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.

A first look at the interface

It was time to get to work. I first spent time getting used to the Ubuntu interface. By default, Ubuntu uses the Gnome desktop, which at first glance appears spare and bare-bones to old-time Windows users. Where, for example, are all the desktop icons? They were nowhere to be seen, although I could place icons there easily enough.

I didn't need those icons, though, because a very useful taskbar across the top of the screen offered quick access to launching programs, browsing the hard disk and network, and exploring the system and changing system preferences. The top-right part of the taskbar is much like Windows' notification area, and shows the current state of the network connection, the date and time, and has a notification area for alerts about software updates.

The Trash bin, which works like Windows' Recycle Bin, is in the lower-right-hand corner of the screen. And there's a nifty virtual desktops feature built into the interface, so I can create separate desktops -- one for work and one for home, for example -- and then switch between them by clicking the proper icon at the bottom of the screen.

There's no Control Panel, thankfully, and no need for one. The System menu item on the taskbar includes Preferences and Administration submenus, and from each of those, I was able to very quickly change any preferences, and customize and peer into the system.

All in all, I found the desktop familiar, uncluttered and easier to use than the Windows desktop. The interface doesn't feature as much eye-candy as Vista, and is somewhat klunkier-looking. But I got used to that quickly. All in all, it's a very clean, efficient interface. And remember, Ubuntu runs on much sparer hardware than Vista; there's no way Vista could have run well on the T41.

Installed applications

As any Windows user knows full well, Windows doesn't come with many built-in productivity applications. If you want a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation program and so on, you'll generally have to buy Microsoft Office, for several hundred dollars or more -- although there are alternatives such as OpenOffice and Google Docs.

Ubuntu, though, already comes with a surprisingly full set of ready-to-use applications. You won't have to pay for them or even search for them -- they're there, waiting for you. They include:

Office applications: Four components of the OpenOffice suite come with Ubuntu: word processor, spreadsheet, drawing and presentation software. The OpenOffice database is not included.

Browser: The latest version of Firefox comes pre-installed.

Contact Manager: Yes, Windows users, there is a life beyond Outlook. Evolution Mail and Calendar is a solid-mail and calendaring program.

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Preston Gralla

Computerworld

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