Thursday, February 2, 2012

The great Linux Noob Experiment

The Objective: For a total Linux Noob to experience the Operating Sys. as a hard-core Windows  user, to be open minded and experience the software, with the objective of deploying it in a business environment. 
The Machine:           My venerable HP / Compaq 6910p
The Specifications:  Duo Core 2.4 GHz, 32 bit, RAM reserved for Linux: 2.9 GB
Install spec:              Dual Boot, as per Ubuntu 11.10
Display:                    1440 X 900 pix’s
After downloading the ISO file from Ubuntu mirror servers, I decided to burn it to disc, using Power ISO, a long-time favourite for this type of work.  The initial objective was to use the disc to carry out the installation from disc as per the Ubuntu site suggestion. BUT, all that windows user experience and laziness kicked in and in short: Power ISO was used to mount the image in virtual drive and the install was run from there. 

The dual boot / boot manager process worried me, as I have not done one of these since XP stopped being what all the cool kids played with. My trepidation was unwarranted and my concerns amounted to precisely nothing. It occurred to me that the initial installation was probably better than a lot of Windows installs I have done in the past.

On to the main installation which followed on from the dual boot setup, seamlessly, funnily enough I was expecting to see the enter license information here portion of the installation, and then I remembered that Ubuntu is free software, like Android OS, its cousin once or twice removed, but never forcefully. So far the Linux experiment had cost me nothing at all. I brightened up considerably, bracing myself the all the horrors of open source software and the need to learn to write code to make it work.

None of that happened. It installed, no problem, detected the hardware, no problem, connected to the WIFI network in the office, no problem. Updated it-self, no problem. Offered various User interface options, some of my online/ real life friends had suggested Gnome 3 User Interface; I used the vanilla version of the Gnome 3, works beautiful. On to the serious stuff.

First Impressions of Applications
I thought I would need a mail client, so I downloaded Thunderbird from Mozilla, it worked had no built in calendar. Turns out Ubuntu carries an Office bundle which includes Evolution Mail and Calendar, caused me to uninstall Thunderbird, with mental apologies to Mozilla, as I like their applications, but Evolution just works better. The other Libre Office applications all seem to do the job, all seem to be compatible with Microsoft docs. Interestingly, I was able to import .PST files into Evolution Mail and Calendar, so 8.4 Mb of address book was imported via the network from a shared folder, no problems. Oh did I forget to say that the network connection was painless? Consisted of inputting the network password after enabling the MAC address on the router? 

The next major test was how well and how effectively 3G connectivity could be established. Bearing in mind the somewhat diabolical nature of W7 with 3G devices [ Firmware, Network interfaces, general connectivity, yada yada, generally experienced with network USB type dongles] The latest Huawei E36 HSDPA+ modem from MTN was inserted into the USB port,  and it appeared that nothing was happening. As I went to start muttering and fiddling with the network settings, the dialog window said: You are now connected to the GSM network.  So much for struggling with installations from MTN, to get control of the modem..

A minute or two later, the experience gained in setting up the modem in windows, was utilised to get into the network device settings and I had HSDPA+ functioning and was surfing away and downloading mail to the machine. And sending responses via the Evolution mail client, which had been no harder to set up than any version of Outlook. All the expected option were in the Evolution mail client, it seemed like a direct clone of Outlook, spam filters, junk mail filters all in evidence. No problems there.

Next, the browsers, present in the install was Firefox, worked without issues, imported my Bookmarks from the windows version, as a html file, no problem, same with Opera for Linux, no problem. Ubuntu has also come with Epiphany web browser, which I opened and it seemed to work as well as any of the other two browsers, no problems there.

Then I had a brainstorm, why not try Chrome to see if I can break something? Off to the Ubuntu cyber store and Chromium duly installed. Its fast! It’s faster than FF or Opera on the same sites. Definitely faster, so where to from here, more tests or just use it for a while? 

In the spirit of using it for a while I also tried variety of twitter clients, this area needs work! The best of the lot was Turpial, which worked most of the time. It was susceptible to becoming occasionally unresponsive.

Skype works, no issues to report, a variety of messengers, work well, supporting Gtalk, Mxit, MSN chat and all of the other suspects, all work on my accounts.
Movie players /streamers that came with Ubuntu all played my clips, audio and video.
The whole package works well, it’s easy to install, its user friendly if you don’t expect a Windows clone, take the time to figure out what goes where, it will make the experience more pleasant. The Linux OS appears to me to have a lot to offer, in some ways it was far easier than Windows, in others, I just had to learn new menus options, like anything that’s different it can cause frustration if you’re impatient with it.
The really big question for last: Would I go out into the wild armed only with a Linux machine to do business? 

Long Answer: I have many years of experience on Windows machines, enabling me to resolve many issues on the fly, from that aspect I would not be comfortable yet, BUT with a few more WEEKS of Linux exposure, I have no doubt that I would be comfortable to switch Operating Systems and not become frustrated because of functionality issues. 

The other issue of course is cost, Cost of W7 professional compared to cost of Ubuntu 11.10 is a strong motivator to people who rather limit their spend on software licences, but don’t forget to bear in mind that not ALL applications are directly translatable from W7 to Linux, TweetDeck is only available for Win and Mac and it was the one app I really missed. 

Many people opt for Hootsuite,  browser-based cross-platform, no issues there.

Lastly, if you’re the kind of person who abhors change and resists it at every turn [still using that old Nokia 6310i ?] rather don’t get involved in try Linux, avoid the stress. If however you are not averse to mildly different things and would like to pay nothing for your next OS, then by all means, go for it, and I hope my experience will be valuable to you.

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