By Tom Ledford | The Practical Computer
I started with the goal to use Ubuntu Linux on my computer exclusively for a week. I wanted to go seven full days without using Windows. I knew the only way I can learn about new software, especially operating systems, is to dive in – to make it necessary to survive using only the tools and software available in my new Linux environment
My biggest challenges
I have been using Ubuntu and Linux Mint for some time now, but not exclusively. I knew my biggest challenges would be Adobe Photoshop and Dreamweaver. They have been the software I use most to make my living! I would either have to figure out how to make the Windows versions run in Linux, or find native Linux programs with their functionality.
I had no delusions of running Microsoft’s Visual Studio in Linux, even though Linux has a Windows emulator. WINE is a Windows compatibility layer that allows you to install and run many Windows programs in Linux. Although I do need Visual Studio for real work, when I’m using it, I am developing software to run on Windows. I can stay true to Linux and still use Windows to develop Windows software. Can’t I?
Dreamweaver and Photoshop have been known to run with WINE, but not the version I use, CS4. I briefly attempted to make the CS4 versions run. It didn’t take long to figure out that wasn’t going to happen any time soon. I need to find native applications to replace them.
My Computer’s Configuration (or Specs for Nerds)
Although Linux will run on just about anything, some programs will challenge an older computer. Netflix streaming full screen is one example. So I thought I would tell you about my baseline environment for my journey.
My computer is a HP Pavilion p7-1380t. It has an Intell Core i5-3330 Ivy Bridge Quad-Core 3.0Ghz processor. It has integrated Intel HD Graphics, 8GB of RAM and a 1 TB Hard Drive. It came with Windows Home Premium 64 bit OS installed. I haven’t added any hardware other than an external 500 GB Western Digital Passport. It remains pretty much the way it shipped. It’s not the most powerful PC you can buy, but it has all the juice I need.
The only significant software I have installed is Visual Studio 8 and 13, and Adobe CS4 Master Collection, which includes Photoshop, Dreamweaver, llustrator, InDesign, Fireworks, Acrobat, Flash, Air, and PremierePro. As a web developer, these have been my bread and butter for years now.
Ubuntu 14.04 LTS
I let Ubuntu’s installation carve out a 150GB partition for Ubuntu 14.04 LTS and I installed it in a dual boot configuration. (LTS stands for Long Term Support). Canonical, the company that produces and provides commercial services for Ubuntu, has committed to five years of maintenance and security updates. That’s as long as Microsoft’s extended support for Windows 7. Did I mention Ubuntu is free? Well, it is. You can get it here: http://www.ubuntu.com/download.
In addition to the 150 GB partition, I configured an 8 GB swap partition for Ubuntu. These partitions sizes may seem small considering the 1 TB hard drive, but with a dual boot configuration, Ubuntu Linux can access the entire drive, Windows files and all, plus the 500 GB Western Digital Passport drive.
Plug and Play Installation
I could hardly believe how easy it was to install Ubuntu. It was actually easier to install than Windows. The installation recognized and correctly configured all of my hardware, including my HP Deskjet 3050, and it is connected to my wireless network! Simple Scan is one of the scanning applications that come with Ubuntu. I simply clicked a button to install it, and it automatically detected the scanner on my Deskjet. The network was easily configured, and I was surfing the web, printing and scanning in no time at all!
After installation, the first order of business was to decide if I could live with the Unity desktop. Linux desktop environments are GUIs (graphical user interfaces), and you can choose among several different ones to install. They control the appearance, style, and operation of windows, menus, task bars, etc.
Cinnamon is the desktop that comes closest to Microsoft Windows. Any Windows user will immediately be able to use it to open programs, and manage files and windows. Ubuntu’s default desktop environment is “Unity,” and it’s quite a bit different from anything a typical Mac or Windows user has seen.
|Unity Desktop for Ubuntu|
|Cinnamon Desktop for Ubuntu|
I wanted to give Unity a chance and learn how to use it before I looked at Cinnamon. I was already familiar with Cinnamon from my Linux Mint computer. It is one of the desktops that is installed by default with Mint, depending on which installation media you choose. But after a little while and a little frustration, I installed Cinnamon. I uninstalled it the next day. It was OK, but I still wanted to see if I could live with Unity. Unity is elegant and minimalist. Somehow that appeals to me. It really doesn’t take that long to learn how to zip right along with it.
Applications are what our real work depend on. Ultimately, whether you can live with an operating system or not, depends upon the ability to find applications that can help you perform the tasks you need to do. Unless it is easier to do those tasks with a new system, there’s no real need to change.
This is the dilemma Microsoft faces in trying to persuade their customers to upgrade. Windows XP remains the operating system choice for 25% of Windows users, even after Microsoft stopped providing support for the OS! There isn’t an alternative that will make a measurable difference for them.
Linux has come a long way in user friendliness. No longer do you need to use cryptic commands or compile programs to install applications. Ubuntu Software Center lets you browse and install thousands of free and paid applications available for Ubuntu.
Arguably, the most important applications are those that enable us to use the Internet effectively. Even more so today, since we can use the cloud for virtually all of our other application needs.
Some people will tell you that you don’t need virus protection for Linux. They say that Linux never gets viruses. While that may be close to the truth, it isn’t the truth. Besides, why risk it when there is an excellent free anti-virus program for Linux?
ClamAV is an excellent, free open source anti-virus software. It is easy to install, but you will also want to install the clamav-daemon so ClamAV will run in the background and can be scheduled to scan your computer. The third piece of anti-virus software is ClamTK, it provides a GUI (graphical user interface) for ClamAV. Although it is technically not required, it makes ClamAV much easier to use.
