Linux on the desktop has largely had an image problem with being ‘too hard’. And a few years ago, this was largely true – in comparison to Windows, how much configuration did you need to go through to get a working install in 2004? If anyone has been reading APC magazine in 2007, you might have read through veteran Linux journo Ashton Mills’ monthly piece ‘Open Source Challenge’ and felt intrigued at Linux’s (Ubuntu in particular) resurgence in usability. There were a few rough edges – but how does Linux as a desktop OS stack up in 2011?
I’ve relegated my Windows partition to the side (only to play games, of course!) and put myself in the shoes of a “new Linux convert” and used the same (or similar) tests, grading each step from A to F as 2007’s Open Source Challenge to see how Linux really stacks up as a viable option in 2011.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I’ve been using Windows since I was introduced to my Dad’s old laptop at age 4 (Windows 3.1 still brings a tear to my eye), but I’ve fiddled around with Linux when my uncle brought a bunch of Mandrake (now Mandriva) CDs around circa 2005. However in most cases my love of PC gaming has got the better of me, and I’ve never seriously considered Linux as an everyday OS. Now I’m a first year Electrical Engineering student, and exclusively have used Debian Linux at uni to do programming assignments. This, combined with my reduction in game time, inspired me to give Linux another go. I installed Kubuntu, then Debian on my MacBook, and recently I’ve decided to give my newly built Windows PC the dual-boot flick and…
INSTALLATION – A
First – although the original OSS Challenge used Ubuntu as the distribution, I’m going to go for Linux Mint. Why? I consider it a far better and more polished distro suitable for beginners and advanced users alike. A lot of this can be attributed from its Windows-like task panel and menu rather than Ubuntu’s Mac-like Unity. Sure it’s nice in its own way, but if you like it by all means use it! Most of what I will judge here applies for Ubuntu too, with Mint being based on Ubuntu and all. Let’s get installing! My HDD is already partitioned, so it’s a little unfair… but the GUI for installing Mint (and Ubuntu, it’s the same installer) is fantastic. It’s so much quicker, prettier and more user friendly than Windows 7’s installer. And in most cases it will run at your monitor’s native resolution out of the box – mine never strayed from 1920×1080 even from GRUB! Oh, did I mention how quick the installation was?
FIRST IMPRESSIONS – C
The interface is beautiful. The speed and (lack thereof) memory usage is a refreshing change from Windows. For a new user, it’s almost impossible to fault Mint’s default GNOME theme. Heck, even its default “Metal” theme pulls off a Mac-like look better than Mac OS X, with shadowing, compositing and all (default out-of-the-box AMD drivers appear to support 3D acceleration, as one of the first things I install is Compiz!). So why have I given poor Mint a C? Simple – and this is no fault of Mint itself – but I am grading harshly as it is what would turn a new user away from Linux right from the get-go – the Ethernet connection had an intermittent bug causing dropouts that would not rectify until a reboot. Figuring it was my onboard NIC at fault, I searched up the model number on my motherboard’s site, downloaded a new driver from Realtek, ran a convenient makefile (to compile the driver from source code) and shell script to install it, then sudo bash a bunch of commands to blacklist the old dodgy driver from the kernel. Finally I had working internets! Put a new user with no Linux experience in this situation, and there would be no recourse. Of course this won’t affect all users, but keep in mind plenty of Intel 5/6 series motherboards use this Realtek NIC. The kernel change won’t be fixed until Linux kernel 3.0 is out (and then rolled into new distros).