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The Big Ubuntu Switchover

There seems to be some kind of law that if you stop using Windows and you have a blog you must at some point write a post about your experiences and who am I to buck that trend.

I recently moved over from using Windows XP to Ubuntu on my home machines and I thought it might be helpful for those considering the switch to read about my experiences. Since the most recent version of Ubuntu called Gutsy Gibbon (no seriously) came out there has been a lot of buzz about how it is great for every day PC users rather than just beardy computer science types so I have decided to write it with a non technical audience in mind.

What’s an Ubuntu?

I suppose that the first question to answer is what on earth is Ubuntu, and why should I use it instead of Windows?
Ubuntu is a type of Linux which is an operating system like Microsoft Windows or Apple OS X. Where Linux differs from the Apple and Microsoft products however is that it is free in two important ways:

  • Free like free beer
  • Free like free speech

Linux is free like beer because there is no charge for using it on your computer and it is free like speech because anyone can look at the program and change or improve it (something Microsoft or Apple would never let you do however much money you had). As a result lots of people both volunteers and people in industry continuously improve Linux allowing it to keep up with the huge investment made by its commercial rivals. Though you may not have Linux at home you will almost certainly use it every day as it is the most popular way of hosting web pages and powers such Internet legends as Google, Amazon and Ebay and quite a lot of phones and TV set top boxes also run it. Lots of people bundle up Linux with a collection of useful bits and bobs in what is called a distribution or a distro. Ubuntu is a Linux distro put together by a company called Canonical who make their money by selling help and support for Linux users. The motto of Ubuntu is “Linux for Humans” and their philosophy is often compared with the Apple Mac mantra “It just works”.
Ubuntu is designed to be as easy and friendly to install and use as possible and as a result it is fast becoming the most popular type of Linux with home users.
Now we know what Ubuntu is the next question is:

Why did I switch from Windows to Ubuntu?

To explain that I suppose I should tell you a little bit about myself.
I am what you might call a techy or a geek. I have a degree in a computing discipline and I work as a technologist for a living however I would like you to trust me when I tell you that I am in no way a fan of technology for technology’s sake. My mobile phone is second hand and exists only to make phone calls and I see gizmos as being only worth bothering with when they make our lives simpler and easier.
Whilst at university I was encouraged to install Redhat Linux on my PC by the department, but having sampled it in the lab I decided that though it had a lot of good things going for it, it was still too arcane at that point and didn’t really offer me anything that I couldn’t do in Windows 2000.
So what changed my mind?
As a younger person I like many people was not adverse to using software without playing for it, but as I got older I started to feel that if I got use from some software I should pay for it. At the moment I own two computers. One of them is a fairly modern desktop PC which came with a legitimate copy of Windows XP and the other is a rather decrepit by modern standards laptop for which I did not own a legitimate Windows licence. Unfortunately the hard disk in the laptop had to be replaced and this presented me with a problem. The laptop had never run XP very well in the first place as it was rather too old and buying an XP licence when it had already been superseded by the underwhelming Vista was a rather unappealing prospect. As an avid reader of the excellent Lifehacker (A website dedicated to making life easier and more productive) I kept hearing a lot about a newish and popular flavour of Linux by the name of Ubuntu. This surprised me somewhat as Lifehacker being productivity themed is typically more likely to sing the praises of Macs with their elegant interfaces and well thought out design.

So I had in my possession an old laptop, a virgin hard disk and a free operating system. What did I have to loose except a Sunday afternoon.


Having gone through an old fashioned Linux install as part of an engineering course some years back (Apparently during which if you set the scan rate wrongly it could make smoke come out of your monitor!) I was surprised at how easy it was to install (more detail of how it stacks up against XP in a later post). All you have to do is stick the CD in the drive and turn the machine on and it boots straight into Ubuntu from the CD and lets you poke around and check that you like it. Everything seemed to work and so I clicked the big install button and then other that asking me my name, time zone and the password for my wireless network everything just happened.

Not only did the machine work like a charm without me configuring anything (I’ve lever had to use a terminal for anything unless I wanted to) but I actually found my laptop now ran pretty fast and was very easy to use. soon I pretty much stopped using my well speced XP desktop except when I absolutely had to.

Going all in

The two things that turned me from a dabbler to an advocate came when my other half who is as non techy as can be and had previously only really used XP asked if she could borrow the Ubuntu laptop I was using rather than use the XP machine because she found it easier to use and another occasion when I was showing a Youtube video to a friend and he asked if my machine was Vista because it looked much nicer than his XP machine at home.

After this I soon changed the XP machine into a dual boot Windows/Ubuntu machine (I had paid for the XP licence so it seemed silly to delete it) and I have never looked back.

Next time I hope to do a feature comparison between the two so you can make your own mind up if you are considering making the switch.

Published 31 Oct 2007

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