Background

I think it's impossible to offer a purely objective review on an operating system – qualitative data like the GUI and nebulous concepts like “ease of use” can't be measured. There is a degree of subjectivity in such a review, and I believe it's important to relate that in this article To that extent a bit of background on myself is probably going to be helpful on relating my point-of-view on matters, before jumping into Ubuntu. This section is being written prior to my even touching Ubuntu, so that it doesn't end up reflecting my experience, rather than my expectations.

Based on the computers I have owned and the operating systems I have used, I would best be classified as a Windows user. Like many of our readers (and our editors) I have lived the Microsoft life, starting from DOS and going straight through to Vista. I have clocked far more time on Windows than anything else, and it's fair to say that's where my skills (troubleshooting and otherwise) are strongest.

With that said, I am by no means limited to just a single OS. As was customary for most American schools in the 90s, I had access to the requisite Apple IIs and Macintoshes. But to be frank I didn't care for Mac OS Classic in the slightest – it was a remarkable OS in 1984 and even in 1993 and the age of Windows 3.1, but by the time Windows 95 rolled around it was more of a nuisance to use than anything else. It's through a cruel joke that when starting work in IT in 2001, I was tasked with using the newly released Mac OS X 10.0 “Cheetah” full-time to gauge its status for use on the organization's Macs.

Apple didn't ship Mac OS X as the default OS on their Macs at that time, which should tell you a lot. Nevertheless, while I abhorred Mac OS Classic, Mac OS X was far more bearable. The interface was better than anything else at the time (if not a bit too shiny), application crashes didn't (usually) take out the OS, and the Terminal was a thing of beauty. Sure, Windows has a command line environment, but it didn't compare to the Terminal. Mac OS X was a mess, but there were nuggets to be found if you could force yourself to use it.

I'll save you the history of Mac OS X, and we'll pick up in 2004, where Apple had improved Mac OS X a great deal with the release of 10.3 “Panther.” At this point I was a perfectly happy Mac user for my day job, and I probably would have used one at home too if it wasn't for the hefty price of a Mac and the fact that it would require having an entirely separate computer next to my gaming PC. A bit later in what was probably a bad idea, I convinced Anand to try a Mac based on the ease of use and productivity features. This resulted in A Month With A Mac, and he hasn't left the platform since.

Finally we'll jump to the present day. I'm still primarily a Windows user since I spend more time on my desktop PC, while my laptop is a PowerBook G4. I would rather be a Mac user, but not a lot has changed in terms of things preventing me from being one. To replace my PC with a Mac would require throwing down money on a workstation-class Mac Pro that is overkill for my processing needs, not to mention my wallet.

I also am not a fan of dual-booting. Time booting is time wasted, and while I am generally not concerned about boot times, dual booting a Mac would involve rebooting my desktop far more often than the occasional software installation or security update currently requires. It also brings about such headaches as instant message logging being split in two places, difficulty accessing documents due to file system/format differences, and of course the inability to simultaneously access my games and my Mac applications. In theory I could game from within Mac OS X, but in reality there are few native games and virtual machines like Parallels and the Mac branch of Wine are lacking in features, compatibility, and performance.

I also find the Mac to be a weak multimedia viewing platform. I'll get into this more once we start talking about multimedia viewing under Ubuntu since much of the underlying software is the same, but for now I'll say that libavcodec, the standard building block for virtually all *nix media players, is particularly lacking in H.264 performance because the stable branch is single-threaded.

So while I'm best described as a Windows user, a more realistic description would be a Windows user that wants to be a Mac user, but can't bear to part with Windows' games or media capabilities.

As for my experience with Linux, it is not nearly as comprehensive. The only time I ever touched Linux was in college, where our department labs were Dells running Linux and the shell accounts we used for assignments were running off of a small Linux cluster. I never touched the Red Hat machines beyond quickly firing up Netscape Navigator to check my email; otherwise the rest of my Linux usage was through my shell account, where I already had ample experience with the CLI environment through Mac OS X's terminal.

My expectations for Ubuntu are that it'll be similar to Mac OS X when it comes to CLI matters - and having already seen screenshots of Ubuntu, that the GUI experience will be similar to Windows. I am wondering whether I am going to run into the same problems that I have with Mac OS X today, those being the aforementioned gaming and multimedia issues. I have already decided that I am going to need to dual-boot between Ubuntu and Vista to do everything I want, so the biggest variable here is just how often I'll need to do so.

