Article: Switching from XP to Ubuntu »
FERDY CHRISTANT - MAR 10, 2007 (11:51:31 AM)
Since about 2 years, I have some experience with Linux. I run Fedora core at home as a web server, application server, and repository server for my projects. I'm not the typical command line guru, but with a bit of help, I can get by in the operating system. Next to my server needs, I also tried switching my desktop to Linux, without much luck. I got things to work when I tried OpenSuse and even Fedora, but found the whole desktop experience too limiting, compared to Windows XP. I like XP, it is functional, stable and I feel comfortable with it. I don't find it too expensive either, an OEM license is cheap nowadays.
Still, I could not ignore the steady stream of good critics concerning Ubuntu. It is currently the most popular distribution, based on the very stable Debian OS, and is targetted towards a friendly desktop experience. Tempted by these claims, I decided to try to install Ubuntu 6.10 on my new laptop. In this article I will explain my installation steps, findings and opinions of using Ubuntu as a Windows XP desktop replacement.
My choice of installation is Ubuntu 6.10, Edgy Eft, currently the latest stable release. I downloaded it from here, and burned an image DVD from it. You can also let them ship the DVDs to you. Once I burned the DVD, I inserted it into my drive and rebooted Windows. Because my BIOS is set up to boot from CD/DVD first, a menu appears that allows me to install Ubuntu.
After about two minutes, Ubuntu has started. This is great, I'm running Ubuntu from the Live CD, without it affecting any of my prior installations. I can now check if my hardware is compatible should I choose to actually install it later. The basics seem to work, so I decide to continue the installation by choosing the "Install to HD" link that is placed on the Ubuntu desktop. A wizard appears to ask me some basic installation questions and starts the install. In the meanwhile, I can continue working with the Live CD in the background. Cool.
Less than 10 minutes later, the system prompts me to eject the CD and reboot. After rebooting, a menu appears, allowing me to either boot in my prior Windows XP installation, or in the new Ubuntu installation. I boot into Ubuntu, and a shiny, clean desktop welcomes me. This was all too easy.
Now that I'm running Ubuntu, it is time to check if my hardware was detected. The sound works, I heard it at the login screen. My Logitech mouse is mostly detected, I can use 5 out of the 7 buttons. The keyboard works fine, even the media keys work. The video card is not detected, but I was prepared for that. Ubuntu does not ship with propietary video drivers, I will need to install those later. USB works fine, both my memory stick and external hard disk are usable right after plugging them in. Now for the most important...the network. No problem, Ubuntu detected my wireless network card. After enabling it, and configuring it to use my wireless network identifier, I am online. Right after establishing the internet connection, I am notified of system updates. Installing takes a single click, and no reboot. I then checked out the system monitor, to find my dual core processor and memory detected. So far, so good.
On my laptop, I am used to running the widesceen resolution 1440x900. For this to work in Ubuntu I will need to install the Nvidia driver. In addition, one of the things triggering me to switch to a Linux laptop is Beryl. Beryl is a 3D desktop engine that produces some amazing effects, comparable, but probably better than Aero on Windows Vista. The process of installing the driver and Beryl and making them work together was extremely frustrating to me. I used the instructions from this guide, but had to search and try other things for many hours. When I was at the point of giving up, I rebooted and all of a sudden it worked. The process was so confusing that I cannot even document how I did it. Use the guide mentioned above, and remember this: if you screw up your display, hit Ctrl+Alt+Backspace to restart your display.
Despite the troublesome install, all of it was worth it. I now run Ubuntu at my prefered resolution and Beryl works very smoothly. I have listed some screenshots of my desktop at the end of this article.
Accessing my files
I have my music, photos and movies stored on the partition that holds my Windows XP installation. I surely do not want to store them seperately into Ubuntu. Luckily, it is quite easy to access an NTFS partition from Ubuntu. I followed the instructions of item 2 of this list and got it working right away
Windows XP provides quite a rich media experience. So, what does it take to realize the same in Ubuntu? Not much. Ubuntu by default does not come with propietary codecs, such as mp3. Installing them all at once is easy, I followed the instructions of item 7, 9 and 10 of this list.
With the codecs installed, it is time to put it to the test. After inserting a DVD video, it starts playing automatically, in full quality. Likewise for the mpegs and avis. Playing mp3s works fine too, but I do not like the default player, and therefore installed Amarok.
Ok, what else? Ripping CDs into mp3 files. I had to install the lame mp3 encoder. After that, I installed Grip from the Ubuntu catalog, tweaked some settings, and got it working fine, although a bit slow. Organizing photos was no problem either, there is a default program for it that works just fine. As for photo editing, Ubuntu comes with GIMP. I don't like it too much, but it comes reasonably close to Adobe Photoshop, for free.
With the basics in place, I continued installing software and tweaking settings to get that full desktop experience. First, I installed Flash, and it worked right away. Next, I installed the Google toolbar for Firefox, so that I can access all my shared bookmarks, which I store at Google. I then installed Windows true type fonts. Both the Flash and font installation instructions can be found here.
I noticed how Ubuntu does not give me an overview of the wireless networks around me, so I installed Wifi-radar, a network scanning tool. It works the same as Windows XP's native functionality. Cool.
Next, I installed gftp as my FTP client, Google Earth, and Eclipse. All a matter of pointing and clicking. What's way better than Windows is the centralized repositories and update tool. By selecting something from the repositories, I know it will work, will be safe and will be free. The update manager allows me to update my entire OS, including all applications with a single click.
In my move to Ubuntu, I did not include gaming, or running Windows-only applications in Linux. Frankly, there are only a few applications (Photoshop, Visual studio, games) that I require Windows for, and I have a dual boot setup for those occassions. Having come this far, I did not want to lose my perfectly working Ubuntu installation, so I backed it up using these instructions.
Below are some screenshots of my Ubuntu desktop:
A clean desktop, with my Windows XP drive mounted for sharing files
My home folder, and one image opened. Notice the transparancy?
A console window, Wifi-radar and Amarok playing a radio stream
This site opened in Firefox, and gFTP as my FTP client
Eclipse, the Gimp and a calculator
Movie player and OpenOffice
Beryl's mini view port allows you to see all open windows at a glance
Beryl's 3D cube. 4 desktops. one cube to rule them all!
Beryl's 3D cube. 4 desktops. one cube to rule them all!
To me, the switch has been successfull. Ubuntu is amazingly friendly to install and operate. I will use it as my default desktop from now on, but still occassionally switch to XP for the Windows-only applications. As for the good aspects of Ubuntu, I find the OS installation, stability, performance, flexibility, community support and software installation process remarkable. As for the bad aspects, I think the still inevitable command line and sub optimal hardware support may scare of new users. Luckily, the Ubuntu community recognizes these flaws and will likely fix them in future versions.
After years of promises, I think Linux will be ready for its prime soon, at the very least for me.