Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Moving to Ubuntu from Windows 7

I've decided it's time for me to use an alternative to Windows 7 on my main computer. As my dependency on running client side software diminishes (now working mostly from the browser) so too does my need to run Windows as an operating system and its ever increasing startup time.

My motivation isn't just for the sake of reducing startup times. My day job involves helping businesses move away from Microsoft (replacing Exchange, Sharepoint and MS Office with Google Apps), so the obvious next step is to look at a more cost-effective and simple to manage desktop operating system.

Chromebooks are a neat idea, but in practice I don't think I'm ready to replace my main computer with a browser-only device like this. What I'm looking for is a good compromise between a zero-maintenance device like a Chromebook and a high maintenance installation of Windows 7 (a third way if you like).

I've decided to go with Ubuntu which I know to be stable and open source, but flexible enough to run the popular client applications if I need to (Skype, Firefox, LibreOffice and the like). It also has a new user interface called Unity which I'm keen to find out about. 

Installation was straightforward. I remember installing Linux in the early days and it was no fun at all. You had to understand disk partitions and boot managers, but this is now all handled for you, and you can still boot into Windows if you need to. There is even a windows installer option available if you want to install it from within Windows rather than using a boot disk. You can't get easier than that.

Once installed my immediate impression was how similar it was to a MacOS interface. The app launcher is very similar to the mac 'dock', the only difference being it is on the left of the screen rather than the bottom. This makes perfect sense given most screen dimensions, particularly netbooks. You can easily configure this to hide using the settings icon. 

If like me you start looking for the 'menu' so you can add more apps, the trick is to right click the Ubuntu 'Dash' icon at the top of the launcher. This provides you with search and find options for applications, files, pictures and videos. I've now got Chrome, Firefox, LibreOffice, Skype, GIMP and gThumb viewer which covers all my needs. It connected to my USB printer without issue.

The boot up time for me is now 33 seconds, about half what it was taking my relatively clean installation of Windows 7 (Lenovo Ideapad S205). In my experience with Linux this remains consistent, unlike Windows which seems to get progressively slower with each update.

My only disappointment was Skype. I had trouble configuring this on Windows with my internal mic, and it looks like I've got the same problem on Ubuntu. Otherwise, everything appears to work out of the box.

The real insight for me is how straightforward this would be to manage in an enterprise environment. The control panel is limited to what a user would like to do and everything else requires administrative rights. Upgrades are simple, and being open source there will be no cost associated with doing so. Combining open source systems and cloud products is definitely a good approach for companies looking to reduce costs but keep up to date. 

Ubuntu with LibreOffice


  1. Ubuntu for the desktop is totally viable - been using it for years (my wife has only used Ubuntu (and I never have to deal with crashes, configurations, etc - not bad for her being a non-technical)).

  2. I have been running (K)ubuntu on my PCs for donkey's years now, and while I recognise the first iterations were not for the faint-hearted, the most recent LTS (Long Term Support) versions of the many *buntu variants have served me - and all the members of the family - extremely well.

    Sure, sometimes it's still down to obscure command line tricks, config files tweaks and a bit of black art, but I've been administering large corporate Windows-based networks and the level of command line trickery involved is more or less the same.

    However, all *buntu releases are supported by a very large, loyal and skilled user base, and a quick Google usually finds the solution to any conundrum in a couple of clicks.
    Very often is just a matter of copy&paste.

    My kids had a problem running Minecraft via Java under Kubuntu, and reverted to Win 7, but kept complaining of lag and stutter.
    A quick Google found the solution in minutes, and with a change to the command line to launch the .jar file, Minecraft is now running perfectly, no lag, stutter or artefacts - same hardware.
    The difference in performances is STAGGERING.

    I'm pleasantly surprised every day how well my Kubuntu PCs recognise and use every piece of hardware I throw at them.
    An old Philips webcam that does not work with Windows - drivers haven't been updated to Vista and 7 - is a happy partner with Skype in my Kubuntu home PC.

    Kubuntu is the version of Ubuntu that uses KDE in place of Unity.
    If you want your users to face a shallower learning curve than with Ubuntu, give Kubuntu a spin: KDE is more akin to the Windows desktop paradigm.

    Welcome to the future.

  3. Hi Ray,

    I have been using Linux (Red-Hat then Fedora, Suse and now Kubuntu) since 1997.

    Skype as you say is a major pain in the you know what.

    But as a Google Apps "Person" - shouldn't you be using Google Hangout rather than Skype?

    For Instant Messaging I use Kopete - I guess this is 'my cuppa tea'!

    I try to convince people to use Google Talk and Hangout - but people seem to have some reluctance.

    It seems to be 'I have managed to get Skype working (or not working) so I'll stick with it'

    The reason why Skype does not work well is probably because it is now owned by Microsoft - what do you think?

  4. Hi Vivek,

    I've really taken to Google+ and hangout recently. I find the desktop share feature particularly useful. Whilst it's my preference I still get people who would prefer Skype so it's a shame that the sound takes so much reconfiguration to get working in Ubuntu. I don't know if this is because of Skype, Linux or my choice of hardware. I think it might be the latter because I had skype problems on windows too.


  5. Hi Ray,

    I have two Desktop PCs and a Laptop (Lenovo B570) and all my attempts at getting Skype to work on the Desktops have failed - it works on the Laptop though. But only under Windows 7. I have not tried getting Skype to work on Linux in the recent past. With my bad experience on the other two desktop PCs and that too even when they are running Windows, I did not want to waste time trying to get Skype on Linux.

    You are using 64bit or 32bit Ubuntu on your Lenovo?

    I am using 64bit since my Lenovo has 8GB of RAM and it is a dual boot Windows 7 and Kubuntu - both 64bit.

    With your Lenovo, did you not have any issues with UEFI etc?

    Or have you gotten rid of Windows completely on the Lenovo?

    I had some problems with UEFI on my Lenovo laptop but sorted out now - it is definitely not for faint hearted.

    But the Windows 7 on the same Laptop does take 'ages' to boot up and be ready for work - I click on MS Word icon and it sits there reading away from the hard disk and seemingly ignoring me completely - so annoying. I think I have to boot it up and give it a good 5 minutes or so before I should venture to give it a 'command' - you know what I mean.


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