Five days of Ubuntu Linux

Daniel - Dec 04, 2007 - Tech

Last wednesday I ordered a new laptop. I'll definitely be installing Vista on it, if only for gaming and DirectX 10, but I also plan to use it as an excuse to get to grips with Linux. I've read many accounts of the various distributions of Linux, and they all agree on a few things:

  • It's massively more stable than Windows
  • There are so few viruses, they're not even worth worrying about
  • It's fast

I've used Windows all my life, 3.1 followed by 95, 98, 2000 and now XP, and I'd describe myself as fairly competent at working with it, so this would be a pretty new experience for me. A few years ago I'd installed Fedora Core 4, and I wasn't impressed a great deal; this time I decided to go with Ubuntu. This distribution, from what I've read, seems to be pioneering the realms of user-friendly, especially for those with no experience of Linux - so hopefully it would hopefully be less like jumping in at the deep end. Ubuntu's apparent popularity among those looking for a Linux based alternative to Windows made it seem like an increasingly good place to start. So I did. Why wait for the laptop to arrive? I cleared up some space on my computer's second hard drive, downloaded the latest Ubuntu release, and gave it a go. This is my account of it, as a completely new user.

Installation

Ubuntu has surpassed Windows in almost every way when it comes to installing. I booted from the disk, expecting to be greeted with text-based formatting options - instead, I was taken straight away to a fully functioning desktop. I could browse the internet, play tetris, do practically anything, while at the same time running the wizard to install the operating system; I didn't need a SATA driver floppy-disk, a serial number, anything. Installing this system could - quite literally - be done by a child.

Booting Up

The first thing I noticed was, it was fast. Even on a fresh Windows install, my system seems to take an age to boot up, but Ubuntu loaded in the blink of an eye. Once I was on my desktop, I didn't need to wait for the hard drive to stop churning away as it does with XP, before I could even think of opening Firefox. As soon as the desktop appeared, I was free to do anything.

Hardware

I have a bubble-jet printer, a gamepad, a scanner, a usb keyboard and mouse. And I didn't have to install a driver for one of them. They just worked, straight out of the box. The only driver installation I actually had to enable was newer graphics drivers, in order to use advanced desktop effects - but this was simply a matter of pressing 'continue' when presented with the option, and rebooting. And that was it. No nightmares with unrecognised hardware, no compiling drivers or fumbling around with a terminal; Ubuntu appeared to do everything for me. I have fairly bog-standard peripherals, but I was still pleasantly surprised that it was so easy.

Software

For the average user, Ubuntu appears to come with everything you need straight out of the box. A browser, an office suite, imaging software ... when I did need extra software, it was simply a matter of loading up the synaptic package manager and searching for what I wanted; Ubuntu then proceeded to install it and configure all of its dependencies automatically.

Desktop

Ubuntu groups all of your programs into categories, rather than just dumping them all in the start menu; you actually initially get a top and bottom bar, which unlike Windows' start menu, are infinitely customisable. One thing which really works well is the multiple desktop feature; with a keypress you can open an entirely new, empty desktop, and quickly switch between them, making it even easier to multitask. One thing I've been playing with from the package manager is Compiz. The built in version is nice enough, giving you some effects and features which become old fairly quickly - but with an update to Compiz-Fusion, you get the works. A multi-faced three dimensional desktop, an alt-tabbing system which cycles you through a dynamic thumbnail of each available window, a seemingly infinite level of zooming-in -- the list is huge, and the fact that you can easily upgrade Compiz with plugins means it can be potentially massive.

Emulation

During my time using Ubuntu I attempted to use WINE to emulate two windows programs. I had varied results; the first was CPS3, an emulator I use to run Street Fighter III - this worked initially, with some minor resize problems, but later it refused to load, causing Wine to stop responding. The second was Commandos - the original Windows 95 game. In fairness, this refused even to load in XP, with or without compatibility mode, so I expected very little from a Windows emulator - however, it seemed to install and run almost perfectly, the only issue being some slight added speed. Unfortunately, this also seemed to stop working after a few days - without any changes made to Wine. This time, it claimed that it could not find DirectX 5. How I did eventually get Commandos working - and it wasn't under Linux - is a different story.

Issues

The only issues I had with Ubuntu were probably caused by my own mistakes. That's one piece of advice I'd give - unless you're sure what you're doing with the terminal, use alternatives wherever possible. I attempted to follow a guide to enable the side-buttons on my mouse, and despite following the directions to the word, ended up in 'low-graphics' mode, which I couldn't even fix with a driver update or re-install. Another problem I've had is with my browser taking me to google.co.uk or bbc.co.uk whatever I attempt to view, until I reboot the machine. I've yet to attempt to solve this one, though, as it's only happened once or twice during the past few days.

