David Bailey

Ubuntu Linux: Finally an OS for Me and My Grandma

Linux veterans, you probabily want to skip to the next paragraph. Those new to Linux, read on. Ubuntu is my new absolute recommendation for novices. Here's why. First, Ubuntu has by far the easiest installation process i have ever used, and i have tried quite a few distributions. Also, all my hardware just works with Ubuntu; I didn't have to touch a kernel or install any specific packages, which can be daunting to a new user. Second, Ubuntu has a great culture of community support. All of my questions were quickly and painlessly answered by a quick stop at google and I fully believe yours will be too. Third, Ubuntu comes with the best selection of software. While some other distributions include more software and more choice, I find that the simplicity of Ubuntu fits all my needs and leaves out all the clutter. A list of software included with Ubuntu is available at the end of this document for those unfamilar with the open source desktop. (By the way, all of this software is free, and most of it will run on your existing Windows or Mac system.)

After using Gentoo Linux for the past three years and FreeBSD before that, I've finally become tired manually setting up open source operating systems. Installing video drivers and manually configuring kernels to enable sound or network card support just doesn't do it for me any more. Now I want something that just works. I want a Mac version of Linux :), so I decided to give Ubuntu a try, and it' s awesome.

Let me set the scene. MacBook Pro, love it. Mac OS X, great. But I miss Linux, something about it. So I loaded up my Parallels software, selected a default new Linux VM and pointed it to the freshly downloaded Ubuntu ISO. The system booted off the CD, but no video. No! I thought Ubuntu was supposed to get rid of those configuration woes. No fear; after a little reading I start the system with the "live vga=711" option from the boot command line. Ah, in a few seconds, I am greeted by a beautiful GUI. Don't get me wrong, I love the command line, but there is something reassuring about graphics. The simple Ubuntu installer takes less than a minute of user input and away it goes. While it is installing I can even mess around with the full Linux desktop available from the livecd. Small detail: I first tried the install with 1GB of RAM allocated to the VM and it halted while detecting a driver. After a little googling, I discovered that the ram size must be 512MB. This should only be an issue for Parallels users. The install finishes in about 20 minutes, but it really doesn't matter, because you can use the system which includes about a dozen time-wasting games, while it is installing. Did I mention sound and network all work from the CD.

After the install finishes, I restart the system and am greeted by a beautiful login window, graphics fully configured out of the box. I login with the account I created during the install and in a few seconds I have access to a powerful, yet clean Gnome desktop. After the first login, a box appears and tells me there is software to update. It automatically downloads, yep the network just works, and installs updates to all the software that came on the initial setup. Speaking of software, Ubuntu comes preloaded with all my favorite Linux apps easily available from the applications menu in the top left. Included is Open Office, Firefox, and many more listed below. I think I'm really starting to like this convience. Now, what if I want to install new software? I just click the add/remove app in the applications menu. This program contains a organized view of the most popular Linux programs and a convienent search box for finding them. I quickly found a few program that were not in the list, however, that I wanted to install. No fear. All those old debain tricks still work. A simple "sudo apt-get install *package*" to the rescue. And yes, sudo is the way to go. In the install, I noticed it was funny that i was never prompted for a root password, the crutch of most linux newbies. However, I quickly grew to love typing in my password when adding new software or running sudo commands from the command line. Finally a system with security done right, just like my Mac. In those rare cases where a root account is more desirable, a "sudo -s -H" will drop you right into a root shell.

After a couple of days, I have added some of my favorite software packages via the add utility, apt-get, or by source if it comes to it. Most of the packages I have installed from source have required a quick stop at google with a search of "Ubuntu *package name*" to find some trick to the install. However, because of the tremendious amount of friendly community support I easly discover the trick to the install, usually just a dependency. I have also grown to love the gnome desktop. After I have been born on KDE and moved to Enlightenment, now i love the Ubuntu-Gnome desktop. It is the most intuitive desktop i have ever used. Ubuntu is definately the best and easiest to use OS I have ever used.

Available from http://www.ubuntu.com/

Selected list of apps included with Ubuntu:

  • Mozilla Firefox - eq. to Internet Explorer - most computer experts consider this to be the best web browser around. period.
  • Open Office - eq. to Microsoft Office - general office productivity apps including a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, and database program
  • Evolution - eq. to Microsoft Outlook (express) - email, calendar, and address book program
  • Gimp Image Editor - eq. to Adobe Photoshop - a photo/image editor
  • F-Spot Photo Manager - eq. to Google Picasa or iPhoto - a great photo organizer
  • Rhythmbox Music Player - eq. to iTunes or Windows Media Player - this app organizes your mp3 collection, podcasts, and online radio stations
  • Totem Movie Player - eq to Quicktime or Windows Media Player - a simple movie player with support for most formats
  • many other goodies including a calculator, dictionary, and text editor


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