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Tale of Two Operating Systems: Vista and Ubuntu

Last week I had the opportunity to try two new operating systems: Microsoft Vista (Home Premium) and the Ubuntu Linux distribution (6.10, Edgy Eft). I've been using Windows XP for my work desktop for years. When my home computer died, I figured it was time to try out Vista. (At work, our IT folks have been avoiding Vista -- to the extent we're paying a premium to Dell on new boxes to stay with XP. We'll grudingly migrate the business desktops en masse when Vista is more fully baked, our IT team says.) So, I bought a modest mid-range home computer from Dell with Vista. I did add the 2 gigs RAM upgrade, which I think is pretty necessary for this OS. The first time I turned on the machine it took eight or 10 minutes to come up (!) . That wasn't encouraging. But ever since that first slow startup, the new Vista machine has been snappy. The operating system is really pretty. The OS works quickly. I'm relatively satisfied. Only problems so far: I can't get OpenVPN working. Dragon NaturallySpeaking doesn't work on Vista. And I still feel like I can't find anything in their "normal" places -- menu items, system files, etc. The Office 2007 programs look beautiful. I really like the larger buttons -- quicker to use, easier to find things on the menu, just generally more friendly. The new Excel graphing is impressive. PowerPoint is smooth, although some of the new features aren't fully backward compatible with the old PowerPoint. Outlook 2007 also has the new fat buttons, which I like. Save OpenVPN, I'd say I'm pretty satisfied with the new machine. It is snappy (with 2 gigs of RAM); it has a pretty user interface; it is a fine home computer. For kicks, I then decided to install Ubuntu (Linux) on the old XP home computer which had died. My prior Linux experience was all command line using Gentoo, nothing graphical. My intent was to have a spare computer for the kids to surf the web, write papers, play games, and so forth. I dragged home a KVM switch, booted from the Ubuntu ISO, and -- voilĂ ! -- it was done. Matt Cutts is right -- even a cat could install Ubuntu. And Ubuntu runs fast, as fast as Vista on the new machine, and this is on a four year old basic home Dell box. Open Office (the Linux version of Office) is decent. Of course with with Google Docs and Spreadsheets, there's even less need for a full blown Office install at home. My kids (gradeschool age) enjoy playing computer games on the Web. These are typically done in Flash and Shockwave. Installing Flash was easy, but Shockwave just isn't available on Linux. (Please let me know if I'm wrong on that -- my kids thank you in advance!) What folks recommend -- and this is crazy I-- is to install wine, a Windows emulator, then use wine to run the Windows binaries of IE, then install the Windows binaries Shockwave into the Windows IE. Unbelievably, this worked, which is mind-boggling, though (a) the emulation was too slow on a four year old box to make the games acceptable to a kid, and (b) the sound didn't work. So while it didn't truly solve the Shockwave game issue, I'm still blown away by the fact that all those layers of technology worked at all. By the way, the kids' new favorite game (Linux) is Planet Penguin Racer -- highly recommended! Emboldened, I then tossed Ubuntu on an old laptop I use for business travel. This is a basic Dell laptop that's over four years old at this point. The install was easy, though I had to upgrade BIOS to get the full screen, which took a bit of tweaking. And now that old laptop performs great. It immediately found our Windows Samba shares at work. Open Office seamlessly opened up PowerPoint and Excel. Printing worked without hassling with drivers. No real problems whatsoever. My summary? Vista is ready for the home and works great. And Ubuntu is an amazing gem -- easy, fast, and automatic.
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