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  • amrs - Saturday, September 26, 2009 - link

    Your ignorance and stupidity is showing here. No engineering software for Linux? Hello? Matlab is available, Simulink is available, Labview the same. Xilinx and Altera have supported Linux for a long time and so do the smaller FPGA houses like Lattice and Actel. Mentor Graphics too. Orcad is the only one you mentioned that isn't available on Linux, but Cadence does support Linux with their Allegro product and so does Mentor Graphics with PADS and Board Station and Expedition.

    Reply
  • MadIgor - Thursday, September 24, 2009 - link

    I have to disagree. You are NOT talking abut average Joe/Jane. I think that even the article author is kind of biased towards enthusiast user. Ubuntu actualy completes all needs of average Joe/Jane user, you can browse www, you can do email/scheduling, you can play games (easy non enthusiast games), you can DL pictures from your camera and edit them, you can even playback mp3/CD and video, do basic office work, all out of the box. The gnom learning curve for PC beginners is much shorter then with windows. Most of the average Joes/Janes dont install aps or peripherals by themselfs, belive me I had to install it for them many many times on Win systems (the best is "installing" digital camera: plug one wire end in camera, other in PC). Yes I agree that installing Ubuntu so that ALL is runing right may be pain in the ass, but average Joe/Jane naever install their system (not Win, nor MacOS), but when they get the PC with preinstalled Ubuntu you are done. With windows you have to worry that they will "bother" you every few months with non working system. Yes it might be nice source of income for PC technician, but not always welcome as reliability advertising (for customer to come).
    I did some instalation of Ubuntu to my customers mostly as a "safe" web/mail PC, they all where used to windows platform already, after one week of using Ubuntu even the hardest critisizer where comfy to use Ubuntu (some even asked me to install it on their home PCs), The most "problem" was: that no one can read our "excel" files. So I showed them that it has to be saved with .xls extension and voila, no more problems. I was NEVER asked for any CAD system, nor MATHLAB, not even Graphics apps, all what they used in offie was already there! Then there are home users, only complaint was that thay had windows at work, but after few houres all was fine, only kids had problems that they cannot play enthusiast games on it. My wife is running Ubuntu for three years now, with no problem. When my 62 year old mother asked me for a computer I brought her a notebook with Ubuntu, had no time to explain it comming next mornig. My mom never used a computer before (ok shooting ships on my ATARI doesnt count), next mornig I came there, she was already browsing. I asked her how did she do that and she said its easy, tap the aplications then internet and one of the apps was "internet". She even installed the snake game, Isaid how did you do that, she said in aplications section is install new aplication, then she clicked on games and then she piscked what she tought would be the game for her and then install, whas that wrong? she asked, I said NO, its right.
    BTW no one knows that they can use CLI or that there is some terminal window in Ubuntu. They are average Joes/Janes.
    Not everyone is an enthusisat with PC full of stuff that, and be honest, you dont use on dayli base.
    The truth is that Ubuntu will not be a succesfull system for enthusiast or high level profesionals until big software houses (Adobe, hallo!) and game producers will not start to port software for Linux. But that is not fault of Ubuntu or linux and again we are not talking here about majority of users (I mean Joes/Janes).
    Reply
  • fazer150 - Friday, September 4, 2009 - link

    All folks who think Linux is hard. Have you tried PCLinuxOS? this is easier to install, use than Windows XP, 2003 and Vista period.
    there is no Windows hatred here, but you have to try that before you complain.
    I have access to all Windows OS at work including the latest Win 7 RC but i find PCLinuxOS easy to setup and use. Needs no special admin skills every config is GUI driven.
    Linux has come a long way from where it was 5 years ago!
    Reply
  • Cynicist - Sunday, September 6, 2009 - link

    There are two things I'd like to comment on that bothered me about this article. Firstly, most regular users do not use LTS, the software is just too old and the latest releases of Ubuntu are quite stable. LTS is mostly guaranteed stability for corporate environments.

