Sunday, May 06, 2007

Dellighted about Ubuntu

This week brought the announcement that Dell will soon offer desktops & laptops with Ubuntu Linux installed. Of note is that these are marketed for the end-user, not just for servers or some enterprise solution. My friend Leo just bought a Toshiba laptop with Vista on it. He's frustrated with the gunk that's on it. Back in the day, Leo used to be quite the computer user - we're talking Windows 3.1 days. He was one of those guys who was quick to break out a DOS command line. But ever since Windows 95, he's shied away from such tinkering. Suffice it to say that he's become a computer minimalist - he uses his computers for AutoCAD, e-mail & surfing the web. Anything beyond that and he can't be bothered - too much mucking about in the registry. I can't say that I blame him.

I'm delighted about Dell finally offering something else besides "Dell recommends Microsoft Windows". In a world that's dominated by the web, what OS you choose to use should be a secondary concern. The comparison could be automobiles. They all do the same thing: cars get you from point A to point B. But you have freedom of choice as to what kind of complexity you want in a car. You can get a Corolla or a Cadillac. If you prefer an OS that isn't bloated beyond reason, requires no slug-inducing antivirus suite, (can anyone say: clean sweepers, antispyware solutions, antivirus definition updates & firewall protection? or 60 apps that you'll never bother to install or open?), choose Linux.

My 8 year old Sony VAIO desktop (which Leo helped me purchase on uBid refurbished) came installed with Windows 98SE. I had upgraded to XP back in 2002. After a year or two of XP, the VAIO had bogged down & needed a fresh install. But since Microsoft had only sold me the update, reinstalling that OS was a paralyzing concern. I would have to reinstall Windows 98, then stick in the Windows XP Update CD, install antivirus packages, then spend a few hours updating XP to SP2 & all the different critical security updates. No thanks. The hardware was working fine. It was the software that was causing the problems.

Having used Mozilla Firefox, GAIM, Open Office, AbiWord & Thunderbird on Windows, I knew that Open Source Free Software was a viable option. It was cross-platform and worked like a charm. Not to mention that it provided me innovative & free features that were never a possibility from commercial vendors. Was it time for me to install a Linux distro on my VAIO? Maybe...

I was intrigued by the Linux story. But I feared the command line. You see, I had never been a DOS master like Leo was at one point. My first computer was a hand-me-down Mac. So I needed to know that I could point and click my way through things. Enter Ubuntu. I took the plunge after reading about "Linux for Human Beings". It installed in a snap. My Sony VAIO was instantly more responsive and fast. Ubuntu runs on it like a champ. To say I've gotten my use out of that computer is an understatement. Ubuntu really helped me stretch it out.

Soon I will retire the Sony VAIO Ubuntu desktop. You see, it's time for a new computer.

Why not Apple?

Four years ago, I convinced my parents to dump Windows and purchase an iMac. They took the plunge after some strong arm tactics, I confess. I explained to them that I would no longer be their IT go-to-guy if they bought another Windows box. Their last computer was a Gateway with Windows 98 on it. Despite having antivirus, it got infected. Fixing it turned out to be a nightmare. I was shocked at how the antivirus phone support washed their hands of the situation. Gateway's service plan had long ago expired. So I had no options.

They've had no trouble whatsoever with the iMac. It could use a little more RAM now that it's running OSX Tiger, but I'm quite pleased with the way that purchase has worked out. So much so, that I encouraged my older brother to do the same. So back over Xmas, he bought his first Mac since 1985.

I had expected that my next computer purchase would be a Mac. My wife has always had one for work. But I think I'm going to go with the Dell Ubuntu option. I'm genuinely excited about computers again. I don't fear the command line like I used to. Ubuntu's latest release, Feisty Fawn, is a cinch to use. Apple's great. I love that their reemergence has galvanized the consumer marketplace. I love the iPod. I love iTunes. The iPhone is poised to reinvigorate a stale cell phone marketplace. But Apples are pricey. They are the BMW of computers. All I need is the Honda Accord equivalent: Dell running Ubuntu.

That Dell is a Texas company, on the comeback trail and employs a good friend of mine (Hi Tim!) is icing on the cake. I've always had Dell PC's at work. They've always been reliable workhorses. So I will soon purchase a Dell Ubuntu PC.

Here's an interview at Dell Headquarters in Round Rock, TX with Mark Shuttleworth - South Africa's mercurial network security billionaire. He's young and enthusiastic - sort of like Mark Cuban (if you can imagine what it would have been like had Mark Cuban not purchased the Dallas Mavericks and instead dedicated his millions to the Open Source Movement).

If any of my loyal readers would like to try out Ubuntu on their PC or Mac, drop me a post and I'll be happy to send you a Live CD that you can use to test out Ubuntu before an installation. I think you'll be impressed with the product.