A Non-Techie's First Impressions of an Ubuntu Install


I was so impressed with a review of the then-new Ubuntu release, Fiesty Fawn (or for the more serious, 7.04), that I promised in a blog that I would play around with the Live CD trial mode of the Linux OS myself.


A few months and several strategic alignment meetings later, and here I am with a Friday afternoon free enough to tackle the not entirely onerous task -- at least as far as OS installs go. In fact, after about 2 1/2 hours of installing, updating and a little tire-kicking, I am composing this post on a Fiesty Fawn desktop system.


Before I give you my initial impressions, let me make it emphatically clear that I am not a technologist. I am a writer, editor and VP who always wants to know what stuff costs. I'm computer literate, probably more so than 90 percent or better of the users in your organization. I'm one of those awful hallway gurus you used to hear so much about.


But there are a lot of aspects of an OS upgrade I don't get, and it's certainly not what I do for a living. So this post about the Ubuntu installation process is no more than a general (and I'll say broadly positive) impression of the process.


As I kick the tires further on the GNOME desktop and applications, I'll be doing so with one key question in mind: Would this result in a call to the help desk from a typical Windows user? If the answer is yes, that's a bad thing.


But, onto the install process.


Downloading and burning the Install/Live CD: Could not have been easier. Ubuntu's online directions were dead-on.


The host system: I installed Ubuntu on an old Compaq Presario with a 700MHz AMD Duron chip. The system came with Windows Me (yeah, I know) and 64MBs of memory, but has since been upgraded with XP Pro, an 80 gig drop-in drive, and some additional memory to bring the physical total to 512MB.


Yes, a piece of crap. But that's a promise of Linux, yes? -- breathing new life into otherwise dead hardware.


This desktop has been gathering dust at my house for at least a year. At boot-up, the graphics card chokes out and the display frizzes, but for some reason is fine on restart. When I connected to the Windows network here at work, I could not get an IP address, even with the old ipconfig tricks.

The test system

As I said, a piece of crap. Really, who thought a four-disc holder built into the front of a box would be useful?


The install: I ran the Ubuntu disk from inside XP and did play around a bit with the test interface (which is darn slow), but I had already committed to a full install, so off I went. My only real complaint is that I could have used more user-friendly advice about disc-partitioning options. I went ahead and installed on the master disc (the default), but wanted some info on the continuous (largest free space) option.


My only other gripe: I clicked the Restart button at the end of the 25-minute install, and then pushed the manual eject on my system's CD drive. I apparently was not quite quick enough for the system, which immediately accessed the CD drive and then, of course, froze. A power-down/power-up was my only option, but apparently, not the end of the world.


At relaunch, the System Monitor (not hard to find) tells me I have 440MB of memory. The initial on-screen boot messages also report a memory access error, so that would definitely fall under the category of an IT ticket -- but of course, they would already be doing the install in a business setting.


Other than that, magic. No more problems with the graphics, IP address assigned, no worries. Performance is not overwhelming, but certainly much better than under the unfair burdens of XP Pro on the aged hardware. No problems seeing resources on the Windows network; I'm saving printing for Monday.


Updating: About 60 Important Security Updates and a slew more Recommended updates, all to the tune if 162.9 MB, awaited me. I like the fact that I was challenged for my password to run the updater -- of course, that's more aggressive than the reviled Windows Vista's UAC, but from a business point of view, I have no complaints.


The interface at first blush: Things seem relatively intuitive; I imagine the typical Windows user would not be totally overwhelmed, although I've always hated the "places" metaphor in Windows, and don't care for it here as a way to find resources, either.


I did plug in a USB mouse that was not recognized -- by that, I mean absolutely nothing happened. After another restart, the mouse was functional, but again, I received no message about new hardware -- weird.


Big thumbs up: You can copy values out of the system calculator.


You've got to be kidding me: During my first session, the PS/2 mouse I'm using locked up, and I intuitively went for the Ctrl-Alt-Delete smartbomb. Nothing. Whatever your feelings about Task Manager, asking Windows users to do without an "oh crap" screen at Ctrl-Alt-Delete is unreasonable. That's about as fundamental a comfort blanket as most of us have, and certainly a fair concession if the Linux community expects Microsoft users to switch.

