(Originally posted March 2006)
If you've been thinking of putting Linux on one of your old machines, but you've heard that Linux installs are horrifyingly painful, PLEASE read this. That's what I used to think, too.
Not any more.
You will be shocked, delighted, and go "whoohoohoo!" all the way home.
Here's Ubuntu, running on my ooooold laptop, just as slick and easy as can be.
Ubuntu is incredibly simple to install and and use. You can install Ubuntu on an old machine (or whatever machine). Aside from the fact that nothing works 100% of the time, and wireless can be very wacky on any machine or operating system, I tell ya, installing Ubuntu will Just Work.
A Linux distro, Ubuntu, is incredibly slick to INSTALL and to use. You can be up and running on Linux today with no more effort than you'd expend making tea.
Now, I'm sure that many other distros are great and easy too. I understand from my techy friend and author of the first Java Certification Exams Simon Roberts who supervised but didn't actually do the install or tell me anything I didn't know, SuSE rocks and is gorgeous to boot. I understand that many of my fears about Linux installation actually are based on unusual situations like setting up wireless and really old or really new hardware. And are also just based on what I heard a long time ago that is not true anymore.
So anyway, it's probably not just Ubuntu that's easy and slick as a whistle. But I'm still very excited about this install.
I am doing everything for this post on my newly Linuxed laptop, too, btw.
Here's the story.
Me and My Linux Background: I'm So Not a Linux Head
I knew I would have to admit this sooner or later: I'm not really that knowledgeable about Linux. Not in a deep down kind of way. I have never and will never build my own distro and don't keep track of what GUI is my fave.
I'm not afraid of it or of using other operating systems--I used Solaris at Sun for three years, Mac at Great Plains Software, mostly Windows since then.
But you know, you hear these stories about installing Linux and it sounds like a quick hike up K2 would be easier. Packages. Drivers. Distros. Editing your BIOS. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH.
I installed, with the considerable help of my friend Simon, a Linux distro a few years ago. Red Hat 8 or something like that. Not horrible but not easy.
Time to try it again, though. I considered the Linspire distro but there seems to be some cost associated with it (forget that! ;> ) and there seemed to be a lot of buzz around Ubuntu. Plus you've GOT to love a distro with this name.
What I Installed On and the Internet Setup
I bought this laptop, a Dell Latitude CPX, used for $400 from Half.com at least three years ago. I tried to check what its specs are and couldn't see it offhand, but you can figure it out generally. A roughly seven-year-old laptop. Defiitely not less.
I also installed Ubuntu on my four or five year old HP Pavilion 6835, 800 mhz machine with 300 MB memory or so.
I connected using a standard Ethernet card to my in-house standard Ethernet network. No wireless. (Wireless is a pain in the patookus on any system--at least in my experience.) The Ethernet card just went in the little slot on the left side of my laptop, and the dangly thing connected to the normal plug of the Ethernet connection. My desktop already had an Ethernet card installed.
How I Got the Install CDs
Like a breeze. very easy. I downloaded the CD from Ubuntulinux.org. But you can just order CDs too, off the web site. Totally for free, no shipping costs or anything. (Just one note--I ordered mine at least a couple weeks ago and haven't received them yet. Probably more like three weeks ago.)
How the Install Went
Like a breeze. I didn't partition the drives or do anything fancy. I just said yes, take over the computer, leave no data behind, etc.
I had the computers hooked up to the Internet. The install went out to the Ubuntu site and got extra files it needed, with no fuss or muss dealing with the connections.
I did nothing complicated. I entered what my name and password should be. That's about as complicated as it got.
Doesn't zip really fast on my laptop, and I haven't used the desktop a lot yet since I'm dithering about my monitor options. But it's definitely good enough. It's a 7+ year old machine.
What It's Like to Use
Very similar to Windows and Solaris. I just played around with the various selections and it looked pretty easy. OpenOffice.org is there, under Applications > Office, just like you'd expect. I got on the Internet by choosing Applications > Internet. I found my files by choosing Places > Home Folder. It's all pretty logical. Most windowing applications aren't that complicated, and I find Solaris, Linux, and Windows all far more similar to each other than Macintosh.
What Else Works Besides Internet
The laptop doesn't have a CD burner, just a CD R drive, so I hooked up my USB Iomega CDRW external drive to it. I inserted a blank CD. And it just worked--a message popped up asking what I wanted to do. It was just like burning a CD on XP. I might have squealed with delight.
Printing worked fine, too. I hooked up the printer directly the USB port of my laptop. I chose System > Administration > Printing, double-clicked the new printer, answered the simple questions, and selected the printer I use. Didn't have to go hunt down drivers or anything.
And yes, the printing actually works. Just got a nice printout of this page on the printer. ;>
I haven't set up Thunderbird or anything for email since I'm not using this machine for that. I'm pretty pumped about the printing and the other hardware and networking stuff.
Installing Linux Just Worked.
The install was a breeze. Internet and hardware just worked. The layout is logical. The software is free.
Come on in, the Linux is fine!