Well, maybe, anyway…

Every time Microsoft releases a new operating system, I swear to myself that I’ll never run it. “Time for Linux,” I’d say to myself, and I even went so far a few years ago as to install Red Hat 7 on my desktop. But I really didn’t like it–it was not user-friendly. Or maybe I just didn’t have the patience to figure out how to get everything working. I consider myself a computer geek (maybe not an uber geek, though), but working with Red Hat was more frustration than fun.

So, now Microsoft has released Vista. By all accounts, it’s a resource pig and has no compelling advantages over XP (aside from the fact that it looks pretty cool). And remember the Apple commercial where the PC guy has the guy in the dark suit and sunglasses standing next to him issuing requests for permission to do this and that? Well, Vista’s just like that–at least when I was exposed to it.

Anybody who’s been surfing the web lately has been hearing a lot about the current golden boy of Linux distros, Ubuntu. It’s supposed to be easy to install and friendly to use. We’ll see. So, just for fun this past weekend I decided to set up my old Thinkpad T23 notebook to dual boot between Windows XP and Ubuntu 7.04. Let it be said first that my T23, although six or seven years old, is a fine piece of hardware and would serve the needs of any non-gamer admirably. It has 1 GB of RAM, runs at 1 GHz on a Pentium III, and shows no signs of slowing down. That being said, it’s really nothing more than a backup machine for me that I wasn’t worried about trashing if this experiment turned into a miserable failure. And, it already has an up-to-date version of Windows XP installed.

It’s worth mentioning here that you can download Ubuntu in the form of a Live CD (.iso form) from which you can boot your computer and experience Ubuntu without actually having to install it on your computer. It’ll run slower, of course, but it’s a nice way to try it out. And I did–for about 15 seconds or so before I started trying to install it.

Before I actually began the installation, I googled for instructions on how to install Ubuntu so that my notebook could boot into either that or XP. Of course, there was an abundance of instructions on the web, most of which recommended just popping the Ubuntu Live CD into the drive and letting the Ubuntu install take care of repartitioning the hard disk to make room for a Linux partition. So that’s what I did.

And it failed. Ubuntu’s install told me that it encountered an error while repartitioning. It didn’t tell me anything about the error, but luckily it didn’t wreck the existing partition. So, I went to plan be and downloaded the Gnome Partition Editor Live CD. GParted, as it’s called, is a Partition Magic-like tool for changing existing partitions on your hard disk without destroying them. The GParted Live CD is especially convenient, because you just slap it in your CD drive and boot from that CD. I used GParted to reduce the size of the existing Windows partition so that there was enough unpartitioned space remaining for Ubuntu to set up a partition of its own. Worked like a charm.

Once I had the partition issue taken care of, I reran the Ubuntu installation and it worked like a charm. Ubuntu even detected my Linksys WPC54G (version 2.0) wireless PCMCIA card, although it took a few tries for me to get it to actually connect to my wireless network (frankly, I’m still not sure exactly what I did to make it work, but it works now and didn’t work at first).

Ubuntu is actually pretty cool. I was impressed with how quickly I was able to start doing things with it. I was able to figure out how to install and run Wine and get some of my Windows software running, even. I can surf the web and play audio and video clips. I’m still working on being able to print from Ubuntu on one of my shared Windows printers, but I can at least see the Windows network and be part of the workgroup.

It appears that Ubuntu has software to do most of the things that I do using my XP box, and can probably run my Windows software under Wine when there’s no Linux substitute. And I guess I can still run XP if I have to. I still have a lot of testing to do, but so far I’m impressed with how easy it is to install and use Ubuntu. This one might be a keeper.

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