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Help me switch to Ubuntu
February 16, 2010 9:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering switching to Ubuntu with no previous Linux experience. Also, I'm no techie. If this is a dumb idea, tell me why. If not, do you have any tips for making the transition?

My family has always used Windows computers, which I feel pretty comfortable on. However, I hate some aspects of it - the constant updates, crashing, etc. For these reasons I got an ibook 5 years ago. Despite the supposed ease of use, I've never really gotten used to the interface and am uncomfortable with it. My computer is about to bite the dust and I'm not sure I want to go back to Windows.

My dad (an engineer who uses Linux at work) suggested I run Linux Ubuntu. However, I have NO experience with it. I've never even used it and I don't know anyone who uses it on their personal computer. Also, I am not the most computer savvy person (consider that after 5 years I still can't figure out Mac OS X).

Here is what I use my computer for: word processing, email, watching youtube, downloading music, uploading photos, and the calculator. Literally, that's it.

Am I crazy to install Ubuntu on my old, but still functioning computer to see if I like it? Any resources for adjusting to the new system? And, what are the fundamental, superficial differences between Ubuntu/windows vista/mac os?
posted by pintapicasso to Computers & Internet (46 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wubi
Wubi is an officially supported Ubuntu installer for Windows users that can bring you to the Linux world with a single click. Wubi allows you to install and uninstall Ubuntu as any other Windows application, in a simple and safe way. Are you curious about Linux and Ubuntu? Trying them out has never been easier!
When you decide to make the leap for real (from wubi to ubuntu on its own partition), the transition can be confusing, but not impossible.
posted by notyou at 9:46 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


It will do all of those things with ease. I switched with no Linux experience last year and I could not be happier with it. You still need a windows or Mac box around for some specialized things such as TurboTax, although I bet you could run even that in a Windows emulation mode. I haven't installed that as I don't want to allow malware access to my machine through anything windows. You can install a dual boot partition and play with it for awhile to see whether you like it or not. The interface is very much like windows so that part of the switch over is a cinch.
posted by caddis at 9:47 AM on February 16, 2010


Learning to use Ubuntu, just like any other learning curve, can be difficult and frustrating, and it might not be worth it depending on what you want from your computer.

"word processing, email, watching youtube, downloading music, uploading photos, and the calculator."

Pretty much all those things can be done using Windows much better. As much as I <3>
In the end, if you're good with Windows, stick with Windows. If you DO want to try Ubuntu, try Wubi which allows you to install Ubuntu on your C: drive. Very safe and perfect for experimentation.
posted by Taft at 9:48 AM on February 16, 2010


Oh no, there goes all my text D:

Damn formatting.
posted by Taft at 9:49 AM on February 16, 2010


Well there's a live CD so you can play around with Ubuntu without actually installing...it'll be significantly slower than it would be installed, but it's worth messing around first to see how you like the feel. The default desktop (Gnome, I think?) is pretty similar to Windows - much more so than a Mac I'd say.

One of the things I struggled with coming from Windows was the filesystem. The organization of files is totally different from what you're used to. Some other things I remember being a massive pain were getting my wireless card working (the Live CD will let you know how your card works), and getting Flash working in my browser. Lots of other little issues came up along the way as well - like getting my volume buttons on my laptop working, using my third mouse button, etc. I think a lot of it has to do with the compatibility of your hardware, so try your setup out on the live disk.

One of the things I loved about Ubuntu was the package manager Synaptics. Basically it's a huge repository of programs, plugins, and add-ons that you can search and download in one place. It's really, really convenient.

Also worth considering, if your using older hardware, maybe give Xubuntu a try. It's kind of a barebones Ubuntu install, and runs xfce instead of Gnome for the window manager, so it's blazing fast.

If you're interested in setting up a pretty painless dual-boot, try Wubi
posted by pilibeen at 9:54 AM on February 16, 2010


Ubuntu is the right suggestion. It's the easiest and most mainstream distribution. Malware and the resultant crashing are not a problem in Ubuntu because it's not a large target. Keep in mind that all operating systems have updates, and Ubuntu's are even more frequent than Windows, so that's just one aspect of computing that we have to deal with.

The user interface in Ubuntu is a lot closer to Windows than it is to Mac OS, but it's still an adjustment. If you had trouble adjusting to the Mac after five years you might want to try Ubuntu for a while before making the switch.

I would try using Ubuntu from the Live CD and making sure that all your hardware on your computer works correctly (or you can make it work correctly) before installing it. Even though Ubuntu has made some strides in ease of use, it still requires a lot of detailed knowledge and experimentation to fix when things go wrong. It's probably not worth it for a non techie unless you're interested in learning Linux as a hobby.
posted by zixyer at 9:55 AM on February 16, 2010


I would argue Ubuntu is actually a lot better for all of the things you've described. It seems like the part of your computer experience you find most frustrating - the crashing, constant updates, viruses, etc - are all things that were immediately alleviated as soon as I switched to Ubuntu. Updates, when necessary, happen completely in the background. Viruses aren't an issue, nor is crashing, particularly if you're using the kinds of stable programs that go into those core computing functions.

For word processing, you probably want to use OpenOffice. Works just like Microsoft Office, saves in the same formats, etc.

