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Hooray for Gutsy

October 18, 2007

The great thing about Ubuntu Linux as an operating system is that you get free tech support: not from the company that distributes the software, but from the army of Ubuntu evangelists out there willing to help you kick the Microserf habit.

I am clearly becoming a geek. That’s because I was so excited by the pre-release version of Ubuntu Linux Gutsy Gibbon, that I installed it on Sunday.

The official version of Ubuntu 7.10 is out today, I believe.

What’s that?

It’s an alternative, free, open source operating system. You can use it instead of Windows. I have been running Ubuntu Linux for 18 months now, and it’s that good that I get excited when a new version is released.

I am not a techie and I don’t know much about computers. I know how to use a few programs, and that’s about it. None of that programming stuff.

Ubuntu is the first version of Linux to be idiot-proof enough for ordinary people like me – reared on Windows – to use.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s Wired:

Gutsy Gibbon is certainly easier to install and set up than Windows Vista, and it’s very close to matching Mac OS X when it comes to making things “just work” out of the box. Wi-Fi, printing, my digital camera and even my iPod all worked immediately after installation — no drivers or other software required.

When I first started using an earlier version of Ubuntu, Feisty Fawn, finding everything was a little frustrating, because it all looked different. There’s no ‘start’ menu, for instance. But I had been using Windows for ten years, so I expected things to be a certain way. Once I opened myself up to trying something different, I was hooked.

Essentially, Windows treats you like an idiot that has to be told what to do. This is what has always infuriated me about using it: my machine ‘deciding’ to do something without me telling it to.

Ubuntu, on the other hand, treats you like an intelligent adult. It informs you of updates, and lets you make decisions. It refers you to documentation so that you can learn about what you’re doing, and teaches you to ‘go under the hood’ and type demands in the terminal window – something Windows wants you to stay well away from.

Quite apart from the fact that open source is ethically so much better than corporate software like MS, Ubuntu doesn’t crash like Windows does, and isn’t really susceptible to viruses.

Basically, Ubuntu can do anything Windows can do, for free and with better security. There are things that run better on Windows – using a program like InDesign, for instance, which doesn’t have a Linux version, is a little fiddly as you have to open up a virtual Windows OS in Linux, using a Windows simulator called wine.

But as more and more software is released in Linux versions, this will become less of a problem.

There is a tremendous amount of free software out there, and Ubuntu informs you automatically of what’s available, and of updates. My favourite is probably Amarok, a music player that integrates nicely with, and fetches lyrics and artist information off the ‘net as you play music.

For word processing, presentations and so on I use Open Office, which is fairly similar to its Microsoft counterpart. While Open Office can open Word documents fine, there is sometimes an issue with saving a document in a format that can be opened unaltered by Word – which is MS’ fault, but still irritating.

One advantage of Open Office, though, is that it can export to PDF.

There is a new version of Ubuntu every six months, and I find myself getting excited as the release date approaches.

Having been through the Ubuntu experience, I never want to use a machine running Microsoft again.

Windows users have some hard choices to make. As support is withdrawn for XP, and new computers run Vista, at some point you’ll have to upgrade. But Vista is so bad that the Dutch Consumer Council advises against using it. This is in addition to the security and data protection issues Vista has, notably that by installing it you are essentially allowing your computer to be controlled from Microsoft headquarters. Not a risk worth taking.

Maybe now is the time to switch to Ubuntu. Make it as painless as possible: if you can, install Ubuntu on an old computer you’re not using, so you can get used to using it without getting rid of what you’re used to.

I partitioned my hard drive (with the help of my tech support and Ubuntu evangelist) and installed Ubuntu on one partition, which means I can boot into either operating system. This works brilliantly, and I hardly ever use Windows, as I can access all my files on Windows through Ubuntu – but not the other way around.

Go on, give it a shot.

You know you want to.

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