Living free with Linux: 2 weeks without Windows

Can a dedicated Windows user make it for two weeks using only Linux? Preston Gralla tried it and lived to tell this tale.

Other applications

Apart from Office applications, I don't use much software to get my daily work done. I do need to take a lot of screenshots, and Ubuntu's built-in screenshot utility is adequate, if not particularly impressive. You can capture a screen or a window, but you can't capture only part of a screen, something that numerous Windows screenshot utilities let you do. And it saves only in the .png file format, rather than the more common .jpg.

The GIMP image and photo editor that comes with Ubuntu is surprisingly powerful; unless you're doing high-end graphics work, it should handle whatever you throw at it. In fact, it's probably overkill for many simple uses, such as editing photos, because of its complexity. For basic photo editing, a better bet is F-Spot , which also comes with Ubuntu. It offers easy-to-use tools for cleaning up red eye, rotating images and similar tasks.

The Tomboy tool that comes with Ubuntu will be welcomed by people who need to jot down and track notes. It also lets you manage your notes, search through them and create separate notebooks.

The bottom line

For someone who has been using in Windows since the days of Windows 2.0, trying to live in Linux for free was easier than I expected. Although installation was filled with some glitches, once I got it installed, Ubuntu's overall interface and operations was surprisingly similar to Windows, and quite simple to use.

The suite of free software that ships with Ubuntu is quite robust -- the free OpenOffice.org, for example, is an excellent alternative to Microsoft Office. However, if you or your colleagues use markup mode in Office, you'll be in trouble, because OpenOffice.org doesn't handle markups.

Networking with Windows machines may cause problems. I was unable to connect my Linux machine to Vista PCs, and vice versa, although I had no such problems between Linux and XP PCs. It may be my network setup that's at fault, because I've talked to others who have been able to set up mixed Vista-Linux networks. Still, be aware that it might cause you considerable difficulties. The only way to know is to try.

Ubuntu's biggest Achilles heel is software installation and updating. Installing some software was simple, but installing others was so baffling as to be nearly incomprehensible. The same holds true for updates; I ultimately gave up on even trying to update OpenOffice.org.

Will I be giving up Windows for Linux? Certainly not. The inability to work with Word markup, problems with connecting to Vista machines, and difficulty in installing and updating software meant that I'll be using Windows for the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, I plan to always have a Linux machine near at hand -- possibly a netbook or other small laptop, or an older PC. I'll probably use it on a lightweight, older notebook for browsing the Web, checking Web-based mail, and some writing and editing using OpenOffice.Org or Google Docs.

So while you can't consider me a full convert, from now on I'll be more interdenominational when it comes to operating systems.

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Preston Gralla

Computerworld
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