(Editor’s note: This is from back when I was interested in Linux from a user-interface perspective.)
I’ve been using Ubuntu for a fairly long time now. I have installed it on three of my own computers, and I have also installed it on friends’ computers and performed many live boots on various systems. The three computers of mine that I’ve installed Ubuntu on so far are very different. As I am going to reference the machines in the subsequent article, I would like to provide the specs of each individual computer ahead of time:
HP Mini 1000
System Type: Netbook
Screen Resolution: 1024×576 (10.1″)
CPU: Intel Atom @ 1.6 GHz (single core, hyperthreading)
RAM: 1 GB
Hard Drive: 16 GB Solid State Drive
Operating Systems Installed: Ubuntu x86, previously Windows XP x86
Dell Dimension 2400
System Type: Desktop
Screen Resolution: 1280×1024
CPU: Intel Pentium 4 @ 2.4 GHz (single core)
RAM: 1 GB
Hard Drive: 80 GB 7200 RPM Hard Disk Drive
Operating Systems Installed: Ubuntu x86, Windows XP x86
Sony Vaio VGN-FZ150E
System Type: Notebook
Screen Resolution: 1280×800 (15.4″)
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo @ 2.0 GHz (dual core)
RAM: 2 GB
Hard Drive: 320 GB 5400 RPM Hard Disk Drive
Operating Systems Installed: Ubuntu x64, previously Windows Vista
Given the experience I’ve amassed with Ubuntu, I think it’s time I started writing about it. I want to create a chronicle of my journey through Ubuntu. I don’t want to say, “Oh, yes, Ubuntu is great. I give it 5 stars. Now go try it out yourself.” I want to explain in detail what I’ve experienced while using Ubuntu and how well the operating system has worked out for me, and I think the best way to do that would be to write a story.
I discovered Ubuntu a while ago. I first learned about Linux through a professional programmer that I knew. He had been encouraging me to try to reinstall Windows XP on an old Dell Dimension 4100 I had (the same one used in my Crunchbang Linux post) as a learning experience. I ended up following his advice, and I gained a lot of knowledge from the experience that followed. On top of learning about Windows and disk partitioning, he also encouraged me to install Xubuntu and start learning about Linux. Coincidentally, a friend of mine had started working with Lubuntu and his Linux adventures were intriguing me. Despite the fact that I still knew rather alarmingly little about disk partitioning, I burned a Xubuntu Linux 11.10 live boot CD and proceeded to install the aforementioned OS alongside Windows XP.
I learned an incredible amount through that experience (in case you were wondering, I ended up installing both Xubuntu and Windows XP a few more times before I got it exactly right.) I had developed an unshakable interest in Linux and in open source software.
However, I had found my first experiences with actually using Linux to be somewhat lacking. To Xubuntu’s credit, I was using a Pentium III box which wasn’t entirely suited to use in today’s world, and the system was fairly slow. Also, Xubuntu’s interface wasn’t exactly compelling for me. I like an operating system that looks very well-designed and smooth and has lots of neat effects, and Xubuntu had a fairly basic interface. Even if Xubuntu had had a more graphics intensive UI, my hardware wouldn’t have been able to support it. It was time for me to find a more suitable Linux configuration.
My first time using Ubuntu was when I picked up an HP Mini 1000 netbook, the same computer featured in my HP Mini 1000 Disassembly post. It had originally come with Windows XP, but the original installation had been destroyed by a virus and any recovery media was long gone. It didn’t really matter; I didn’t want Windows XP anyway, but I had even less interest in shelling out $100+ for Windows 7 and an external DVD drive to install it with. So, I turned to Linux.
I can’t remember exactly how I discovered Ubuntu. I believe I was checking out how many -buntu Linux distros there are (there’s a lot!) and stumbled across Ubuntu. By this time, 12.04 had been released. I was impressed by the online tour and the fact that my netbook still met the minimum specs even with a 1.6 GHz Atom, 1 GB of RAM, and a 16 GB SSD. Also, Ubuntu is easily installable from a thumb drive, unlike Windows XP or 7. And it’s free.
