27 January 2011

New Ubuntu User!

A few days ago, a young woman (we’ll call her ‘Gladys’) and her friend (we’ll call her ‘Helen’) came to see me at work. ‘Gladys’ was having an issue with her computer and needed me to scan it for bugs, which I did. It was highly infected and I recommended that she back up her data and think about rebuilding it (all the data on the drive is deleted, including Windows, and everything re-installed). She asked how she could back up her data so I explained it to her. She commented that she was worried about using her system since it had been infected so badly. I assured her that I removed all of the bugs but she was still wary. So I showed her Ubuntu. I booted it from a USB thumb drive and showed her how she could access her local hard drive and then back up her data on to another USB key or external hard drive. ‘Helen’ piped in about this time. ‘That’s cool! I want that!’ I explained that it can be downloaded from Ubuntu’s website and that it can be ran in a ‘live’ environment from a USB drive, like I was doing, or from a CD. ‘That way, you can see how it’s going to act with your computer’. I explained that Ubuntu can be installed next to Windows or in place of Windows if she wanted. ‘But,’ I stressed, ‘we do not support it on the network’.

And that’s a sad thing. I understand the issue. There are dozens (hundreds?) of different linux distros out there and for us to support them all would be crazy and to pick a certain few would be unwise (‘Hey! How come you don’t support my favorite linux distro?’). But, still, I wish we could support Ubuntu. And, yes, I know I’m biased. It the most popular Linux desktop out there and getting more popular each day - mostly from word of mouth. Which leads me back to ‘Helen’.

Just this week, ‘Helen’ appeared at my office with some questions about Ubuntu. I stressed again that it’s not officially supported. She was fine with that. She was so tired of Windows that she was ready to take the plunge. She explained that she burned Ubuntu onto a CD and was running it from there but it was slow - not as slow as Vista on the same PC but still. I explained that this was because she was running it from the CD. Her only issue was that the wireless connection wasn’t working. I explained that there was probably a driver for it. She said that there was. She saw an ‘Additional Driver’ window pop up requesting that she activate the Broadcom driver for her wireless (wifi) card. But when she rebooted the laptop to get it to work, it wasn’t working. Just then, she figured out why - it was because Ubuntu was running from a CD and the CD couldn’t be written to. Still, she wanted to take the plunge. I explained to ‘Helen’ that, since she has an iPhone, it would be best to keep windows. ‘Won’t Ubuntu work with my phone?’ she asked. Absolutely! But the only way for it to get updates to the iOS (that’s the name of the Operating System of the iPhone), was through iTunes. And since Apple won’t release iTunes for Ubuntu, you will need Windows to update the iOS for your phone.’*

So, she started the process of installing Ubuntu next to Windows on her computer (after she defragged Windows just to make sure it was going to act nicely). After it was installed, we activated the Broadcom drivers and she was running on wifi.

Next, she installed all of her updates and rebooted (normally, one doesn’t need to do this, but she had a new kernel - the brain of the whole thing - and it must be restarted to use the new kernel). And then, she installed Ubuntu Tweak. Remember in a previous post where I talked about not having to go to the Terminal for installing new software or tweaking your system? That people need a GUI (a Graphical User Interface)? Well, Ubuntu Tweak is just such an application. I used to have an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper with steps and apps and tweaks I needed to do after I installed Ubuntu. Not any more. Ubuntu Tweak does about 99.9% of those jobs for me.

After installing Ubuntu Tweak and downloading some apps (she wanted Chrome and Docky) and tweaking her system (she wanted the buttons on the right side of the windows), she set about configuring her system (changing the wallpaper; etc.). She was so excited she was giddy and almost glowing! ‘This is so cool! I can’t wait to play with it!’ Everytime she saw some new thing, she lit up and her eyes grew wide! It was a great thing to watch.

By the way, when we rebooted, we launched Windows from the new menu just to make sure it would load properly. It did. It took almost two minutes to load and longer to shut down (which was ‘normal’), but it worked just fine - for Windows.

So, we now have a new Ubuntu user amongst us! It’s a great feeling seeing someone get excited about Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), especially Ubuntu and taking control of her computer. I can only think of a few better things than this.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Jack+, LC

*  [NOTE: I know that there are ways of running Windows apps on Ubuntu through tools like Wine or CrossOver Linux but iTunes is one of those apps that doesn’t work very well in that environment. Furthermore, she could use something like Virtualbox to run Windows within Ubuntu, but I don’t think she is ready for that yet. Perhaps later when she grows tired of switching back and forth, we’ll have that conversation.]

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