When friends and family ask me what kind of computer to buy, I don’t hesitate in recommending a mac. I won’t mince words: Apple makes the best operating system and their hardware, especially the laptops and the iMac, is second to none. But what about folks who might not have the budget for a new mac but still want to get away from Windows, viruses, and spyware?
Several years ago, before my house became an all-mac place to be, I happily tinkered with early releases of Ubuntu (and other distributions of linux) but it intimidated my wife and, to be honest, didn’t have the broad hardware support for things like wireless cards in laptops to make it easy to get up and running right out of the box. That, dear readers, has changed because my mother is now happily and productively using Ubuntu 7.10 on her Dell laptop. More on that in a minute.
If you’re patient, Ubuntu will mail you a free install CD (that’s how free it is–they’ll even pay for shipping!) or you can download the disc from their website and burn it yourself. The disc is actually a “live” CD, meaning you can boot your PC off the disc and try out Ubuntu for yourself before installing it. This is a no-risk no-obligation way to see if you like it. If you do, on the desktop is an “install” icon, double click it and off you go to a life rid of Windows. Ubuntu will partition your existing drive to keep your Windows install if you want to, so you can have the option to boot from either operating system at startup (and be able to keep your existing data and software, should you need it).
Firefox is installed by default for browsing. OpenOffice.org is there for word processing, presentations, and spreadsheets. And any other types of applications you might need are available for installation from Synaptic, the “package manager” Ubuntu uses to add and manage software. If your computer use does not depend on proprietary software like Photoshop (though there is a very capable open source image editing application, GIMP), everything you do with your computer is likely already there waiting for you.
Which brings me back to my mother and her laptop. She got a great deal on a used Latitude D600 and the cost to add a copy of Windows XP and Office would have more than doubled the cost of buying the computer. So I suggested giving Ubuntu a try.
Her primary uses of the computer are web browsing, email, and word processing — tasks which Ubuntu handles with aplomb. The installation was smooth and painless — her wireless card and even the laptop-specific volume keys above the keyboard worked right away.
After installation, I got the requested software updates, put icons for Firefox and OpenOffice on her desktop, added some pictures of the grandkids for her screensaver, installed video codecs and flash with Automatix, showed her how to connect to wireless networks with the network connection applet in the top menu bar, and turned her loose. Not a question or complaint from her since, just happy use of her computer!
If you’re frustrated with Windows, give Ubuntu a try. There’s a new version being released in April, 8.04, that should bring even more polish to an already impressive operating system.