I'm posting from my first truly successful installation of Ubuntu on my computer.
Is it ready to be a mainstream desktop replacement? (And, on that note, are we looking for a problem to go with this solution?) Well, allllllmost.
It's definitely ready to be an alternate desktop for those of you who are even the least bit technical. (HAHA WHAT A PUN OMG I'LL BE HERE ALL WEEK)
The prime reason to make the move to evaluating Ubuntu now is that you can install it on top of Windows. Seriously. No repartitioning your hard drive or any of that stuff. I partitioned my hard drive myself when I first got this machine, and it would have gone better if I'd known what I was doing - I tried to install Ubuntu back then, but I didn't have my machine partitioned properly.
Now a good old NTFS (or maybe even FAT / FAT32?) Windows partition is all you need (if you're running Windows, you have this) and 5GB (low end) to 30GB (phat, I settled for 15) of free space. Maybe defragment your target drive first; you don't want this big file you're going to have to end up fragmented, right?
Download the Ubuntu ISO, burn it to a CD, and then load the CD within Windows and start the installation from there. This is really sexy; it's what a lot of people who weren't willing to tear apart their Windows installations were praying for.
The Ubuntu-on-Windows installation is so easy and painless it's almost unfair. You'll be up and running in under 20 minutes. It even makes the changes to your XP bootloader for you so that you can easily chose between XP and Ubuntu every time you boot up. XP remains the default, so if you just turn on your computer and walk away, when you come back you'll see your good old XP desktop (or login screen, as the case may be).
Ubuntu's good points:
- It's beautiful and functional.
- It seems like a great environment in which to get some work done.
- It's a clear improvement on previous releases. My wireless actually worked properly this time, even with a passkey having been set up.
- The package / installation manager is great (when it works). You won't like going back to Windows and downloading and executing .exe files; that's not nearly as sexy.
- It eats and breathes interoperability; your Mac-formatted iPod will work just fine with it - in fact, I had to run a LiveCD instance of Ubuntu the other day to copy some mp3s off a co-worker's Mac-formatted iPod. (Windows lacks native capability in this area and requires an expensive add-on.)
... and the not-so-great:
- Some key Windows titles are not available for Linux. I cite ACDSee, SlingPlayer (for my SlingBox), and Adobe Premiere. When I'm editing videos I can't live without the last item, and I can never live without the first two. Since I don't have a Intel Core Duo processor stepping with the feature that enables side-by-side operating system instances, greatly diminishing what I could get from virtualization, the virtualization solution wouldn't really work. I'll still need to use Windows more often than Linux.
- The features that let Ubuntu play with proprietary file types (MP3, Windows Media, etc..) aren't installed by default for copyright / royalty reasons. You have to install a package called "Ubuntu Restricted Extras." This is easy to do using the aforementioned package manager - heck, you can even update a LiveCD RAM-based "installation" this way if you're doing something like accessing a Mac-formatted iPod - but many new users won't realize this and will be wondering why they can't get their MP3s to play.
- My wireless finally worked, yes, but not without a few user-interface-related configuration hiccups. I guess I should be glad that I didn't have to "wrap" a Windows driver or anything uber-technical like that.
- I couldn't get my TV to act as a second monitor - at least not in a way that actually worked (I just saw fuzz on the TV screen). Amazingly, changing screen resolution on the fly is a recent feature - and some prior releases I played with didn't work at my native widescreen resolution, so everything looked kind of hazy. The interface for all this is still quite clunky compared to the Windows equivalent.
Still, don't let those, my personal quibbles with Ubuntu, stop you. Linux purists who have been here all along may not agree with me, or may be disgusted even if they do agree, but the ability to install a mainstream Linux distribution on a Windows drive may prove to be a key watershed moment. PCs are going to continue to be shipped with Windows pre-installed, which I think is actually a good thing because we still need Windows anyway. More to the point, Windows pre-installed on a machine costs little to the end user - rumour has it that it that these installations pay for themselves through sponsored add-ins. ("TRY AOL FREE," et al.) And nobody wants to repartition their harddrive, unless they have the luxury of owning a computer just to play with it. This all adds up to a recipe for adoption, if you ask me.
So yeah, have fun! Ubuntu's pack-in version of Solitaire includes a hint feature, if you were wondering.