When you ask a Linux fan “I am buying a new computer, should I get Ubuntu or Windows 7?”, they usually vouch for Ubuntu straight away, many times without considering the actual needs and limits of the user. They usually recur to a slur similar to the following: “Ubuntu is like Windows but much safer, plus you can open Microsoft Office documents, you have Firefox, it is much harder for you to get infected by a virus, and in many ways is easier to use than Windows”.
If that doesn’t convince him/her, they might end up with the classical “you can get cool effects that look like Mac OS X by installing Compiz”.
However, in my personal experience, Ubuntu is not for everyone. I have recommended it before (As part of the Dell-Ubuntu offering), I have heard other people recommend it to others, and I witnessed the Ubuntu-boom when netbooks gained popularity; The return rates were much higher for Ubuntu netbooks as users generally dived in because of the price tag not knowing that what they were receiving was essentially not Windows.
That said, Ubuntu is a great distribution of Linux. I’m sure most hardcore Linux fans would debate me on that issue, however, in terms of usability and getting things done fast, I regard Ubuntu as top of the pack right now.
So I have developed a little insight into the main features of Ubuntu to help newcomers choose whether they want to install Ubuntu or hang on to Windows or Mac OS:
There is no escape from viruses, on any single operating system, however, in Ubuntu it’s much more difficult to get infected by a virus as the system has directory-based, user-based and computer-based security instead of only user-based security found in standard versions of Windows. This means that a virus could only potentially wreck the directory where it has installed itself in Linux, while under Windows it can wreck havoc in any directory it chooses.
Most system file changes under Linux require administrator password which gives you extra control over what is going on with your system.
It is basically the same thing as a Windows PC with the exception of not being tied down to Internet Explorer. Firefox comes pre-installed on Ubuntu, but you can install Chromium (Google Chrome for other OSes) and it is pretty stable nowadays. Flash/audio usually works out the box, unless you have an old computer with unsupported hardware. There are quite a few other browsers you can install from the software installer with just a couple of clicks.
Ubuntu comes with a default audio player called Rythmbox, I am not very fond of it as I am used to iTunes, but it plays your music, has playlists, visualisations, and common functions found in most audio players. One of the problems I have encountered with this audio player is that it verifies your whole playlist every time you open the program, so if you have a massive playlist it may take a couple of minutes to verify each file still exists.
Rhythmbox, banshee and guayadeque are really good open source audio player equivalents and the first 2 allow iPod syncing easily. I tried syncing my iPod Touch a year or two ago without success and found out that there was an encryption system on the iPod Touch which made it hard to sync with anything other than iTunes. Apparently I have been proved wrong as I’ve been told by several people on Google Buzz; You can supposedly sync to an iPod Touch nowadays.
There are several recording programs which I have found easy to use, however, I haven’t found any professional open-source programs that can substitute great sequencers that run in Windows such as Cool Edit Pro, Live, etc.
Comes with necessary codecs for standard video, and if you want to play AVIs and WMVs you can always get the necessary codecs for free. The OS tells you which ones you may need when you try to play an unsupported video. This means: No messing about on-line trying to find codecs hour after hour through spam and adware filled websites.
Well, obviously OpenOffice.org is the way to go with this one. OOo is pre-installed with Ubuntu. I don’t love OOo but it is compatible with MS Office 2003/2007 and gets the job done. It lacks a few features available in MS Office 2007, and doesn’t have a great look-and-feel but hopefully some day the guys will develop a more competitive version.
Graphics Design & Editing
GIMP is a complete graphics editing suite, it can’t compete against Adobe PhotoShop in any way, but it gets the job done, however, it does have a bit of a learning curve if you are used to Photoshops GUI. I would compare it to Paint.Net on Windows. It has layers support and a full set of tools but the interface is not that intuitive.
Programming in PHP
If you are a PHP programmer you will find LAMP has everything you need to get started with about 3 clicks.
Programming in .NET
If you are a .NET programmer you might find MonoDevelop quite useful. You can develop using C# code mostly compatible with Windows. I haven’t tried out Mono on Ubuntu yet as I generally use my Windows box to code .NET but I have heard it is quite good nowadays.
There’s an online community of help and support if you have any issues: Forums on the official website, lots of other independent forums, an IRC channel (or various should I say) on #ubuntu on Freenode: All of it completely free.
Go ahead and try the Ubuntu Live CD before installing it… You can download it at the official website, burn it onto a CD and try it out before installing anything.
Thanks to Mark Skinner who resolved my questions about iPod Touch syncing on Rythmbox.