The Ubuntu Project – Part 1
(I hate you, Bill)
I’ve decided to take a journey, a potentially rewarding one that will hopefully make my life easier. Microsoft Vista is being forced on the masses. Software prices are outrageous. Most of us are on the upgrade hamster wheel with the inevitable sunsetting of our software. And that means new hardware. Forced to upgrade not for want, but because we are told to. The currents of technology seem to keep pushing us toward a singular corporate vision of rampant consumer spending.
I’m thinking about swimming upstream.
You see, I despise Microsoft Windows. I mean I really, really hate it. Microsoft is a central evil in my life. I spend much of my time fighting with something that the computer did, tried to do or had done to it without my permission. Remember that this is a Class-A computer geek talking. If I have trouble, it’s of the nuclear kind. Currently, I have a driver issue that randomly changes my screen size. This is compounded by the fact that I have multiple monitors. My desktop is scrambled eggs. If it happens again, I might kill someone. I know a reinstall would probably solve the problem. Thus, I am determined to see if I can remove the Microsoft yoke from my back and finally make the leap to a new operating system.
What brought this on? Well, Ubuntu Linux is gaining a lot of media attention in the geeky realms. For those not in the know, Linux is an open source operating system. It’s free for the most part as are many of its applications, and in my opinion more robust than any of Microsoft’s offerings. The concept behind Linux is a very appealing one. It is based on the open source ideal, in which everyone contributes to the project and everyone benefits from it. An operating system built by a community is democracy in its most basic form.
The problem with democracy is that it can be messy. Some people are hard workers, some have other commitments. Some have vision, others are stubborn. Thus, we have the problem of open source. It’s an unwieldy beast that is not unlike herding cats. And the product shows. It can do amazing things, but you have to fill in the blanks many times.
Beginning with RedHat, I’ve installed a number of variants of Linux over the years. I would piddle with them for a while, getting them setup and seeing if they were ready for prime time. Inevitably, I would spend several days searching and configuring in order to achieve basic functionality. Usually, the last step involved opening a text editor and entering monitor refresh values or, god forbid, compiling software. Never ready for the big time, but someday perhaps.
Why do they keep working on it? In a perfect world, there would be competition that would drive the operating system market place. However, the barriers to entry in the PC operating system market are monumental, to say the least. The only possible competition to Microsoft’s billions in cash reserves is the combined power of the internet. For this reason, I want Linux to succeed. Desperately.
I’m a capitalist and do not begrudge Microsoft and their business practices. Corporations are not benevolent. They have a profit motive. This is the way it should be. Microsoft is about Microsoft first, then their customers. This is normal corporate behavior. However as a person that is extremely knowledgeable in these areas, I understand that the entire world forced to follow one company’s profit venture is rife with problems. And make no mistake; Microsoft is really the only player in the desktop market.
Now before you brand me a loony anti-Microsoft type, I realize and appreciate the technology and innovation that have gone into making Windows the market leader that it is today. Microsoft has been pivotal in creating the concept of ease of use into their operating systems. This was something that had never existed before them. But this comes at a significant cost. They have built a house of cards that is pretty and easy to use, but lacks some of the basic necessities that are a requirement for a safe, secure and reliable product.
First are the stability problems. Patches, hot-fixes and more are released to fix a flawed concept of an operating system. Many of the problems we are experiencing are due to the debacle of fusing Internet Explorer with the OS in order to destroy Netscape. I never respected Microsoft after this maneuver and have never trusted them since.
Second are problems associated with copy protection, activation and the Windows Genuine Advantage which are annoying and can prevent lawful owners from using their system. The digital rights management “feature” built into Vista consumes significant resources just to make sure people aren’t copying songs and movies. Very few people are aware that they will have to upgrade their hardware to achieve the functionality that they have now. This is a dark path. Innovation should not come in the form of less user choice.
Third, we have security. Oh dear god, where do I begin? Generally, any application can update the kernel, the most basic core of the system. Yes, it makes things easier on the user, but at what cost? Viruses spread like mono at summer camp. Hacks and intrusions are rampant and the spyware on my nieces’ computers are beyond anything you can imagine.
