Goodbye to Microsoft – Day One

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.]
Why move?
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 — 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.

11 Comments on "Goodbye to Microsoft – Day One"

  1. I think it is only fair to say that you won’t find the first few weeks easy – but it is worth sticking with because it won’t be long before you realise the power that comes with the freedom.
    I dunmped MS software in 2001 – the first few weeks were agony because nothing quite worked like I wanted it to, and I suddenly realised that although I thought of myself as very computer literate, I had a lot to learn.
    Now when forced to use the MS crud in work I hate it, and in any job where I get the opportunity I bring in Linux.

  2. Please post your name (or at least your first name) so I know who’s commenting. Thanks.

  3. almaddin | 22/05/2007 at 09:54 |

    Skype is still there on Ubuntu, I use it too. You just need to add some repositories, like medibuntu for instance.

  4. I just added Skype — but I have no idea what repositories are.
    Skype does not appear as one of the programs Ubuntu lets you download, but the Skype home page does list a version that it specifically labels as working with Ubuntu. I doubled clicked on this and followed the links and it all worked.

  5. Surkow | 22/05/2007 at 10:03 |

    It was a good read but both Skype and Putty have Linux versions. The following article mentions health, nutrition, and diet apps for Linux.

  6. John Scott | 22/05/2007 at 10:04 |

    First day… That brings back memories. I switched to Linux about 2 months ago – I found it hard, every step of the way. Printer didn’t work, modem didn’t work, almost nothing worked – and I had no clue how to fix anything.
    Having said all that, I’m totally glad I stuck with it. I still occasionally have to use a windows machine, and I’m always struck by how slow, clunky, and featureless it is compared to my beloved Linux machines.
    There may be hard times ahead getting used to it all, but it’s really worth sticking with it.

  7. Jimsonweed | 22/05/2007 at 10:53 |

    Still waiting for my Ubuntu Discs in the mail. Im glad to read this and see your having luck may post a blog of my journey aswell ;P

  8. Felix Oghina | 22/05/2007 at 10:53 |

    About the ssh client: it is built in Linux! Just open a Terminal and type
    ssh host -p port
    and there you have it! Also, you can use ssh to exchange files, by opening nautilus and typing in the address bar ssh://host:port. I hope this helps ya 🙂

  9. You don’t need putty, use the SSH command in the command line and it will connect in the same way.
    putty in linux (it exists) is dreadful compared to the windows version.

  10. Dave Smith | 22/05/2007 at 15:01 |

    Congratulations on the Great Leap Forward!
    I took the plunge a couple a years ago and it wasn’t easy. As you said, all the peripherals caused major problems at the time. Personally I still struggle if I have to revert to command line options. Although they’re nice a quick when you know them, it’s back to the books for me when I have to do that. It reminds me of struggling with DOS all those years ago. I won’t mention the DOS version for fear of giving away my age …
    But many of the Linux disros have improved considerably in this area as you have discovered. What is nice is that the more popular versions (Ubuntu, Fedora) upgrade about every six months and so there is a consistent improvement going on in terms of ‘user-friendliness’.
    Just of couple of things you might find useful:
    1. there is an alternative desktop called KDE. If you like pretty desktops then this might be more your cup of tea than Gnome. I am sure Ubuntu will have a way of exercising this option.
    2. Have a look at Bluefish as an alternative text editor.
    3. the Karm that you mentioned now seems to have been upgraded to Ktimetracker. I also did a Google search on ‘Linux time tracker’ and came up with a few other options.
    3. As others have mentioned, there is a Linux version of Putty
    4. I think the site you use for your backup may not cope with Linux. If that is so, I use IBackup which has a Linux option. Have a hunt through the FAQ and they have written a cron job which you can use to upload. This can be varied to also delete old files.
    Have fun!

  11. Hey great Eric!
    You’ll find this invaluable whilst getting your head around Ubuntu:
    If you want to install skype, either download the deb (debian version) from the skype download page, right click on the downloaded file, it’ll offer to install the deb — say yes.
    Otherwise, there are instructions for adding repositories on the link I posted above.
    I’m gonna start writing a Windows refugee guide to getting going with Ubuntu and I think I’ll probably start with repositories — one of the most confusing aspects for converts!

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