Do you Ubuntu?
December 1, 2008 12:23 PM   Subscribe

Is Ubuntu right for me? Thinking about switching from Vista -> Ubuntu and I want some reassurance before I leap into the void.

So I got a new laptop recently. It's a Lenovo Thinkpad that came with Vista installed. While I'm fine with running Vista, it does seem a little bloated to me, and it takes forever to start up. I'm wondering if Ubuntu would be a good choice for me - I'm hoping it would be quicker and more streamlined.

I am a pretty seasoned Windows user but I don't have much experiences with other operating systems. I use the lappy for nothing of great significance: surfing the web, listening to mp3s, ripping cds & watching dvds, loading the ipod. Specific program recommendations would be great.

I have a couple (potentially stupid) concerns: If I install Ubuntu, will it be difficult to connect to my wireless network? Is it difficult to stream videos or audio that usually use Windows Media Player or Real Alternative?
posted by gnutron to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Ubuntu should be able to handle most of your uses pretty well out of the box.

Web - Firefox
MP3s - Rhythmbox
Ripping CDs - I wanna say serpentine, but I can't remember the name. Rhythmbox does this too though.
DVDs - Totem (though I prefer xine)
iPod - This may depend on which iPod you have. I've had some success with gtkpod, but I dual boot back to iTunes because of a specific use case (I have a car adapter for the iPod that requires me to run some windows software. That software only plays nice with iTunes so I've given up on using linux for the Pod and I can't comment on how well linux updates it these days).

I had some issues with wireless in the last version but Intrepid seems pretty stable once I got the drivers installed with ndiswrapper. I'd recommend dual booting (or using wubi at first) so that if you don't have wireless working right away you can go back to windows to look for help.

Streaming video/audio works most of the time. I have some trouble with it because I have an AMD64 and flash player's support for 64bit linux is terrible at best. Are you running 64bit? As far as raw videos go, I have no trouble with mpeg/avi, wmv is hit or miss depending on the codec, and I've never tried Real.
posted by valadil at 12:38 PM on December 1, 2008

You sound like a perfect candidate for a Live CD. Burn it, boot it, see how you like the OS and how well it works with your hardware. If you like it you can use the same disc to install, if not you've wasted minimal time finding out.
posted by contraption at 12:44 PM on December 1, 2008

Best answer: I switched to Ubuntu recently when my old desktop died and I couldn't afford to replace it with a store-bought machine. So far I'm loving it—it is very streamlined and much more accessible than Vista. The programs available for it are very, very good, easy to find, easy to install, and do everything you could want (even running the 64-bit version, which is supposed to be somewhat limited compared to 32-bit in the software availability department). The GUI is right up there with Vista/OSX, plus it allows for command-line interaction (which I'm still learning...)

The package management system of program downloading/installation will blow your mind with how easy it is.

To address your concerns...

Wireless connectivity is supposed to "just work" with Ubuntu. In my experience it did, except for the small snag that my router needed to be reset by the cable company. After that happened, though, it's been a breeze.

Video and audio codecs for just about any file format can be downloaded and installed all at once via the packet management setup mentioned above. I have much less trouble watching/listening to what I want with Ubuntu compared to Windows. Flash is a tiny bit spotty, but not so much that I'm frustrated.

VLC Media Player is essential. It will play anything you throw at it, and with panache. I use it mainly for DVD and downloaded video viewing. I like it better than the standard Totem player, but I couldn't really tell you why.

Rhythmbox comes with Ubuntu, and is a very good analog to iTunes. One big plus is that functionality is integrated. I have Amarok downloaded as well as it's a very popular music library machine, but haven't explored using it yet.

Pidgin consolidates IRC, AIM, Gchat, and just about any other chat service out there. It comes standard.

So far the only downside is that the Ubuntu documentation can be frustrating at times, and their forums are not the friendliest place to get your questions answered. Thankfully, I've had incredible luck here on AskMe; there are some Linux champions around here that are extremely patient, generous, and frickin' smart!

So, I'd say go for it if you're up for a 'project'. Learning a new OS takes time, determination, and energy. It's fun to explore, too! contraption is right, try booting a Live CD to see what you think.
posted by carsonb at 12:53 PM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

No need to choose one over the other. Dual-booting is easy to set up and gives you a better idea of what it's like to use Ubuntu than does a Live CD.
posted by sinfony at 12:56 PM on December 1, 2008

You'll be able to find out if wifi works by booting up a live CD or doing a search of the ubuntu forums for "thinkpad #xxx wifi." It's possible that it won't work, or will require some hacky fix to work, but chances are you'll be fine. To have the wifi autoconnect at login, hunt for the checkbox that says "system setting" or the like buried in the network configuration dialogs.

I haven't found anything I couldn't play after downloading a few codecs. There are a few routes to having this covered: a) Mplayer will try and find codecs for any mystery files it's fed, b) you can preemptively download the kitchen sink with medibuntu, or you can use a ubuntu flavor that's more lax with their free software policies like Linux Mint which will install non-free codecs with the OS. Plan A worked fine for me, like I said.

