Ah, that old bugbear of anybody who has tinkered with their computer (read: “Most Gamers”), re-installing their operating system.

For the sake of brevity I will not get into too much detail unless needed, or dive too deeply into the technical stuff. My hardware in this case is an older machine: A Dell Latitude C610, PIII 1ghz, 256mb Ram, ATI Radeon Mobility M6LY 16mb.

Please note: This is NOT a step-by-step folks, it’s a first impressions type thingy… step-by-step MIGHT follow later on…

Most of the tech savvy has installed at least one flavor of Windows in their lives. I am no tech guru, but I am more adept than most people who do not make a living of computer support, and yet the XP installation is still something I only do when really necessary.

Pop in the XP cd and you will be offered a range of options. It is pretty straight forward until you get to “Your Computer Will Reboot Automatically in…” after which your PC reboots for the first time.

Here is the first obstacle. REMOVE YOUR DISK BEFORE YOU REBOOT!

Sheesh. I tend to drift into a daydream while the XP install does the file copy thing, and when it automagically reboots I forget to remove the disk time and again. Since the PC bios is set to boot from CD for the installation process I get dumped right back into the start of the installation.

Reboot manually and remove disk. Right, basic setup now continues and you get bombarded with EULA and question upon question. Boot into Windows proper for the first time, and now the fun starts.

And there I have a vanilla XP installation: Almost no Codecs, Instability issues (a new XP installation in my experience crashes or hangs at least twice in the first day of use), my touch pad mouse lacks functionality, Screen resolution is sometimes wrong on first boot (go figure) and then there is almost no productivity software installed.

We bought the Laptop second hand, so we are lacking the Dell resource CD…

So, what now? Go hunting for a VGA driver on the Internet. On the dell.com website with some hunting we found the resource CD. While we are at it, sommer download XP Service Packs no 1 and 2.

Right, so an hour has passed after I have actually installed XP and I discover that my touch pad sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. I used the default XP firewall while browsing, and go hunting for AVG free antivirus, Zone Alarm firewall, and Spybot Search and destroy. Update them, set them up, scan.

AARGH! I got nabbed by various baddies and spyware. I should know better than browsing the net without these installed in the first place, but I was doing the noob thing on purpose.

Okay, so I download and install Firefox, add on Addblock Pro, and now I should be fine if I keep my updates, erm, updated heh.

Okay, so all this done and the machine is still basically useless as an office machine.

I have a copy of Office 2003, but decide to can it in favor of OpenOffice. Why? Well now, with open document formats becoming mandatory for many governments, and with no support for .odt in MS Office it was a logical choice for me to go open source. Plus there is the painful validation process that I would have needed to go through if I had chosen MS Office.

So this still leaves me without a decent graphics editing suite, PDF editing can be done in OpenOffice by default (take that Microsoft!) and I can now use the laptop for everyday tasks.

E-mail is taken care of by Outlook Express, so if you are not worried about decent mail processing and have no need for a calendar or task management you are set. I decide to download and install Thunderbird for e-mail and Sunbird for calendar. I basically use my Google account to take care of all of these anyway, but for an office an online calendar might not be the best option (read “boss doesn’t like the idea”).

Hokay, two-ish hours gone after I first booted into windows after install and I can basically start using my Laptop for work on a daily basis.

Now Linux.

A quick note. Since I am writing from a nooby perspective (for the noobs among you, that is someone who is new to a field. In this case a less tech savvy person, noobs are also referred to as newb or proby…), I will skip the more demanding distributions such as Slackware, Gentoo or even Debian Sarge.

The difficulty for me is this: Do I go with a distribution that offers a Live CD (booting into the operating system without installation like Ubuntu or PCLinuxOS) or do I go with a distribution that installs much like Windows, like Fedora or Suse or even Mandriva?

Think proby, think!

Ah, let us go with Ubuntu!

Why? People who dip their feet into the Linux pond, (and believe me it’s more of a pleasantly heated swimming pool than some fetid cold puddle…) would lean towards something that is easy to use.

My first Linux try out distro was a live disk after all. Knoppix to be precise. For me the idea of using Linux without touching my hard drive seemed like a good idea.

So, let’s go.

Pop disk into drive, boot. An options menu appears: choose option “Boot or install Ubuntu” (Depending on the age of your Ubuntu the actual wording may differ).

It takes a while to boot, and I find that version 7.04 takes a lot longer than 6.10 to boot. I actually thought that it stalled the first time. Note that I haven’t tried 7.10 yet, I am not one of those that absolutely has to try the newest version out there the moment it ships. I am actually very happy with 7.04 thanks a lot.

Right, so this is an installation comparison, so I click on the “Install” icon on the desktop. It takes a while for the operation to actually happen, since the whole operating system is loaded into my laptop’s paltry RAM, but once it’s up and running the installation is pretty straight forward.

The questions such as Location and Keyboard layout is pretty easy to answer. I especially enjoyed the World Map with key cities that Ubuntu (and most other) Linux distributions provide. Also of help with keyboard selection was the text box where you could test your keyboard layout prior to continuing.

After that you select your installation partition. Now here I stumbled a bit, when I first installed Ubuntu 6.10. I had never dual installed Ubuntu before then, and I found that with 6.10 there was a bug that did not let you continue installation until you manually formatted the root partition.

Root partition? (Yeah, as a proby fresh out of Windowsworld I also wondered at that…)

The root partition is the place where all the operational files of your Linux installation goes. Now here is the first main difference with Windows you will come across. Linux needs multiple partitions. If it will be your only installation on that particular hard drive, you can use “Guided partitioning” with Ubuntu that basically takes care of everything. That will essentially mean that you will have your ROOT partition, and a SWAP partition. See the difference? Whereas Windows resides on one partition, Linux by default uses at least two.

