The Ubuntu Project – Part 3
(There’s a Penguin in my House)
In Part 2, I installed Ubuntu Feisty Fawn on my HP laptop. Basic connectivity was achieved with the internet, NTFS volumes and my HP printers. Now let’s see what we can do with it. The last bridge to true usability would be for either there to be a complementary open source project for everything I run, or to run my existing software under a Windows emulator or similar environment.
The first stop is a trusty web browser. This is a no-brainer. Firefox. I have been playing with Thunderbird for quite some time as a light weight mail client and have been suitably impressed. I was ready to give the flagship open source browser a go. Switching to Firefox from IE7 was painless. I just got used to tabbed browsing and really loved it. Firefox has had it for years. Plugins are as easy as in IE7. The extension manager allowed me to load some nice customization features that make the experience oh so slick. My only minor complaint is that I like where Microsoft put the new tab button. Firefox does not have this and I miss it. However, my experience was positive enough for me to load Firefox on my Window’s machine and configure it as my default browser. Maybe this will prevent another spyware attack.
Next I need an Office replacement. Openoffice was all I’ve heard and more. I was able to import Word and Excel document without problem. It had compatibility to a level that saved my tail when windows bombed out. During a phone call, Outlook crashed and decided that it was no longer going to work with attachments. Rather than close the 20 or so Windows I had open and reboot, I decided to use this as a test. I saved the Excel sheet to a drive share, switched to my Linux machine, opened the file under OpenOffice Spreadsheet and saved it again under OpenOffice. I then mailed the translated file as and attachment under Evolution (Linux’s Outlook clone). The recipient received the file and didn’t notice any changes. Mind you that this was no ordinary spreadsheet, but one with colors, multiple sheets, freeze panes, etc. That speaks volumes.
That being said, I would like to point out one glaring feature missing that apparently has been discussed for many years. Outline mode. I use it regularly as I expect many others do. This is an unforgivable omission given the existing level of compatibility, IMHO. But, it is also possible that this is better served by a separate application that will perform this function. I can see the stance of the OpenOffice people in that a word processor may not be the best place for this type of operation. IF I can find an alternate, I will be fine with it.
Finance – Intuit has trying to sell me on features that I don’t need for years. I need solid online banking and billpay. I use online banking to its max, with about 10 online accounts relating to personal finance of my house and my business interests. I need one-click access to download these accounts, otherwise I’d go crazy updating them daily. I use the Loan Manger pretty extensively since it handles the interest line items in my payments automatically. The homepage charts are pretty useful letting me know where I am at. Beyond that, the planning and debt features aren’t really of interest to me. More importantly, I want a package that doesn’t sunset once it finally gets stable. Intuit has a nasty habit forcing upgrades on people with both Quicken and Quickbooks. They are number two on my corporate hit list.
GnuCash loaded without a fuss, so I immediately exported my Quicken data and transferred it to the Linux box. GnuCash readily accepted the file and immediately began to make Swiss cheese of my data. I point out that I have about 10 years worth of Quicken data. This would not have been an easy migration for any tool, but the disaster that resulted was really unacceptable. I tried to make sense of what happened but really was not able to fix the problem. I thought about simply starting fresh, but after a bit of research I discovered that the transaction download wasn’t where it needs to be to in order to make me happy. I don’t think it is going to be an acceptable solution.
Next, I tried MoneyDance. While this package is commercial, my quest isn’t about reducing my cost of ownership. It would be nice, but not really the goal. The quicken import went pretty well, with some duplicated entries that I was able to sort out in about 15 minutes. Once the registers appeared to be clean, I moved to online access. Online setup was pretty easy, on par with Quicken. Financial institutions were provided in a list for you to select. Once you added you login information, it should download you stuff. I say should because I never got it to work. Generally it appears to be a good package, but I didn’t find it intuitive. A lot of the operations that I was performing are a little wonky. I think it’s got something to do with it being a Java app. I don’t care for their widget set.
So I tried an alternate approach. Quicken under Wine. Wine is a program under Linux that allows you run Windows applications. Sounds good, but the reality is that it doesn’t work, except for a small number of supported applications. These applications are in reality programs that have suitable alternatives under Windows (See MS Office vs. Openoffice) plus a few games. Quicken was a complete bust and I am seeing some level of failure in my quest. This is a real problem. Linux needs to have a good finance program.