The Samovar

November 22, 2006, 5:00 pm
Filed under: Business, Free Speech

The last week or so I’ve installed and played around with Ubuntu Linux. I’ve been sort of getting more and more pissed off with Microsoft and the other software giants: the endless restrictions on what you can do with your software, the digital rights management, the heavy legal tactics against the little guy, etc.

My experience so far is that although Linux has got a hell of a lot better since last time I used it, it’s still a long way from being something your average user would be able to deal with. To start with, the built in disk partitioning tool didn’t work for me and I ended up having to use command line tools to manually resize my WinXP NTFS partition and create a Linux one, which included counting the number of cylinders (whatever they are) in my hard disk, etc. Then I had problems with the wireless internet – the standard Ubuntu installation doesn’t have a wireless network manager which is just unforgiveable. That was a relatively easy installation if you had some idea of what you were looking for. I had to change the video drivers because the built-in ones don’t use 3D acceleration,  the sound driver because it sounded tinny. Fortunately, a bit of googling quickly finds you whatever information you need if you’re reasonably confident about tinkering about and typing things like “sudo gedit /etc/X11/xorg.conf” etc.

Now that I’ve mostly got it working, it’s pretty good but to be honest it’s a step down from WinXP. I think I shall mostly stick to using Windows but I want to be ready when MS and co. do something so annoying that I decide I can’t stand to use their software any more.

One thing that really stands out though is Xgl and Beryl – who would have thought it, wobbly semi-transparent windows and four desktops on a cube. Ingenius!



Sounds like you should have a chat with taliesin

Comment by azahar

Welcome to the world of Ubuntu! I wonder if it’s got any more popular since Bill Clinton bigged it up at the Labour Party conference?

Probably Ubuntu’s best feature is the forums. You usually get an answer pretty quick. The community documentation is worth exploring, too. Such as this excellent page.

Yes, Linux OSs are still, to a large extent, ‘pre-usability’ – written by geeks, for geeks. Ubuntu is trying to overcome this, but is not quite there yet in some of its attitudes. For example…they have a tendency to confuse ‘usability’ with ‘fancy graphics’…and here’s my attempt to convince the community that a manual is not the same as a newbie guide. And yes, you do still have to revert to using command line. I suspect this might not bother you too much, though, with your background – like my theoretical physicist friend who got thoroughly confused by my Gnome desktop and insisted I show him how to fire up a Terminal.

One last thing…Debian-style, web-supported upgrades are obviously a good thing – except that every time I do it, something breaks. Last time it forgot how to display French and German characters.

Still…free software, eh? Worth every penny!

Comment by Edward the Bonobo

az, looks like I’m quickly developing a network of useful linux contacts. (Burns voice) N’y’excellent.

Ed, that really is an especially useful page about internet radio. I’ve added it to my bookmarks and I shall visit it every day to bask in its glory! I should probably contribute to free software community in some way myself at some point.

Yeah, I’m quite happy using the terminal. Sometimes I even prefer it for the precision you get.

Next task: following the instructions for setting up a separate FAT32 partition with my Firefox and Thunderbird profile on it so that I can use the same settings in Windows and Linux. Yikes!

Comment by Dan Goodman

It seems to me that the people that use linux spend more time tinkering with it than they do using it. I’m planning to give it a go in the holidays, but I remain skeptical (magic desktop cube aside!)

Comment by Chris

Chris, you’re probably ‘using’ Linux more often than you realize, since a high percentage of web servers run on Linux 😉

I’ve been using ‘puters since the good ol’ DOS days, and have battled various MS Windows releases from 3.1 through XP, with increasing annoyance/loathing. I started using Linux about 6 years ago, and am currently typing this using a Debian GNU/Linux Testing/Unstable system.

Yes, I do ‘tinker’, but that’s mainly because I am an admitted geek-for-hire 😉 Most of the time I just use it.

I’ve setup Linux systems for non-geeks, including a 92-year-old grandmother. She never has to ‘tinker’, nor does she have to worry about viruses, trojans and other malware. Everything simply works.

Occasionally I’m called upon to fix a windows-based system, which has broken due to malware, or sometimes just due to the tangled mess the OS can get itself into when a dll or driver file gets corrupted. It is far more difficult, imo, to ‘tinker’ with windows OS than to do so with Linux.

Anyway, if you want to play with Linux, I suggest you first try a live cd, such as DSL (Damn Small Linux) or Knoppix, Mepis or Ubuntu. Linux on a live-cd runs much more slowly than one installed on the hard disk, but you don’t have to ‘tinker’ at all!

A couple of good forums:

My handle on both places is bluesdog. Find me on one or the other, post to my blog, or email me if you have questions/need help etc



Comment by taliesin

Chris, I think that’s true but I want to be ready for the day when MS starts sending every keypress you make to the NSA, and including terms in their license agreement that stop you from saying anything nasty about them, etc. 😉 But I think taliesin has a point too, if you have relatively modest needs from your computer system (you just want to browse the web, check email and write documents say), then there’s a good chance that linux is a better bet than windows. I think people tinker because they realise they can make it do all sorts of cool stuff (like spinning 3D cube desktops).

taliesin, my feeling so far is that Ubuntu is better than every windows release except for XP (I haven’t tried Vista), which is better – although not at everything of course. It’s a close thing though.

Comment by Dan Goodman

Oh yes…having a common FAT32 partition is definitely useful. I seldom have to use Windows these days – mainly for work purposes when Word and ppt aren’t quite playing nicely with their Oo equivalents (mainly a matter of fonts). However…I have a laughably ancient FrankenPC with two taughably tiny HDs (4GB and 8GB!). I bunged Ubuntu on the smaller one, but use the Windows one for ‘Storage’. Well – temporary storage at least. I generally have to have a good clear out onto CDs before I do any serious copyright theft.

For me, though, the real advantage isn’t the OS itself. It’s the easy access to free packages. OK – so everyone has their pirate copies of MS Office, Photoshop, etc…but sometimes you have that little job where you want to, say, do some 3D CAD…

Comment by Edward the Bonobo

True, but Blender works on Windows as well as Linux (and it’s pretty damn good although I haven’t had the time to play about with it as much as I’d have liked).

Comment by Dan Goodman

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