The cool thing is you can specify your (what in Windows would essentially be your “My Documents” folder…) “/home/$username” folder to reside on a seperate partition. Basically it will be called the HOME partition, with a sub folder with your username on it. What is great about that is this; should you ever need to re-install your operating system your piccies and docs and mp3’s and your personalized settings will be just fine.

My bugbear with this is that the (otherwise good) Ubuntu installer assumes you already know all this.

Anyhoo.

Right, sweated myself through my partitioning without (hopefully) wiping my Windows install, and a screen pops up helpfully offering to import my address book, browser settings and e-mail whatnot from my Windows install.

YAY!

I have tried this several times with varying success, but still, how much easier can it get to migrate? Select the pertinent programs you want to import stuff from and click next.

Setup username and password and then the installer kicks into gear.

(sidebar: it seems the partitions are only formatted at this stage…)

It takes a while for Ubuntu to copy the stacks of files from the disk to the hard drive in order to install your operating system. It varies between distributions and exactly how you set up your files. I found Mandrive Live with Metisse to fully install from first boot/live environment/reboot in roughly 20 minutes. Yes that is screaming along. Ubuntu can take as much as 45minutes, but generally takes less. (Remember my specs people!)

After the files are copied and the installation is finished, a helpful dialog pops up that offers me the choice (as opposed to XP) of rebooting or continuing with whatever I was doing before.

Hit reboot and guess what, right before the laptop reboots a message appears that says: “Please remove the CDrom from your drive and hit ENTER to restart (auto 2 minutes)”

Wow, I have often left the Laptop to install and came back a bit later to find the disk drive open, and Ubuntu serenely waiting for me at the login screen.

Nice.

Right, now first steps to make my laptop work ready…

First up I notice (and this I really saw on the LIVE boot, but this is post install comparison time…) that the menu button (the START button in XP) is at the top left of the screen, and that there is what you will know as a taskbar at the top and bottom of the screen. This varies from Ubuntu to Kubuntu and distribution to distribution, but right out of the blocks you realize you are not busy with a Windows clone. This is cutting edge, people.

Getting ready for office work… right.

OpenOffice? There.
Mail Client? There. In fact Ubuntu comes with Evolution, which surpasses MS Outlook for functionality and ease of use. Other distributions use Thunderbird and Sunbird, like what I used in XP above.
Firewall? Apparently none is installed. At first all sorts of alarm bells went off in my head at this, but upon investigation I found it is not really necessary. Go to hunt for one anyway. On an internet discussion group I find that “Synaptic Package Manager” is a software tool that comes with Ubuntu that helps you find software in “Repositories” (basically software libraries) online.

Fire up Synaptic and search for “firewall”. A slew op options pops up and I choose “Firestarter”, mostly because it said “Graphical User Interface” in the description.

Antivirus? Not installed, but also available via Synaptic. I choose “Aegis Virus Scanner” also because it said “Graphical User Interface”.

Now I know that is not the most intelligent way of choosing a what software to install, but I know most people new to Linux won’t be comfortable with using the terminal to set up a firewall or run a virus scan. (As it is I had to run Aegis from the terminal for the first time, no desktop icon…)

Right, chosen my software, hit “apply” and Synaptic sets up my software for me.

Right, next obstacle. Mouse. No, wait, it works just fine thanks. So does most of my special “Function” keys that come with my Dell.

Screen Card. Hmmm… no driver needed, until I wanted to do some OpenGL stuff. Yep I wanted to play Teewars. Go online, nothing found, hit the forums and a helpful posting walks me through a simple change to my xorg.conf file. I literally had to change “ati” to “radeon”.

There are graphical applications that let you do this less painfully.

Total time wasted, about an hour if you count the hunt for a driver setup that allowed me to play games, otherwise about half an hour after first boot from hard drive.

In the corner of the screen an “Updates are available” dialog has been nagging at me since I rebooted. Right let’s update. It downloads about 200ish megabytes of updates, and those are updates for every piece of software installed, from operating system to office suite to Firefox. Keep in mind that SP2 alone is more than that.

Just for kicks I check around for a decent graphics editor, and PRESTO! Gimp. I tool around with it and find I more than meets my needs as a photo editor. I go ahead and can Photoshop et al, some professional graphics editors might want to stick to those, but honestly I cannot fathom why, Gimp is more than their equal.

Suddenly I realize that I have been tooling around the internet sans firewall, Anti Virus and anti Spyware.

With much trepidation I run a virus scan. Nothing. Well almost. On my XP partition Aegis detects some more baddies that AVG has let slip by.

Well, there you have it. All in all, from installing to ready for office work is about the time it takes your machine to reboot. Ignore the lacking firewall and antivirus (with a little work they can be included on your live CD) and you can carry a full office capable operating system around with you on a CD or flash drive, just waiting for a machine to boot it.

So if this were a comparison where I had to choose a winner, Ubuntu would have it. Basically any Linux distribution, depending on how dirty you want to get your hands can better Windows XP in almost any area you choose to compare them.

I am willing to wager that the same is true if you run a comparison between the new Vista and Ubuntu (or whatever Linux you choose). In fact, do a bit of Googleing and you will find that many IT related websites and magazines are doing just that, and are coming to similar conclusions.

So, a lengthy post, and all for now… next up – How to make your own local repository for Ubuntu/PCLinuxOS. Tons of Downloads every time you re-install NO MORE! And I know this has been covered by many people before, but I fooled around with it and actually had some fun!

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