Every year or so for the past several years, I’ve tried to set up a PC with Linux. I’ve built machines out of old parts, or created dual-booting setups on my main machine, to see once again if any of the manifold flavors of Linux has broken through my personal usability barrier.
I’ve always ended disappointed to varying degrees. I’ve tried all sorts of Linux distributions — Red Hat, Fedora, Gentoo, Debian, Linspire and on and on. I first discovered Knoppix a couple of years ago and that one got close — it actually managed to find and configure most of the hardware on my machine, but it renewed the search every time I booted up and was achingly slow (Knoppix really is designed to run from a CD, not from a hard drive installation).
Freespire, which is the free version of Linspire, also almost got me to take Linux seriously as a potential Windows replacement. But inevitably, I’d end up deleting my Linux partition from my hard drive and going back to Windows, either because I became frustrated with Linux’s gruesome software installation process or because I got bored of the pain I had to go through to get hardware working properly.
This year is different. This year, I discovered Ubuntu.
I’ve mulled over my next steps with my PC for a while now. Windows Vista is expensive, full of digital rights management nonsense, has a hopeless number of versions, requires a ton of horsepower to work properly and is overwhelmingly restrictive for hardware homebuilders like me (I’m perfectly willing to use a single copy for a single machine, but my machine evolves all of the time and I’m not about to buy a new version of Windows just because I updated a motherboard). I had a pile of old parts laying around, and I really wanted to put a media machine in my living room, so I once again dove into my Linux-related options.
Numerous Linux websites I visted listed Ubuntu as the most popular distribution, and other reviews raved about Ubuntu’s hardware detection capability, ease of use, ability to install software packages without the usual ridiculous Linux nonsense (tarballs? Please) and usefulness for newbies. Fair enough; I built a machine out of the old parts and put Ubuntu on it.
My first impression wasn’t great. Ubuntu didn’t detect the onboard graphics properly and didn’t work with the onboard sound in my Asus A8V-VM motherboard (a relatively new, but not super-new, board). Some Google searching — followed by my careful and annoying following of command-line installation directions — allowed me to find a video driver that worked and to modify a file to make the audio function fine.
It’s been all gravy since then. I really, really like Ubuntu — so much that it’s definitely going into the media server and I might even create a dual-boot machine on my main PC with Ubuntu. And Vista is definitely out for now — and with any luck, forever.
Ubuntu isn’t for everyone, but it is the distribution that might finally cause me to shift over to Linux. It still requires some command-line hacking, and it still forces you to occasionally think in those ridiculous nonsensical Linux terms, but it’s a big step in the right direction. And like all Linux distributions, it is capable of doing much more with much less hardware muscle than any Windows machine. I think I’m sold.