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Ubuntu on the Desktop?


I was Stumbling About the net today and came across this article where Paul Nowak celebrates his conversion to Ubuntu from windows XP. With this abomination called Vista released upon the world, this is a hot topic for me.

I’m a Unix guy to the core. I was writing (ughhh) point-of-sale kernel drivers when Linus was in high school. I’m writing this blog with vi. Yeah, hard core :-) Unfortunately, XP is still on this laptop. As much as I want Linux, I just don’t see that happening any time soon, even with the added pressure of Vista.

Now I do have a Linux server sitting in the back room, running on ancient 300mhz hardware and loaded with over a TB of storage. It hit its 1 year uptime anniversary last month (a ho-hum achievement these days) and just keeps truckin along.

I got it in that condition only after weeks of hacking, hair pulling, configuring, upgrading, downgrading after an automatic upgrade broke everything, Even after the downgrade, X is broken so no desktop which is OK since I’m a command line kinda guy most of the time. I still haven’t gotten USB working well enough to see one of my portable drive enclosures.

I keep a log of my Linux admin activities at practically the keystroke-by-keystroke level so that I can back my way out of trouble. (I never have to do that with XP.) And, like after building a house out of cards, I seem to come away from each admin session with that “Whew, now that it works, don’t touch anything!”

Hardcore Linux-heads will be ROFLing right now but they’re missing two points: 1) I’m an experienced unix programmer and I still seem to fall into so many traps and 2) I don’t want to be an admin, I want to be a user and actually DO things with my computer. You know, write, email, brows, navigate with GPS, make and edit music, stuff like that.

That box isn’t Ubuntu so enough about it. (The reason it’s not is that Ubuntu hung during boot of the install disk. Booo)

I had reached an uneasy truce with XP when this Vista thing reared its ugly head. XP on this 5 year old laptop is short-term stable (has to be booted every other day but I was learning to live with that), reliable (haven’t lost any data nor BSOD’d in ages) and it does what I want it to do. I went through a long sweet spell where I knew that most anything mainstream that I wanted to install would go right in without hassles. That’s ending now, as Microslut’s malfeasance is causing more and more “newer OS required” messages.

Yeah, it’s slow compared to Linux and the Windows interface is STILL clunky even after all these years but it does one thing well. It lets me do my work with undue intrusion.

Let me address a couple of things that you said, Paul, that border on strawman arguments.

Now let’s look at actually doing stuff. I have the usual needs – writing, an occasional spreadsheet, email, web browsing and so on. Then there are the more esoteric needs. PCB cad for designing circuit boards (free SWCad). Solid modeling for mechanical designs (student version of Solid Edge.) GPS-based mapping software (Street Atlas). PageMaker for publishing. Actual magazine and journal publishing and not gussied-up word processing like Word and clones do. FrontPage for wizzywig web page creation. CorelDraw and Corel PhotoPaint. (PLEASE don’t refer me to GIMP. Not in the same league) CoolEditPro (now pretty much destroyed by Adobe) for sound editing.

I don’t see Linux replacements for much if any of those packages. Yeah, I know about WINE et al, but frankly, I don’t have the stomach for wrestling that demon to the mat. I’m not ready to settle for “second best” just because a package is open source and I don’t think many others outside the geek community are either.

As I see it, there are two major, currently fatal problems standing in the way of any significant Linux penetration beyond the hard core geeks.

I don’t think it’ll ever happen even with the target-rich opportunity that Vista has created but IMO, the road to market penetration is for everyone to bury their egos and come up with ONE civilian distro aimed at the “rest of us” and at windows developers. A distro that can be installed by anyone, one that configures itself and that requires essentially zero admin. And has software to run on it.

Maybe Ubuntu will become that product. I’m intrigued enough that the next time I get to a broadband connection, I’m going to download it and see. it’ll still be a play toy, however, because neither the applications nor the hardware support are there.

Meanwhile I don’t have a clue what I’ll do when it becomes impossible to run XP anymore. I’ve already purchased another laptop to replace this one when it quits but that leaves the problem of how to deal with Microshaft’s intentional incompatibility built into their development tools and therefore many future products. What do I do when an essential application pops up with “newer OS required”?

Please, pretty Please, Linux community, provide an alternative, one that’s viable to us civilians without the rose-colored glasses. I’m on my knees beggin’ now.


Posted by neonjohn on June 7th, 2007 under Computing

2 Responses to “Ubuntu on the Desktop?”

  1. Chris Bryant Says:

    Hey John- fancy meeting you here ;)
    Give PCLinuxOS a try-
    A very nice, Madriva based distribution
    For web editing, many like NVU (I use Quanta +, but they wysiwyg portion is not its forte). Scribus for DTP, there is a Mapping program out there (though I know nothing about it), Amarok has iPod functionality (again- I don’t use it).
    Inkscape and XaraXL for graphics (though not good replacements for Photoshop,

    Anyway- good to see your blog- give PCLos a try (it runs as a live CD just fine).


  2. Norman Yarvin Says:

    While I don’t recommend Wine in general, LTspice/SwitcherCAD III is advertised as working under Wine. That is, the writer of the code (Mike Engelhardt) has specifically tweaked it to work in that environment: it detects that it is running under Wine, and does some things slightly differently, so that they work.

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