Friday, September 07, 2007
My wife no longer does Windows
I rarely post anything about technology here, which is odd since I'm a bit of a gadget freak and have been in the IT business for over 25 years. But I'll make an exception here.
When it came time this week to build a new PC for my wife, I was faced with the choice of plunking down a large chunk of change for Windows Vista, or going the free(!) Linux route. After asking around, it sounded like the Ubuntu Linux distribution was a good alternative, so I decided to give it a try.
I've got to say, I'm sold. More importantly, so is my wife.
First, I had to get my hands on the Ubuntu bits. No problem...I went to ubuntu.com and downloaded the 7.04, otherwise known as "Feisty Fawn". My one complaint so far is the cutesy-poo names they give each release. The download came as a 700MB ISO image, so it fit nicely onto a single writable CD. So far so good.
I stuck the disc into the laptop, and booted it. At this point, I had the option of just running Ubuntu from the CD, or installing to the laptop's hard drive. I selected the install, and in under 10 minutes I was booting from the hard drive. The installation process was as simple as could be with a minimum of questions asked.
When the system came up, I saw that the OS recognized both the wired and the wireless Ethernet interfaces, but the WiFi interface simply wouldn't work. No problem...I plugged into my wired network and fired up the web browser to start searching the many Ubuntu forums for help. I eventually located a thread that had simple and clear step-by-step instructions for fixing the problem, which I learned everyone with the Broadcom BCM43xx chipset encounters. The problem is related to a licensing issue which prohibits anyone from distributing the device driver with the firmware, which is required in order for the card to operate.
After following the instructions to download the firmware and installing something frighteningly called a "firmware cutter", I had the WiFi interface working as advertised. At this point, it was all over but the shouting. See ya, Microsoft.
Next thing I had to do was get my wife's stuff moved from her old laptop to this one. I figured this would be a real ass-ache, but no. Since Ubuntu comes with everything it needs to work on a Windows network, I was able to copy everything over the network from the old laptop with no real effort. Now for her e-mail.
My wife used Outlook Express on the old system, and here's where I had to expend a little bit of effort, and again where some of the online forums came to the rescue. First, I installed Mozilla Thunderbird to her old laptop, which immediately offered the option of sucking all her account settings, address book entries and e-mail into Thunderbird. That done, I copied the new Thunderbird directory to a USB stick and stuck it into the new laptop. I copied the contents into her user home directory, modified the profile to use the new files and fired up Thunderbird. Done.
After that, it was a simple matter of copying over her Internet Explorer bookmarks and pulling them into Firefox on the new laptop. She's been using Ubuntu for a couple days now and has no complaints.
Ubuntu comes with OpenOffice, which handles MSOffice files with no problem that I've seen so far. It's also got a pretty full complement of multimedia software for music (though I had to get an MP3 decoder...more licensing nonsense), and just about everything else for every day use.
Now, if I can just find a version of Turbo Tax that runs on Linux...