And then came Feisty Fawn
After a disappointing run earlier this year with openSUSE 10.2, I recently mustered up the desire to charter into Ubuntu territory. After a couple weeks of real-world use as well as various experimentation, I must say I’m pleasantly surprised at what the latest version of Ubuntu has to offer.
As a more detailed intro, earlier this year I decided I wanted to install Linux on my laptop. I was using Windows XP Media Edition and required access to a few programs that ran on the platform including MS Office, MS OneNote, Adobe Photoshop, and a few others. While CrossOver Linux provided functionality for some of these needed programs, it did not guarantee to support all of them and definitely did not support the latest versions (such as Office 2007). I’m super-cheapo too, which only gave added reason not to go with CrossOver Linux. I decided to use VMWare Converter to convert my laptop into a virtual machine. I then cleared the hard drive, installed openSUSE 10.2, then loaded my newly-converted Windows virtual machine onto the openSUSE platform. Although it was quite an experiment and took a lot of trial and error, I was able to get it operational and was pretty surprised that it actually worked. Unfortunately, it was so tortuously slow that I soon decided that running my Windows system inside a virtual machine wasn’t going to work for me.
On top of virtual machine issues, several other things just weren’t working out for me on openSUSE. Standby support was terrible. Oftentimes my laptop wouldn’t come out of standby, forcing me to restart and in turn making me really frustrating. Beryl support was lacking. Oftentimes after enabling Beryl, my windows would lack a title bar or applications would just crash. My media buttons that are located at the front of my laptop were not supported (although I didn’t expect them to be.) Although these last two issues are subtle ones and nothing to cry about, standby support was absolutely required. I soon bailed and reloaded my Windows XP image.
And then came Feisty Fawn, Ubuntu’s latest release (7.04.) After some persuading by Andy Wheatley (a fellow friend and co-worker at Novell,) I decided to give it a shot, dual-booting this time rather than running Windows in a virtual machine. Installation was pretty much flawless, which seems to be a common characteristic between Ubuntu and SUSE. Most everything worked right of the box. I was absolutely stunned when all my media buttons worked. In fact, Ubuntu exceeded expectations in this regard. I can open up Rhythmbox Music Player (installed by default — a great music player,) minimize it, move to a different workspace, and my stop/play/forward/backward buttons still work like a champ. My attempts to reproduce this effect in Windows have always failed. Standby support has been flawless; I have yet to have a failure coming out of standby. So many other things just seem to work right out of box.
So what didn’t work? As always, I had to install NDISWrapper to get my wireless card to work. This has been the case with every Linux distro I have used. I’m not sure what the legal issues are on the drivers, but you would think that the distros would at least have some sort of one-button setup to download and install your driver using NDISWrapper. Another thing that didn’t work was my laptop’s native resolution. Max resolution I was offered was 1024x768, but I needed 1280x800. I had to run 915Resolution, an Intel video BIOS hack, to get the resolution to work. It wasn’t difficult, but it’s this type of thing that is keeping your average Joe from testing Linux waters. Other things that are lacking? Compiz has a bug in it where the 3d cube will suddenly stop working (the bug is currently logged and being fixed.) Installing Beryl gives better options and I have yet to have my 3d cube fail on me since. Ubuntu uses the super-annoying system beep that comes from the inner depths of my laptop’s bowels for some notifications like when I get a new email in Thunderbird. Although there’s a sound setting in Ubuntu to turn it off, after a restart the setting seems to be disregarded. In order to be rid of it, I had to run:
xset b off xset b 0 0 0
One last thing is that Firefox seems to crash more frequently in Ubuntu than Windows. Developers are currently trying to track down the bug and fix it. It doesn’t happen enough to worry about too much though, especially since Firefox allows you to restore your crashed session. Something to keep in mind though.
I can’t finish off this article without mentioning the fantastic NTFS support Linux now holds (after installing the ntfs-config package) and the great options it brings to the table when dual-booting. Because I can now read and write to my Windows partition and it’s stable enough to where I don’t have to worry about losing files, I can now share things that I previously couldn’t. For example, before moving to Ubuntu I used Microsoft Outlook. I soon switched over to Thunderbird (which I like much more by the way.) I then modified Thunderbird’s profile configuration on both Windows and Linux to point to the SAME profile folder located on the NTFS partition. I did the same with Firefox’s profile configuration. Now, as I move between Linux and Windows, my email, bookmarks, extensions, cookies, etc. stay intact. In fact, I can reboot from Linux without closing Firefox, load Windows, open up Firefox, open my saved session and I’m back browsing where I left off. Very cool.
All-in-all, I’m quite impressed with Ubuntu’s latest release. There are still issues I wish would get ironed out, but I enjoy it much more than Windows and have found it to be an enjoyable adventure. Want to come along?