For e-mail, Ubuntu will ship with an e-mail / calendar / todo app called Evolution. Evolution integrates pretty easily with any other aspect of your desktop you want it to, and you should find setting it up as easy as setting up any other e-mail program. Super stable.

Watching youtube you can continue to do out of your browser - Ubuntu runs Firefox like a dream. If you really want to get crazy, there are some programs that do nothing but watch YouTube, but they're hardly necessary. Ubuntu will also ship with a program called Synaptic Package Manager, which lets you install new software. Just open the program, type in what you want, select the programs you want, and it takes care of the installation.

Downloading music might be a little bit more difficult. Someone else will have to speak with their experiencing using iTunes: I know it's been done quite well in Ubuntu, its just not something I do. Amazon's MP3 downloader now works for Linux and just fine. There's a ton of different music managers, as well as photo managers for you to explore.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:56 AM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah, preview.

I'd actually scratch the live CD idea - just install through Wubi and if you don't like it you can just uninstall Ubuntu like you would any other program in windows.
posted by pilibeen at 9:57 AM on February 16, 2010


Am I crazy to install Ubuntu on my old, but still functioning computer to see if I like it?

No, not at all. This sounds like a great idea. However, I'd start with running a Live CD on your computer, rather than installing it. This means that you pop the CD in, boot up, and play around with the interface a bit before you make a big commitment.

I've been using Ubuntu for four years now. When I started, I was pretty much in your position--lifetime windows users, with just a bit of experience with Macs. It hasn't always been a completely smooth ride--every installation has its quirks thanks to hardware peculiarities--but I've been able to solve any problems I've encountered via googling, mostly through the Ubuntu forums. Know that if you have problems, you'll probably need to type commands into a console that's a bit like MSDos. This can be scary at first, but it's really not as difficult as it sounds. Also, it's great that your dad is also a Linux user. It's a good idea to have someone you can go to for basic questions.

And, what are the fundamental, superficial differences between Ubuntu/windows vista/mac os?

This is a really tough question to answer because Linux is customizable in terms of user interface in a way that windows and definitely Mac aren't. In fact, there is more than one desktop environment that you can use with Ubuntu. Your installation with come with one called GNOME, but KDE is another popular desktop environment. Both are extremely customizable. With your default Ubuntu set-up, you'll have two task bars on your desktop (one at the top, one at the bottom), not one. You'll also have two desktops by default (it's hard to explain the utility of this until you actually get a chance to play with it). But, as I said, your system will be extremely customizable. If you want to put a Mac-like dock on your computer, you can. If you want to add flashy desktop effects, you can. If you want to add widgets, you can do that, too. But by default, other than those major differences, your system will look a bit like windows. But brown (if you find it ugly--most do--don't worry; you can change that too.)

Here's a useful tip: hitting alt+f2 will bring up a program launcher. Type in the name of the program and it will start up.

For the programs you'll be using, the best thing to do is just play around with things. Just as moving from MSOffice 2003 to MSOffice 2007 takes time to adjust, so does switching operating systems. Some programs are essentially the same--firefox and chrome, openoffice.org. If you're familiar with using these programs, you'll be ahead of the game then, say, my internet explorer using mother was when I put her on linux (she's mostly done fine!).

Just a warning: if you use your computer to stream netflix, you might want to keep a different OS installation around. That's the only thing I haven't been able to work around with ubuntu, and it's a flaw on netflix's end, not linux's.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:59 AM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I hate some aspects of it - the constant updates

Ubuntu and other distributions issue updates frequently, especially for recent releases.

I use my computer for: word processing, email, watching youtube, downloading music, uploading photos, and the calculator

You should be fine... except for YouTube (which requires Flash). You're talking about installing Ubuntu on your iBook, right? If not, disregard the following. Adobe does not provide a Flash browser plugin for Linux on PowerPC machines such as your iBook. You should have the option of using one of the open source plugins (gnash and/or swfdec) but their support for YT videos is weak in my experience.
posted by scatter gather at 9:59 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


"word processing, email, watching youtube, downloading music, uploading photos, and the calculator."

Pretty much all those things can be done using Windows much better.


Oh, and I'd disagree with this. You can do most of these things on Windows just as well as you can with Linux, except for downloading music. Ubuntu has some great, malware-free torrent programs built in.

Or so I've heard.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:01 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Note that when Ubuntu updates it doesn't generally start bugging you to reboot the computer. This means that, unlike windows, you can turn your back on your system in the middle of an early morning work session and the thing won't have decided to throw away your work by the time you turn your attention back to your system.
posted by rdr at 10:06 AM on February 16, 2010


I've periodically toyed around with various Linux distros--Red Hat, Gentoo, and Ubuntu thus far--and never stuck with it. Yeah, it's a better OS than Windows in just about every objective way, but I've used Windows long enough for things to be pretty intuitive.

Linux probably is worth learning, but expect yourself to flounder around for a while figuring out how things work, where things are, and what things have been renamed. Things like PhoBWanKenobi's program launcher suggestion is exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about: even if it is better, Linux doesn't really behave like any other OS you've used, and it pretty much expects you to know what's going on.