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Jul 20, 2007 2:35 PM sony guy sony guy  says:
While it is true that there is no oh crap screen as you put it the Ctrl-Alt-Delete functionality does exist. If you cannot move then mouse and Ctrl-Alt-Delete has no effect you probably crashed the kernel. While it is true that Linux can do wonders with old hardware you would have seen a greater performance from you old machine if it was used as a server without the GUI. Keep playing ;) one of the greatest features ubuntu has is it package manager and the great amount of free software it provides to you and you have to only select and choose install. Reply
Jul 21, 2007 10:11 AM Woland Woland  says:
Considering your old hardware, I think that you should try Xubuntu. It is an officially supported version of Ubuntu, with XFCE desktop environment instead of Gnome. It is specifically designed for old computers and has very modest hardware requirements. On the other hand it does give users full functionality of a desktop environment.Actually you can install alongside Gnome, just install a package 'xubuntu-desktop' in synaptic or apt. Afterwards you would be able to choose which desktop environment you want to use, each time that you login to your system. Reply
Jul 21, 2007 2:45 PM tactus tactus  says:
Minor quirks happens from time to time in Ubuntu. Sometimes it's issues that can be reproducible and posted as a ticket in Canonicals excellent bug-tracking-system at www.launchpad.net. Other times you encounter problems witch is harder to reproduce and varies from one install to the next on the same box.But most of the time, major issues is mostly related to hardware incompatibility. Older hardware witch ones was or wasn't supported by "mainstream" distributions can sometimes be left in the dust because of the speedy development-process in the major Linux distributions. If your hardware is old, it'll sometimes help to try out a more conservative distribution. For example I have an "antic" k6 300MHz (iirc) witch works perfect with Debian stable but would not boot from the install cd with the latest Ubuntu. And my fathers box uses some VIA chipset for graphic witch isn't well supported in Feisty Fawn (Ubuntu 7.04) but works out of the box with the more conservative Dapper Drake (Ubuntu 6.06).The hunt for the right distribution for you hardware is always interesting and a learningful experience. If you doesn't find your match at the first go it doesn't mean Linux can't work for you. In my two examples above the end result was pretty good, with a rock stable OS on the right hardware. Good luck in your exploration of the world of Linux. Reply
Jul 21, 2007 6:24 PM genexyz genexyz  says:
installing feisty without internet connection hangs the process at 85 percent. putting the rj45 connector back with live internet will solve the problem. Reply
Jul 22, 2007 8:32 AM Frank Frank  says:
Your "oh crap" problem was probably a kernel panic, as was mentioned above. (A kernel panic is when the machine detects something so badly messed up that it's safer to lock the machine than it is to allow the user to continue to work! Obviously, this is a Bad Thing(tm).)It could have been related to the memory, since you specifically mentioned some type of memory error. You might try booting from your original Ubuntu CD and selecting the memory test option, then letting that run overnight. The memory test is a standalone i386 binary and does not load an operating system or even touch the hard drive, so it is safe to use on any system (including a machine with Windows installed).Good luck and have fun with Linux! And remember that learning is a journey, not a destination! (I've been playing with Linux since v0.99pl14 and I'm always downloading and trying different distributions, just to see what's available.) Reply
Jul 22, 2007 11:01 AM JGJones JGJones  says:
Am surprised that no-one've pointed it out in the comments...On Ubuntu there are no keybindings set for Ctrl-Alt-Del. Nothing. If I do it on my desktop, nothing happens too.However they do have a master override that can kill your X-session (the GUI that you see) - which is slightly different keybinding - Ctrl-Alt-BACKSPACE (not Delete) - this kills all X-servers and allow you to relog back in once the GUI have restarted (it doesn't restart the computer)Mind you, I've not heard of something freezing up a PS/2 mouse - so it is possibly as mentioned due to your memory problem causing a kernel panic - do try memtest86+ - you don't need the CD for it...just reboot and from the start up menu, select memtest86+.Cheers Reply
Jul 22, 2007 11:27 AM ephemient ephemient  says:
For future reference, as this is true of Ubuntu's installer, and most other Linux LiveCDs:After hitting the reboot button, just wait. After going through the shutdown process, the CD should eject and the system will wait for you to press enter before power-cycling. Reply

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