Living free with Linux: 2 weeks without Windows

Can a dedicated Windows user make it for two weeks using only Linux? Preston Gralla tried it and lived to tell this tale.

1 2 3 4 5 Page 5
Page 5 of 5

Connecting to hot spots

I have a home office, and it can get lonely working there all day, so I spend a fair amount of time every week working at cafes or other places with free hot spots. Linux makes it exceedingly easy to find and connect to hot spots. In fact, in some ways it's easier than in Windows Vista or XP.

Simply click the network connection icon at the top of the screen, and a list of wireless networks appears. A small icon next to each connection indicates whether it's encrypted or open, and there's also an indicator that shows the signal strength. Click a network to connect to it -- and you're online.

Living with Linux

Connecting to hot spots is a breeze in Linux.

Click to view larger image

In Vista, based on the kind of network to which you connect (private, public or work), certain features are enabled or disabled for security reasons. For example, file sharing is disabled in public networks. In Linux, you can't indicate whether the network is private, public or work, but then again, Linux is a more secure operating system than Windows, so perhaps it isn't needed.

Security

As a longtime Windows user, I'm exceedingly aware of the need for security, and use antivirus software, antispyware and a software-based firewall. That kind of software doesn't ship with Ubuntu, apparently because it isn't needed. So I decided not to try any Linux security software, and never found the need for it.

Internet, e-mail and instant messaging

Windows users will feel right at home on the Internet with Linux, because Firefox is a cross-platform browser and has most of the same features and overall interface as the Windows version -- including the add-ins. As somebody who wanted to use both Linux and Windows machines, and keep my bookmarks and passwords synchronized, I welcomed this, because I was able to use Foxmarks to automatically synchronize my bookmarks and passwords.

For instant messaging, Ubuntu includes Pidgin, an open-source universal instant-messaging client (formerly known as Gaim). From a single interface, I could communicate with people on AIM, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, IRC, ICQ, Groupwise, Google Talk and many others I hadn't heard of, such as Gadu-Gadu. On Windows, I use a similar program called Trillian, and Pidgin is clearly its equal. (There's also a Windows version of Pidgin available.)

For e-mail, I tried the Evolution package that comes with Ubuntu. The interface might not be scintillating, but it's got everything you'd expect, including an antispam feature, the ability to create filters to automatically manage incoming mail and a contact manager. It also includes a calendar, to-do list creator and memo taker. I tried the software, but wasn't able to use it instead of Outlook because I couldn't import my e-mails into Evolution.

Other applications

Apart from Office applications, I don't use much software to get my daily work done. I do need to take a lot of screenshots, and Ubuntu's built-in screenshot utility is adequate, if not particularly impressive. You can capture a screen or a window, but you can't capture only part of a screen, something that numerous Windows screenshot utilities let you do. And it saves only in the .png file format, rather than the more common .jpg.

Living with Linux

Ubuntu comes with GIMP, a powerful piece of image-editing software.

Click to view larger image

The GIMP image and photo editor that comes with Ubuntu is surprisingly powerful; unless you're doing high-end graphics work, it should handle whatever you throw at it. In fact, it's probably overkill for many simple uses, such as editing photos, because of its complexity. For basic photo editing, a better bet is F-Spot, which also comes with Ubuntu. It offers easy-to-use tools for cleaning up red eye, rotating images and similar tasks.

The Tomboy tool that comes with Ubuntu will be welcomed by people who need to jot down and track notes. It also lets you manage your notes, search through them and create separate notebooks.

The bottom line

For someone who has been using in Windows since the days of Windows 2.0, trying to live in Linux for free was easier than I expected. Although installation was filled with some glitches, once I got it installed, Ubuntu's overall interface and operations was surprisingly similar to Windows, and quite simple to use.

The suite of free software that ships with Ubuntu is quite robust -- the free OpenOffice.org, for example, is an excellent alternative to Microsoft Office. However, if you or your colleagues use markup mode in Office, you'll be in trouble, because OpenOffice.org doesn't handle markups.

Networking with Windows machines may cause problems. I was unable to connect my Linux machine to Vista PCs, and vice versa, although I had no such problems between Linux and XP PCs. It may be my network setup that's at fault, because I've talked to others who have been able to set up mixed Vista-Linux networks. Still, be aware that it might cause you considerable difficulties. The only way to know is to try.

Ubuntu's biggest Achilles heel is software installation and updating. Installing some software was simple, but installing others was so baffling as to be nearly incomprehensible. The same holds true for updates; I ultimately gave up on even trying to update OpenOffice.org.

Will I be giving up Windows for Linux? Certainly not. The inability to work with Word markup, problems with connecting to Vista machines, and difficulty in installing and updating software meant that I'll be using Windows for the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, I plan to always have a Linux machine near at hand -- possibly a netbook or other small laptop, or an older PC. I'll probably use it on a lightweight, older notebook for browsing the Web, checking Web-based mail, and some writing and editing using OpenOffice.Org or Google Docs.

So while you can't consider me a full convert, from now on I'll be more interdenominational when it comes to operating systems.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

1 2 3 4 5 Page 5
Page 5 of 5
7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon