I’ve been increasingly interested in the Linux OS again recently and have re-discovered it’s power and flexibility. I’m a Windows guy primarily, always have been, but I’m writing this on the new Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal) release and I must say I am enjoying the experience.
This is by no means my first foray into the world of Linux, in fact my first exposure was way back 1999 (wow was it that long ago?) when I heard about this magical version of Unix that ran on PC hardware. At that point my home PC was running Windows NT on a Pentium 166 with a heady 64MB Ram. I purchased a Linux book that came with a Linux distribution on CD (downloading was not really an option for me back then with a slow dial-up connection). It was Caldera OpenLinux 2.2 and installing it was a nerve racking and sadly enjoyable journey of re-sizing partitions, configuring drivers and general frustration. Eventually I had a dual boot NT and Linux PC and a sense of self satisfaction, but Linux didn’t capture my imagination much further at that point. Much like playing with Lego as a child (or an adult ) the fun is in the building and configuring it how you want but not the playing with it afterwards, my fun with Linux was over. The UI felt like a poor relative to Windows and I booted into it less and less. As I moved further into Windows development there was less of a desire for me to explore Linux more. Over the last 12 years I have played with a few distributions on and off but never really for any reason other than curiosity and none of them really stuck. Lately though I’ve started to get the Linux itch again so I got downloading and I’m very pleased with what I’ve found.
Firstly it is now so incredibly quick and easy to get Linux distributions installed and setup on your machine of choice. There are so many options to get you up and running, and with most drivers automatically detected you should get few issues. Of course Virtualisation has made it easy to try out various OSs and Linux is no different. VirtualBox is a joy to use if you want to try out a Linux installation, but there is also the LiveCD option that enables you to run your Linux distribution of choice off a USB or DVD drive without touching your hard drive. Whilst this is not very practical for everyday use its good for getting a real feel for what a Linux distribution is like and what it will be like on your hardware. The best option for me with it’s ease and practicality is Wubi whereby you can install Ubuntu within your Windows OS and it creates a virtual disk on your Windows drive for installation. This means all your files are sitting isolated in a Linux virtual disk file within Windows. You boot into Linux normally (via the Windows dual boot loader screen) and it is completely transparent to your Linux OS that it’s disk is actually virtual. Of course there is a performance overhead around disk access but its not noticeable even on my netbook. This approach allows you to get all the benefits of a Linux installation without having to go full hog straight away with partitioning your disk. I’ve been running Ubuntu for a while using this approach and its working a charm. I do intend to go the full hog soon and install a fresh install of Ubuntu onto its own partition when I get around to it but as it works so well I’m in no rush. In the meantime I can try out some other Linux distro’s to find the one for me (Linux Mint and Tiny Core are on my list to checkout).
Ubuntu is certainly a relatively user friendly Linux distribution and whilst the switch to the new Unity desktop for the latest 11.04 version is very controversial within the Linux community there is little doubting that it is a friendly experience to new Linux users. It is also a very good desktop experienced for Netbooks, which is probably why it’s working so well for me on my netbook. I’m not sure how it will scale up to my desktop yet and do understand the negative comments that have been pitched at it. Regardless it is a way of Ubuntu differentiating itself from Windows and Mac, whilst making itself as user friendly as possible. It does appear as though Unity is a first step towards Ubuntu becoming a touch friendly device like Linux distribution. I’ve commented before on this blog how i see devices replacing the PC for all but “power user” type consumers and yet I still feel that a light friendly Ubuntu (with the power still underneath for those that want it) can do well. My wife is happy using Ubuntu on my netbook because like many consumers she does almost everything in the browser and this is where Linux on a Netbook seems to shine, as its capable, light and fast. A key advantage for Ubuntu is the Ubuntu Software Centre which is ideal for new users to get up to speed quickly. Overall I have been pleased with how Ubuntu plays with my Windows network shares and was pleased that I haven’t even needed to install a Remote Desktop client to logon onto my Windows servers as there is one included (type rdesktop servername at the terminal).
It’s still early days with my latest affair with Linux but so far it’s going well and this time I might get totally hooked.