AtRandom #12: Ubuntu 11.10

I’ve been a Windows user about as long as I’ve been using computers, and that’s not because I’m a Windows fanboy – it’s because I simply don’t know any better. I can rage at Windows and its foibles with the best of them, so I’m more than open to the idea of an OS that runs smoothly, efficiently, and constantly without the screen turning a deathly shade of deepest blue.

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To that end, I’ve often flirted with the idea of joining the other side. No, not that one. I speak of course of that open source OS, Linux. The only things that have prevented me from doing so are oft-quoted fears of momentous, tech-heavy installs, endless visits to the terminal and a complete lack of compatibility with most of my software. With the latest Ubuntu, 11.10, I went in with a fresh approach, looking to see if my fears were grounded.

The installation experience was a good sign of things to come – relatively swift, straightforward, with a minimum of jiggery-pokery. For the most part, I could just let it do its thing, which didn’t take too long before I was up to the initial login screen.

The first thing that struck me was the clean, slick interface, on a par with that of Apple’s OSX. In fact, much of the stylistics can be directly compared to OSX – they both share an extremely similar style. This is no bad thing – the interface is clean, clear and functional, without looking bland or cheap. Looks-wise, it easily matches commercial OSes, and even does away with some of the more (in my opinion) superfluous visual tricks that can sometimes be employed.

The rest of the user experience was similarly straightforward, reliable and encouraging – it came preloaded with certain essentials and applications, such as LibreOffice, the open source office suite, Mozilla Firefox and Ubuntu One, to name but a few. This was all without having to install anything new on top – this was ‘straight out of the box’, so to speak. Likewise, the wireless access, sound and video all seemed to be up and running straight away, without having to install a thing. Again, this made me feel safer!

Ubuntu One I’d not heard of before, but apparently it’s a Linux-based alternative to Dropbox. This got my interest, not just because I use Dropbox extensively, but also because I was told it’s compatible with a variety of other devices, including the iPhone. If there was an app for this, I’d be very interested in exploring the limits of this further.

The App Store was fairly exciting to have a look through, although a few strange bugs concerning the occasional missing content and links going to the wrong place marred the experience slightly. Nevertheless, there was a wealth of content available, much of it professional quality, highly powerful, and much of it free. To be frank, the amount of software available surprised me.

As a complete newcomer to Linux, I was cautious about installing this on my home computer – however, as John and Rick informed me, I can use the system from a Live CD, and in this way run it directly off the disk, without it interfering with my Windows installation. I even have access to my drive and all the files on it – this is a huge plus point for me, as it will allow me to test out the system and see if it’s compatible enough with my daily activities that I can bear to make the final plunge.

So there you have it – a Linux Noob’s early impressions of Ubuntu 11.10. As far as compatibility goes, it remains to be seen just how many of my favourite programs will survive such a transition. But with the option of using a Live CD, there’s no reason for me not to find out. I came away from the initial experience of Ubuntu 11.10 more than pleasantly surprised. The Oneiric Ocelot is a good-looking, hard-working, reliable beast. I just hope it and all my exe files can be friends!

John Wordsworth

All round geek and gamer with extensive experience developing for the web and mobile platforms. Having spent far too many years in education acquiring a PhD in Applied Mathematics, John is now looking to keep up the fun by developing apps and games.

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