Catching that Intrepid Ibex
November 9, 2008 5:57 PM   Subscribe

How can I use Ubuntu (running as a virual machine on VirtualBox with OSX 10.5) to improve my computing experience?

After some initial problems, I finally got VirtualBox to run Ubuntu 8.10, which is cool, but I'm not sure what to do with it. Born and raised on a Mac since OS 7, I'm not used to Linux, or even Windows (which I might run at a later date). Why should I use Ubuntu, and what for?
posted by photomusic86 to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
For anything that you would use any other operating system for?

I run Kubuntu as my main operating system because it's free and very customizable--Windows Vista/XP are neither of those things. I also use it because it's (relatively, other than a few graphics card issues) hassle free and I don't have to worry about my system getting bloated with spyware or viruses. I use it to do everything I used windows for--word processing/spreadsheets, internet browsing, email, multimedia stuff (burning, watching, listening). The only thing I've found to be a major improvement is that ktorrent is very integrated into the OS and torrent downloading is easier and more intuitive. If I were you, I'd just mess around with it and try to get a feel for the OS. It can't hurt, after all, to be familiar with multiple operating systems.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:10 PM on November 9, 2008

Personally, I think you've got it backwards, and shouldn't bother until you identify a need that a linux VM can help you with... but that's not answering your question.

I use a linux VM under OS X simply to read filesystems OS X has trouble with - but that's because they're from other linux machines in the house, so it probably doesn't apply to you.

One thing to check out: Amarok kicks iTunes' bum.
posted by pompomtom at 6:17 PM on November 9, 2008

You can use it to run Windows applications using Wine
posted by bottlebrushtree at 6:36 PM on November 9, 2008

Previously, though that question was a long time ago in terms of the user experience of desktop Linux.

I initially read your question as though you were asking about becoming more experienced, though I think now you may have been asking about having an improved experience.

Ironically, I think the former interpretation is closer to the truth. Running Linux on my personal machine taught me a tremendous amount about computers and how they work, especially regarding hardware and drivers. Of course, I started out a long time ago, when Linux was much tougher "out-of-the-box"; these days, Ubuntu, OPENSuse and (I assume) Fedora just sorta work, unless you have odd or very new hardware.

Since you're already using a Mac, you probably don't have virus or spyware concerns, or bloatware/crapware problems. Unless you have a specific application that you really want that only exists on Linux (I was really partial to KMail for a long time), or there's something about MacOS that drives you nuts (I've never liked the dock), I don't see how your experience will be improved much by leaving MacOS for Linux.

However, if you want to learn about your computer, and about how software works, or if you have any interest in tinkering, Linux is great. Full disclosure: after running - and enjoying - Linux for 6 years or so, I've just switched back to Windows for my laptop. I just got tired of fussing with it. @pompomtom: Yeah, Amarok is pretty good.
posted by dammitjim at 6:46 PM on November 9, 2008

If you've ever used anything in X11/XDarwin, you've probably realized that X11 is a pain on the Mac. Use Ubuntu instead! As an added bonus, most things that depend on X will be available via apt-get, which makes installing them simple. Think of it as MacPorts, or Fink, except without the suck, and with a lot more packages to choose from.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 6:55 PM on November 9, 2008

Get really stoned and play with the desktop effects for a few hours
posted by mannequito at 7:03 PM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I use Ubuntu as a desktop OS, so using it as VM seems silly to me. I browse the internet with Firefox, listen to music and podcasts with Rhythmbox, read my feeds with Liferea, and chat with friends on IRC and Pidgin. I download stuff with Deluge and watch videos with Totem, or burn them to DVD with K3b or tovid. I set up wminput to control the system with a Wiimote so I can control video playback from afar. My laptop is a TabletPC, and I've configured that to work fairly well.

In terms of unique apps for end users, there really aren't any off the top of my head. Much of the purpose of Ubuntu is to offer people a standard desktop free of charge. Some people swear by apt-get, but software who's only purpose is getting more software is a little to meta for me. I suppose it does integrate with X11 apps better, but that may be a liability for a long time Mac UI user. The UI is closer to Windows than Mac, and I presume it will annoy long time mac users as much as Mac annoys me.

