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As [profile] raine_wynd has a new computer, I asked if I could set up her old system as a "guest" computer.  It would be available for use by visitors to check email, read news, do basic computing tasks, etc.  I decided to put Linux on it rather than Windows for a couple of reasons.  First of all, although I've played around with various Linux distributions in the past, I've never actually done anything "real" with it.  Although I'm somewhat familiar with its operation, I'm certainly no expert and this will provide an opportunity to maintain a system over the long term and learn more about it.  Second, the only valid Windows license we had for it was for the OEM copy of Windows XP with Media Center that originally came with the machine and I didn't feel like going through the process of installing it, updating it to SP2, updating to Media Center 2005, and installing the various updates that have come out since SP2.

Since Ubuntu is the distribution that is currently most recommended for use on the home desktop, I grabbed the ISO for 7.04 ("Feisty Fawn"), burned it to CD, and installed it on the system.  I blew away the contents of the hard drive so it would be a totally fresh and clean install.  As I continue to work with the system and use it as a guest machine, I'll post about any experiences that stand out.  There are a couple of issues that I ran into shortly after the installation so I'll start with those.

The installation itself was pretty painless.  I booted from the CD which brought up Ubuntu in "Live CD" mode.  I double-clicked the Install icon, answered a few questions like how I wanted to partition the drive, what kind of keyboard I had, etc., and then let it do its thing.  Once it was done, I restarted the machine, removed the CD, and it booted into Ubuntu from the hard drive.

First of all I must say that, as far as fit and finish go, this is the best Linux distribution I've worked with.  Everything looks good, especially text which is fully anti-aliased and displayed using modern fonts.  The icons look professionally made and it all just has a nice, polished look and feel.  In that respect, it is absolutely ready for the home desktop.  However, that's not true for every aspect.

The first issue I encountered was that I could not set the screen resolution to match the native resolution of the LCD monitor I'm using.  It is 1280x1024 but the max resolution I could select was 1024x768.  The first thing I did was to install the restricted nVidia binary driver so that I would have full functionality including the nifty "desktop effects" and 3D acceleration.  Even after that, I couldn't set the resolution to what I wanted.  So off I went to the online documentation.

The solution was to edit the xorg.conf file, which didn't surprise me as I've done that in the past with other distributions.  Now for me, this is a simple task.  I just added the resolution to the proper line, saved the file, restarted the machine, and it came up in the proper resolution automatically.  But for the average user, this constitutes an unacceptable solution compared to how it is handled in Windows and on the Mac.  Especially so because screwing up that file can seriously hork your system.

The second issue was how to get the extra buttons on my Intellimouse Explorer to work and work correctly.  Again, the solution was to edit the xorg.conf file.  Again it was no problem for me but the average home user isn't going to be able to do this so easily.

My brother, who is currently using Linux as his primary desktop and using Windows only for games, was complaining about this to me a while back.  While the support of the community is wonderful, and the solutions are easy to find, the first step to solve a problem is almost always "open a terminal window."  In fact, this step is usually omitted and the actual first step is "execute <some command>."

From the experiences of my brother and me so far, I would say that Ubuntu is pretty much ready for the home desktop from the standpoint of using the computer.  However, that is not the case when it comes to configuring the computer.  It's a lot better than Linux distributions of a few years ago but it needs to improve to where at least basic configuration tasks are all accomplished via an easy-to-use graphical interface and no manual editing of configuration files is required.


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August 2010

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