Monday, June 04, 2007

So what, Ubuntu

About a month ago, I got a new laptop*, which came with Windows Vista. Being one of those people that said, "Oh, I'll never use that pile of kludge," I installed Linux on it. As it happens, there is no single Linux in the same way that there is a single OS X or Windows. Instead, there is a universe of distributions each of which is a collected set of all the bits that make up a functional operating system. I could, if I had wanted to, hand selected and tuned each piece of the operating system and assembled my own 'distro' from scratch... yeah right.**

Eventually I settled on Ubuntu 7.04 x86. Why: 1) Ubuntu 7.04 was the first distro that detected my sound card and my wireless right off the bat. 2) Have to use x86 or you cant run Flash (i.e. no YouTube et al.). 3) Ubuntu is the most popular distro, so I assume it will be decently well taken care of.

Since I'm the first person in my med school class (I think) and the first person in my family to be running Linux, I've been showing off for the past month, and the response I get is "Oh, it's a computer, it works." Having been deprived of the ego satisfaction, I've gotten to feel the same way. After all, what I've got is a rather boring laptop running a collection of programs that are slightly ugly looking knockoffs of the Windows equivalents.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate that can export PDF's at the touch of a button, but it's best feature is that it can edit Word files without screwing up the formatting. Firefox is exactly the same, GIMP is $300 cheaper than Photoshop, if a little underpowered*** I use all of these pieces of software on my Windows computer, and I appreciate them...

But there's no killer app. The closest Ubuntu comes in my experience is apt-get, a program that lets you find and easily install, yes, more free knockoffs of Windows programs.

Maybe in some fields (web servers? security? mathematics?) the programs that everyone wants are written for Linux, but I suspect that you won't see large scale migration at the consumer level until such an app exists for non-computer professional users. Even if Linux programs looked and ran so well that Windows programs looked like the cheap knockoffs, I think people feel more comfortable with something that you buy.

So if any Linux techies are reading this (unlikely) stop chasing the taillights and do your own damned thing.

*: Acer blah blah blah. Basically I wanted a combination of small, cheap, and AMD. I should note that I didn't pick a computer based on
**: Incomplete list of distros I tried: Xubuntu, SimplyMEPIS, Freespire, Fedora Core, Kubuntu, Debian. Note that all of them installed perfectly on the first try from a LiveCD without needing to be told more than what time it was, which is pretty good. Please please don't tell me why each and every one of these is better. I give my reasons above and I'm sticking to them (for the time being).
***: Yes, I've heard of Krita, but as my computer broke down crying when I tried to run Kubuntu, I don't think it's such a hot idea to try out.