Don't think about this as something you can throw on your computer and be up and running in an afternoon. It isn't. This is a project, and it's gonna take you at least a few days--if not a few weeks or months--to really get comfortable.

People tell me it's worth it, but I've never been willing to spend the time. YMMV.
posted by valkyryn at 10:07 AM on February 16, 2010


Malware and the resultant crashing are not a problem in Ubuntu

This is not true of any Linux distribution.
posted by scatter gather at 10:12 AM on February 16, 2010


I've periodically toyed around with various Linux distros--Red Hat, Gentoo, and Ubuntu thus far--and never stuck with it. Yeah, it's a better OS than Windows in just about every objective way, but I've used Windows long enough for things to be pretty intuitive.

Agreed.
posted by dfriedman at 10:15 AM on February 16, 2010


I bought a HP Mini and installed Ubuntu over the top of it. It's the netbook mix, which is slightly different from regular Ubuntu, but the default install does pretty much everything I need from it: it's a great on-the-go word processing machine and websurfing machine and the whole experience is faster and less cruftier than XP, and I don't have to worry about my OS being ground zero for every peice of malware out there. Startup time is great, though I do kind of wish I'd gotten a SSD though - I have this huge harddrive on the thing that I'm never going to fill up that I wouldn't mind trading for near instantaneous.

Install was a dream, and throughout the process I've remained almost deliberately ignorant of all things Linuxey, this is my no hassles writing box. That said I've installed some other bits and peices via the package manager and that's a dream to use as well.

Downsides:
* I format documents a little weirdly (comic book script format with lots of tabbing to indent) and sometimes that has resulted in things looking a little different when I save them from Open Office and reload them in word.
* I'm now thinking I'd probably prefer the non-netbook version of Ubuntu, so I may switch over to that.
* Sound does not work. No idea why. I should probably look into it, and theres probably a fix out there, but i don't do anything that requires sound.
* It refuses to talk to one of my printers (HP Laserjet 1020) - that's a bit more serious, but that printer is on the way out anyway.

Those last two are driver issues, which seems to be the the main drawback to Ubuntu/Linux, and the level of trouble you experience is probably going to be proportional to how many other people have had the problem before and tried to fix it, so with recent popular hardware that is not too recent you'll probably be okay.

The netbook pretty much replaced my old laptop - a rather crufty install of XP on a Sony Vaio. Really nice screen but a pain to take anywhere. I'm now looking at the thing and contemplating whether it would be worth going through all the Sony-related driver pain to make it into a second more desktop orientated Linux box, possibly to do LAMP dev work on. I'm thinking I'd actually have to learn a thing or two with that one.
posted by Artw at 10:20 AM on February 16, 2010


In my opinion Ubuntu is exactly like Windows and OSX in that 90% of the time it does what you want it to do and it's easy to learn to do it. The other 10% will have you tearing your hair out saying "What the fuck?" and struggling to figure out how to make it do what you want it to do.

The big difference with Linux is when you Google for a solution, instead of the answer being "Go to control panel, click System, etc..." the answer will be something like "You need to open a terminal window and edit your fstab file which you can only do with sudo and you need to know if the share is cifs of nfs or Commodore 64 and grep your hammerflanger before you mkdir and oh yeah make sure you change your group permissions to "read only except when the moon is full" and then restart the process using the command sudo kill XXXXX (where XXXXX is your PID, you do know your PID, don't you?) \etc\usr\bin\hate\kill\kill\kill"

All of which is easy if you "know Linux" but really difficult to do when you're a casual user who just wants something to work.

That said, Ubuntu is really easy to install, even easier than XP, and fun to play around with. It runs well on older hardware.

Out of the box, with no other configuration, you should be able to do (most of) what you want to do. The problems only show up when you want to do something else. It's still a OS designed by nerds for nerds, no matter what they want you to believe.

It's also WAY more stable and secure than Windows, though if you don't know what you're doing (see above) you can compromise that pretty easily.
posted by bondcliff at 10:21 AM on February 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


Linux works very well for most of those tasks. And Ubuntu is a good choice for a first distro (Linux distribution.)

You'll want to check what your exact hardware is and search to see if there are any problems reported. If it's a plain old PC with wired networking, odds are great everything will work out of the box. Ubuntu'll work with some wireless cards out of the box; not at all or only with great difficulty with others. Laptop or multimedia special buttons can be a pain to configure, as noted above. Support for hardware sensors (so you can detect the CPU temperature, etc.) can sometimes be problematic. USB HIDs (human interface devices, like mice or keyboards) or USB storage devices can be expected to work out of the box.

A general truism is that Linux works worse with proprietary things, because their proprietors usually don't support Linux, their specs aren't public, and, while hackers routinely do miraculous things with reverse engineering, the results often aren't seamless. The more you depend on proprietary applications or standards, the less happy you're apt to be with Linux.

Out of the box, you won't be able to play DVDs or MP3s, as their codecs can't legally be freely distributed. You'll have to take some extra steps. Macromedia does supply a flash player for Linux, which isn't installed by default, if I recall correctly, but can simply be selected from the package manager. My experience with the Flash player is that it's flaky and can hang Firefox, though I've heard favorable reports about the 10.1 beta (which you could install with some extra work.)

