Anyone unlucky enough to have read anything in my blog before knows I’ve been a long-time Linux user. I’ve had various Linux servers and now have a couple of Linux virtual machines on the ‘net hosting these pages. I’ve flirted in the past with Linux based desktops, but for various reasons never made a solid effort to give up Windows. Mostly that’s because there were a handful of things I wanted that I could still only really get from Windows. Games primarily, and that’s still the case today. Lord of the Rings Online might run on Linux under WINE, but since I have a valid XP license and my machine runs it quite happily already, why go to the bother?
However, the list of apps that I do need and only come with Windows has shrunk considerably. I made the switch to OpenOffice a while back (both at home and work), and although the paragraph numbering pisses me off a great deal, I’m happy enough with the applications. I don’t play any other PC games any more (other than Flash based stuff) because we got the PS3 and so that has removed a huge chunk of Windows reliance. Just about anything else I do is either a web app (mail) or there are plenty of Linux apps that cover it (Usenet, browsing, etc.)
So I thought I’d make a solid effort to use Ubuntu and see how I really get on with it. But I don’t really want a dual boot system until I know for sure I’m going to migrate my data to Linux and only boot into Windows to play LOTRO. So I’m running Ubuntu in a VirtualBox VM, running Full Screen with Bridged Networking and ignoring Windows in the background. The VM has ~1GB of memory and plenty of CPU (especially for Linux) so performance isn’t an issue. The only question is really can I find the apps and a way of working that I’m comfortable with.
I’ve been setting this up for two days and already there’s been some pain.
- Looks like NAT networking in VirtualBox 3.1.4 is hosed. I started browsing and downloading various things yesterday and every now and then a web page wouldn’t load, and I’d need to click refresh a few times. Then I installed a Usenet client (XPN, very nice) and it would randomly hang getting headers. Took me a while to realise there was a problem, but since this is a Debian based distribution the investigation was trivial – sudo apt-get install wireshark; sudo wireshark. Tracing the network traffic it was obvious the client was losing packets and there was a lot of bright red ACK’ing and re-ACK’ing going on. I checked online and there were reports of VirtualBox NAT being broken a few sub-releases ago but being fixed now. Well, it’s clearly not fixed, however Bridged networking seems (so far) to work fine. Sadly, this caused me serious frustration yesterday and earlier today while I was trying to download and install various apps.
- Finding a replacement for Twhirl (Twitter Client). I could of course, still use Twhirl which is an Adobe AIR app and so runs under Linux. However, support for Twhirl has been dropped and I hate the replacement (too big!). So I scouted about and found Gwibber. Sadly, it suffers from the major problem with a lot of open source apps, crap documentation. Yes I know, it’s open source and so I can fix this myself, but it doesn’t help when you’re first trying to get it installed and working. So, the current package is buggy, but I worked around that and got it running, then I couldn’t get any themes to work until I found they’d changed the theme system and none of the ones found by Google worked. Then I found there was a theme package you could apt-get install and it was all okay. But now in order to run it, I have to launch it twice from the menu, I’m sure I’ll get that worked out.
- USB support – not critical, but I did manage to blue screen my entire machine today trying to get USB devices to show up inside the VM. I might try again later, would be nice if I ever need to move data around (although I do have a shared folder, so I can leave stuff on the Windows partition).
Some things worked really well,
- Pidgin, it’s just excellent. The plugins are great, and GFire especially useful since I can hang out in the XFire channel with friends.
- I loved apt-get the first time I used it, and I still love it now (even if it’s called something else ;))
Some things are okay, but could be better,
- Picasa works under Linux, but only because it runs with the WINE libraries. When I first ran it, I had some issues but that might be due to the network problems I was having at the same time. Annoyingly, because it’s running in WINE it looks like a Windows XP app, which bugs me because if I’ve switched to Ubuntu I want it to look like a Gnome app. But hell, at least it runs; Picasa was the one major app I would miss other than LOTRO.
- After being a Windows desktop user for a very, very long time, a lot of the shortcut keys I’m used to (such as shift-num-pad-1 to select everything on a line) don’t work, and those are going to be the things that take me longest to get used to.
I’ve promised myself that if I’m just sitting at the computer, I’ll use the Ubuntu VM. If I’m playing LOTRO I’ll close it down to free up resources, but return to it once I’m done. I have a couple of other options. Wubi looks very interesting, it installs Ubuntu into a single file under Windows, and adds a boot option for it on the Windows boot menu. It installs like a Windows app, and you can uninstall it again afterwards. When you boot into Ubuntu the Windows partition is mounted so you can share files. The other option is a straight install and dual-boot into it’s own partition (but I’d need to do some partition shrinking to get there). Until I know for certain I want to move, I’ll stick with the VM, since it gives me the quickest way to get into LOTRO and back out again.
I suppose the only question I haven’t answered is why I want to move? Unlike some, I don’t hate Windows (although I still use XP so maybe that’ll come), and I think that Microsoft is no worse that many major software vendors. I think I just like the idea of software being free and available for anyone to use, improve and share. Certainly in the next 10 years the face of computing is going to change radically and I’d rather the stuff I use be driven by the people who use it, than the people who want to make money selling it to us.