As for bloat, ubuntu's not going to boot up in 20 seconds, but it's pretty speedy. The next distribution release (in 5 months) will be focusing on making the boot time much less. Surfing is easy, just use synaptic to install flash-plugin-nonfree and you're all set with firefox. Rhythmbox is the default music program and handles mp3s and ipods with no fuss. I use Amarok since I like it's extras, but they'll both get music into the ears. Ripping mp3s requires an encoder download, but medibuntu or a synaptic search should fix that. DVDs are also fine out of the box with MPlayer, though personally I like VLC since it has more menu options.

On preview: yeah.
posted by cowbellemoo at 1:05 PM on December 1, 2008

Ubuntu can do the things you want, but you'll run into trouble with media codecs. They're not bundled with Ubuntu due to some licensing mumbo-jumbo, so you need to jump through some hoops to play mp3/dvd/divx/wma/etc.

Luckily, there's a huge amount of info on the web. The basic Google search formula is something like:

ubuntu 8.10 followed by your problem, e.g.,

ubuntu 8.10 play dvd

Wifi will probably '"just work" (at least, it does on my Thinkpad). Contrary to other posters here, I've received quick and helpful answers on
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:08 PM on December 1, 2008

Best answer: Wireless in Linux still really, really depends on what chipset you have.
This document can help you get started on looking up whether your card will work out of the box, require tinkering, etc. It seems the document is updated on an ac-hoc basis, so there might be more up-to-date info on the Google.

The video playback stuff that comes preinstalled with Ubuntu is shitty. If you replace your primary viewer and codec set with mplayer/gecko media player and the concomitant codecs, everything you can throw at it will play, including WMV and RealAudio files, radio playlists, etc. Mplayer and its derivatives come in GUI and command line versions. All of the stuff you need to do the tasks you listed is going to be there up front, and in general these programs are best-of-breed, selected not because the manufacturer has a licensing deal, but because they've been well-received by the community at large. For the rest, you have access to a large repository of software.

Also, there is a stupid unfixed "bug" where if you disable the login/password prompt and opt to autologin, you will be asked for your wifi point's password every time you start a session. Of course there are hackish workarounds -- but in any case, there's no huge advantage to autologin, so as long as you stick to the login/password prompt, your wifi key and info will be stored and accessible automatically.

Speaking directly to Windows experience: generally speaking, you can get away with doing everything you will need or want to do through a windowed graphical-interface, but it's inevitable that at some point you will bump into a situation where you need to go into the terminal and execute a command via a text prompt (at least, there will be times when it is the faster way to skin a particular cat). This is not as serious as you may think, and maybe you have experience with DOS, but it's good to mention this up front, because new Linux users have a trepidation about the command line. The command line-basis is Linux's strongest asset, so the more willing you are to explore that angle, the more you can do, even as an avowed internet/email/music user. (I don't do anything special on my PC except read the web and move files around, but I practically live in the terminal).

Regardless, the Ubuntu Forums are inexplicably populated by people who are just waiting to answer your every question, so help is a click away.

But by all means do as the others suggest and try a Live CD, as you have nothing to lose with that route.
posted by softsantear at 1:10 PM on December 1, 2008

For me, Intrepid was the first release where the wireless just worked, with no messing around. That's on a Thinkpad T43.

Also: I haven't used it, but Wubi (included on the LiveCD) is supposed to let you install Ubuntu onto the same partition as Windows for trying it out. Setting up a true dual-boot with separate partitions is really nice, but is going to mean losing your current Windows install AFAIK.
posted by Who_Am_I at 1:20 PM on December 1, 2008

Try it on CD as others have suggested, or install it and dual-boot using 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!"
posted by notyou at 1:21 PM on December 1, 2008

3rding Wubi. Download and install like any other windows program, no CD burning or partition wizardry needed. Try it. Uninstall if you don't like.
posted by signal at 1:37 PM on December 1, 2008

Definitely spin up the Live CD and give it a go without actually trying to repartition your hard drive or otherwise install Ubuntu first. I found out that my kick-ass video card is not so kick-ass after all, because there is no way currently to get 3D acceleration supported in Ubuntu (at least under Gnome). Running the live CD, I couldn't get any GUI to work.

But if Ubuntu likes your hardware, then you will be able to do all those things you want to do fairly easily, and if you're lucky, you can do it in style.
posted by dilettanti at 2:22 PM on December 1, 2008

ThinkWiki is the one-stop shop for Linux on ThinkPads. I've found it very useful for me (I have an x60t with Slackware 12.0, soon to be 12.1 as I finally stop slacking on the upgrade).
posted by vsync at 2:37 PM on December 1, 2008

Try Songbird for your iPod. I don't own one but I've hear other people say it was the only thing that worked for connecting in Linux.

If you have wireless trouble feel free to mail me. I jumped into Linux/Ubuntu without any support over a year ago and my wireless was the only thing that gave me significant problems ... took me almost 3 months (I gave up, used a usb wireless adapter for a bit, came back, finally solved it) and during that time I tried quite a few methods. Might be able to suggest some ideas.