As l33tpolicywonk says, you can word-process in OpenOffice. Downloading music will be just fine by any web-standard means; if you want to do it from a site that requires you to install a proprietary downloader or other application, you might be out of luck. If your camera is something that acts like a USB storage device, uploading photos will be fine.
posted by Zed at 10:21 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Things like PhoBWanKenobi's program launcher suggestion is exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about: even if it is better, Linux doesn't really behave like any other OS you've used, and it pretty much expects you to know what's going on.

Oh, but that's not a necessary thing to know, by any means; it's just a nice short cut.

This screenshot of the default ubuntu desktop should give you an idea of what you'll be looking at. As you can see, there are a series of menus in the top left hand corner--taken together, these are kind of like Windows' start menu. The first one, marked applications, is where your programs will be. They'll be sorted by category, which makes things a bit easier to find. The program names can be a bit confusing, but your calculator will be in the accessories, firefox will be under internet, and you'll have a few graphics programs (GIMP, which is kind of like photoshop, and F-spot, which will be your photo manager) under the graphics menu. The "Ubuntu Software Center" is where you want to go for new programs on Ubuntu. You can't really go downloading .exes off the internet with Linux, but you probably won't want to, either. For a beginner, with your needs, you should be fairly covered by what's available from the repositories--that is, through the software center.

The "Places" menu, besides the applications, will bring up a drop-down list of the different folders on your computer. By default, you'll be given folders for photos, music, videos, and documents. When I first switched to Ubuntu, I tried to make my own file system, because that's what I was used to with windows. It's really not necessary, and will, in fact, make stuff more confusing. By default, your files are really nicely organized on Ubuntu.

The "System" menu beside it will bring up different preference-related menus and help you do administrative tasks. Don't be surprised if you're asked to enter your password before you make major changes here. It's the system's way of making sure you really want to make any changes.

The only other thing that I think might need immediate explanation is the two little boxes next to the trash can in the lower right-hand corner. The one with the square inside it represents your current desktop. The square inside it means you have a window open. If you click on the box next to it, you'll arrive at your second desktop. It will look pretty much the same as the first, but without anything open. This means you can have, say, all your internet stuff on one desktop, and a word processor open on the other, and it lets you switch quickly between them without drowning in windows.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:21 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


DO NOT INSTALL WUBI.

Wubi is out of date with the current version of grub, so on your first update it will try to update grub, and the grub version upgrade will break the wubi install. I friend of mine switched recently and this caused us a huge hassle (and this is the one thing he ever needed help with). The ubuntu installer (aka livecd) does a good job of walking you through the disk partitioning. As long as you remember to install Windows first (if at all) and Linux after that, everything will just work.

Regarding malware: over a decade of Linux usage here, and never used or needed an antivirus / antimalware tool, and never installed one. This is probably in some part thanks to the obscurity of the platform, because Linux malware is possible, just very rarely seen. The main lesson with the example given is only use your package manager for installing, and don't use sketchy repositories (with many thousands of packages available this is a pretty easy rule to follow).
posted by idiopath at 10:21 AM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I switched to Ubuntu from a Mac with no real computer knowledge whatsoever. (My husband is a computer guy and has sort of been holding my hand throughout this.) Here are my experiences:

Going from iTunes to Banshee for music and videos has been such a frickin' pain. Beyond having to convert all my protected AAC files to MP3, I can't get Banshee to replicate what I liked about iTunes (yes, I would like to be able to set the order of songs in a playlist, please). I really despise it quite a deal and haven't been able to find anything better yet.

I can't watch episodes on A&E's website. I am a Hoarders fanatic and this is very annoying to me. (I do not, however, have trouble with You Tube.)

I used Quicken to keep track of personal and business finances, and have been unable to find a substitute that I (a) like and (b) allows me to import all my data over.

I only made the switch because my Mac laptop was really, really, really old and it would cost too much to get another, faster Mac. If money wasn't an object, I would've stayed with the Mac.
posted by Lucinda at 10:22 AM on February 16, 2010


I, too, was a moderately savvy computer user with no previous Linux experience; I used Wubi to make sure that all the drivers would work out okay, then installed Ubuntu; I've been very happy 99% of the time. I've had some minor frustrations, but they make me want to learn more Linux, not switch back to Windows.
posted by Jeanne at 10:27 AM on February 16, 2010


I can't get Banshee to replicate what I liked about iTunes (yes, I would like to be able to set the order of songs in a playlist, please).

Lucinda, you might want to try Amarok or Rhythmbox. Amarok is extremely powerful and will certainly let you do this.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:33 AM on February 16, 2010


Ubuntu is *really* painless. Tired of fixing my wife's family's computer and removing spyware, viruses, Windows cruft, etc. I installed Ubuntu on it a year and a half ago.

All they know is that their computer doesn't crash anymore and they can't install iTunes (they keep trying given the number of 'iTunesInstaller (4).exe' files on the desktop). (They do know how to play music and use their iPods, however.)
posted by wrok at 11:11 AM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


It doesn't sound like you need much technical help. You really just need someone to tell you everything will be OK.

Everything will be OK (assuming you backup before installing).