    Second, this package manager hatred is based on this flawed idea that no packages exist outside of the official repositories. A simple google search for deb packages leads to GetDeb.net, a website dedicated to providing up to date packages of all kinds of software specifically for Ubuntu. Google search too hard you say? But its even less difficult to find packages because many project sites (such as wine, featured in this article) include multiple packages for various distributions and even PACKAGE TYPES.

    Overall not a bad article. The author definitely knows technology and I'm grateful for that, but he did not seem to do much research on the actual community itself or the Linux Way of doing things. These are minor issues which will resolve themselves with time and I'm looking forward to seeing more linux articles on this site in the future.
    Reply
  • cliffa3 - Thursday, September 3, 2009 - link

    I was concerned as well with the constant releases...until I upgraded the first time. I had set aside the better part of an evening because I was *sure* there were going to be plenty of headaches. I've done three such version upgrades now and am happy (not to mention shocked) to report that it's literally a one click upgrade. Simply amazing. I'm sure something will get mucked up in the future with one of the version upgrades for me...but for now all has gone amazingly smooth.

    That being the case, I have to disagree with you on the "they release too often" point. I understand it's a pain to sift through all the search results on the forums, but I also have found some older threads (sometime 3 versions back) that the same fixes work for my issue. I agree they need to tag posts with version info...that would make it far easier. Also, there's far more useful information in the (versionally-diluted) forums than I've found for any other piece of software or OS I've used. I almost don't cringe when I have a problem or issue now because I'm quite confident I can find the information without too much digging.

    I'd encourage you to upgrade versions from your current install (don't wipe) and comment on how the process goes. Maybe I've just had an extremely easy (and lucky) go of things with no problems...it'll be interesting to read your experiences. Honestly with how easy my upgrades have been, I look forward to new releases (but still give them a few weeks before upgrading...just to see the comments from other users).
    Reply
  • Mem - Wednesday, September 2, 2009 - link

    Very good read as usual,personally I like to see Kubuntu reviewed at some point(I hear Kubuntu 9.10 is due in Oct) ,as you know its the KDE version,also Gnome and KDE compared would be interesting.

    I think the main problem for new Linux users is which one to go with,sure they are all free but it can be confusing and time consuming to try them all,some are more noob friendly then others like Ubuntu/Mint.
    Reply
  • lishi - Wednesday, September 2, 2009 - link

    Since you spend so many time dealing with the windows its worth pointing that compiz is actually much more powerful then what you wrote.

    Install the package ccsm-simple for more option.(like different application selector, different windows animations etc).

    Or install ccsm for the complete configuration tools. Given most of them are eye-candy there some who can improve the desktop experience.
    Reply
  • sethk - Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - link

    In this sentence:
    "It’s undoubtedly a smart choice, because if Ubuntu wiped out Windows like Windows does Ubuntu, it would be neigh impossible to get anyone to try it out since “try out” and “make it so you can’t boot Windows” are mutually incompatible"

    The more common phrase is 'nigh on impossible' (as in close to impossible) or you could say it's nigh-impossible. Definitely not neigh. Sorry to point out grammar issues, but this is a pet peeve, right along with pique being spelt peak or peek (as in pique my interest).
    Reply
  • v8envy - Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - link

    I've been a 100% Linux desktop (Ubuntu 9.04) user at home ever since I bought my last i7 920. Gaming, multimedia, web -- everything a typical desktop user does under Windows. The inconvenience of migrating an existing Windows install & re-activation outweighed the convenience using Linux which simply booted and worked on the new hardware.

    Yes, there are times where you must fire up Google and search for solutions, some of which are commands to be pasted into a terminal window. Yes, sometimes you need to upgrade software packages (Wine is horribly out of date for instance).

    On the other hand, with Windows you get apprximately 1,337 updaters which run on startup, virus checkers, malware checkers, browser parasite checkers, firewalls, DRM and misc layers of barnacles which accumulate the longer you use the system. Thankfully the gathering of cruft is not a bane on the typical Linux system yet.

    Try 9.04 and see if it is more to your liking. LTS means nothing when most open source problems are "supported" by simply upgrading to the latest software.
    Reply
  • trexpesto - Monday, August 31, 2009 - link

    "linux" is "niche" spelled inside out and backwards


    ..in rot13.
    Reply

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