It has now been some twelve hours since I began the process of moving over from Microsoft’s proprietary software over to Ubuntu Linux. In this blog entry and the ones that follow, I want to write about why I took this decision and what has happened as a result.
[There is an update to this article written four days later, here.]
I think there are many reasons to make the switch, but here are just a few:
Because I will save money.– Upgrading from Windows XP to Vista will cost me at least £80 (US $160). Much of the software I used on Windows was free (as in beer) such as Open Office, Mozilla and so on, but I also purchased a lot of software. None of it was expensive, but it began to total up. Some of the inexpensive paid software I used to use and which will now be replaced by free, open source software included:
* Time and Chaos – my most recent purchase; a personal information manager (PIM)
* Edit Pad Pro – an excellent text editor
* Diet Organizer – software for tracking health and diet
* The Bat – a powerful email client
* F-Secure – a suite of security tools including anti-virus, anti-spam, etc.
* Carbonite – online backup
* Microsoft Money – personal money manager
* Paint Shop Pro – graphics software
And so on. Each of these cost money and one is constantly tempted in the world of Windows to buy more software. With Linux, this will not be the case.
Because one should put one’s money where one’s mouth is. I have long encouraged the use of free and open source software – particularly Open Office and Mozilla – and Linux is really the next step up. If I’m going to tell people, and particularly the trade unionists that I work with, that this stuff is really great, I need to be using it myself.
Because I can. I tried desktop Linux nearly five years ago — I had a computer built with Red Hat Linux pre-installed and while it worked fine, there were problems with all the peripherals. I could never get my HP printer to work — I even purchased the books on Linux and printers, studied the subject on the web, and brought over a geek-for-rent to work on this and other issues. Eventually, I gave up and returned to Windows XP, a copy of which I actually purchased.
Because it’s the right thing to do. I really don’t believe in proprietary software for the same reason that I don’t believe in proprietary scientific research — open source is the model we have used to further scientific progress for several hundred years and it works very well. The same model should be used for software and is the only way to ensure progress there too.
How I moved
I decided to try the most cautious route available — something that was unthinkable five years ago (the last time I tried anything like this). I read on a blog somewhere that you could actually install Ubuntu Linux directly through Windows. The result would be two operating systems side by side, with no need to partition my disk or anything like that. (Some of you geeks will tell me that I should learn how to partition a disk, but I also have to work with normal human beings and they will not know how, nor want to, do this.)
So I used something called Wubi and it was really no different from installing any other software on my PC. Took a few minutes longer that’s all. And I had to re-boot twice. But otherwise, an utterly painless experience. As a result, I now have both Linux and Windows XP on my laptop.
This, you may recall, was the Achilles’ heel of my last Linux installation back in 2002. And I had real reason to worry — I needed to have the following up and running instantly:
* Wireless keyboard
* Wireless mouse
* HP Photosmart 7550 printer
* Wi-fi connection to my home network
* Display on 19″ monitor instead of laptop screen
To my amazement, it all worked — instantly, with no effort by me.
All that remains to check out is my external hard drive (for backups), possibly a USB key, maybe my scanner. That will come later.
As I mentioned, I used a lot of additional software, some of which I paid for. One by one, I am now choosing my Linux alternatives — though in some cases, it’s the same software. Here is a partial list:
1. PIM – was Time and Chaos; now: Evolution
Evolution came pre-installed with Ubuntu Linux. I remember it from 2002 as being an excellent PIM, and it still is. Certainly looks nicer than Time and Chaos (and Outlook). I’m importing my tasks and calendar entries as needed — there isn’t a simple and easy way to do this, and it helps, especially with the tasks, to give them a re-think. We’re talking about several hundred tasks.
2. Graphics software – was Paint Shop Pro; now: The GIMP
My first attempt to use the GIMP went very well — someone sent me a PSD file and I had no idea whether I could open it and convert to a web-friendly format (PNG, in this case). It went very smoothly.
3. Office – was and remains Open Office 2
No change here. I even found all my documents — Wubi (or is it Ubuntu Linux?) found all My Documents from Windows and allows me to work on them.
4. Browser – was and remains Mozilla Firefox
Importing bookmarks was very easy, and the program works exactly as it does in Windows.
5. Email client – was The Bat; now: Evolution
The Bat allows the export of mailboxes as Unix mailboxes, so I imported the key ones (emails that need to be answered) and it worked fine, even including attachments. Still need to import the address book.
6. Hours tracker – was TraxTime; now KArm
Yes, I count the hours I work on particular projects. When you have as many employers as I do — I’m told this is called being a portfolio worker — you do want to know how many hours you are spending on each project. I was using something called TraxTime which worked very well in Windows; I’ve found a less effective alternative called KArm which does essentially the same thing — but I’d like something better.
7. FTP client – was SmartFTP; now: gFTP
SmartFTP didn’t cost me any money (unlike CuteFTP, which did) so at least I don’t have the feeling — as I did with The Bat, Time and Chaos, Paint Shop Pro, etc. — that I’ve wasted money. gFTP seems to work exactly the same way, and I’ve already uploaded an image to one of my websites and bookmarked the details. I have lots of websites, so getting all the bookmarks set up may take some time and I don’t think this could be automated. But there are really only a half dozen or so that I will need this week, so we can take this one at a time.
8. Money manager – was Microsoft Money; now GnuCash
To be honest, haven’t tried GnuCash just yet. I’ve set it up, and the procedure for installing and uninstaling software is much easier in Ubuntu Linux than it was in Red Hat Linux five years ago — and much easier than in Windows too. GnuCash has a facility for importing data from Microsoft Money — we’ll see how it goes.
9. Text editor – was Edit Pad Pro; now gEdit
This came up when I double-clicked on a CGI script I’d written in Perl. What I love about this is that it’s color-coded, just like Edit Pad Pro, and free of charge. Yes, I know that real geeks use Emacs, but gEdit looks like something I can feel comfortable with.
To sum up …
So far, so good.
Ubuntu Linux is much prettier than Windows XP, as people have said. (Though Vista and the Mac OS might well give it a run for its money.)
Installing and uninstalling software is incredibly easy — much easier than Windows. (And goodbye download.com — a site I used to visit regularly to find new software for my Windows machine.)
Wubi is fantastic — it made installing Ubuntu Linux no more difficult than installing Open Office.
I still have some orphan software — like Diet Organizer — for which I’ll be searching for a Linux replacement. (Also need something to replace Putty, a Telnet/SSH client I use almost daily, and Skype.)
I look forward to updating you with more details as I progress with this — and meet the inevitable hurdles along the way. Please feel free to add your comments below.