Verdict

I'm definitely going to stick with it. The impression I get is that although it may not be the best OS for gaming - or, the limited retro gaming I've tried so far - it certainly beats Windows in terms of speed, reliability and aesthetics. There seemed to be open source software for everything I needed to do, and I didn't have to compile or manually install once. If you've been avoiding Linux for the 'gurus-only' stereotype, now may be a good time to try a distribution like Ubuntu. It's not perfect quite yet - but it's a damned good alternative to Windows, at any rate.

chris

I just installed Ubuntu 2 weeks ago myself when my old HDD died. I'll have to agree with what you say in your article here. For most setups it's just great. I still have 2 issues i need to work out though and a regular home user would not have an easy time with these.

My new Logitech Quickcam Ultra Vision does not work, I've tried the stuff I found online and so far no luck.

I also lost the ability to use the TV out on my Video card. I'm sure there is a way to fix it but it's not easy and I haven't found out how yet.

Now most desktop setups won't have to worry about those things so I'd definitely still recommend Ubuntu for Home users. I find the Synaptic package manager to be the best thing since sliced bread. no more poking around on the web for the stuff you need.!

cucu

When you want to do a 'Linux-on-notebook review' that does not look totally incompetent you MUST talk about hibernate/suspend/resume and wireless drivers

Daniel

Cucu, this is neither a review, nor is it about a laptop.

"Why wait for the laptop to arrive, I asked myself? I cleared up some space on my pc's second hard drive, downloaded the latest Ubuntu release, and gave it a go."

I guess I could talk about reading competence; but maybe that was a bit hidden away.

PRob

I just installed it on my laptop (HP dv5220) too. Its awesome!

A few things...

1) Low res was fixed by an "addon" (I don't know what to call it, applet, small program) named with something like 955 or 915 in it (google it) or maybe a real expert will pipe in. Anyway, it took care of my display issues. The key, is to reboot once you've installed it.

2) I did a dual install. The HP had two partitions already... a small partition for playin DVD's and CD's without booting an OS and the XP partition.

I used G-parted to add two more partitions. The first was for Ubuntu, choose the ext3 format. If you want XP to see you Ubuntu drive, then you need to format Ubuntu in FAT32. Performance wise, I chose against doing this. It was more of a feeling than technical decision. The second partition was a smaller Swap partition. I think the min is 256 or 512 MB, I went with 2GB, probably overkill.

Ubuntu automatically installs a boot up menu. So, when you start you PC, you have a choice, XP or Ubuntu.

3) Wireless installed fairly easily. The laptop has an intel wireless card. No issues there. There was some fumbling with the wireless network password/setup. Its all good now though.

4) hibernating. I haven't used it in Ubuntu. It loads so fast, booting just isn't a hassle. HOWEVER, when I hibernate in XP, and then choose to boot Ubuntu at the next boot up, Ubuntu does not pick up my XP partition, weird but understandable.

5) Program install. This was something new for me. Most programs installs can be selected from the Synaptic Package Manager. All you need to know is what you want to install. Turn on the Universal and Multiversal sections. Do a search to find the software, and then apply. Its great! I also did a command line/ terminal install of some software. Its not hateful either. I just had to understand that I could dump the tar file on the desktop and installation puts the files in the right folders. Folder designation was automatic.

6) So far, I'm very impressed with Ubuntu's ease of use and performance. I just need to research security (viruses/ firewalls/ spyware/ cookie equivalents) a little more.

Daniel

1 - Ah, cheers for that - if it happens again (and I think I'll stay clear of X config files etc until I'm more sure of myself) I'll be sure to have a look. As it happens, when this happened to me it was a simple matter of reformatting as I had virtually nothing installed anyway. Overkill, in hindsight, I guess!

2 - I just used the partition manager in the install wizard; I created them manually as I didn't want to risk anything happening to my XP install, but it all seemed to work out fine in the end, GRUB is working like a charm.

It's good to know intel wireless et al works; my laptop is coming with an intel wireless card so I hope it's as easy for me.

Thanks for the comment.

TenSigh

I've used Ubuntu for almost 2 years now and I'm about to give it up.

-Wireless sucks. My connection gets dropped more often than on my Windows partition, or it just never finds my WAP.

-Programs like Amarok crash all the time. Winamp, by contrast, runs rock solid. Amarok has more features but Winamp has only crashed on me once. Amarok crashes daily.

-Beryl (desktop effects) locks up on me a lot, and it also reboots my computer or signs me out (really frustrating when I'm working on something).

