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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  • brennans - Sunday, August 30, 2009 - link

    I use both XP64 and Hardy (Ubuntu 8.04).
    I am also a power user.

    Both these operating systems have pros and cons.

    Cons for XP64:
    1. It does not recognize my hardware properly.
    2. Finding 64 bit drivers was/is a mission.

    Cons for Hardy:
    1. It does not plug and play with my hardware (i have to compile the drivers).
    2. Not as user friendly as windows.

    Pros for XP64:
    1. Windowing system is super fast.
    2. User friendly.

    Pros for Hardy:
    1. Recognizes my hardware.
    2. Command line tools are awesome.

    Conclusion:
    I think that the article was good.

    I am one of those people who has always had problems installing windows straight out of the box and thus find that paying a large amount of money for their buggy OS is unacceptable.

    I can get a lot of stuff done with Hardy and it is free and if I find a problem with it I can potentially fix that problem.

    I also find it unacceptable that manufacturers do not write software (drivers or application software for their devices) for Linux.

    For me, it is difficult to live without both XP64 and Hardy.



    Reply
  • ciukacz - Sunday, August 30, 2009 - link

    http://www.iozone.org/">http://www.iozone.org/ Reply
  • JJWV - Sunday, August 30, 2009 - link

    How can people use something like Aero and its Linux or OSX equivalents (that pre-dates it if I am not mistaken) ? The noise is just hiding the information. Transparency is one issue, another are those icons that are more like pictures : one looses the instant recognition. With Aero knowing which is the active window is not something obvious, you have to look at small details. The title of the window is surrounded by mist making it more difficult to read. Even with XP the colour gradient in a title bar is just noise : there is no information conveyed by it.

    The OS GUIs are more and more looking like those weird media players, with an image of rotary button that is to be manipulated like a slide button.

    The evolution of all applications to a web interface reminds me of the prehistory of personal computers : each program has its own interface.

    The MS Office Ribbon UI is just in the same vein: more than 20 icons on each tab. The icon interface is based on instant recognition and comprehension, when you have so many it turns into a mnemonics exercise. And of course with MS one does not have a choice : you just have to adapt to the program. An end user is only there to be of service to the programs ;-)

    If i want to look at a beautiful image I will do it, but the when I want to write an letter or update a database all those ultra kitsch visual effects are just annoying.

    As a summary the noise is killing the information and thus the usability.
    Reply
  • Ronald Pottol - Saturday, August 29, 2009 - link

    The thing with windows has been seen before, back in the win 3.1-OS/2 days it was found that while one instance of excel didn't run any faster under OS/2, two in separate VMs (ok, not technically the same thing) ran in about the same time as one on windows.

    I like the package management, and hate when I have to install something that doesn't support it, it means I have to worry about updates all my self. If they have one, they I get updates every time I check for Ubuntu updates, very handy. Nice to get the nightly Google Chrome builds, for instance (still alpha/very beta).

    Frankly, supporting binary kernel drivers would be insane. Now they are stuck supporting code they cannot look at and cannot fix, they cannot fix their mistakes (or are stuck emulating them forever). If they supported them, there would be even more of them, and when they wanted to fix something broken or that was a bad idea, they would have to wait a reasonable amount of time before doing it, so it would be supported. Frankly, I don't see why people don't have automated frameworks for doing this and automated deb/rpm repository generation. I add their repository, when I get a kernel update, perhaps it is held up a day for their system to automatically build a new version, but then it all installs, instead, I am stuck with having to run a very old kernel, or not having 3D on my laptop, for instance.
    Reply
  • cesarc - Sunday, August 30, 2009 - link

    I found this article very interesting, because is oriented to windows user and is helpful to them because you just didn't die trying it.
    But you can't blame ubuntu (or any distro), about the pain in the ass a video card's drive could be to install, blame ati and nvidia for been lazy, and if using wine for playing games is not as good as playing in windows blame games company for don't release a GNU/linux version.
    Also, the thing about why GNU/linux overpass windows in file management is because ntfs is a BAD file system, maybe if windows somehow could run under ext3 would be even better than it is.
    And why your negligence to use a console (stop saying cli please), you are not opening your mind trying to use GNU/linux as a windows just because it is not windows is a completely different os. Look from this point of view... something that you can do in windows with 5 clicks maybe you can do it in GNU/linux in just one line of bash code. So, sometimes you will use GUI and others you will use console and you will find that having this options is very comfortable. So start using the console and do the same article a year later.
    I hope some day have a paid version of GNU/linux (still open source), that could pay salaries to programers to fix specific issues in the OS.
    In the other hand, when you do the IT benchmark is very disappointing that you don't use linux with those beautiful Xeons. Servers environment is were GNU/linux get stronger. And Xeons with windows are just toys compared with unix on sparcs or power architectures.

    PS: try to get 450 days of uptime in a windows 2003.
    Reply
  • rkerns - Saturday, August 29, 2009 - link

    Ryan,

    Thanks for your good work.

    Many people considering linux are still on dial-up. These are often folks with lesser expertise who just want to get connected and use their computer in basic ways. But getting connected with dial-up is something of an adventure with many distros and/or versions. Ubuntu 9.04 has moved away from easy dial-up, but Mint7KDE includes KPPP for simple dial-up connection. Mint7KDE has other nice features as well.

    I am asking you to expand your current picture of the landscape to include people who want to use linux with a dial-up connection. This of course would have to include a brief discussion of 1) appropriate modems and 2) distro differences. Thanks,
    r kerns
    Reply
  • William Gaatjes - Saturday, August 29, 2009 - link

    GRATIS

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    Reply
  • lgude - Saturday, August 29, 2009 - link

    Really glad to find this in depth article after all this time. Thank you Ryan. I too have run Ubuntu as my main OS even though most of my experience is in Windows and have had similar experiences. Because this was a very long article it got into detail about things like the Package Manager or the multiple desktops that I have not seen discussed elsewhere from a user perspective. As someone else pointed out it is moot what people would like or complain about if they were moving from Linux to Windows or OSX, but imagine for a moment if they were used to getting the OS and all their apps updated in one hit and were asked to do it one app at a time and expected to pay for the privilege!

    If you go on with the Linux series I'd like to see discussion of the upcoming Ubuntu and other distros - I've been impressed with SUSE. I'd also like to see projects on how to build a Linux server and HTPC - including choice of distro and the kind of hardware needed. I'm less sure of where benchmarking is really useful - the tradition of detailed benchmarking at AT arose from the interest in overclocking and gaming which I think is a much lesser consideration in Linux. More relevant might be comparisons of netbook specific distros or how to work out if that old P4 will do as a home server. There is a lot of buzz in the tech world about things like Symbion, Chrome OS, Moblin, Maemo on portable devices that could possibly draw new readers to the Linux tab at AT. A great start in any case.
    Reply
  • jmvaughn - Saturday, August 29, 2009 - link

    I just wanted to say thank you to the author for a very thorough article. After reading it, I decided to use Ubuntu for a PC I'm building out of spare parts for a retired friend who's on fixed income. My friend just uses web, e-mail, and some word processing, so this will be perfect.

    The article gave me a good idea of what to expect -- a good honest appraisal with all the good and bad. After installing Ubuntu 9.0.4, I am very impressed. The install was very quick, and easier than XP. Everything is quite snappy, even though it's running on a AMD 3800+ single core processor and an old hard drive.

    Reply
  • xchrissypoox - Saturday, August 29, 2009 - link

    I only skimmed the article (I saw the part on gaming being poor), I'd like to see a comparison of several games using the same hardware on windows and linux (results given in fps). If this has been mentioned sorry and good day. Reply

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