Just knowing that the operating system is something can be changed is about 80% of what you need to cross the Windows/Linux barrier. For most people, their computer and their computer's operating system are so tightly coupled in their minds that they can't conceive of things working differently. If you understand the underlying task ("make a copy of a file") as being different than the actions you perform to accomplish that task ("right click on filename, choose 'copy'"), you'll be fine. For those few things you use the computer for, you will be able to easily translate the actions from one OS to the other to accomplish the same task.
posted by DU at 11:18 AM on February 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Okay, so I assume you are talking about trying Ubuntu on your iBook.

As I mentioned earlier, the iBook is a PowerPC system; it is not much like a "standard" x86 PC which would otherwise run Windows. The vast majority of Ubuntu users (including most of the commenters here) run it on systems in the latter category. If you're going to proceed with this, I think it's important to understand that you may encounter limitations, such as the lack of a working Flash plugin, which come with using Linux on an uncommon system which is not officially supported by the distribution.

Things I can think of which will definitely not work: Things which may or may not work with some PITA: I'm only trying to impart realistic expectations here. I can't recommend the iBook as a novice user's first experience with Linux.

However, I can confidently state that the iBook can be beaten -- by an experienced Linux kernel developer -- into a more-or-less functional desktop system that is only mildly annoying to use. But be aware that you'll be taking a bigger plunge than all those x86 weenies, and that most of the guidance available online is informed by experiences with less unusual hardware.
posted by scatter gather at 11:26 AM on February 16, 2010


I'm a big fan of Open Office. However, if you are sharing documents with people using Microsoft Office, sometimes the formats are not totally compatible. The docs usually open up just fine, but sometimes fonts and figures and tables just look weird. I'm not sure if this will be a problem for you, as most standard text-only documents are fine, but I thought you should know in case you'd like to check out that aspect of word processing when you demo Ubuntu on your machine.

Also, I like Linux, and I switch between it and Mac OS X (Leopard) for different things at work. But I still prefer the Mac. Things like iTunes and other software are easily available for Mac OSes, and most peripherals (printers, mice, network routers) work out of the box with no configuration. You should definitely try Ubuntu, though. It's pretty solid. And if you don't end up liking it, I think you might be ok using Windows 7. It seems more stable than previous versions, and if you set it up for automatic update, you don't have to worry about that.
posted by bluefly at 11:31 AM on February 16, 2010


For the things you're using your computer for you'll have no problem with Ubuntu. The only thing that would have made me say "no" would be if you were tied to a Windows-specific application, and even then, more and more runs under Wine these days.

I've made the transition (although I'm back on Windows 7 for the reason I just mentioned) with no problem, and more importantly, my girlfriend, who is bright but not a computer expert by any means, had no problem with her Linux transition.

Go for it!
posted by glider at 11:38 AM on February 16, 2010


I'm a normal user. I dual-booted Ubuntu/Windows for years and then went full-time Linux a few years ago. If you're willing to Google for answers to stupid things, it's not that big a deal. Streaming certain sites that use proprietary plug-ins can be a pain, but other than that, it's a fine OS. My wife dual-boots and she usually prefers her Ubuntu side. I would go for it, though. There are far, far, far crazier things you can do.
posted by puckupdate at 11:38 AM on February 16, 2010


On media players, you might also want to try Songbird, Mozilla's entry in the field. I've been using it for a few weeks and really enjoy it.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 11:39 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am just starting to explore Linux and use puppy live cd:

I can't get Wubi and Ubuntu to work with my Dell Inspiron Laptop network.
posted by jara1953 at 11:48 AM on February 16, 2010


I can't recommend the iBook as a novice user's first experience with Linux.

I'll second that.

I'm not an expert, but I do have five or six years experience with all sorts of Linux distros, on all sorts of hardware, and I found getting Ubuntu working properly on a G3 iBook to be frustrating, difficult and time consuming. Not something I'd do again.
posted by a little headband I put around my throat at 12:58 PM on February 16, 2010


I missed the part where you're talking about an iBook. Ubuntu hasn't supported the PowerPC architecture since 2007; there's an unofficially supported version; here's other distros available for PPC.
posted by Zed at 1:05 PM on February 16, 2010


I gave up Windows (for the most part) for Ubuntu 4 years ago and never looked back.

You should be fine... except for YouTube (which requires Flash). You're talking about installing Ubuntu on your iBook, right? If not, disregard the following. Adobe does not provide a Flash browser plugin for Linux on PowerPC machines such as your iBook. You should have the option of using one of the open source plugins (gnash and/or swfdec) but their support for YT videos is weak in my experience.

I think the OP is talking about installing Ubuntu on a PC in which case Flash is not a problem at all. The Flash plugin for the newest Ubuntu distro is simple to install.

WUBI

Ugh... For some reason I cringe at the idea of running Linux THROUGH Windows. It just completely defeats the purpose. If you want to try it, give it a real try! There's a lot of help out there and if you choose to reinstall Windows later, it's simple enough.


Ubuntu has some great, malware-free torrent programs built in.

Wtf? There is no such thing since the torrent program isn't what contains (or does not contain) the malware... However, Linux is certainly less susceptible to malware.

Don't think about this as something you can throw on your computer and be up and running in an afternoon. It isn't. This is a project, and it's gonna take you at least a few days--if not a few weeks or months--to really get comfortable.

