Trying out Ubuntu..

A few weeks ago I reclaimed my parents old 15″ Sony Vaio from its quiet retirement in a corner of their back room and decided to try and bring it back to life using the restorative power of open source!

I haven’t had much success with the various flavours of Ubuntu in the past – in fact I have a useless Acer Aspire netbook taking up space on my bookshelves as a testament to that fact. However Mr Flanders had flung an official Ubuntu 9.10 install CD at me during a recent visit to JISC London and that seemed liked a simple way to start.

So in an effort to defeat the crushing boredom that a ruined back had brought to my weekend I decided to get motivated and give it a go.

The laptop had previously been running (well crawling) Windows XP (actually as it turned out it had two versions running in parallel! How the hell is that even possible!) but the super-powered Ubuntu CD soon took care of that and with minimal fuss and not as much time as I expected I had a laptop running a functioning, but out of date, version of Ubuntu. Unlike previous experiments with Linux this time the wifi hooked up with no hassle and System > Admin > Update Manager made the whole process of getting the latest version painless. That said it took ages to upgrade – the best part of 90 minutes and frequently gave me the impression that it had failed before sparking back to life!

So I have a laptop that is working pretty well with Ubuntu. First off thank god it has gotten rid of the brown background – that was an ill though out choice! Also the set of apps that it comes with are pretty useful to get started with – covering most of my minimal needs from a home PC. I don’t game nor code and I do most of my writing either in a plain text tool (like Gedit which I’m using here) or online with Google Docs. Firefox is still my main browser anyway (I do love Chrome but I stick with FF for old times sake as much as anything), Empathy seems like a decent enough IM client (yes I am the last person on IM!) and while Gwibber is far from Tweetdeck it will do for now as a Twitter client. I rarely doing any graphics work but when I do I use Gimp elsewhere despite its (many) flaws so I was pleased to see it included here. The site of OpenOffice was not unexpected but also unwelcome – I really don’t get on with that suite of products and believe it is every bit as useless as the M$ tools it seeks to challenge.

Adding new apps to the OS is improved but still stupidly complex – at least the Package Manager removes the need to use the ‘terminal’ but it is still entirely too complicated compared to a Mac – or hell even Windows.
[update – oops my stupidity is to blame here not Ubuntu – I’ve been going about things the hard way rather than using the ‘app store’ aloke Ubuntu Software Centre!]

It is early days but all-in-all I’m finding it a quite pleasant experience and it has breathed life into this old laptop which is good news.

Next project is to work out how to replace the keyboard on this machine as the number seven is missing which is a pain in the rear! Also I think the fan needs tweaking so I guess its time to get my Google-fu on for some tips. It does have a fabuolous screen though and it still feels like a solid machine (apart from that one key!)


  1. yea it is easy as pie once I found that out but it is hardly straightforward is it – a) it requires you to use a completely separate app to install new apps b) it assumes you know what you you looking for and c) it makes no effort to use language that might make sense to non-technical people.

    For an OS that is trying to market itself as a genuine option for average consumers I think it is a problem – that said for the most part I’m enjoying it and this laptop is whizzing along!

  2. Separate app to install apps – you mean like iTunes is? Or the Android store?

    Not really meaning to be snippy. Ubuntu is still a long way from being genuinely consumer friendly, but it has made remarkable progress. I remember trying to get Mandriva Linux working six or seven years ago and it was a nightmare.

    But there is a good argument that Ubuntu (and indeed other Linux distros) pioneered the ‘app store’ approach, which is starting to become mainstream in mobile.

  3. I like the Jolicloud approach if I’m honest – that is built on top of Ubuntu I think(?) and makes the whole process easy as..the fact they have moved beyond just something netbooks makes me think they are onto something..

    I think Ubuntu 10.10 is great by the way – it is the first version of Linux I think I’ll actually use rather than just experiment with..

  4. Cheers Nic – someone else suggested Hotot – will give it a try this evening..

    I was just making life difficult for myself adding apps because I read the wrong bit of guidance online – will look harder myself next time 🙂

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