-Screen saver makes my PC crash (haven't dealt with this since Windows 95)

-Programs occasionally won't install (I'm told I need lib-6-stupid-8.9.9.2 but I have lib-6-stupid-8.9.9.1 sometimes)

By contrast, Windows XP runs without these issues. XP is ugly, boring and lame, but it just works.

Karl O. Pinc

Hello,

I wrote this a ways back in a private email but, being a new Linux user, you might be interested.

Linux is secure/easy to maintain/easy to upgrade/stable because the Linux distributors have already made sure all the software you need will work together. Experts have more flexibility, but ordinary people can have systems that run trouble-free for many years if they install only the software supplied by their Linux distributor. (Just install/copy the old drive in/to a new system to upgrade hardware if desired.*) This is quite different from the Wintel model, where people must obtain software from hither and yon, especially drivers, and then be plagued by the resulting instability, insecurity, and the nightmare of keeping all the software patched, up to date, and compatible with each other. (And don't even think about copying your old MS Windows hard drive into new hardware and expecting it to work.)

In other words, all the systems integration work is done for you with Linux. People using MS Windows must do this themselves. MS Windows user's don't do this, and so their systems turn to muck in a few years and must be wiped and re-installed. What's worse, people migrating to Linux make the mistake of installing 3rd party software and as a result have the same experience with Linux. There's a reason they say: "Use binary-only drivers, hate life." Although both cause trouble, installing 3rd party drivers will make your system unstable much faster than installing 3rd party applications.

This is why choosing a distro is so important. It should support all, or almost all, the applications needed. And it should have a mechanism for easily installation of both security fixes and full system upgrades. I also believe it is important to choose a distro that does not contain binary-only (proprietary) drivers. This is for two reasons. The first is that if your hardware requires proprietary pieces you can't up and switch to a different distro which might better serve your needs. This is true to a lesser but not insignificant extent when using proprietary applications. The most important is that you won't get years of upgrades from binary-only drivers because the driver supplier is going to drop support long before support is dropped for any of the drivers included in the stock Linux kernel. This means you won't be able to upgrade your software and will be stuck using old stuff unless you also go to the trouble of upgrading your hardware.

Regards,

Karl

  • If you can think of a one word that means not just secure, not just stable, but also easy to live with as time passes, I'd love to hear back from you. It's weird, but tech journalists don't seem to care if the computer becomes unusable over time, so long as there's no pain at all the moment the power is plugged in.

* I lie, it's gotten slightly more complicated. Now it's necessary to tell the /etc/udev/rules.d/z25_persistent- files to forget about whatever old network cards and cd/dvd drives not moved to the new system. Actually it's not really necessary, but if you don't you will likely have to reconfigure networking, and wonder why the system thinks you have extra hardware that does not exist.

Anonymous

When experimenting with the Xorg graphics settings, it is indeed easy to mess up the Xorg config file (which is a text file). When this file is not correct, Xorg doesn't start (or start with a lower res), and you end up with the situation described by Daniel?

There is a simple remedy. Before you start experimenting with the Xorg graphics settings,just make a copy of the xorg.conf file, which is /etc/X11/xorg.conf on Ubuntu. Use your file manager, or, from the command line:

cd /etc/X11 sudo cp xorg.conf xorg.conf.bak

If your experiments fail and you end up with low res or no Xorg, just restore the backup:

cd /etc/X11 sudo cp xorg.conf.bak xorg.conf

and restart X (rebooting your system is the simplest way).

McPop

As for making a copy of xorg.conf, you could spice it up a notch and try version control.

A very simple version control simple is RCS and you can use the "ci" and "co" commands to check-in and check-out your config files.

Create an initial version of the config file with the command "ci xorg.conf" from the command line in the /etc/X11 directory.

Before editing, issue a command like "co -l xorg.conf" and when you have successfully made the changes you can "ci xorg.conf" If your changes were catastrophic, instead of ci you can run co again to get the original file back.

I am going from memory here so perhaps this isn't 100% perfect, but it is a good place to start for anyone who's interested in using revision control for their configs.

And "man ci" and "man co" are your friends!

McP.

me

"Wireless sucks. My connection gets dropped more often than on my Windows partition, or it just never finds my WAP."

I have exactly the opposite problem which is why this laptop I'm using now has Linux on it. My wireless NIC is an Intel one.

BlahBlah

Linux is great. I've used Gentoo, Fedora 7 and Ubuntu, all of which worked fine. Gentoo is my favourite, just for the sheer nerdyness of it, and the fun of compiling everything.

I would recommend that you get to grips with the terminal. Once you know even the basic commands you can do everything far faster.

IMO, Aptitude is better than just using apt-get.

Scribes is a great text editor, but I don't think it's in the Ubuntu repositories. Just compile it yourself: ./config, make, make install (install as root IIRC).

