By Kurt Hartman

If you’ve been involved with the IT community at all, or are even a serious internet addict, the chances are high that you have heard of Ubuntu Linux. If you have heard of it, then the chances are also good that you have considered installing the operating system, and playing around with it a little.

If you did install it, say, 2-3 years ago, chances are, things didn’t work properly. I mean, things that “just worked” in good ole’ XP, failed you entirely. You then did what you could to get rid of it, and vowed never to get involved with Linux ever again.

I would know, as I had similar problems the first time I ventured into the land of Linux. Here is my dim recollection of that moment.

I don’t remember the first time I heard of Ubuntu. I only remember a few things about my experience installing it for the first time:

  1. It installed fairly quickly.
  2. I could never get my wireless card to work properly.
  3. They forced me to fix things via the command line
  4. I messed around with “sudo this’ and “sudo that” to no avail.
  5. I ended up having to reformat my entire hard drive to get rid of it.

Fast forward 2 years. Ubuntu is running as the only OS on my machine. Ubuntu_LogoWIreless works perfectly, as does printing, and most other features that are available for my laptop. In fact, most everything that I install works well. I never have to even look at a command line if I don’t want to.

What changed? Well, Ubuntu improved, and drastically, I might add. Everything from stability, to usability and driver support are approaching windows-level compliance. In many areas, Ubuntu has surpassed Windows, especially performance.

If you feel like giving it another try, I can guarantee that you won’t have the same problems with it that you did last time? Why? Well, for one, Ubuntu has added a Windows based installer to newer distributions that allows you to install and remove Ubuntu like a standard Windows application. No more accidents where GRUB wipes out all record of your NTFS partition, and makes Vista unbootable. What’s the name of this magical program: Wubi.

How am I so sure that it is easy to use? It took me 15 minutes to get my friend’s PC dual booting the other night. It installed Ubuntu as a single file. It also defaults to WIndows on boot, unlike Grub, which usually defaults to the latest kernel, and puts XP after 3 or 4 other kernel choices.

By minute number 30, my friend was running Linux versions of his favorite kubuntuprograms, like HandBrake and Audacity. He even discovered the newest version of KDEnlive for his video editing needs. The only issue that we had resolved itself on the next boot. His wireless card was not working. Ubuntu found the driver, and installed it on reboot. Happy day. No command line (except for the commands I learned, and wanted to issue, instead of going through graphical menus), and zero extra configuration.

Look, it’s not an easy choice to try something again after you were burned. I suggest you do, however. If you can find the courage to try Ubuntu again, you have a pleasant surprise waiting for you: It comes in 3 flavors, based on the window manager of choice.

  • Ubuntu – Gnome
  • Kubuntu – KDE
  • Xubuntu – XCFE

I’m going to go ahead and say that for 98% of you, vanilla Ubuntu is the way to go. All of the bells and whistles have been thoroughly tested and integrated to work with Gnome. The eye candy is great, and it just feels very polished. The only downside is that the performance requirements for all but the very oldest machines may be a bit too much.

Of the 2% of you that may want to run something besides Gnome-based Ubuntu, 99% of the 2% won’t want to run KDE. On the plus side, it feels a bit more like a Windows based operating system. Except for the fact that it isn’t nearly as user friendly as regular Ubuntu. There are some KDE diehards out there, but I’m not one of them. I don’t have much more to say about KDE as a window manager.

If you have an older machine, XCFE is lightning fast. It takes up relatively xubuntulittle ram, is a great compromise, and runs most things fairly well. If you don’t need alot of extra graphical polish (read: minimalist) then Xubuntu may be the way to go.

Now, I’m going to really confuse you. How? Well, if you really like a classy looking Linux install, with all the support of Ubuntu, and all the flair of a professional graphic designer, then you want Linux Mint. It’s based on Ubuntu, and customized with versions of programs that have been altered to fit the Mint distribution. They can be a few months behind the latest Ubuntu distribution, but there is no doubt that it is a great distro.

So, now that I am through gushing, why don’t you try downloading it, burning it to a disk, and giving it a once through using Wubi. Oh, and if you have problems with sound or wireless cards while using the Live CD, don’t be so sure that you will have that problem when you do a full installation. 9 times out of 10, those problems are fixed in a full install.

So, go get your favorite pocket protector, strap on your safety glasses, and take the plunge. It will be nearly painless, and totally worth it. You can find all the extra info you need at Ubuntu.com.

I’m off to download a podcast, and get a cup of coffee. For the record, coffee has burned me once or twice, but that hasn’t stopped me from drinking a pot or two a week.

Kurt Hartman is an open source advocate, and has save thousands of dollars for his company by implementing open-source solutions. He currently serves as Head of Web Development for Mobile Fleet Service Inc.

Their website, located at http://www.buybigtires.com, sells mining tires, along with tires for industrial and agricultural use.

In his spare time, he enjoys reading business related books, and gaining a greater understanding of geopolitics

His recommended reading for any industry is “The Black Swan”, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.