The installation went smoothly. It turned out the netbook needed a new heatsink/application of thermal paste, but that’s definitely not Ubuntu’s fault. After all the hardware problems were worked out, I had a computer running Linux that was built after 2001 and looked pretty slick. Best of all, it could stream YouTube.
However, it wasn’t perfect. With the screen at a native resolution of 1024×576, browsing the web or doing pretty much anything was cramped. The low-powered Intel Atom chip was, well, low-powered, and it wasn’t exactly a multi-tasker’s dream. The amount of RAM and hard drive space was not a problem, though. I don’t think I ever saw the RAM gauge go past 50%, and Ubuntu plus some programs was using under 8 GB of hard drive space. Note: I don’t use the netbook to store files, but even if I decide to I still have a few gigs to use before the drive gets too full. Despite these positives, the computer still wasn’t powerful enough to make it my go-to machine.
My next adventure with Ubuntu was with another old Dell desktop – a Dimension 2400 this time – that I found on Craigslist. I bought it as my next project, because after reassembling my netbook I found myself hungry for another computer to disassemble. This particular desktop just needed a thorough cleaning, which I was happy to perform. It had also come with a pirated version of Windows XP, so I decided to install Ubuntu on it. After installing Ubuntu, I realized the computer had a genuine Windows XP license key sticker on the side and that I had a genuine Windows XP install CD. Soon, the desktop was dual-booting Ubuntu and Windows XP, and this gave me a good opportunity to compare the two operating systems. Both have similar system requirements, the main difference being that Ubuntu requires much less hard drive space. Ubuntu worked much better out-of-the-box, so to speak, as it supplied all the necessary drivers and I had to track down a bunch for XP. Ubuntu also ran faster and was able to stream YouTube less choppily. Unfortunately, there was one big problem: occasionally, Ubuntu would suddenly sort of crash. I believe it’s a graphics issue, as opening & closing menus/resizing & closing windows/etc. would run extremely slowly while the system itself appeared to be running fine. Nothing like this happened in Windows XP, and I’m pretty sure it’s a combination of a very low-spec integrated Pentium 4 graphics and a potential graphics driver problem for that particular graphics chip with Ubuntu. At any rate, even with a bigger screen, I needed higher specs for my full-time Ubuntu machine.
Then, I picked up another computer. This time it was a Sony Vaio VGN-FZ150E notebook, being given away in exasperation. It wouldn’t boot, it had Windows Vista (or would have had, had it been able to boot), and it was a solitary hand-me-down Windows machine in a family of Mac users. Of course I immediately accepted the offer of a free computer, even though by this point I already had my Windows laptop, my Macbook, and my Ubuntu netbook. Another laptop? Why not?
It turned out there were a few reasons why not, the main one being the reason why the computer wouldn’t boot. I had originally figured that it was just a corrupted installation of Windows, but, as it turned out, the hard drive was dead. A live boot of Ubuntu showed a reallocated sector count of about 300, way past the threshold. A new hard drive was in order before I could get around to anything software-related. Long story short, I threw money at it and the problem went away. Now, I could get around to installing Ubuntu.
Why Ubuntu? At this point, I really wanted a full-time Ubuntu machine, and I had long since decided that $50 dollars for Sony Windows Vista recovery discs for an OS I didn’t even want in the first place wasn’t going to get me anywhere fast. I first installed Ubuntu 12.04 32-bit, but also tested out 12.10 and more recently 13.04. I decided to stick with 12.04 over the other versions, but installed the 64-bit version of it which I am now currently using.
That’s where I currently am with Ubuntu. (Ed: WAY past there now.) My goal is to one day run Ubuntu on a very powerful machine and see how it goes. (Ed: hasn’t happened yet (2016).) Maybe a Ubuntu-designed ultrabook? I can always dream.