Inkscape is a really neat open source vector art program. I find it a bit easier to work with than Illustrator, though there's still room for improvement. Anyways, the OSX version uses X11 which is pretty damn annoying, but works fine within Ubuntu. Plus the icon theme is better ;)

I suppose playing with desktop effects is fun, but maybe not often productive. The one interesting effect I've seen is called "colorfilter", which uses shaders to map colors. It's primary purpose is to display colors similar to how a colorblind person would perceive them. It's good for testing presentations and software for colorblind accessibility.

Oh, and if you're into multimedia, check out Ubuntu Studio (package ubuntustudio-desktop will bring in all their stuff). It's purpose is to bring together a set of tools and configuration suitable for video and audio processing.
posted by pwnguin at 7:29 PM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Some good advice here already-- ktorrent and amarok are both superior to anything available in OS X.

Otherwise, I find the two OSes very comparable in most respects, except for price. But then, you've already dropped great sums of money in Apple's coffers, so that's not really applicable here.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:30 PM on November 9, 2008

Well, linux makes me think of the LAMP stack, so mess with configuration an apache install along with mySQL and php. (Granted, you could do those things under OS X, some things are different, but the general idea is still the same.) Linux also makes me thinks of the terminal and shell scripting. (Granted, you've got bash as your default shell under OS X and can do pretty much anything there that you'd do under Linux.)

You could try your hand at all the free software equivalents of what you use now (AbiWord/ for Pages and Gnumeric/ for Numbers, etc and see how they stack up).
posted by Brian Puccio at 8:31 PM on November 9, 2008

There's alot of good insight here. Unless you're adventurous and install ubuntu to a system to give it a few months of trial, just stick with what you have. A virtual machine won't really let you get into the nitty gritty of day-to-day tasks, even though you can poke around for a very cursory glance.

I'll be a bit contrary to pwnguin and tout the apt-get/debain/etc. software repositories mindset of software installation which is part of many linux distros. In a nutshell, nearly all of the free and open source software available (firefox, desktop games, replatements for quicken, server software, etc.) has been put into a big database for any ubuntu desktop to download and install using one interface. No googling for freeware, no trial nag screens, no charge for useful software. It's a big change over windows/mac mindsets of acquiring software and upgrades -- and, for me, it was really appealing.

Any software itch you want to scratch? Ubuntu hands you the fork.
posted by cowbellemoo at 10:18 PM on November 9, 2008

I'm not trying to piss on the parade here, but for pretty much everything that's spiffy about Ubuntu as a desktop OS -- apart from a few exceptions already mentioned -- is obtainable natively in OS X. Want a nice LaTeX setup? OS X gives you lots of options. Want to mess around with LAMP? OS X gives you plenty of options.

I went from a dual-boot Linux/Windows desktop setup to OS X, because I got all the command-line backend goodness along with the front end Apple goodness. Plus, most of the pre-OS X annoyances about Macs went away.

Having Ubuntu on a different machine from your Mac is great: you can wangle Time Machine backups over the network that actually work. Seriously, if you have the money, buy something like a Shuttle barebones system, put a big disk in it, and install Ubuntu on that box. Use it as a file/backup server, do screen-sharing for remote access to the desktop, go hog-wild.
posted by holgate at 10:48 PM on November 9, 2008

I would second the recommendation of obtaining a cheap (used is fine) PC, wiping it clean, and installing Ubuntu on that. You could use it as a web server or a remote backup for files to start with, both of which would greatly "improve your computing experience". As others have noted, running a virtual Linux setup is useful if you have certain tasks in mind, but isn't really going to get you much of a feel for the capabilities of the operating system. Once you have a remote server running though, you can also use something like VNC, NX Client or SSH with XWindows to interface with your server from your Mac (or any computer you happen to be at). Instant backup and file storage accessible from wherever you happen to be.
posted by sophist at 11:38 PM on November 9, 2008

I agree with holgate. I have an Ubuntu server that I use as a backup disk for my MacBook. Any Linux-specific software I want to play with I run using remote X access, software running on the server and the display handled by my Mac (which works out great, as the server doesn't have a decent graphics card at all).

Also, bottlebrushtree - running OS X with a virtual Ubuntu to run virtual Windows? Eeps. Just use Crossover or Virtualbox to run Windows apps, why add yet another layer of virtualization on top of what is already there?
posted by caution live frogs at 6:20 AM on November 10, 2008

« Older Help me understand this glucose tolerance test...   |   How do I get started coaching youth baseball in... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.