I think I have expressed an overriding concern regarding Windows Vista on both my blog and through my Twitter feed. In essence, I feel gypped. Vista is a great way to slow down an astronomically fast machine. Sometimes I’ll be typing away on it and it will decide to do something on its merry own, slowing down my typing speed.
The underlying ethos seems to be that Vista will go off and do things that it thinks needs to be done, with no intervention from you. There is probably a frustrated scriptwriter somewhere with a proposal for a new show called ‘Vista knows best’. Generally, it gets it right. Generally. Unfortunately, after six months of ‘sticking with this turkey’ because Microsoft knows its best, I’d really like to be able to dump it in a nearby bin.
Recently, I reformatted my home PC with Windows XP. That alone was enough grief – have you ever tried finding the WinXP DVD that came with your machine when you bought it? Oh that’s right – no software supplied, it was all on that hard drive. The hard drive that went bung exactly twelve months and two weeks after I bought the machine from Dell. So that caused grief, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome.
During the course of that reformatting I came to the realisation that there was a new version of AVG anti-virus. Beaut, I thought – I’ll update the copy on my laptop. This I proceeded to do, but unfortunately the install complained that a particular Windows Update patch was not present. ‘No problem’, I thought (which of course would be exactly when the problems started). I’ll go into trusty Windows Update and download the patches there.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there were several updates waiting (I have been, naively, simply trusting that Windows updates will be reliable and have the critical ones automatically installed only). Instead of looking for and installing the specific update AVG was complaining about, I simply downloaded all of the patches that were waiting there (cue Family Feud sound effect).
Vista decided as a result that I needed a new driver for my wireless card (check), and a new driver for the Nvidia graphics card (check). Got a coffee, rebooted & installed. Bang – no network, no graphics display. It took a while to work out, though, that that was the problem – a bit difficult to troubleshoot without a screen. Twelve hours later, after searching forums ad infinitum, I finally reconnected and downloaded the proper nvidia drivers and network card driver, but even then Vista kept switching me back to the drivers it felt I needed to have. Eventually I was able to turn that off.
After filling my heart with soft thoughts of fairy floss and candy for Microsoft, I thought – OK, I’ll try Ubuntu, I’ve got a spare external hard drive, let’s boot off that and see how we go. That experience was actually very positive. Quite positive. This is a six-month old laptop, so the hardware is fairly new, and Ubuntu 8.04’s install got most of it right. And it is lovely to look at, and on this fast machine it’s beautiful to operate. I even managed to install new software through the lovely package manager.
Overall – Ubuntu 8.04 = lovely.
Still, for a complete newbie, getting Ubuntu right was a steep learning curve. It probably took about two days to come to grips with it (finicky downloads played a part in that). I did have difficulties with the wireless driver and the nvidia graphics – I finally got the nvidia graphics sorted, but the wireless card continued to elude me as I kept needing to manually start the network. I’m sure there are solutions there but I had already lost two days that I couldn’t afford to lose.
At this stage, out of the box, Ubuntu seems to do most of the things most people would want from a PC. Unfortunately, that last ten percent is still a roadblock. I have a Blackberry hosted through Managed Exchange, so I needed to have Evolution as my mail client – Web Central doesn’t seem too keen on that, and I couldn’t get that configured, so a killer application of email is still an issue. Also, all of my accounting software needs are met by MYOB. Cue one for Vista.
I also looked for blogging software, which I thought would be an easy find but it wasn’t that simple to get software as good as Windows Live Writer for my WordPress blog. Finally, as a person who does a lot of presentations and report-writing (I’m a management consultant – it comes with the territory), I need Visio or an equivalent. There still doesn’t seem to be a Visio equivalent.
Overall, Ubuntu 8.04, you won’t let me avoid the Microsoft hegemony just yet, but you’ve come a long way baby. If I really, really tried hard, I think I could get it work for me. A few niggly things (graphics, wireless card), as well as some problematic (and possibly fairly specific to me) software (Outlook, MYOB, Visio, MS Project) are stopping me making the jump. Dual boot does not meet my needs. Open Office 2 is great for my needs (I am very cold on Office 2007), and generally the bells and whistles Ubuntu implements automatically are pretty much the equivalent of Vista, if not better.
I am thinking of a mini-notebook so that the lump of iron I currently cart around can be the desktop replacement it really is, and if I get that I’ll run Ubuntu on it. For now I have to stick with Vista, but I’m not a fan of it (really, really not a fan) and neither am I a fan of Office 2007, although it generally works fine. I’ve made an investment in Microsoft Software – I have the whole suite, dabnabbit! Legal and everything. I have Visio, Office 2007, and MS Project – that’s about $3000 in software. Even so, I’m keeping an eye on Ubuntu 8.04; perhaps I need a class in it. If Ubuntu is better, I’ll walk away from that investment. If any OS is going to replace Vista, what I saw shows that Ubuntu is the one. Roll on the next version of Ubuntu, perhaps?
You’ve come a long way baby – just not quite there yet.