Friday, September 28, 2007

Linux comes of age - Windows Replacement time is here

If you have been considering replacing your Microsoft Windows desktop with a free operating system - Linux in particular - now may be the time, as the latest round of Linux distributions and derivations have finally implemented many of the features that you expect, and need, in order to enjoy the simplicity and compatibility you expect.

I have written about Linux in the past on this technology blog, including most recently a piece about the Debian "Etch" 4.0 release and a link to a neat diagram showing all the GNU / Linux derivations if you'd like to see the lineage of a particular distribution. Since I'll be mentioning Linux operating systems derived from Debian, you may find this interesting and useful as I continue.

One of my favorite Windows-replacement-capable Linux desktop (or server) operating systems is Ubuntu and the KDE-based version Kubuntu (which to me looks and feels most like MS Windows). Ubuntu is a mature and stable distribution now, with a huge following and tons of support from the community and it's primary developer, Canonical. New versions are released twice yearly, in April and October, and we are now coming up on the October release of Ubuntu "Gutsy Gibson" version 7.10, which includes many features that make replacing Windows a real possibility, including:
  • A graphical configuration tool for "X" (X-Windows) which should finally allow you to change your desktop graphics resolution, graphic card, monitor refresh rate, etc. without having to perform some ridiculous hand-editing of a textual configuration file and an X-restart to get it to work. This should finally work essentially like the desktop display properties dialog in MS Windows, and the lack of this ability has been a long-standing frustration I've had with Linux in the past. If it works as advertised, I'm at least 80% of the way to switching my primary desktop to Linux!
  • In addition, full dynamic screen configuration for things like resize and rotate with drives for ATI, nVidia, and Intel graphics chips / cards is built in. Rotation is a nice-to-have, as I am used to it on Windows. Also, support for external monitors and dynamic monitor-detection is quite nice. I'm at 85% now! I know I put a lot of emphasis on video-configuration simplicity, but for a good reason - I have to sit and work in front of my monitor all day, and I want it to be easy.
  • Fully automatic printer installation! Now, that's a rather hefty claim, and I'm waiting to try out my particular printers with the latest Unbuntu 7.10 series. But, if this really works, it should make complete Windows-replacement a 90+% for me.
  • Handling of "non-free" device drives (i.e., non open-source - drives are almost always free for the hardware you buy). To me, this has been a PITA in the past - making me go through extra steps to manually install vendors' driver software just because Linux and open-source "purists" don't consider the drivers to be "free" unless the driver writer publishes source-code. Well, the average desktop user doesn't care if there is source-code, they just want to install their driver. And, this should make is simple - finally. A huge plus for me, and more reason it's time for Linux.
  • Simplified Firefox plugin finder and installer - so installing software like the Adobe Flash Player is as simple as it is on Windows. This never bothered me too much before, but I surely welcome the simplicity.
  • NTFS writing - built in. I.e., you can get read/write access to Windows partitions, which is incredibly important in heterogeneous environments where data needs to be shared between multiple operating systems - like, Windows, Mac, and Linux. Very nice!
  • Fast user switching - though not a big one for me, others may find this nice.
Coupled with some of the great open-source software for Linux that I have profiled in the past, plus many more I haven't had time to cover on this technology blog, I am pretty much set. And, keep in mind, for those rare times you may still require access to a Microsoft Windows desktop, you can always use VMWare's Workstation and/or VMWare Player applications to run a Windows desktop as a virtual-machine from within your Ubuntu / Kubuntu / openSUSE / other Linux desktop.

I mention openSUSE in that prior sentence, which is also a very capable desktop-replacement Linux operating system. It too is on the verge of a significant new release, and I'll try to cover what's new in that soon - in the meantime, check it out if you are curious.

No comments: