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.