I am a n00b
November 26, 2007 7:01 AM   Subscribe

I just got a new laptop with decent specs and I want to take this chance at starting fresh. I want a machine that runs smoothly and doesn't have a lot of extraneous crap installed on it. I need advice about getting this set up the way I want it.

Right now the laptop is running Windows Vista and it came with a lot of extra (useless) applications that I will probably never use. What I'd really like to do is get rid of all that stuff and then get the computer set up to run as smoothly as possible with as little clutter as possible. Should I format the hard drive to get rid of everything non-essential, and then install a new OS?

I never used anything other than windows and I'm not a programmer. I'll be using the laptop for web browsing, writing, and playing media (mostly music). Basically I just want some advice on how to set this computer up to be best suited for those simple uses.

I'll likely use Firefox for web browsing and I think I'll try out OpenOffice for my writing/office stuff...but I don't really know which OS will be best for me. I've heard good things about some of the linux-based distributions like Ubuntu, but again I'm new to this stuff so I could use some general advice or pointers in this field.

posted by Caper's Ghost to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm going to catch hell for this, but linux is not going to give you what you want. Unless your laptop is particularly well-supported, things will not work properly without tweaking. Not 'open preferences and check the third box' tweaking, but 'install this package, compile a patch, do some sed stuff halfway through such-and-such file' solutions.

You should install XP and wipe the drive, then be very selective about what you install.
posted by tylermoody at 7:14 AM on November 26, 2007

Ubuntu sounds like it may be a good fit for you, but there are some caveats, namely, hardware support. You haven't mentioned the model of your laptop, but some of the newer wireless chipsets may or may not be supported under Ubuntu.

Otherwise, Ubuntu is perfect for all the tasks you describe, and even web browsing if you're using the laptop at a desktop with a wired Ethernet connection. Ubuntu includes and excellent media player, and the OpenOffice.org office suite. Plus, the default Ubuntu install is quite lean and fast, and you can choose to install extras as you need them, and remove them easily at a later time. Ubuntu won't slow down over time.

If you do decide to go with Ubuntu, you'd just want to download the ISO (CD Image) from Ubuntu.com, burn it to a blank CD, put it in your computer, reboot, and follow the on-screen instructions. Feel free to email me if you have any questions.

On preview: Not sure where tylermoody is coming from, or how long ago he used Linux, but Linux isn't like that at all anymore, especially with Ubuntu. It really is 'open preferences and check the third box'-type stuff, if even that.
posted by bkudria at 7:19 AM on November 26, 2007

2nding tylermoody...

For the average, non-geek user, I can't think of a single advantage of Linux over Windows.
posted by mpls2 at 7:20 AM on November 26, 2007

Response by poster: if you're using the laptop at a desktop with a wired Ethernet connection

I want to access the internet wirelessly.

Here are the specs, I got this one off woot.com.
posted by Caper's Ghost at 7:26 AM on November 26, 2007

For a n00b, use Windows instead of one of the desktop Linux distros. As others have noted, there might be hardware support issues, codec issues for media players, etc., that you can work around, but requires some tinkering and expertise. On the other hand, you'll get to learn all about Linux in the process.

Regarding the crapware that's installed on your machine, I foundthis page after searching for remove toshiba crapware on Google. That might point the way towards what you can get rid of, etc.

Yes, use Firefox with whatever Add-Ons you like (say, AdAware or AdAware Plus). OpenOffice should be fine for basic productivity tasks, etc. Make sure you get one of those free antivirus programs like AVG and an antispyware program like Spybot S&D.
posted by chengjih at 7:36 AM on November 26, 2007

If you need wireless that works out of the box, then Ubuntu isn't for you (unless you're just lucky). I still can't get my wireless to work, and although i'm not a linux guru by any means, I do use it full time at work. Other than that tho, Ubuntu would work for you.

So - 3rding tylermoody. XP is probably what you'd be most comfortable with (unfortunately). You can still use FF and OO and keep a clean machine. Plus, if you're keeping such a clean machine, re-installing XP when your box does get sluggish shouldn't be too painful.
posted by cgg at 7:44 AM on November 26, 2007

Huh. Ubuntu connects to my wireless easier than Windows does. I'd consider it a fine OS for a n00b. Why don't you install Wubi and try Ubuntu out for a bit? Try using it as your only OS for a month, and if you like it, then wipe the hard drive and do a fresh Ubuntu install. If not, Wubi installs Ubuntu so you can just remove it with Windows Add/Remove Programs dialog.
posted by MsMolly at 7:52 AM on November 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I absolutely love Ubuntu, but it sounds like XP Pro is the right OS for you. My laptop is well supported (except Compiz won't work even with lots of fiddling), so I've had a very positive experience.

