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