Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Ubuntu Linux

So, I finally got around to stripping all the useful files off Natalie's old Toshiba Satellite laptop. No point waiting for her to finish the job. I believe the machine has been sitting around for a year and a half waiting for that to happen.

It's a clunky old farquhar of a machine: heavy and thick. But it does come with a cd/dvd burning drive, and a decent display. It began life as a 'Vista' machine, and I quickly reloaded it with XP - but when Natalie found out she'd have to actually pay for a copy of XP, she made me revert it to Vista. I figured she got what she deserved therefrom, and I expect nobody will be surprised when I say that she replaced it with a Mac. And a MacBook Air. And an iPad. Oh, and she has an iPhone and an iPod too. Doesn't do things by halves. Nope.

(Except when it comes to cleaning the files up on her old computer.)

So, what to do with an old, clunky Toshiba? Hmm.

Well, the Mau-mau wanted a computer. And what the hell; both boys have one, more or less. So -- why not? I decided I'd bite the bullet, and set up the old Tosh Sat with Ubuntu Linux 12.whatever the fuck the latest long-term stable release is.

I expected fuss. I expected fuckage. I expected, in short, Linux.

What did I get?

Well, I downloaded the disc image without any issues. Burned it straight to a cd. Plonked it into the Tosh Sat drive, and kicked it off. There was a brief moment of irritation when I had to reset the boot-device order to make the thing boot off the cd... and that was exactly the last trouble I had.

Ladeez and gents, Ubuntu Linux is so fucking smooth it makes silk look like the dangerous end of a pineapple. The system installed itself neatly and cleanly in one go, without any grief whatsoever. All I had to do was supply a username, a name for the machine, and a password. The rest just... happened.

When it had finished, there was a quiet little note telling me to run the system updates... but that was it.

This version of Ubuntu puts all your programme icons on a 'launcher' down the left-hand side of the screen. You can unlock them and put 'em where you like, or you can just leave 'em on the launcher, and scroll through. Very easy, very intuitive.

It comes with a handy little set of applications. Libre Office handles the usual range of desktop publishing. There's Firefox for the Web. There's a music organiser/player (that talks to an Ubuntu music store) and a few other bits and pieces. There's also a 'software centre' prominently visible on that launch bar. Click it, and you are immediately tossed into the familiar equivalent of an 'app store'. There are lots and lots of bits of free software available right away.

Did I mention how easy it was to go online? Ubuntu happily found all the relevant wifi stuff. A couple of clicks, a password, and hey: I'm in. Frankly, it was a lot harder with Windows.

I picked a typewriting game for the Mau-mau, a downhill racing game, and a platforming game. Loading and installing? Shit. Couldn't be easier. Click the icon of each application you want in the software centre. Authorise the installation. Walk away. Ubuntu handles the rest.

I opened up Firefox, because I wanted to show Jake the now-famous Weidman/Silva knockout. Immediately, I got a little notification telling me that Adobe Flash wasn't installed. I clicked it, and a window opened on Adobe's download centre. I picked a version that said it was right for Linux, and clicked it. That opened the Software Centre again: I had to authorise it to accept software from the Adobe repository. And once I'd done that?

Yep. You guessed it. Ubuntu quietly downloaded and installed Adobe Flash, and when it was done, I went back to the website and watched the clip of Weidman punching out Silva.


Okay, Linux isn't big on running your favourite games. Okay, a lot of brand-name software you're used to may not be configured for Linux. On the other hand, I have never seen such a smooth, easy, intuitive interface. I've had more trouble figuring out Natalie's Mac than I did with installing this version of Ubuntu Linux. And I haven't bothered to try it yet, but I hear that WINE (a more-or-less emulator for Windows) runs just fine under Ubuntu Linux if you really must do Windowy things.

So, the verdict? Well, when I replace my computer, I'll be making Ubuntu my primary working desktop. I'll keep a partition for Windows so I can occasionally play interesting games, possibly -- and to run some of the oddball Windows ware I've gotten used to over the years. But for music, web browsing, writing and editing, Ubuntu rules.

And in the meantime, the Mau-mau just got herself a reliable, robust, easily configured and relatively secure computer for --- well, nothing much, really. Ubuntu Linux is free, and Nat's old machine had long since been written off and depreciated through tax.

So how's this relevant to you? Well -- got kids? Got elderly relatives you'd like to connect with who aren't computer-savvy and don't want to spend a lot of money? D'you know anybody who might benefit from the gift of a still-very-functional computer for learning or working or playing?

Ubuntu Linux is, near as I can tell, a fantastic way of recycling and repurposing old machines. I won't say the Tosh Sat is now a swift, agile beasty -- but it starts up from scratch in about thirty or forty seconds, shuts down even faster, and seems to run fairly complex software with ease.

Hats off to these people. You can still find all the operating system files. You can still open a terminal for command-line access. You've still got all that geeky, Linuxy goodness if you want to go after it. But if you're new, and you just want to be able to work with an inexpensive computer -- Ubuntu Linux is fucking brilliant.