it because it will most likely only run on Windows and Mac. Also, popular PC games, such as Call of Duty or Halo, can’t run on Ubuntu. Fortunately, I mostly play on consoles, so this did not bother me greatly. Also, though I have yet to download any, Ubuntu advertises over 400 free online games of all genres.
All in all, Ubuntu rocks. After using it for a couple weeks, I became accustomed to it and enjoy it throughly. Much more stable and organized, Ubuntu performs well in my book. However, out of my two computers, I only switched one of my computers to Ubuntu, leaving the other one using a Windows operating system. Being a student with little to no free time, downloading alternative software and learning how to use it turns me off from Ubuntu a bit. I know how to use a lot of the most popular applications as well, but some of those can’t be found on Ubuntu. Other than this and the wireless connectivity issue, I do encourage anyone to give Ubuntu a shot. I will definitely be keeping Ubuntu on my poor-performing laptop since the OS significantly improves my laptop’s usability. I wrongly feared Ubuntu: as the developers put it, Ubuntu most certainly is “Linux for Human Beings!”