A look at Ubuntu--and at how Linux can appear to beginners
Today's review of Ubuntu 10.04 "Lucid Lynx" (doesn't everybody like cute animal names?) is not the first time I've written about the open-source Linux operating system. In fact, it's been about eight years since my first column devoted to the subject.
So I feel safe in predicting that much of the eventual e-mail response to my writeup of the desktop (pictured at right) and netbook (below) editions of Ubuntu 10.04 will fit into one of the following four templates.
1. "Ubuntu is fine for beginners, but you should have tried [insert name of some lesser-known distribution Linux distribution] instead."
2. "You just had to do [complicated command-line tinkering here] to get that [problem reported in review] fixed."
3. "So when are you switching all of your PCs to Linux?"
4. "Just get a Mac."
(My answers: If you can point me to a more consumer-oriented version than Ubuntu, I'll give it a shot, but I'm not interested in something aimed at more technical users; I'll try that now; never, since some of our newsroom software doesn't seem to run in Linux and I need to stay conversant with Windows anyway; I like Macs too, but switching from Windows to OS X is much more expensive than going from Windows to Linux.)
But I don't know if I'll get a fifth sort of reader feedback: a query from somebody who's not familiar with Linux and is now interested in trying it out. There seems to be an intimidation factor around using Linux at home.
In some cases, it's understandable. The ever-changing array of Linux distributions--packaged bundles of the operating system and add-on programs--can make Microsoft's mix of Windows editions look simple. The insistence of many Linux publishers on not including any proprietary software or closed formats leaves some assembly to the user (though some distributions, such as the Ubuntu-derived Linux Mint, include that support upfront). Parts of Linux, such as the cluttered and ugly "boot loader" used to choose between starting up Linux or Windows, have yet to be ungeeked. There are weird names to learn how to pronounce (in this case, "oo-boon-too"). And you can never be entirely sure that all of your computer's hardware will work in Linux, though that situation is about 50 times better than it was back in 2002.
(So you know, some editors I've worked with would have been quite skeptical of devoting an entire column to Ubuntu.)
But in other respects, it's unfair to think of Linux as some sort of exotic, frightening experiment. Unless you go out of your way to choose the wrong options, a Linux install is far less likely to cause issues for an existing Windows system than Microsoft's own updates. The switch to Web-based applications that has allowed users of Macs, iPhones, iPads and Android devices to stop worrying about needing Windows applications benefits Linux users too. And the difficulty and cost of upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 makes an Ubuntu installation look a lot better.
One other data point to that effect: After installing Linux on the Dell and Sony laptops noted in the column (in addition to testing an in-place upgrade from the copy of Ubuntu 9.10 I'd installed on another Dell last year), I took that first Dell on last week's reporting trip to San Francisco--then didn't boot into Windows until Thursday morning. Everything you read here from Monday through Wednesday of that week was done in Linux. I finally switched back to Windows to write my column, since that required running remote editing software that doesn't work (or I don't know how to work--anybody have advice on Citrix in Ubuntu?) in Linux.
So I hope today's column gets some attention outside Linux-focused blogs and mailing lists. On the other hand, it's yet to elicit any reader mail or comments. Am I getting ahead of myself with this review? You tell me.
May 28, 2010; 11:01 AM ET
Categories: Linux , Security , The business we have chosen
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