This past July I was reading a copy of PC World magazine, specifically an article about “20 features that Windows should have”. As I read the description of these 20 features I realized that all of them were available on either a Mac, Linux or Unix based computers. The thing that really surprised me was the fact that these features were available on either Linux or Unix. My impression of those two operating systems was that A. You had to be a programmer or database administrator to understand or use them, and B. that you would be working with a computer that had a boring black screen, something like the old DOS system that I learned on. I really did not know anything about Linux or Unix as it turned out. I always new that Mac’s were GUI driven(Graphical User Interface) and a pleasure to look at. I also knew that they were stable solid computers and expensive. Who wants to spend two or three thousand dollars on a computer that you don’t even know if your going to like using? Lets face it, we are all creatures of habit and change is difficult for most people. Put a three thousand dollar price tag on it and I can pretty much guarantee a change is not forthcoming. But I was intrigued enough by the fact that Linux and Unix had these 20 features, that I decided to do some research and look into Linux to see what it was all about. First here is a list of the 20 features discussed in the article:
Simple Remote Access
Audio Recording and Editing
Tiled Window View
Friendly Screen Sharing
Truly Automated Backups
Single File Applications
Standardized File Ribbon
Seven of these were Mac only, 2 were Linux/Unix only and the rest were shared by all three. The article also went on to mention that Microsoft charges extra for some features in the guise of bundling them into Windows Vista. So in order to get all of the features that Windows offers you have to shell out $277.00 (Amazon) for full version of Vista, and if you need Microsoft Office you have shell out a whopping $549.00. That’s $826 for the privilege of getting Microsoft’s Ultimate computing package. Or you could find a package deal somewhere and for about $1500-$2000 you could get a computer with your software. You might as well, your more than halfway there. Or you could get it all for free(sans computer)!
As I started researching Linux I learned that there were many different Linux distributions available for download. I am not going to go into detail on all of them here, instead I will focus on Ubuntu since that is the one that I decided to try and ultimately installed to my hard drive.
First I have to explain about “Open Source” software, and what it means to you as a user and why you should care. Open source software is developed under the GPL (General Public License). Basically what it means is this A. You can use it, copy it, give it to friends and generally make it available to anyone who wants it and B. You can modify it (If you have the capabilities) add to it and change it and redistribute it, as long as you release it under the GPL. For a more detailed description please read this page.
One of the reasons that we should care about open software is quite simple. Open source software gives us choices, thousands of choices and because programmers, users and developers can modify it, we as users get a better product in the end. Companies like Microsoft cannot even come close to the type of testing and re-testing that open source software gets. While it is true that MS will release beta (test) versions of their software, it cannot compare to the thousands of people who try and test open source software on a continual basis, it is impossible, regardless of how big MS is. And I must say this about open source developers. These people are very proud and extremely committed to their projects. Hence you get software that is relatively bug free extremely functional and easy to use.
Ubuntu is much more than just an operating system. It is an all encompassing suite of software designed to allow the user to do anything he or she needs or wants to do on a computer. From surfing the internet to creating documents to storing and categorizing your photos to creating presentations to chatting on line to downloading music to watching videos to… well, you get the idea. But it is still much more than that. There are over 20,000 software titles available at your fingertips. Just look it up, and click to install it. There is too much to list here, but I will tell you the most amazing thing about it. It is FREE. Yes free as in no cost, no catches, no kidding.
The next best thing is that you can try it before installing it to your hard drive. You can download the Live CD here, burn it to a blank cd, insert it into your cd-rom drive, and boot from the cd. You might have to change the boot order in your Bios. To do this look for a line on the screen during bootup that says something like “Press [Key] to enter setup” or “Press [Key] to change boot order”. On most new computers the default boot order is already set to the CD-Rom drive as the first boot device. And presto, you have a fully functional operating system that you could take for a test drive. You can use your computer exactly as if you installed Ubuntu to your hard drive. Of course it will not run as fast as it would once installed to your drive, but it is fully functional. You can even install software using the Synaptic Package Handler that is located under the System menu at the top of the scree. Don’t worry though, once you reboot anything you might install will be automatically removed and your computer will be in the same exact state as it was before.
If you don’t have any software to burn an ISO image you can download this burner if you like. (Faq and instructions for Infrarecorder)
I highly recommend that you install it to your hard drive and have a dual boot configuration. The Ubuntu installer is outstanding and it will automatically install a bootloader that will give you the choice of running Windows or Ubuntu.