Ubuntu On My Desktop

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani

I've been using Ubuntu Hardy Heron Desktop Linux (8.04) since April, when I got myself a new desktop PC. There was no way I was going to inflict Vista on my new hardware, and I'd really liked the ease of using Ubuntu Server Edition the one year before that, at work. The configuration of my custom-built PC is -

My choice of an ATI-based graphics card was based on the fact that ATI seems to be a lot more dedicated to developing open-source drivers than nVidia. They've released their GPU specs, which means anyone can write their own drivers without hacking or reverse-engineering the proprietary binaries, and without worrying that their driver will stop working with the next batch of the chip because some behaviour changed. This means that while currently nVidia has the best support, the future will favour ATI. It was definitely a gamble, but picking a manufacturer that supports Open Source, felt right.

Installing Ubuntu is a breeze. I had downloaded the ISO for the 64-bit version, from the Ubuntu site and burnt it a CD. I booted off this CD, and except for selecting the language, timezone, and partition sizes (which I like to customize), just sat back and watched Ubuntu install itself - in under 20 minutes. And at the end of the installation, I had everything - display, sound, internet, music and video players, cd-burning tools, internet tools, a BitTorrent client, Office software, and even games (including Sudoku). When I tried to install Windows XP on the same machine in dual-boot mode, just getting the OS installed took more than 40 minutes. Then I had to install the motherboard drivers, the display drivers, and the monitor drivers. I only wanted XP to play my copy of Need for Speed Underground 2, but if I had wanted to use XP for normal purposes, I would have spent the next few hours installing Norton 360, MS Office, and some internet tools. Talk about a waste of time!

The only things I changed after installing Ubuntu, were
  • Used 'Restricted' (meaning closed-source) drivers from ATI, which work a lot better than the open-source ones at this time
  • Installed the msttcorefonts package, which contains some Microsoft developed true-type fonts, including the ubiquitous Verdana
  • Turned on Desktop Effects (Compiz Fusion)
  • Installed the compizconfig-settings-manager package to customize the Compiz settings to my liking

The fonts and drivers are not installed by default, for legal reasons. Closed-source drivers and fonts must be selected by the user specifically. Compiz Fusion - a compositing window manager that makes Vista's Aero obsolete - is still not as stable on large number of machines, and won't work on many embedded graphics card so for simplicity, it's turned off until you specifically turn it on. See this Compiz Fusion demo and find out why Linux users are so thrilled. And before you ask - No, you can't get this working on Windows.

I'm a complete geek, but one thing I noticed about Ubuntu is the fact that - as advertised - it just works. It'll be a lot easier for you to teach your grandparents to use Ubuntu, than to use Vista. Desktop Linux is definitely here to stay.

The latest version of Ubuntu - Intrepid Ibex (8.10) - will be out in 3 days. So head to the Ubuntu site and try it for yourself.

Note: Here are some good articles if you've never setup a dual-boot system before -
How to dual-boot Vista with Linux (Vista installed first) -- the step-by-step guide with screenshots
How to dual boot Windows XP and Linux (XP installed first) -- the step-by-step guide with screenshots


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