Finally, there is general architecture. This is a broad classification that covers all the serious niggling problems that never get solved. When is that last time you could make a good backup of your system? Do you REALLY know where all your data files are? If you have two systems, you have to install applications on each to get them to run. Networked applications don’t really exist like they used to. I point out that Microsoft is now getting around to solving this problem with .Net. They parade this feature like they invented it. UNIX has had it for years, as did Microsoft. They took it away. The DLL conflicts are just now getting under control, but they are far from solved.
There are some alternatives. The Mac has a better OS in my opinion. It is UNIX based. However, it is a closed system that is dictated by Apple and suffers from the same restrictions and corporate vision issues. There are a few others not worth mentioning for various reasons. Thus, the only viable solution is a Linux package and Ubuntu is the best candidate. Ubuntu is a distribution for Linux that is based around the concept of usability. This is something that has been woefully lacking from the Linux area in my experience. Thus, I am intrigued.
All I want is that for the Linux community to throw me a bone. I need an OS that will run the software (or equivalents) I use daily. It needs to look like it wasn’t cobbled together out of the bargain bin at Wal-mart. It cannot be a nightmare to maintain. And it should remain stable throughout.
But beyond that, it needs to have a future. I don’t want to be stuck holding the bag when people lose interest in the OS because no one else would use it. It needs to be marketable. Not from a profit perspective but from a grass root adoption one. To achieve that, there are certain specifications that need to be met to be a competitive alternative to Windows.
Ease of Installation
The damn OS needs to work out of the box. And it needs to be easy enough to install by an above average user. It is really that simple. I will not get into a debate over this. If it falls into an error during installation or asks a bunch of cryptic questions, game over. Notice I said “Above Average”. This is for the first wave. I expect the newbies to call their local gurus for installation. I’m ok with that. People do it all the time for XP.
Core Software Applications
Word Processing, Spreadsheet, Mail, Browsing, Financial, Audio/Video, and Instant Messaging. The basics have to be in place. With these applications, 60% of the desktop marketplace could be converted, no problem. Everybody has additional stuff that is specific to their needs, but if the basics are there, the market will shift toward Linux. If you build it, they will come.
Core Hardware Support
Solid video support that lets users work with the desktop out of the box. Network support built in for most adapters. USB support for Cameras, MP3 Players, Keyboards etc. If you need additional drivers, they should be easy to find and install. No worse than Windows. I can live without legacy support. People flip computers regularly so this is not really a problem. I don’t expect full 3D support for most cards.
I’m going to get ripped for this one, but it is very important. Does anyone NEED the Aero glass interface? No. But, if I have a flashy, useable desktop, then I can show it off to others. That is the grass roots approach to obtaining market share. Showing someone that you can use an excel spreadsheet puts them to sleep. But showing them in an environment that is attractive and usable with neat features gets their attention. It’s sexy. And sexy sells.
General Commercial Applications
These would be your general run of the mill packages you pick off the shelf at Best Buy. A lot of communications software such as syncing, paint, Flash and VOIP would fall into this category. These need to have counterparts that provide the same functionality under Linux or be able to be installed native through use of an emulator. People can live without these, but they are what make having a computer nice.
WOULD BE NICE
This would include gaming and Computer Aided Design. I don’t expect a lot here because I’m more interested in basic productivity. CAD is a requirement for some people, but is a smaller market that could come online at a later time. Games are a luxury for most and they tax a system more than any other application.
As a test subject, I would expect I am the target for the next level of Linux deployment. I’ve used UNIX extensively in school but the memories are a bit foggy and as such I would never consider myself more than a super-noob. For Linux to be successful, it needs to be easy for ME to install and useful for my daily tasks. I’m the alpha adopter, a technical user with minimal Linux administrative experience and a lust for kicking Bill Gates out of my life.
With those criteria in mind, I am setting off on this funky adventure. I intend this to be an ongoing saga of my trials and tribulations of the switch. Stay tuned for additional chapters.