I disagree. For what the OP says they want it for, it should be simple to get it up and running in a few hours if there are no hardware problems.


The big difference with Linux is when you Google for a solution, instead of the answer being "Go to control panel, click System, etc..." the answer will be something like "You need to open a terminal window and edit your fstab file which you can only do with sudo and you need to know if the share is cifs of nfs or Commodore 64 and grep your hammerflanger before you mkdir and oh yeah make sure you change your group permissions to "read only except when the moon is full" and then restart the process using the command sudo kill XXXXX (where XXXXX is your PID, you do know your PID, don't you?) \etc\usr\bin\hate\kill\kill\kill"


This isn't the case so much anymore as they have all kinds of configuration GUI's now. I guess you've never used the Microsoft Knowledge Base ;)



\etc\usr\bin\hate\kill\kill\kill


Bad, bad, bad... it's "/etc/usr/bin/hate/kill/kill/kill" :)


You'll want to check what your exact hardware is and search to see if there are any problems reported.


Yes! This ^^^ . If I misread this and you are planning on installing this on your Mac, you might want to reconsider. I'll third this comment "I can't recommend the iBook as a novice user's first experience with Linux."
posted by Raichle at 1:56 PM on February 16, 2010


Back up the old computer (ideally do so twice and keep one backup off site) and test the backup. After that, jump right in. Much good advice here. All I'd emphsize is backing up first. You'll be well pleased.
posted by eccnineten at 1:58 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ubuntu has some great, malware-free torrent programs built in.

Wtf? There is no such thing since the torrent program isn't what contains (or does not contain) the malware... However, Linux is certainly less susceptible to malware.


Torrent programs on windows are frequently packaged with malware or adware (example 1, 2, 2).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:04 PM on February 16, 2010


bondcliff: "\etc\usr\bin\hate\kill\kill\kill"

Actually one bonus of Linux is that everything is possible from the command line which means that for most problems you can cut and paste a solution from a web page, and if friend or family has a problem I can dictate what to type over the phone or email the solution to them - ever try that for pointing and clicking?

/etc is no more difficult a concept than a registry (in many ways it is simpler), and "/usr/bin/progname" makes quite a bit more sense then "c:\Program Files\Name Of Company You Purchased Or Pirated The Software From\Name Of Program\Name Of Program.exe". Much of what you are talking about is more an issue of unfamiliarity than of complexity.
posted by idiopath at 2:32 PM on February 16, 2010


-Don't think about this as something you can throw on your computer and be up and running in an afternoon. It isn't. This is a project, and it's gonna take you at least a few days--if not a few weeks or months--to really get comfortable.

-I disagree. For what the OP says they want it for, it should be simple to get it up and running in a few hours if there are no hardware problems.


Seconded. I was up and running immediately upon completion of the install (ThinkPad). The install was essentially automated. There was no fiddling, no fussing. Flash was a bit of a pain to install, but I think they have since worked out those issues. I sued the live CD for a day or so to check compatibility with my hardware and then installed it. It took about five minutes of my effort, and then I just had to wait while the install completed. It could not have been simpler.
posted by caddis at 3:11 PM on February 16, 2010


pintapicasso: "However, I hate some aspects of it - the constant updates, crashing, etc.
...
Here is what I use my computer for: word processing, email, watching youtube, downloading music, uploading photos, and the calculator. Literally, that's it.
"

One warning -- Ubuntu will also require patching. Same as windows, same as OSX. The difference however, is that the platform provides a central update service. So instead of Adobe updater, Java, Windows, Firefox, Itunes, Quicktime etc all having update alert programs and schedules, you have one system called 'apt' for distributing updates over the internet. Updates are basically a fact of life on the internet; nearly all updates you receive as a stable Ubuntu user are security related.

You'll also notice the release cycle is rather rapid. Every 6 months a new release is published, and supported for 18 months. If upgrading twice a year is too much work or risk for you, Long Term Support releases offer 3 year support cycles. The last LTS was 8.04 and the next one is 10.04. You can install 9.10 and upgrade to 10.04 when it's released with (hopefully) little work and stay there. If you want to see how 10.04 is shaping up, you can download a LiveCD of it. It's not ready for everyday use, but can be important when reporting a bug.

Task wise, Ubuntu is easily up to what you're asking for:

* Word processing. OO.org is default and fine.
* email. evolution supports most mail servers, but probably you use a web based mail system, which should work fine with firefox. Thunderbird is also available if you prefer it.
* watching youtube. I don't think flash is installed by default and this has been done to death in this thread already. It works for me on my Ubuntu PC, vary this formula at your own risk.
* downloading music. AFAIK iTunes downloads are out, but torrents work fine and Banshee does a pretty good job with podcasts / mp3 players. Avoid the default Rhythmbox as it's crashy and otherwise buggy. Equally important is that you don't get mp3 support out of the box but it should prompt you to install software that makes this work if you try to play them.
* uploading photos. Flickr works fine for me, and I know the default app (F-Spot) handles it, but I can't say I like it. Personally, I use my phone to upload directly, but it runs a different Linux.
* calculator. You are covered just fine I think with the default calculator.

