Living With Ubuntu

I’ve never been a fan of windows. Switching to a mac was definitely one of the best things that I’ve ever done in my life. It opened my life to a world of stress free computing, until Leopard. I still like the mac and I think the fonts and visuals are nice but I’ve also noticed some prominent people like Mike Pilgrim and Cory Doctorow moving off of macs and using Linux distributions like Ubuntu.


Work as a programmer requires a lot of server-side stuff and most of this is exclusively unix/linux especially if you are using open source frameworks. My curiosity was probably piqued when I was forced to go back to Windows XP for my previous job. In order to stay away from windows I did most of my development on a test server and eventually started using CoLinux within my Windows machine. One thing I learned is that you really don’t want to become reliant on any single platform or operating system. It pays to be versatile. I’m confident that I can work on any platform, as long as I can develop using Vim. Plus, I was getting spoiled by the command “apt-get install” for a variety of development tools and programs whenever setting up servers as opposed to the “configure and compile” hell on macs (I’d rather not use fink or mac ports, and these don’t even compare to the ease of use that linux package managers have achieved).


I’ve been slowly getting more and more curious about Ubuntu. Can I get used to it? Does it really work as an everyday operating system? Does it look good? Yeah, macs do that to you.


One of the main reasons was that I ended up ordering a netbook, Dell Mini 9 Inspiron to be exact. It has some wonderful specs 64GB SSD hard drive, 2GB RAM and a decent processor. I had two options for an operating system, Windows XP or Ubuntu. Windows is not a choice to me and it would also require lower machine specs (due to their backwards vendor agreements). I wanted something I could carry around with me and do some hacking on the train since I spend so much time on the commute and even more time tied to my desk at the office. Although, I know that I could hack the Dell to run OS X, I wasn’t convinced that it would be a good choice. Plus, I wanted to save using up the limited hard drive, which I know will be more than enough for lighter operating system.


In preparation for my netbook I decided to re-appropriate a computer that was sitting unused for my Ubuntu adventures. Set up was straight forward. I just kept looking stuff up and running “apt-get install” as needed. There were some tricky things and I ended up wiping my hard drive and redoing the install after screwing up the graphics but even then the learning curve was relatively mild.


General Impressions


I love it. The visuals aren’t bad at all, even though it requires a lot of tweaks here and there. One of the things about Ubuntu is that it’s infinitely customizable from the source down. The desktop feels like a cross between Windows and OS X. I’m sure they get a lot of their ideas from both sides. I got everything I wanted from my Ubuntu install from transparent terminals (for vim), smoothed fonts, and all the software I need (basically FireFox for browsing and all the development tools that are way too easy to install). Since I’ve been using the mac for a while, I have my vim setup in a code repository along with a bunch of other dot files needed to customize my shell environment.


Productivity


This operating system is really built for productivity. First of all, there aren’t games (not a gamer but still) and no iTunes. The operating system is lightweight and there are a lot less distractions. Since I’ll be keeping my mac around for some time, I can safely keep all my media and other distractions away from me. Switching operating systems is the ultimate contextual switch so I’d like to keep it this way for as long as possible.


Also, Ubuntu has a variety of productivity tools that are even better than anything I’ve used on OS X or Windows. For example, the todo list/task manager Tasque comes with Remember the Milk integration built in! I’ve been longing for something like this on the mac for ages. It could use some work with syncing but I’m more than happy. Evolution is a great email/calendar client that tightly integrates with Google Calendar and other services. Keeping your system current is really simple and you can do it with a single command from the terminal or use the supplied GUI. If you think the Windows release cycle of 7+ years is ridiculous and Apple’s somewhere around 1.5 years is awesome, you’ll love Ubuntu’s 6 month cycle. Not to mention package updates are frequent so staying current is really simple (and involves a lot less headaches in terms of regressions etc.).


Light


Although the operating system is your typical heavy duty unix system with a great desktop, the system requirements are ridiculously low and it consumes less resources like your hard drive. In fact, I use an 80GB hard drive of which 12GB is a partition holding a botched install but I still have plenty of room and will continue to. All the packages I’ll ever need for development and otherwise are a simple “apt-get install away”. In the rare cases I need to compile, it’s a smooth ride as well. The stability of the system is exactly what you’d expect (although the distribution upgrade can be trouble for some).


All Open


I love that everything tied to this project with the exception of certain drivers and other commercial packages are open source. All the crucial components are developed by a community of people who care. You can be assured that desktop linux will keep getting better for everyone for decades to come since people will be standing on the shoulder of giants. If Ubuntu starts taking wrong turns, a group of talented people will start offering a better alternative. In fact, there are already too many alternatives to name and any of those could possibly be my next distribution of choice. It gives you power over what you use and opportunities for lots of education and discovery.


All in all I can’t wait to get my hands on a personal machine I can carry around with me and get even more acquainted with Linux! Unfortunately, the Dell Mini Inspiron I ordered on March 31 is yet to arrive and will likely be in my hands sometime at the beginning of June. However, Dell has pushed back my order no less that 3 times so I frankly don’t trust them. The only thing I know is that there is some kind of a global 64GB SSD hard drive shortage, at least with their supplier. I guess I’ll just get my fix at work and read a little more on the commute.