BlahBlah

Also, is your laptop using one of those built in intel wireless motherboards? They're meant to be really hard to set up, often not working at all under *nix systems.

Xipher Zero

Ubuntu is not bad, but it can get a little dodgey on stability (It is built on Debian Unstable after all) For those of you who have been having stability issues there are other options that can provide more stability. You might try PCLinuxOS or Mepis (When V. 7 releases), or even openSuSE. All in all though great writeup and I look forward to more.

she

The review was nice but i think it was too much back-patting in favour of Ubuntu. I am NOT saying it is not well deserved, i am saying that it seems that you have a much better time than other people.

When I first used SuSE, i didnt even know why I constantly get permission denied errors.

To be fair to compare something on Ubuntu, its time to install addons... how about mplayer + dvd? How about using openoffice? How about finding help if you suddenly have an unexpected problem?

I am saying that, to be fair, the OS needs to be tested under "critical" conditions.

Knight

Hi,

If you want to install proprietary video/audio codecs (to view DVDs etc) get Automatix (http://www.getautomatix.com/) It has a similar GUI to aptitude and you can select which codec and which video/audio player you want, and Apply the changes. Note however, the use of these codecs may depend on your local laws. Kindly confirm before downloading and using them. Hope this helps.

warner

yea, Ubuntu is pretty sweet.

Here are a couple of suggestions,

1)virtualbox.org for GPL virtualization drop dead simple and on par with VMWare, run those stubborn windows games (unfortunately no 3D support for the shooters) in Win on Linux. it's the only sane way to run Windows ;)

2)create a separate /home partition that way if you install a different Distro or reinstall all of you customizations and program preferences will automagically reapear.

Good luck and welcome to the Free world.

richard

When I wan to run really old games, Dosbox normally works for me.

Microsoft

BE CAREFUL!

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Michael Tam

Linux (particularly Ubuntu) is great when it "just works", but in my experience, it is terrible for an average user when it doesn't. Although any of the modern distributions arguably have better in built driver support than Windows XP, Windows is much easier to manage when you have a device that doesn't have an OS supported driver.

The reality is that ALL my peripherals have Windows drivers while some do not work in Linux, or only work PARTIALLY.

Mark

"That's one piece of advice I'd give - unless you're sure what you're doing with the terminal, use alternatives wherever possible."

You have to learn it the hard way. Get crazy with the terminal.

MisterMeister

"My new Logitech Quickcam Ultra Vision does not work, I've tried the stuff I found online and so far no luck.

I also lost the ability to use the TV out on my Video card. I'm sure there is a way to fix it but it's not easy and I haven't found out how yet."

I have a Logitech Quickcam Fusion and it woks fine using lucview. Acoording to the developers site your Ultra Vision cam works with lucview:

http://mxhaard.free.fr/spca5xx.html (Your cam is listed at the bottom of the page)

There are no Ubuntu packages for lucview only packages for Debian, who knows why? The next version of Ubuntu will have lucview in the universe repositories available for download.

For now you can download the source and compile it with ease since it's a very small application, about 41K:

http://mxhaard.free.fr/spca50x/Investigation/uvc/luvcview-20070512.tar.gz

As for your TV problem you should be able to use TV out by enabling it in the display portion of the Gnome control panel. You could also reconfigure xorg by using the command:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg

This will allow you to manually setup your display settings, keyboard, mouse, etc... bypassing the Gnome control panel. Then once your settings are restored just go into the Gnome control panel to change the configuration like you normally would.

Sam Danielson

Open source software changes very rapidly and contributors often work on multiple projects which makes things change even quicker. IMHO the only way to use OSS is to get involved like you're doing with this blog. Definitely get on IRC - right now the largest room on freenode.org is Ubuntu with over 1000 users. Also pick up a book on Linux and get comfortable with the command line. Quite often commands are just easier and sometimes they're the only way to do something since no gui has yet been developed. Good luck.

Daniel

Still having serious issues with my Intellimouse 3.0A which refuses to work as it shoud. Side-buttons are not working at all and I also end up with a lowgraphics mode (and fatal crash) trying to fix it.

Also, this is what happends when screwing to much with xorg.conf :)

http://bloggliv.se/img/2007/xorgknas.jpg

Michael Fincham

Using Automatix on Ubuntu is a seriously bad idea, and completely unnecessary in any of the newer (last 2 or 3) releases.

Rastilin

Ubuntu does have a few stability issues, personally my biggest complaint is that Nautilus will sometimes forget it has a hard drive attached. It's a pretty annoying problem, that and my laptop's brightness will occasionally reset itself.

Debian is far faster, although lacking in a few features and a bit harder to configure.