After a year, I'll never go back, but I'm also still learning. Just yesterday I decided to give KDE ('Kubuntu') another try. As always it's beautiful to look at and hell to use ... but maybe this time I'll work with it a little longer.
posted by mannequito at 2:38 PM on December 1, 2008

Wireless connectivity is supposed to "just work" with Ubuntu. In my experience it did, except for the small snag that my router needed to be reset by the cable company.
posted by vsync at 2:38 PM on December 1, 2008

Data point - both my Thinkpad x40 and T43 have had (k)Ubuntu installed on them since... 7.04? And wireless on both has JustWorked. Of course, kubuntu is a slightly different kettle of fish which you may prefer -- coming to Linux as a Windows admin I didn't overly like the Gnome interface, but found the KDE one to make more sense. So if you don't like Ubuntu on first livecd blush, grab the Kubuntu liveCD and give it a spin -- you may find you prefer it!
posted by coriolisdave at 2:50 PM on December 1, 2008

I did the same thing you are embarking on about a year ago. And I couldn't be happier. For anything that you must must must run in Windows, check the WINE compatibility list in order to see if there's a way to make WINE run it.

Good luck, and feel free to me-mail me if you need to.
posted by deezil at 3:55 PM on December 1, 2008

I've been using Ubuntu since... 2004, and Debian before that. Last weekend I loaded what will be Ubuntu 9.04 onto my laptop, because I like to make sure the stable releases work. I've sorta been floating around the teams, observing and participating a little (games, MOTU, fingerprinting, X, artwork, mobile, kernel). I should probably set some goals for this release cycle... Anyways, on to your question:

Hardware wise, wireless is the most probable trip-up you'll encounter. One wireless chipset vendor in particular (Broadcom) is basically Linux hostile; unfortunately they're also the cheapest vendor. Asking a few friends what to buy for my desktop wireless card likely saved me some trouble. Amusingly, it was far easier to set up WiFi in Ubuntu than Windows. Apparently win2k didn't have WiFi config, so a lot vendors made their own "value add" (more like "value subtract") tools; XP came with a built in tool, but many of those who had something workable for win2k didn't participate. Thus, Ubuntu is able to configure my card out of the box while XP was not.

The wifi auth bug that softsantear mentioned should be fixed in the latest release (8.10) -- I don't think it was highly publicized but if you go to System->Preferences->Networking Config and edit the properties of the connection there's a checkbox to make it a system-wide setting. That should bring up networking on boot rather than login.

Ubuntu includes a lot of things by default in their install; OpenOffice, Firefox, Rhythmbox (music manager / player). mp3 playback is still patented and therefore not distributed as part of the free-of-charge Ubuntu project. If you're at all into online audio and video streaming, the same problem happens on Vista. There's just way more codecs than come with the default, so you have to get a codec pack. Windows Media streaming is usually okay, but I've always had terrible luck with Real.

If you're the sort who rips and burns DVDs then I imagine you won't have much trouble burning a DVD image; Ubuntu publishes Live DVD images but doesn't promote them like the CD out of bandwidth concerns. That should give to a nice view of what's available in Ubuntu without touching the disk, in case your laptop is recalcitrant.
posted by pwnguin at 4:49 PM on December 1, 2008

I'm gonna go with the popular sentiment. I started using Hardy Heron about a year ago when my new job gave me a Lenovo T61 Thinkpad with Kubuntu pre-installed. I'm a programmer but far from a sysadmin type but within 2 days (nights after work) I managed to make it comparable to windows in every way I needed (Gnome, various apps, Desktop tweaks, etc)

I even un-blacklisted the Intel video drivers to give it a chance at running Compiz. That went smoothly.

It's slightly daunting if you go into it knowing nothing but the ubuntu forums are super helpful and for the most part a reliable knowledge base.

I was so impressed that when I recently picked up a Dell Vostro 1510 (very baseline business laptop) I immediately resized the partition to allow a space for Intrepid as a dual boot to Vista Business. I actually only use Vista now for a few choice apps (Acid Pro and Dreamweaver) otherwise, there is nothing Ubuntu can't accomodate, and very well at that.

Be patient and go the dual boot route until you are comfortable enough to divorce Windows entirely. It's a learning curve but not very steep. Networking, system memory, processor utilization and overall resources on both laptops are tremendously faster and smoother than the sum total of all my prior Windows experiences.

To quote Sir Paul: "Step on the gas and wipe that tear away".

You might be scared for a day or two but once you sink your teeth in, I doubt you will want to turn back.
posted by jtoth at 5:11 PM on December 1, 2008


I swear that's how it went down. Everything looked groovy, everything checked out, I troubleshot my ass off, asked around, etc, still no WWW. Finally, desperate, I called my ISP. The guy said, "Oh yeah, hang on, lemme reset the router." He did; it worked.
posted by carsonb at 7:26 PM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

carsonb, wow, what a story. I'm surprised you got anything more than "we don't support Lunix".
posted by vsync at 8:07 AM on December 2, 2008

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