You can download the LiveCD, or order one to be sent to you free. It doubles as the install CD, so you just need the one disc. Or you can actually order computers from Dell with Ubuntu preinstalled.

Finally, about the PowerPC laptops: expecting someone else to support them is a bit unfair given that Apple doesn't even support them anymore.
posted by pwnguin at 6:43 PM on February 16, 2010


Another note about the PowerPC version of the latest Ubuntu, the ISO is just a little too large to fit on a CD, and since the PowerPC platform is not well supported, you might want to buy an old PC and install the more mainstream version on that.
The minimum recommended specs for Ubuntu are very modest, you should be able to acquire a decent PC for under $100.
posted by tresbizzare at 9:17 PM on February 16, 2010


Hello there.

I love Ubuntu. I have to know how to run Windows machines, but Ubuntu makes me infinitely happier and makes my life much, much easier. What's more, I've been very happy to see that everyone I've recommended Ubuntu to and introduced to it gently has found it incredibly usable and easy. I did an install on the computer I'm using right now for my roommate two days ago; she loves it, and took to it immediately. Ubuntu is very easy to get to use and to get the hang of, and it's my opinion that in the last two years (and especially in the last year) Ubuntu has come to the point where it's just as usable as the other two options, if not more so.

A word of warning first, echoing idiopath: do not use Wubi. Wubi does not work. Wubi is broken. It was an interesting little project about six months ago, but it's somewhat abandoned at the moment. Ubuntu releases updates much more frequently than Windows or OS X, so six months is almost an eternity in the Ubuntu world. (Don't worry - those updates are seamlessly installed, so you never have to do anything.)

Here's what you should do if you'd like to install Ubuntu on your computer:

(1) Go over to the Ubuntu Download Page. Choose your country from the "Download Location" drop-down box and press the green button to start downloading the Installation CD for Ubuntu in the form of a file with the .iso ending.

(2) Once you've downloaded the Ubuntu Installation CD, open your favorite CD burning program, select "burn CD image," and pick the Ubuntu .iso file you just downloaded. If you don't already have one and you're on Windows, a great program for doing this is InfraRecorder. Go ahead and burn the image onto the CD.

(3) Now, with the CD in the drive, restart your computer. When the computer starts up, Ubuntu will immediately ask you what language you want to use - the screen might look odd, but just select English. From here on in, it should be smooth sailing. The Ubuntu Installation CD is very, very user-friendly, and will instruct and guide you in setting everything up.

(4) When you get to the page with lots of bars representing memory - it should be a page called something like 'Partitioning' - select the option to install Ubuntu side-by-side with your current operating system. This will actually be very handy; it's called dual booting. Every time you start your computer, you'll be asked if you want to go into Ubuntu or the other OS, and you can choose. This way, you're not erasing or deleting anything important by trying Ubuntu out and seeing how it runs on your computer, and maybe getting used to it for a few weeks. It's pretty much worry-free; you can try it knowing that you can always go back to using your old system if you want. Nifty, huh? Usually you can even look at all the files that are already on your computer from within Ubuntu, so it'll be easy to get comfortable.

(5) The Ubuntu Installation process will guide you through all the steps pretty easily; it'll ask you for a username and password, for example. (I've found that it usually takes a long, long time to 'import settings from a current user,' so I advise against that little option.)

And, hey presto - you've got Ubuntu Linux running on your computer! Boot it up, select your username, type in your password, and after a few moments you'll hear the dulcet tones of the Ubuntu welcome music.

(6) The next important thing to do is get your computer hooked up to the internet. Ubuntu keeps itself updated and installs new programs through the internet, so it's good to get hooked up as soon as possible. If you've got a wireless card, plug it in before installation and leave it in; Ubuntu should recognize it and give you the drivers for it. If you're using a wired connection, just plug the wire into the machine - Ubuntu will do the rest. If you're using wireless, just look for the little symbol in the upper right-hand corner (next to the date and time) that looks like wireless bars. Click that symbol and select your wireless network, punching in a wireless key if you have one. It's that simple!

(7) Now to learn a little about the system: the biggest difference between Windows and Mac computers and an Ubuntu Linux computer is probably the fact that Linux uses repositories. That means that you install programs in a very different way; instead of looking around on the internet for the program you want, downloading it, and installing it, you instead look in the official repository of software for the program you want and then tell the computer to grab it. That might sound a little complex, but it's really not that complicated. Here, I'll show you: click on the little Ubuntu symbol in the upper left corner (along with "Applications") and then open the Ubuntu Software Center. Here you'll find all the software you'll ever need for your computer; there are literally tens of thousands of programs for you to choose from, and as you'll see, they're conveniently grouped into different categories. And you can search for a program or for what you want to do with it using the search box in the upper right corner of the Ubuntu Software Center window.

(8) The command line is still pretty important in Linux. You don't really need it for Ubuntu, but it's remarkably powerful., and you'll find it's handy to be able to do a few things with the command line from time to time. Also, there's one last tweak I'm pretty sure you'll want, so I'll introduce you to the command line here.

You use the command line from the terminal. You can open the terminal by clicking on Applications -> Accessories -> Terminal. The terminal is a place you can type commands that the computer will try to obey.

