I finally got the chance to try the latest release of my favourite desktop Linux distribution – Ubuntu 12.10. And wow, have things ever improved on the installation front! This was easily the simplest Linux installation I’ve ever been through. I launched VMware Player, created a new virtual machine, and powered up the new Ubuntu VM. Beyond VMware Player’s “Easy Install” service asking me for a username and password, I didn’t have to do a single thing. It launched, copied the files, installed them, downloaded some extra language packs, and then did some clean-up near the end of the install.
The VM then restarted, installed the VMware Tools component, and I was off to the races. A very simple, clean install process that provided me with a highlight of new/improved features (à la Microsoft Windows), and then I was off to the races!
I logged in, and my initial impressions are very positive, overall. I quite like Ubuntu’s default colour scheme and Unity user interface, especially when you see their vision for using Ubuntu on TVs. The pre-installed software is basically all you need to get started. Out of the box you get Firefox, LibreOffice (Writer, Calc & Presentation), Ubuntu One (cloud services), a link to Amazon (???), and the Ubuntu One Music store. The Ubuntu Software Center is readily available as well from the app launcher, and has morphed from an old school package manager into an app store, similar to Google Play. The Software Center even includes categories like Books & Magazines (all about free and open source software, of course!), and Science & Engineering.
The biggest change for most people (non-Mac OS X users at least) is Dash. Dash is an integrated search funtion, allowing you to search both your local computer and the web at the same time. A similar feature is built into Google Now (Android 4.1+), and the now-retired Google Desktop software for Windows. But Ubuntu’s implementation is, again, very clean and far more usable. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like it’ll run normal queries (i.e. “derek silva”) on the web, which seems a bit like an oversight since the homepage in Firefox is set to a Ubuntu-branded Google.com. But a search for “prometheus” yielded a tonne of results including digital copies of the film, music, etc. Plus it will return any media you already have stored locally that matches the search. You can also filter by media type, whether it’s an application, file spreadsheet/presentation/document), music, photo, or video.
Ultimately I live a very web-based computing lifestyle. I use Gmail for email, Google Drive for most quick document creation (especially if I want to share it), I use the only Google Play store to find and install new apps for my phone and tablet, and read news online as well. Save for Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, and Winamp, I rarely use any desktop software. And while there still isn’t a true alternative for much of the advanced functionality available in Office or Photoshop, there is alternatives that are perfectly good for the average user. It still boggles my mind when “normal” people tell me they’ve purchased Office or Photoshop. I ask them if they’re using certain advanced features, and typically they haven’t even heard of those features. So why did they purchase the software? Because it’s all they know, or they heard someone else talk about it. While Microsoft and Adobe certainly have all rights to build and sell that software, the average consumer would do well to take 5 minutes to do a bit of
research into free alternatives, or simply jumping off of Windows or Mac OS X entirely.
Backing up a bit, my mostly web-based computing means I have access to everything I need with a modern web browser. I launched Firefox and was pleased to see version 16 was installed and ready to go. I was a bit surprised that a Java applet wouldn’t load immediately, and was even more surprised to see that not a lick of Java appeared to be installed. Not a big deal that can be quickly addressed via the Software Center, which is far easier than visiting Java.com, and following Oracle’s instructions.
Overall, I’m seeing less and less reason for many consumers (and even corporate employees) to have Windows on their home machines. I know that switching to a different OS and ecosystem may seem like a drastic thing to do in order to save money, but when you factor in all of the costs you outlay to buy a new PC, why wouldn’t you consider it? A free OS (with support available), plenty of free software (paid software also available), an app store that makes obtaining said software very simple, and really no more need to visit the command line. I know Linux got a bad rep early on for not being user friendly, but that’s exactly the problem Ubuntu is attempting to solve. And I think they’ve gone a long way in doing that, making the OS just as easy to use as Windows or Mac OS. Recent controvery around including links to Amazon aside (you have to make money on free software somehow, without relying on the average end user buying support), Canonical is making big strides.