Switched to Kubuntu

After Windows annoyed me one day too many, I’ve switched over both my daily computers to Linux. Oreo (our file server) has been on Fedora Core 4 for quite some time, and I’ve run FC 4 and 5 on a second partition off and on. I’ve never really been sold on Linux as a desktop OS, but after trying the Ubuntu live CD, I switched both my work laptop and, later, my home desktop. I chose the Kubuntu distribution of Linux, which is Ubuntu with the KDE desktop manager instead of Gnome.

For my work laptop, Linux is an obvious choice since I develop mostly for embedded Linux and I spend most of my day in Cygwin. That was an easy transition. Having run Kubuntu on both machines for over two weeks now, I’m declaring this experiment a tentative success and posting the results here in case it helps anyone else.

The short summary of my experiences: Ubuntu is an excellent distribution and by far the most user-friendly and supportive of all the distros I’ve tried. Most computer-literate users could install instead of (or side-by-side with) Windows, use, and enjoy, but the few hurdles required to enable some key features make it still unsuitable for those afraid to tinker or hack.

The Good

  • Live CD: 5 stars. This is the first live CD I’ve used that 100% worked “out of the box” on all my computers. Sound, touchpads, power control, and every other feature I tried was solid. For those folks who aren’t familiar with a “live CD”, it allows you to try Kubuntu without changing your computer at all, and at your option to install it permanently later. You boot off the CD and get a complete OS running out of memory. It doesn’t touch the hard drive (unless you want to install the OS on your computer), but is otherwise the real deal. The Kubuntu CD comes with example images, sound files, OpenOffice (a Microsoft Office competitor) documents, and the like.
  • Ubuntu installer: 4.5 stars. The installation was 100% correct out of the box, included all the bits I needed to get going, and even introduced me to a few nice features. No fluff. This would be 5 stars, but if your computer can’t reach the Internet during installation (think: WiFi with security enabled), the updater (fetches updates for security patches, etc.) completely blanks the list of servers it will try to check. You have to notice this and go re-enable them or you won’t be able to update a thing.
  • working with Windows machines (Office, network shares, printers): 4.5 stars. It took me all of ten seconds to find Diann’s Windows desktop, map a drive, and then perhaps a minute to start using her printer.
  • wireless networking: 4 stars. See the note above about the update manager ignoring the entire server list because it couldn’t reach them. The wireless configuration program (looks a lot like Win XP’s wireless network browser) worked on my laptop, but not on Diann’s. It took her an extra minute to go set up the wireless security through another icon in the system settings.
  • Adept (the package manager): 4 stars. A clean and understandable interface, plus all the yummy dependency management one expects from a modern tool. It took about two clicks each to install Firefox (nothing against the included Konqueror, but not all sites like it), make, and all the other things I need.
  • included applications: 4 stars. The included file manager, audio player, RSS reader, video player, chat client, and office suite all appear to be well-designed, feature-rich, and easy to use. (There are a lot more applications included, but these are the ones that stick out in my mind.)
  • community support: 4 stars. The questions I had were largely answered in the FAQ or on the wiki. Those that weren’t were easy enough to google. The Ubuntu community seems like a fairly newbie-friendly one.
  • VMware Server: 5 stars. This isn’t Ubuntu-related, but it’s a fantastic complement to a Windows-killer OS. I can run Windows XP in a window on my desktop, and XP doesn’t know any better. The Win apps I can’t give up (*cough*Quicken*cough*) can run there and I don’t have to reboot. This would be 6 stars but VMware lagged a few days behind the kernel patch and I happened to install it during that time, so I had to build the driver. Oh, and it’s free, like all the stuff listed here.

The Bad

  • no mp3 playing out of the box: apparently due to licensing concerns, Ubuntu doesn’t include an mp3 decoder. The included audio player apps (such as Amarok) try to play the files, but only silence is heard. It takes but a moment to find the FAQ relating to this on the Ubuntu site, but it’s a significant minus for out-of-the-box functionality.
  • Dual-head (two monitors on one video card) support: 2 stars. The second screen didn’t work out of the box. I installed the (proprietary) ATI drivers on my laptop and ran the appropriate shell command for the default config. The first time, X wouldn’t start (no graphical desktop!). After restoring the old config, I got it to work. I don’t blame this on Ubuntu but rather the open-source and proprietary video card drivers. Still, it was a bit of a chore. Now that it works, it works far better than Windows dual-head support ever did.
  • no Flash player without downloading from Macromedia and running a text-based installer: I totally understand why this is and, yes, I generally hate Flash, but it’s needed for some terribly useful web sites. I blame this on Macromedia, reknown for their lack of Linux support.
  • no DVD movie authoring without a lot of fetching, building, and general text console work: Nero and its ilk have raised the bar for drag-and-drop burning of video. Getting KMediaFactory working wasn’t exactly hard, but it wasn’t trivial, either.

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