Linux on the desktop? Why not?

Larry Borsato

Linux? That's only for geeks, right? Like its forerunner Unix it conjures up visions of terminal windows and cryptic commands.

I've used Windows for decades now, and I switched to the Mac a couple of years ago. I've also watched Linux grow up, but always considered it marginal; not something the average person would use on their desktop or laptop.

Until a couple of weeks ago that is.

I have a Sony Vaio laptop with Windows XP that just isn't running properly anymore. It is slow and the network connection doesn't work at all. A couple of weeks ago friends were showing me the newest version of Ubuntu. It could even be booted directly from a DVD, and they gave me a copy to try out.

I took it home and started it on the Vaio. It was up immediately and working flawlessly.

The out-of-the-box experience here is incredible. Ubuntu comes with everything I need to work - an email reader, the Firefox browser, instant messaging client, softphone, and the OpenOffice productivity suite. It includes tools for managing and playing music and movies, for managing and editing photos, and for burning CDs and DVDs. It even includes several games for when you need a little play time.

Configuration was ridiculously simple, most of it done automatically at boot time. When I wanted to add a printer Ubuntu quickly recognized the HP Officejet 6310 on my home network and found the drivers. I was printing from OpenOffice within seconds. It also recognised the scanner on the Officejet, which is more than Windows XP was capable of.

The Gnome user interface will feel quite comfortable to anyone who has used Windows XP, and there are some neat effects such as windows that bend and stretch animatedly when you drag them. Everything acts exactly the way a Windows user would expect it to.

That said, a savvy Linux user can still drop into the provided Terminal window and use the familiar command line interface to their heart's content.

But most of all, this is an operating system that fits completely in runnable form on a single DVD, far less than the space required for either Windows or Mac OS X. This is a system that keeps software bloat to a minimum, and as a result increases performance.

Most people will never install an operating system, choosing instead to use whatever came with their computer. But if you've found yourself saddled with the poor performance of Vista on your computer, or you have a machine that just doesn't work properly with Windows anymore, then you owe it to yourself to at least boot your computer up with Ubuntu and try it out.

This is not your father's (or your older brother's) Linux anymore. This is consumer-ready, rivaling Windows, but much simpler to get up and running. With an interface you'll feel immediately comfortable with, and all of the tools you'll need to be up and working productively - and completely free. And all without a single cryptic command.

Larry Borsato blogs for The Industry Standard