Last updated: Oct. 19, 2007, 10:26 p.m.

It's been quite a while since I started using Linux now. As I was reading this months edition of Linux Format magazine today I began to think back to what it used to be like using Linux, and how it has changed (particularly since I switched to Ubuntu). When I first installed Linux, it was SUSE 9.1, made by SUSE not Novell, and came in two versions, Professional and Personal. I got it on 5 CDs and two double sided DVDs in a box with some big manuals for the sum of around £60 from Amazon. I bought it because at the time there was no question of downloading it, there was just no way my dial up connection would have held up long enough to download it even if I could have afforded the phone bill. I installed this software on a couple of computers and was blown away by how smooth and easy to use it was. Looking at the slide show whilst installing and the variety of software included was astounding. I started using the OS with Firefox (0.8) already installed, there was an office suite, a PDF reader, and back then, it could even play MP3s out of the box. However, it was working only on an IBM laptop I had bought largely with the intention of installing Linux, and only after some trouble.

When I first installed Linux, I was not really very knowledgeable about partitioning, and I was certainly not ready for the problems the pre-installed Windows XP on NTFS was going to cause me. I actually installed Linux the first time over the recovery partition, a part of the hard disk that the BIOS could not address so booting was impossible as the bootloader in the hard disk's MBR was pointing at this hidden bit of hard disk. I tried to do a factory reset to recover my original install of XP and of course that failed. What happened next is what got me thinking about this particular episode. I was reading an article today about how PC World refuse to accept guarantee returns if the computer has had Linux installed on it. Clearly this is barmy, but it illustrates a difference in attitude between what would consider a "consumer" firm and a "business" firm. PC World have apparently refused to repair a laptop with a faulty hinge because Linux was installed on it. How Linux can possibly have caused a mechanical failure of a hinge I fail to see, however back in the mists of time when I had clearly messed up IBM's recovery software by trying to install Linux I called them up and told them what I had done and was immediately told, "Yes, sir, you must have overwritten the recovery features when installing, I'm dispatching a set of recovery CDs to you right now they should be with you tomorrow." The next day, sure enough the disks arrived and I re-built the laptop's OS to factory settings at no cost to me what-so-ever. That is what anyone would wish for I guess, but increasingly companies seem to be using Linux as an excuse to not offer support.

Several years on and the poor old IBM Thinkpad has been fiddled with and poked much more. It was, however, released a couple of years ago entirely from the curse of Winodws it's currently running a backup before I install the latest release of Ubuntu. And so begins the next part of my ramblings.

For a few years, I was faithful to SUSE that had started me on the Linux path with their excellent boxed offerings. I leaped for joy at the prospect of OpenSUSE, and was among the first downloaders of the first free copy of SUSE. However, it seemed as time went on SUSE got worse, with the final straw being the 10.1 release that failed me in so many ways. However it was not until more recently that I decided to switch to Ubuntu, and I can't imagine a life without the power of APT and other Debian tools at hand, whilst still sitting a comfortable GUI that I can use my Wi-Fi card from, listen to whatever music I like (and with much smoother playback than I get out of my Windows box these days).

I think I was among the middle adopters of Ubuntu from the Linux community but as I see it now, the number of new Linux users being drawn in by the offer of ease of use, free software, and freedom to use it where and how they like, I was one of the early adopters. The fact that Dell are now offering Linux on pre-built systems is something I would not have predicted when I started using Linux, however enthusiastic I was about it personally. The way things are going, I can see a time coming when you have to pick which operating system you want from the list: Windows, OS X or Ubuntu. There will always be the gentoo nuts determined to continue using their operating system type in by hand and to be fair I have done a couple of gentoo installs and they are fun! However, I don't think anyone will ever be able to argue reasonably that gentoo and the like will reach a mass market. But Ubuntu just might. It's a reliable, stable platform with regular security updates, regular, free, upgrades (as opposed to the horrific, slow release cycle of Windows.) Most of all, Ubuntu is approaching a level of "it just works" that only Apple with their limited hardware profiles and closed architectures have ever come near. If you've never tried Linux, but have installed Windows before, you might not believe this but install Ubuntu and practically every piece of hardware you have will be working already, no sitting there feeding the computer a dozen different driver disks or wondering around all sorts of manufacturers websites, it just works. On whatever random collection of parts you have. That is an achievement worthy of the highest praise.



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