Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Experiment with Ubuntu - Buh-Bye Windows XP

   Recently, a friend of mine has been talking about wanting to switch his operating system (OS) from Windows Vista to a Linux OS. His reason for wanting to switch over is to lessen the memory footprint from Vista in order to be able to run World of Warcraft more responsively. Being the proud owner of a laptop that once ran Vista before it fried its own motherboard, I feel the pain of any Vista user that just wants out; especially the 64-bit users.
   I have also taken a personal interest in the Linux OS currently available, but for different reasons. I have a lot of hardware that is loosely connected in the very much insecure ways of Windows 7 OS. Not only that, but I have multiple monitors hooked up to single machines. Windows 7 only offers a simple selection to either span the screen across the monitors (with much reduced functionality on the secondary monitor), duplicate the displays, or use one or the other display. Most people with multiple monitors hooked to one rig; myself, namely, would actually like to have each monitor work as its own workspace; with functionality that is wholly independent of the other workspace. Linux supposedly offers quick and easy solutions to both network security and multiple monitor support.
   In order to help my friend out as well as serve my own needs, I have decided to switch my Windows XP laptop over to Linux. Most people in America know next to nothing about Linux. The first thing to know is that many major distributions of the OS are free. It is an excellent go to if restoring a paid OS will cost more than it is worth. There are many flavors of Linux, definitely some are worth more than others. I decided to do some research on which OS I might go with. One article I read at Linux.com (click to read) had some great information on different popular OS in the Linux family.
   In the past, I have worked with Red Hat Fedora, which I do not care for much. The OS certainly does everything it is supposed to. It also works with most devices that Windows works with. That is, you really do not need to worry too much if your hardware is compatible these days. Most hardware that came stock in your machine will have a Linux-compatible driver either from the manufacturer or the Linux community. Plug-n-play devices also tend to work very well with the drivers available. The thing I do not like about Fedora though is that it still leaves many of the low-level OS processes up to the end user. This is a great choice if you want a Windows-type environment, but next to no processes running in the background.
   Being a typical end-user type of guy, I am okay with background processes, especially if they do not add up to the footprint left on a machine running Vista. However, I really like the fact that the computer is capable of handling processes itself and seek to keep a lot of that in my OS. After reading the article linked above, I decided Ubuntu would be the OS for me. Ubuntu supposedly offers a great end-user experience and also has strong offerings in terms of multimedia and applications support.
   So the transition begins. Now, anybody looking to do the same should understand something important. The transition will not be seamless, but a 100% rate between hardware and Ubuntu should be very possible. One way to ensure all of your hardware comes online as expected is to go to the manufacturer's website for your computer and write down all of the hardware in your computer. Because Microsoft and Apple want owning one of their products to be similar to being part of an exclusive club, you should expect to have to hunt down drivers for a lot of your hardware when switching from one of these OS. Luckily, the Linux community has gone a long way to making this process painless. Google searches should return quick and reliable results. Microsoft and Apple believe that if they make the process of change difficult, people will not change. For most, this may be true; however, there is no need to be deterred by their bumps in the road.
   In reality, the hardware transition is the easy part if you are accustomed to the application suites offered by Microsoft. Many things do have Linux equivalents, but not all. You should be able to find a productivity suite that provides the same functionality as Microsoft Office and is even compatible with all Office standard formats, but be prepared for the fact that they are simply not Microsoft Office. A bigger concern to some is that many games do not even consider Linux an OS. In some cases, there are workarounds; however, in many more cases, you will have to accept that you simply cannot run the game on your OS. DirectX, a popular format for developing games, is a Microsoft thing. Good luck getting any love from Microsoft on that.
   For those of you still not deterred, I say, give it a shot. So far, I do not have everything set up the way I would like it. However, I am very happy with the look and feel of Ubuntu. Hopefully I will be able to help my friend set up his rig in a similar fashion and his WoW playing days will be better than ever. I do not yet have the multiple monitor support fully worked out. I also do not have the server working yet. However, I will write another post in about a week with an update on how it goes. If it goes well, I may very well become a nothing-but-Linux type guy.

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