It’s just data

Ubuntu Update

Having used Ubuntu as my primary Operating System without a glitch for over a week, I’m beginning to make preparations for establishing it as my primary OS on my laptop, alongside with a small clean install of Windows XP.

While Ubuntu may not work for everybody, it works for me.  Over the years, I have installed numerous versions of Windows and numerous versions of Linux, and Ubuntu has been the easiest OS to install that I have ever come across.  These screenshots are very representative of the experience I had.

While apparent registry corruption is the immediate cause for my switch from WindowsXP, the real root cause is much deeper.  For starters, I don’t like being frisked by things like GenuineCheck and legitcheck whenever I simply want to install a new package.  Second, the trade-off of being the same as everybody else — which affords me the ability to run a few more applications at the expense of being increasingly subjected to a wider range of viruses, spyware, and anti-viruses and anti-spyware — has become increasingly lopsided over the past few years.  Finally, my perception is that the center of innovation, in particular in terms of Internet based applications, has moved away from Windows.

Simply put, I like being able to say things like

apt-get install subversion

Accordingly, my primary development will now be on an Ubuntu based laptop, connected to my Debian server, my service provider's RedHat server, and the ASF's machines, mostly running FreeBSD.

Typically once the OS is installed (and all the fixes applied), the installation is only just beginning.  There are additional products to install, many from third parties.  With Ubuntu, one starts out with a minimal but workable system, complete with graphics, Internet, office, and media applications.  And with Synaptic Package Manager, literally thousands of additional packages can be installed with of a few clicks.

While point and click installation on top of a distribution that is refreshed twice a year solves a number of Debian issues, it doesn’t replace the command line.  The command line has a role for both the most experienced user and the least experience user.  The latter class of users can view the command line much like they view the address bar in their browser: as the target of a cut and paste operation.  A quick search on Ubuntu turns up a pretty comprehensive starter guide for most things you might need.  Each instruction amounts to a series of cut and paste tasks.

Those tasks don’t cover corporate specific requirements.  In my case, this reduces to three items: I need a VPN.  I need access to SameTime.  And I need access to Notes.  For those within IBM, I placed my experiences here.

The size of the starter guide mentioned above is quite surprising.  One would have thought that this list would shrink with every release.  In many cases, the reason why this is not done is not technical, it is because of policy.  I believe that this is the true limiting factor in ease of use, in both Windows and Linux.

The use case that drives this point home most is DRM.  Variations of Cory’s bad for society scenario, but this time involving software – particularly software that involves viewing media.

As I mentioned above, the last time I tried to install something on Windows, I first had to prove that I wasn’t a common criminal.  This involved a GenuineCheck, followed by a legitcheck.  The latter involved me turning my laptop upside down and copying and correctly typing twenty five random characters.

The comparable experience on Linux occurs when you want to try to install something that is “non-free”.  Typically this requires finding instructions on the Internet that require you to directly edit a configuration file, and then issue a series of commands on the command line.  And the results may or may not be stable.  Nor can you file a bug report on such matters.  Essentially, non-free is the darknet equivalent for GNU based software distributions.

Within the domain of restricted formats, things vary.  For example, Macromedia made Flash very simple: if Flash is not installed, when you browse a page that requires Flash, you see an icon that directs you a page that downloads the software.  For Java Applets, you are directed to a similar page, but after you press Next to install this plugin, you are told that it is not available, and that a manual install is required.  This appears to be more than a simple technical issue, i.e., it is a policy issue.

I fully realize that each of these policies are based on sound moral principles.  And that in the fullness of time, everything will be subsumed into the one true operating system, or become truly Free, and all these problems will go away.

Meanwhile (i.e., for the foreseeable future), these policies place an upper limit on simplicity and ease of use.  For some, this is a necessary trade-off.  Other users may not even realize that their concerns were involved in a trade-off made on their behalf.