To keep things running fast and smooth in XP, I'd recommend using the following programs:
Firefox (or Opera if you want more speed and the occasional screwed up web site).
VLC for movies and specific music files. It plays everything.
Songbird for music. It has a more itunes-like appearance and the SkreemR search is awesome.
I don't know if it is just me, but Open Office is just too sluggish for me on XP. I found MS Office faster and easier to use.
CCleaner for maintenance. It cleans up the registry, which is great.
posted by Ctrl_Alt_ep at 7:53 AM on November 26, 2007

With Ubuntu and most other Linux distros, you can boot the laptop from the install CD and test everything before installing. There is no need to argue here about whether or not wireless will work with his laptop. Download the Ubuntu Live CD and try it out. Installing Ubuntu is far easier than installing XP. It's quicker, and there are far fewer dialog boxes where a n00b will be asked to make a decision.

FWIW, I spend far more time fighting driver issues, etc on my son's XP gaming box than I do on my Ubuntu laptop.
posted by COD at 7:55 AM on November 26, 2007

You can probably get rid of most of the useless junk that comes with your system just by uninstalling it via Control Panel -> Programs and Features -> Uninstall or Change. Unless the bloatware that came with your machine is really intensely evil, formatting is probably more of a pain in the ass than you really want right now, as is installing linux, as others have said. So I recommend just uninstalling anything that seems unnecessary and seeing how that works for you.

However, if you want to give ubuntu a try, it is relatively painless to run on a virtual machine under vmware. I have the same wireless chipset as you, and when I tried running the current version of ubuntu the wireless was pretty flaky. Other than that things worked ok. I think the performance in the VM is actually pretty decent, so if you like it, you may not actually feel compelled to install it on your real machine at all, because there isn't much benefit.

As for basic productivity stuff, if you don't want to install things (namely OpenOffice) you can use google docs. I've used them for my (admittedly pretty basic) word processing needs and been totally satisfied. If you don't need to do much formatting while you're writing, you might even be satisfied with a text editor instead of a word processor. I can recommend SciTE for that. It's lightweight and gets the job done. So far between text editors (SciTE, Vim), google docs, and LaTeX for the one thing I wanted to format really nicely, I've gotten by for a couple years without having an office suite installed on my machine, and been all the happier for it.

As for playing media stuff, I recommend foobar 2000 for music, and windows media player classic for video. Foobar is very minimalist and lightweight, and if you're feeling so inclined you can soup it up with plugins, much like firefox. There's a good writeup about that here. Media player classic is included with the handy Combined Comunity Codec Pack, available here.

Re: Ubuntu wireless stuff: The linux drivers for the chipset in that laptop are still under development. The ones included with the latest release of ubunto seem to work fine for some people, but give others (myself included) a lot of problems, so it's kind of a crapshoot at this point.
posted by benign at 8:22 AM on November 26, 2007

Before you do anything else.. the first thing you need to do is check Toshiba's website and see what OS's they provide drivers for. There are some newer laptops that the manufacturer ONLY provides Vista drivers (since thats what the laptop came with).. and provide minimal or no support for loading other OS's (like XP or a linux flavor)...

Personally.. if it was me.. I'd wipe it and put XP Pro on it (assuming it supports it and drivers are available).. I say this because wiping it and starting with a fresh XP install is a great way to "know" your machine is clean. (that way you KNOW exactly what drivers and software is loaded)

Install Windows... go get all your Windows Updates from Microsoft, run a Defrag.. Install all your apps... get some good antivirus (I recommend Nod32).

As for Ubuntu/Linux...... its getting alot better, but its still not quite "there" yet. Sure, its easy to install, but hardware support is still hit/miss. I've got a stack of about 20 different Linux variants here on my desk.. (even the new Ubuntu 7.10) and I do test installs with them on various computers every month or so. I have yet to see a single installation where I dont have to go to a command prompt and run a bunch of long complex commands and tweak individual config files.

