Sunday, December 7, 2008

Ubuntu Linux - ready for the home?

I've been running Ubuntu Linux for a couple weeks. Insty today pointed to an article about Linux for corporate use, so this seemed to be the time to write about whether it's ready for the home.

The answer is yes and no.

Like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (42?), the fact that the answer is opaque means that we didn't ask the right question. So the question needs to be: what is it you do at home? For some of this, Linux is the shizzle Flippity Floppity Floop. For other things, it's still not there. This post will spend some time on the different things you might do, and whether Linux is ready for this.

Email, Web Browsing, Internet Chat, and Office Apps.

Ready. Boy, howdy, is it ready. For most of this, in fact, you'll be better off with Linux. Windows comes with an email client called "Outlook Express" which is stuffed to overflowing with security problems. The same goes for Internet Explorer.

Ubuntu comes with the Firefox web browser, Evolution email client, a chat client, and a softphone. Not only should it be pretty painless moving to these, but you'll almost certainly be better off from a security perspective.

Gun Nuts Radio works great out of Ubuntu. I haven't tried using my Softphone to call in, but I can listen and chat just fine.

As to word processing, spreadsheets (hello, budget!), or PhotoShopping H-S Precision fake ads with The Gimp, Linux is the clear winner. It's all installed by default, and it's all free.

iPod and iPhone support.

Apple's iPod is mostly supported, although you'll want to go get the Banshee media player. You'll also have to do a small level of installation and configuration for MP3 support. This is not at all difficult; knowing that you have to do this is the trick.

You'll give up some things, though. While it's really easy to set up playlists in Banshee, those playlists don't get sync'ed to the iPod. I'm pretty sure that there's a way to do this, but it's not obvious how.

And forget the iTunes store, which simply doesn't work with Banshee. Now I don't buy music from iTunes, so this isn't a problem for me. However if you like to do this, then this may be a deal breaker for you.

The kids have quite a lot of music from iTunes. They dislike Vista quite a bit - the networking is either too smart or not smart enough, so that while it figures out that there's an intermittent problem with the under powered Fiber Optic router from Verizon, it's not smart enough to figure out that the router's back on-line. So while everything else figures out the network is back, Vista needs a kick in the seat of the pants.

But without iTunes, I can't move them off Vista. Note to Apple marketing: you're not building up any good will here Chez Borepatch, you know. If you don't want to do the port yourself, open up the specs - I'm sure that the Banshee team would jump at the chance, and you'd get more music revenue.

Oh, and iPhone? Fuggedaboutit. Nothing on Linux supports the iPhone (or iPod Touch), since the interface is different. I expect that this will change pretty soon, since this is a major development priority in LinuxLand. Personally, even though I use an iPhone, this isn't a problem; I just don't really feel the need to sync my Jesus Phone.

But note to Apple: most of the apps in the App Store tell me that I have to upgrade my iPhone software to run them. I have to use iTunes to upgrade the phone. iTunes doesn't run on Linux. You'd get more App Store revenue if you gave me a way to do this.
Bottom line: If you absolutely have to have iPod Touch/iTunes/iPhone, then this is a show stopper.

Apple Marketing = Teh Stupid.

It's been a while since I've been much of a gamer, but this is not Linux's strong suit. If you want to play World of Warcraft or PC Games, you probably don't want Linux.

Now you can set up VMWare to run Windows and play games on a virtual computer, but I haven't tried. I'm pretty sure it works, and may even work pretty well, but this isn't going to be straight forward.
Bottom line: If you're a hard core PC Gamer, the Linux isn't for you.
Other stuff.

I have a decent desktop system here Chez Borepatch: Dual Core 2.6 MHz CPU. Ubuntu has an odd way of using it. The CPU cooling fan keeps toggling on and off, which is distracting, and suggests to me that my kernel isn't optimized well for dual core.

Firefox also does not handle memory as well on Linux as it does on Windows XP. I have 2 GB of RAM that I'm going to pop in the box after I post this, so that may address some of this. However, with only three tabs in Firefox, it's burning 400 MB and one entire CPU core.

Note that this is probably a Firefox thing. I can run lots of other apps at the same time (The Gimp, the Epiphany browser, file windows), so there's plenty of power left. It's strange to see one core more or less pegged at 100%, though. It seems related to Firefox browsing sites with lots of rich media content, like Edge's place.

So where does this leave us?

Well, I'm mostly happy - certainly happy enough that I'm not even going back to SuSE 10 Linux, which was my previous favorite. I'm absolutely not loading Windows (and yes, I have a license for this system, thanks for asking).

I'm pretty confident that I'll smooth off the rough edges on my iPod experience RSA. It may be possible to create playlists now, and I just need to much with it a bit. If not, Banshee seems to be maturing at warp speed, so it will likely be here soon.

I really like the installation and update mechanism in Ubuntu (the old Debian Apt method). You want Banshee? Point your system towards theirs, and your installer will say "Hey, d00d, you want to get Banshee?" It takes care of everything after that. Security updates are as easy. Yes, your mom could handle this.

Oh, and security? Only a million times better than Windows. Notably better than Mac, too, so you Mac fanboys can stop smirking.

Will I update the kids? Not yet. I'd either need to set up VMWare, or find out if iTunes runs under WINE (a Windows emulator). Until then they're stuck with Vista and ipconfig /renew.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice article. I think I am going to set up a dual boot arangement and try it out in the next couple of weeks. I have not tried an *nix distros in several years.