During some quiet time in the office last week, I decided to install Ubuntu 10.4 on my work desktop. It’s a nice 2009 24″ iMac and during the install process I was reminded of the first time I installed Linux ten years ago, which was also on an iMac (‘Summer 2000‘ model). It goes without saying that Linux on the desktop has come a long way, but it wasn’t until this particular version of Ubuntu that I would confidently say that it’s as hassle-free and useful as running OS X or Windows. For me, Linux is a better experience than either of them.
The first time I installed Linux in July 2000, I sent off for a CD of PPC Linux (no longer in business). USB support was experimental, which was a bit of a problem for Mac users, as Apple had switched to USB as their main type of connector. I spent many hours compiling experimental USB drivers from source. I stuck with the PPC Linux distro for a few months, but then SUSE released a much more polished version of Linux for the PowerPC and I switched to that. There were still problems with running Linux on a Mac and Linux desktop applications were still relatively immature but I was happy to use that for a couple of years until SUSE dropped support for the PowerPC chip. Then, around mid-2001, I made the leap to Debian, traditionally a distro for hardcore Linux users and stepped up my game a bit by running the bleeding-edge ‘unstable’ version – I think it was called ‘Sid’ at the time.
Debian was cool and I ran it on my old iMac until March 2007 at which point it was time to move on. I removed the hard-drive, smashed it with a hammer and then placed the whole machine in the bin before hitting the road and never looking back (more or less).
A couple of months later, I bought my first laptop with Linux pre-installed. The Lenovo N100 is a well supported and well built machine – the display doesn’t flop about in the wind like on some cheap laptops. On the whole, Ubuntu on the Lenovo was pretty good although the brightness control never did seem to work very well. When I was given a Dell D430 laptop at work, I took the ‘pesky penguin’ as my wife calls Linux (Lord only knows why!?), off the Lenovo, and offered the Lenovo up to her. No more trouble and strife.
Still with me? Well, as soon as I was given the Dell (about a year ago), I wiped the corporate install of XP (sorry ICT colleagues, but I never have to hassle you for support now, which I would if I was running Windows) and made it a single boot Ubuntu machine. I love this little laptop. Everything works.
Anyhow, the real test was last week when I installed Ubuntu Lucid beta 2 on both the Dell and the iMac. It’s remarkable. Faster than OS X for the applications I use and it uses less RAM overall, too. Ubuntu has ditched the brown theme (about time!) and have adopted a dark default theme with hints of purple. Sounds awful doesn’t it? But it looks slick and everything works great.
Ten years later, with my hand on my heart, I can say the ‘journey’ was worth it. Let it be known, Linux on the Desktop has arrived. I think it’s time that all Educational Technologists in every corner of the world, took a Linux CD to their corporate machine and showed it what a real OS looks like. I guarantee that your day will be more interesting. 😉