Ubuntu Linux Mini-Review

posted in Tech on Jun 17, 2006

So I moved from my old apartment to a new place, and as per the rules of the job I ended up with another pc to fool around with (head RA-types get them for free). ‘Course, no one wants to have the crap they preload on there on there, so I went ahead and formatted that puppy and put Ubuntu Linux on it. So far I’m enjoying it a lot.

Ubuntu was super simple to install. Basically you burn an .iso, jam the thing into the cd drive, and tell the computer to boot from the cd drive first. It’ll install Ubuntu into the RAM and you can try it out before fully installing it, which is neato. So when you decide to take the plunge, there’s a little icon on the desktop that says “install,” and you just double click that puppy; bam. It’ll ask you a couple of questions, the most important of which is how much of the HD you want to put aside for the install, in case you still want to have Windows on the machine. Since the machine I had was some hunk of junk from the school, I went ahead and formatted the drive and did a full Linux install.

From there you now have a fully workable Linux machine. The thing you’ll notice first about Ubuntu is that is similar to both Windows and Mac OSX. On the Windows side your applications will appear in the bottom taskbar as you open them. On the OSX side you have a taskbar at the top of the screen that will do crap too. The best part is that both of these are pretty much fully customizable. Right now I have both of these taskbars at a 70% transparency, with Firefox, Evolution Mail (Ubuntu’s native email client, which I haven’t tried out yet), and a dictionary, because I suck with words. Everything is pretty easy to use in Ubuntu, unlike other Linux distros; Redhat I’m looking at you. Actually, I really have no idea how other Linux distributions are, as this is the first one I’ve used, but I’ve always been leary of trying out Linux because it always came with the perception that it was “hard” to use. Ubuntu seems to fix all of that. Installing things takes some getting used to since we’re all spoiled by Windows. In fact, at this point I haven’t really mastered installing things, but it’s not too awful.

Back on the topic of GUI, one of the best things I’ve seen that Ubuntu has is the idea of Workspaces. Basically, Workspaces allow you to get away from a cluttered screen without having to close anything down. For example, say you want to run a word processor (Openoffice comes with Ubuntu, by the way, which I think is neat), a spreadsheet, and a powerpoint-esque slideshow program. That would take up a lot of taskbar space and there would be a lot of application switching. With Workspaces, there are four little icons in the corner (that represent the workspaces) and you just click on another one to have a clear space. Your other programs don’t close, and your desktop is now free. You can add pretty much as many workspaces as you want, so that’s a plus. I usually never had too many windows open in Windows, so clutter was never too much of a problem, but it’s definitely a cool idea.

To keep in the spirit of the mini-review, I’ll stop there. I haven’t had too much face time with Ubuntu to give it a full review, so maybe I’ll do a more thorough one for once I have. Coming from a Windows-only background, it’s really fun and refreshing to try something new, so I might just learn to love the penguin.