Linux has always included a firewall. The company I worked for in the late nineties used Slackware Linux ip chains. Then, Linux and ip chains fit onto a 1.44 MB diskette. Ubuntu’s firewall isn’t much different, except for its unassuming name, ufw. UFW stands for uncomplicated firewall. You will want to use gufw though – graphical uncomplicated firewall. Guess what. Neither is complicated!
Ubuntu installs Mozilla Firefox by default. I believe the current installation media installs Firefox 28. At least mine did. If you want to use Firefox as your browser, you should upgrade it to the newest version. Mozilla made major improvements in Firefox staring with version 29.
Google’s Chrome website was the first website I went to after installing Ubuntu. Other than for testing code, I have used Chrome exclusively on all my computers for some time now. But I will say this: Firefox 29 (now 32 I believe) is impressive! It is as fast as Chrome and it has a greatly improved interface.
Either browser will work great in Ubuntu. Using the one your most comfortable with is fine. Unless of course, you use IE.
Linux has never offered as much choice in office suites as it does today. We can thank the cloud for that. All you need is a browser, regardless of the operating system you use, to use Google Apps or Microsoft Online. Each have free versions too.
Another cloud service I use is Dropbox. To my surprise, Dropbox has a native Linux version. It works with Ubuntu’s file manager just like it does with Windows Explorer. You can drag and drop folders and files to and from your Dropbox virtual drive. I also use CloudHQ to synchronize all my cloud drives including Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive..
If you are looking for a more complete suite, with database and graphics programs you can use LibreOffice or Apache Open Office. Both are full fledged office suites. I use both, mostly so I will know both, but LibreOffice installs automatically when you install Ubuntu. I think LibreOffice is easier to use than Apache Open Office, but available templates may determine which one you use. Both suites’ file formats are compatible with Microsoft Office too.
Ubuntu comes with Mozilla Thunderbird, an open source email, news and chat client. It supports POP, IMAP and S/MIME. It is available for Windows, OS X and Linux. You can configure Thunderbird to use any email service that supports POP3. Think of it as a good alternative to Outlook Express. If you use Outlook Express in Windows, you can Thunderbird with the same email address and email services.
Many people use Outlook at work to connect to Microsoft Exchange email. If you do and your company allows POP3 access to their mail server, you could use Thunderbird. But more than likely, they provide Outlook Web Access for remote email users, in which case you can access your work email in a web browser. Of course, you can access Gmail or Outlook.com using a web browser too.
I don’t know about you, but music is high on my list of priorities. I’m a die hard Winamp fan, and I need an mp3 player. Ubuntu comes with Rhythmbox, which fits my requirements nicely. It can also play podcasts and it supports last.fm.
If you are an iTunes user you can use PlayonLinux to configure and install iTunes to run with WINE, or you can use iHomeServer to access your iTunes library in a web browser.
If you want to produce your own audio, Audacity is one of the best audio recording applications for any platform. It is a free, open source application and it is easily installed with Ubuntu Software Center.
VLC is a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player that plays most multimedia files as well as DVDs, and Audio CDs. VLC can also be easily installed with Ubuntu Software Center.
Getting NetFlix streaming to work well with Linux used to be a pain, but since Netflix began supporting HTML5, which includes standards based method to stream video, it is easy to setup. In fact, I wrote an article about running Netflix on Linux, that should get you started enjoying movies just like you do in Windows or OSX.
As I mentioned, Photoshop is one of the applications critical to my work. I have not found a way to use it in Linux yet, but I have learned a lot more about Ubuntu’s native graphics editing program GIMP. GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. Like most Linux programs, it sounds mysterious but it actually has a simple reason for its name, except for the GNU part. That part isn’t simple but it’s not really logical either, so you are welcome to do as I do and just not care. Of course, feel free to google it, if you’re afraid it may come up in a triva game at Buffalo Wild Wings, or at a Linux nerd party (they don’t throw parties, btw).
GIMP is a powerful graphics program almost rivaling Photoshop in its capability. I am still learning how to use it, but most of my Photoshop needs are simple enough that I can already use GIMP for them.
For simpler drawing and diagramming tasks, LibreOffice Draw is an excellent program. It is installed automatically as part of the LibreOffice suite with the installation of Ubuntu.
Ubuntu is easy to setup as part of your home network. It automatically installs SAMBA, a file system compatible with Windows networking. You can connect to shared drives and sub directories from Windows, just like you would to another Windows computer.
With a bit of irony, many early adopters are professional techies with needs for software that cannot easily be met with Linux, but it can meet the need for many developers, especially Andriod and LAMP developers. LAMP stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP. This combination of software is what runs over 60% of websites today!
I still makes sense for those of us that develop for Windows platforms, to use Windows and Visual Studio for Windows, but Ubuntu makes it easy to install a dual boot system along side Windows.
As for me, I am still learning and trying to make Linux fit as many of my needs I can. I have a separate PC for my lab’s LAMP environment to learn more about Linux server administration and development for LAMP. I am still learning PHP and Linux web development tools like Amaya and KompoZer. It seems technologies come at such a fast pace, I will always have new ones to learn and explore.
Come on in! The water is fine. Linux is ready for you!
Linux has finally become a bonafide contender for the desktop. The amount of free, open source software should meet most computer users’ needs. There are also many websites where you can get your questions answered. The open source community is large and friendly. Don’t worry about nerds and geek speak, there are many forums and other helpful resources for newbies where there are no dumb questions. You will be surprised at how they will welcome you.