Guess what Linux developers.. the average user DOESNT WANT TO DO THIS. .. and more importantly. .SHOULDNT HAVE TO. Apparently Linux developers live at the command prompt, and expect everyone else to too. From a blank hard drive, I can install a Windows XP box, load all my software, get all my hardware/drivers working and never touch a command prompt. When Linux hits that point... then its "ready" for the average user.
posted by jmnugent at 8:27 AM on November 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Recently my old XP machine died and I revived it as an Ubuntu machine. Ubuntu is a very user friendly distribution and has features familiar to Windows users, like automatic notification of OS updates. It boots up quickly, even on my old hardware, so you'll probably notice a performance boost straight away.

Given that I installed Ubuntu on an old machine, there were some things that required bringing up a command tool to get things configured properly, like adding new hardware. When I installed a new video card, the OS did recognize it but didn't configure it optimally. Being a glutton for punishment, I edited the config file to the point where the GUI wouldn't display and I had to drop down into command line mode to fix it. So a word of caution: if you go with Ubuntu make sure you have a backout plan to undo changes before making any changes (a good idea regardless of OS).
posted by hoppytoad at 8:28 AM on November 26, 2007

If you're reinstalling your OS anyway, you might as well try Ubuntu first. Maybe you'll be happy with it.

The bootable try-before-you-install CD should work, but beware that it's slow because it's reading off the CDROM, and those are dog-slow compared to hard discs. The installer runs quickly and without hassle. It will cost you one CD-R and a little time, and you might get something that works exactly as you want, without the danger of viruses or trojans or other malware that could bog you down.

If you don't have an inherent predjudice for an OS already and you have install media for several, you might as well try them.
posted by cmiller at 9:08 AM on November 26, 2007

PC Decrapifier.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:20 AM on November 26, 2007


For the average, non-geek user, I can't think of a single advantage of Linux over Windows.

Then you're not thinking very hard. I can name a few without even trying.

-Almost all software is free of charge.
-Easily install all the software you need, in a consistent manner, from a single source, using (eg) Synaptic.
-Automatic dependency resolution and management, no DLL hell.
-Update all your software at once! Try that on Windows.
-No security problems, no catching a virus from visiting the wrong website or opening the wrong email attachment.
-No parasitic, heavy security software running 24/7 draining cycles away from your real work or keeping one of your CPUs occupied for no reason. Also, you don't pay $50 a year for said security software.
posted by evariste at 5:51 PM on November 26, 2007

Oh yeah: no 20 different idiotic "Windows has done something you don't care about or understand. Click on this message to make this message go away" bubbles every single time you boot. And no DRM subsystem policing you and degrading your computer's performance if you have any hardware that is not approved by the MPAA. And no ability for Microsoft to turn off your operating system or put it into "reduced functionality mode" if they think you're a pirate.

And how about all your accessibility stuff is free, the people building the system care about it, many of the Debian developers are blind, and accessibility is one of the top design priorities for modern Linux desktop environments? How much money do disabled folks have to spend on adding crap to their Windows machines to make them behave?
posted by evariste at 5:55 PM on November 26, 2007

Bottom line, if your hardware has drivers, a picture which is getting better and better all the time, there are many, many advantages for the average, non-geeky user in a polished distribution like Ubuntu.

OP, get an Ubuntu Live CD to see if your hardware is detected and well-supported. If it is, then Ubuntu is definitely a very viable option for you. Don't let the naysayers dissuade you from trying something different, you might love it.
posted by evariste at 5:57 PM on November 26, 2007

I just looked at the Toshiba laptop you bought, Caper's Ghost. I can tell you for a fact that it will work great with Ubuntu! Ubuntu supports Centrino very well right out of the box. It's got the Intel Centrino chipset, which means wireless will be very well supported under Linux, and so will the power-saving/CPU stepping features.

You have nothing to lose, give it a try.
posted by evariste at 6:04 PM on November 26, 2007

Oh yeah, one more benefit of Ubuntu over Windows for an average user: free, seamless upgrades to a new version of your operating system are released every six months, on the dot. How many years was it between XP and Vista? And how much does it cost to upgrade? And how likely is it that the upgrade will even work and all your software will keep working?


I'm speaking from the position of a Mac bigot who can see that desktop Linux does actually have a few things to teach even almighty Apple, like package management. That's why projects like MacPorts exist, to try to bring some of that Linux magic to Macs. If I had a Windows laptop, I'd nuke it and put Ubuntu on it.
posted by evariste at 6:13 PM on November 26, 2007

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