Archive for October 7th, 2010

October 7th, 2010

Are You Ubuntu Experienced?

Ever used Linux? Well, I have. Thanks to Ubuntu, I have rescued two old laptops from the clutches of Windows. Of the two machines, one is a virtual miracle, the other a solid improvement.

A few years ago, my brother bought a small (10″) Sony Vaio to use for travel and keep around the house for easy internet access. It was a popular model machine for many years, in the ultralight laptop category before the full-on arrival of the “netbook.” Except that it also came with one built-in deficit: Windows Vista. This brand new machine took several minutes to boot-up each time it was used, to say nothing of the other hassles with that now-discontinued operating system. Less than a year after buying it, he gave it to my mother. Because of it size, my mother found it great for traveling, except if she actually had to use it. It wound up with me.

My initial thought was: perhaps I can find a way to make this work. In short order, I discovered that the answer was no. Despite different system tweaks, stripping the machine of unnecessary programs, and the installation of newer, faster firewall and anti-virus software, it only got slower and slower: it took close to 10 minutes to boot up, only 18 months after purchase. The Vaio sat in the corner for a while, until one day I had an idea.

A little research (thanks, Lifehacker!) directed me to Ubuntu as an easy-to-install, easy-to-use version of Linux. The installation process was simple, and once it was up and running the Ubuntu interface felt very familiar, like an inverted, slightly more organized version of Windows. I discovered that Ubuntu has, by default, many of the same tools that Apple includes on their Macs, and of which I have become quite fond—such as the ability to use multiple desktops. I copied over a number of word processing templates, and that all worked fine: Ubuntu comes loaded with, the same office suite I have been using for years. I moved a selection of music over, and the built-in Rhythmbox music player lined them up and played them back perfectly. Firefox browser? Pre-installed. DropBox, for file syncing? Available and easy to load. XMind, for mind- and process-mapping? Available and easy to load. In fact, the only things I haven’t been able to do are install Evernote (because there’s no Linux version) and figure out how to get the VPN to work, for a better connection to my office’s server—and that is hardly a deal breaker.

Best of all: it’s fast, light, and trouble-free. The Vaio now takes under 30 seconds to boot-up fully, including login time. Ubuntu runs very efficiently in terms of memory demands, which means it not only loads fast but continues to run fast when I’m using it—and makes efficient use of the machine’s power systems, with the battery running for for more than 6 hours. And it has never crashed on me, not once.

Given the stellar example of the Vaio, I decided to apply the same approach to my old Fujitsu P5020 “Lifebook.” This computer, running Windows XP, had served me very well for more than 6 years—but with each new Windows service pack release, and the bulking-up of Norton’s antivirus and firewall programs, began to run ever more slowly. Something about one of the updates also affected the wireless card, so the computer would periodically crash whenever the WiFi was on. It is too old to run Ubuntu’s current release, but I installed Ubuntu’s 9.10 release—and now this computer also works like new.

I am still a Mac person; I love my MacBook Pro and have no plans to leave it behind. No do I have any intention of going back to PC land. But these ultra-small, ultra-light machines are useful in a number of situations where I don’t need to bring the MacBook with me. And there is definitely value in having recycled and saved two old computers. If you have an old machine lying around, dead as a result of impenetrable operating system failures, let Linux save the day: try Ubuntu.