To start using the command line, you only need three commands. These three commands will unlock all the rest of the commands and make all of them available to you; knowing them, you can even pretty much forget all the rest, since they'll put the rest at your fingertips. Those three all-important commands are apropos, man, and sudo.

apropos means 'what commands are there that do this?' For example, apropos wireless would give you a list of commands that have to do with wireless stuff.

man means 'show me the manual for a command.' For example, man mount means 'show me the manual for the command 'mount.'

sudo means: 'I'm important, so let me do dangerous things.' For example, if you need to open up a hard drive you just plugged in, you have to type sudo before the command, and the computer will ask for your password.

See? With these three commands, you can find any command you need, figure out how to use that command, and get all the power to do anything you want. Nifty, eh? So all you have to do is remember those three.

Now, the last tweak I think you'll want: Ubuntu doesn't come with Flash, so, for example, you won't at first be able to watch Youtube videos. Now that you're here in the command line, it's easy to fix that. Just type this:

sudo aptitude install ubuntu-restricted-extras

... and then press return, entering your password when asked for it. Now lots of words will fly across the screen, but in general, Ubuntu will install Flash and a few other things. Wait until it's done and open Firefox to check - do Youtube videos play now? If so, you're all set!

I know this is long, but I'm thinking it could be helpful. Good luck!
posted by koeselitz at 10:05 PM on February 16, 2010 [15 favorites]


Holy cow, koeselitz. You just convinced me to switch, and I'm king of the heap when it comes to down-talking linux. You should print pamphlets of that or something.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 6:26 PM on February 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Heh - thanks, Baby_Balrog. I'm glad you liked it. I see you tried Ubuntu in 2005, but it was impossible - I can understand that, it was much more geeky back then. Sorry it was so tough. It's really come into its own - especially in the wireless category, which has improved immensely in the last year. And, in case you still have some concerns, it is now quite easy to run Half-Life 2 on Linux - if you want, I'll show you how. Heh. I'm serious, though - check out Ubuntu, and if you have any problems, memail or email me; I'd love to try to help.

pintapicasso: I notice that you might be installing on an iBook, and therefore there might be one or two things that might be different about installation for you than what I described in my directions. Namely, I guess you might not be able to use Flash even if you do install ubuntu-restricted-extras like I described.

However, you should know that you do not need Flash to watch most Youtube videos. Why? Because Youtube now offers most videos through its new HTML5 player. (HTML5 is a new kind of internet language that's open and free; its freedom and the fact that it uses less memory make it a pretty great replacement for Flash, so lots of people are pushing it.) Unfortunately, Firefox doesn't support a small part of the Youtube HTML5 player, but Google Chromium, the Linux version of Chrome, does.

To watch most Youtube videos in Ubuntu without flash, all you need to do is install Chromium and use Youtube's optional HTML5 player. Just follow these instructions:

(1) Add the Chromium repository to the repository list. Type this command:

sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list

and press enter. Give your password if you're asked. In a moment, the gedit text editor will pop up with the sources.list file, which is a list of repositories. At the bottom, add these two lines:

deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/chromium-daily/ppa/ubuntu karmic main
deb-src http://ppa.launchpad.net/chromium-daily/ppa/ubuntu karmic main


Then, save the file and close the gedit text editor. Now go back to the command line. You still have to add the security key for the repository and then tell Ubuntu to update its lists with your changes, so type this command:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:chromium-daily/ppa && sudo add-get update

and press enter. (Notice: you can tell Ubuntu to run one command and then another by putting && between the commands.)

(2) Install Chromium. You can do that with this command:

sudo apt-get install chromium-browser

This is another really useful command to remember: apt-get install. Ubuntu's repository management program is called Aptitude; apt-get install is the Aptitude command that means "get this and install it."

Once it's finished, you'll have Chromium installed. Click Applications -> Internet, and you should find Chromium Web Browser right there; open it up.

(3) Turn on Youtube's optional HTML5 interface. Go to:

youtube.com/html5

At the bottom of the page, click the words 'Join the HTML5 Beta.' Now the HTML5 option is turned on! Click on 'Videos' at the top of the page and try a video to test it out.

Not every video on Youtube works with HTML5 yet, but Youtube says that most of them will, and I've found that that's pretty much true. You might find a few that don't, however.
posted by koeselitz at 9:23 PM on February 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Er - sorry. Lost this in editing, but obviously all of those commands are meant to be run in the Terminal - which is, of course, at Applications -> Accessories -> Terminal.
posted by koeselitz at 9:28 PM on February 17, 2010


pwnguin: “AFAIK iTunes downloads are out...”

Actually, they're not. What's more, it's dead simple to load and manipulate any iPod from Linux. You just use Songbird, an awesome music player / etc for Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows. It does everything iTunes can, and a few things it can't. Also, it's 100% free and open-source. Seriously - it is awesome, and anybody who likes the feel of iTunes should check it out.
posted by koeselitz at 9:47 PM on February 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


koeselitz: I think there are a few Linux programs that can play DRM AAC files from the iTunes store (though they are all illegal here in the US, as is any open source DVD playing software, thanks to the DMCA), I thought what was being referenced was the fact that doing the iTunes download from Linux was a no-go (or does Songbird access the iTunes store?).
posted by idiopath at 10:16 PM on February 17, 2010


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