Ubuntu Linux: Powerful and Free

12/04/2006: I’ve been experimenting on and off with Linux for most of this year. I have an extra hard drive, which is exclusively Linux. (My other one has Windows XP, and I use it for work-related stuff when I’m away from the office.)

Thus far, my experience with Linux has been mixed. I had Fedora Core 3 and Fedora Core 4 on my system, and–while it had potential–I had trouble getting it to recognize all the devices devices on my laptop. My sound card and wireless card–even my Orinoco card–were effectively useless.

Enter Ubuntu Linux.

I downloaded the ISO for Ubuntu Linux, and was able to install it with relative ease. As a bonus, it recognized my sound and wireless cards. The only complication was the video: it defaulted to 800×600 resolution. (It was having some trouble with my NVIDIA card settings). I was able to get that problem fixed pretty easily, as the Ubuntu folks have a good blogger community.

Total cash outlays: less than $1.00 (the cost of a blank CD).

Like other Linux installations, Ubuntu includes OpenOffice 2.0, which MS Office users will find quite easy to handle. In addition, one gets the ability to add a plethora of other open source applications for everything from mathematics tutors to Bluetooth interface software to CAD. I loaded BibleTime 1.6, and enjoyed that every bit as much as QuickVerse.

The real test was at my secret office: Barnes and Noble. The wireless card worked like a charm. Ubuntu Linux handles my Dell Latitude D800 quite well, booting in about a third of the time that my Windows XP does. (And you can’t beat the price for Linux!)

Over the years, I’ve heard the case against Microsoft. Critics told me they monopolized the software world. No one can compete against them. They control the market.

All hogwash. I’ve long said that Microsoft is as safe as can be until the next software paradigm hits, and other players start developing competing products.

A few years ago, I loaded Red Hat Linux 9 on an old laptop, and–while powerful and stable and secure–it was very unpolished. Novice users would have had trouble using Linux. At that time, Linux was an operating system that non-programmers would have found quite difficult. Derived from Unix–which was designed by and for programmers–Linux had a long way to go before it would be a prime-time operating system for non-geeks. For all its faults, Microsoft was still the better product in terms of useability.

Now, however, Microsoft had better become wary of Linux; thanks to outfits like Ubuntu and Red hat, Linux has shrunk the user-friendliness gap once enjoyed by Windows. Linux is ready for the big time.

If I can find a way to program my LEGO Mindstorms NXT robot kit with Linux, I will become an exclusive Linux developer away from the office. (UPDATE: this is very doable, as Michael Collins has illustrated. I will have to play with this feature during my Christmas vacation.)

Ladies and gentlemen, Linux is for real.

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