Ubuntu or bust…

So I’ve been forced onto my Linux desktop machine full time by Dell, my new Inspiron 8600 has a flaw in the LCD so I’m sending it back for repair. Dell had a 7 day return-to-depot warranty (unless you pay more) so for the next week I’m using my desktop machine.

I have had Ubuntu Linux on here for a couple months but I haven’t really used a Linux desktop for my primary workstation for a couple years. I know there are no good excuses for using windows but the last couple years I’ve been so busy with work and home life that I haven’t had much extra tweaking time, something you need to use a Linux desktop for the day to day.

While the basics of desktop use have been ready for prime time in Linux for years (mozilla, abi word, the gimp, open office, evolution etc) the biggest single drawback has been multimedia. I mean honestly, what serious computer user wants to spend hours compiling and tweaking mplayer to watch basic media files. I barely have time to get a coffee in the morning, I want my desktop OS to just work. I guess thats why hoards of self respecting OSS zealots have been migrating to OSX. It’s got a unix core and rockin GUI.

Anyway, since my windows machine’s gone I’ve taken the past week to dive back into the Linux desktop scene. In the past 6 months I’ve played with several OS operating systems on the desktop including Suse 9/9.1, Gentoo, Debian, Fedora Core 3 and FreeBSD 5.3. Suse was too slow and bulky for my tastes, Fedora Core 3 had too many annoying bugs, gentoo was too much work (man, gentoo users are a sick bunch), Debian Woody was a little too out of date and my beloved FreeBSD 5.3 just didn’t support the hardware I needed it to (mainly USB mass storage, firewire and my Nvidia video card). That’s ok, FreeBSD still finds a home on 3 machines on my network at home :-). Finally I settled on Ubuntu Warty Linux after reading about it online.

Basically Ubuntu is a fork of Debian-testing optimized for the desktop user. It’s got some big time funding behind it and a large active user base. Some of the things I really like about ubuntu are as follows:

* It uses debian’s APT package management. Apt is super easy to use and has great dependency resolving abilities (unlike RPM).
* It maintains compatibility with Debian so most Debian packages install and work perfectly which means you have a huge software base.
* It uses the 2.6 kernel.
* The Gnome Desktop environment is very complete, out of the box Ubuntu is ready to roll.
* The user base is quite active online meaning google can usually help you crawl out of pretty much any hole you dig yourself into.
* As a desktop machine it’s quite fast especially compared to Suse.
* The default install doesn’t allow root logons, something that caused 15 minutes of cursing when I first installed. Forcing the use of sudo makes it a lot safer for newbies who may feel the urge to run as root all the time. Of course you can sudo passwd root and reclaim your root account.
* It’s very easy to use, a newbie should be able to sit down at a ubuntu machine and be productive. Similarly, old Linux guys like myself won’t have to spend hours tweaking to have a usable system.
* Warty backports let me run the latest firefox packages without running the Hoary-testing version, which has proven to be a little unstable and slow on my machine.

Now here are some things I didn’t like about Ubuntu Warty:

* Hotplug seems sketchy but I guess that’s a 2.6 issue and not a warty issue.
* My USB mouse seems to puke and die a couple times a day which forces me to unplug/plug it.
* The default media player in warty, Totem, has yet to play ANY media. It seems to lack pretty much every audio and video codec out there, and yet it’s the default?? Luckily Mplayer packages are available and work very well once you install the win32 codecs package.
* The Nvidia binary driver seems a little buggy and has caused 2 hard locks on me in the past week. Don’t know if this is ubuntu specific or not.
* Firewire support seems broken at the moment on my machine. I haven’t had time to debug the issue.

Overall the windows to Ubuntu experience has been fairly positive, I definatly suggest anyone working or thinking about working on a Linux desktop check out ubuntu, they have a live cd that will let you test drive things before you get bloody doing a migration.

2 Replies to “Ubuntu or bust…”

  1. What drew me to this post is a google search on firewire problems in Ubuntu. I share your feelings about Linux, and since I am one of those newbies I definitely appreciate the “productivity out of the box” experience Ubuntu offers.
    However, firewire seems broken and I can’t seem to fix it. I would be interested to find out some more details about the problems you’ve experienced in this respect, and what steps you may have taken to solve them.
    Especially if the words “failed with error -16” rings any bells…

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