Sunday, 27 April 2008


As is my way when I have exams I needed to find something foolish to do to distract me from the horrors of revision. So a few days ago I installed Ubuntu 8.04 on my machine.

Much is made of whether Linux is ready or not for the desktop, and has been for several years. The answer in my opinion is a not very emphatic 'not really'. I'm going to blog about the good and bad things I find with Ubuntu 8.04, partly for interest and partly to illustrate where the operating system is in terms of being ready for the mainstream.

Before I start any of this I think I should define what I mean by mainstream. I don't mean people like me who have been using computers for far too long. I mean the ordinary person who has a PC at home and wants to browse the internet, write a few documents, send a few e-mails, watch a few videos/DVDs, sync their camera/music player, maybe play the odd game and use instant messengering. If you work or live with real people what they want is for these things to work, and to be simple to set up - preferably requiring no set up at all.

Many moons ago I installed RedHat on my desktop, and more recently (perhaps about 2003/4) I installed SuSE on my laptop - the same laptop I have now. My machine is as follows:

Dell Inspiron 8200
  • 2.4GHz Pentium 4 processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • Primary Hard Drive: 160GB PATA
  • Secondary Hard Drive: 120GB PATA
  • nVidia GeForce Go 440 graphics card 64MB
  • Built in Wireless Networking (we'll come to this later) and wired networking
  • Permanently plugged-in Linksys WPC54G v1.2 wireless adapter
  • 1600 by 1200 LCD display (we'll be coming to this later too)
  • Other typical bits and bobs (trackpad, keyboard, media buttons...)

So, in this post I'll explain about the install. This has been one of the best parts of the experience, so it's relatively short. I used a program called Wubi that's provided from Ubuntu (bottom of this page). It sets up your user account in Ubuntu, asks you where you want to install and then creates the installation as a file - no re-partitioning or any of that horribleness. This is very user friendly, and the install basically just gets on with itself.

Once I restarted the computer (as it advises at the end of install) Ubuntu booted for the first time and finished the installation - this takes a little time, and scared me a bit by talking about re-partitioning the drive and setting up a boot loader. This is in fact completely harmless, but this isn't entirely obvious at the time. What Wubi does is provide a space on one of your Windows drives that Ubuntu can then work with, so when the installer talks about partitioning it's only doing that on this piece of allocated space; a drive within a drive if you like. Nonetheless, the end user shouldn't have to care about this, and you don't - it just gets on with it.

One more restart and we have a jazzy sound and a login box. I enter the previously provided username and password and I'm in, complete with further jazzy sound, beautiful desktop and simple menu system. So far so good. Except the graphics do seem rather slow to do anything - dragging windows round is slow and full screen events (such as scrolling a maximised web page) are jolty. I'll talk more of this in a later post.

One other thing - no internet: in fact no wireless at all. So I need to plug a cable in to get anywhere.

I'll continue this soon!