Six months ago I published a provocatively titled post called 10 Reasons Why I’m Done With Windows which outlined how and why I converted my wife’s ancient laptop to Ubuntu Linux from Windows XP, when the latter crashed spectacularly. The piece attracted a LOT of comments from both Linux fans and detractors, ranging from ‘Your post reads like any Linux Fanboy rubbish. ‘ to ‘I had the exact same experience, and all my family members (wife and kids) use Linux without problems.’ A real cross section of opinion.
I thought it might be valuable for any other people thinking about the transition if I returned to the subject after a period of time to demonstrate how things are going. So here’s our six month report card on what it’s like for a general non-geek type to use Ubuntu Linux over the long term. A real live case study from the trenches.
[Caveat: Before I start, I'm aware that she has the benefit of having me close by to sort out any niggling problems with the move and day to day operation, but I should stress that my involvement so far has been no more or less than it was when she was running Windows. In other words, I search forums for answers, make suggestions and do small tweaks if she gets stuck. And I am definitely no Linux expert by any means!]
I also thought it would be a bit of fun to get her own words on the subject, so I put on my tech journalist hat and actually interviewed her with some simple questions to get this report. I have paraphrased where necessary and added my own comments underneath each response, responding from my point of view.
Question One. What do you use your laptop for?
My Wife (MW): Audio editing, as well video and photo editing, my audio library and practice player. I also use it for the Internet including a fair amount of shopping – <laugh>. I use it every day for Facebook, and also for Skype chats with my sister, and I listen to BBC iPlayer, Internet radio, and print postage from time to time. I don’t play games.
My Comments: As I said in the original there are a ton of replacement programs out there which work as well, if not better, than the Windows equivalents. What was surprising to me, as tech support, was how little familiarisation she needed to get using the new stuff. I expected much more of a problem, which hasn’t happened. It may sound strange that she is doing video and audio editing (using Audacity and Kdenlive) but she is an opera singer (quick plug for an outstanding Wagnerian lyric soprano for any opera impresarios out there) and so she does a fair amount of work with her portfolio. I don’t touch it (she won’t let me!). The photo editing also proved less of a problem than I thought, because she’s actually fine with using Gimp, which I think is amazing. I’m not that fond of Gimp at all, although it’s been a while since I looked at it. Firefox and Thunderbird have worked flawlessly since day one.
Question Two. What did you notice first after the switch from Windows to Ubuntu Linux?
MW: It was MUCH faster. Of course I had to get used to the new layout, but the mouse moves so much faster, and the menus and everything else is so much snappier, almost hysterically more. Also I really like the menu at the top left of the screen, it makes it very easy to use the programs and find files. Everything you need is all there, so it’s easy. I also like the cute little African song it plays when starting up, much nicer than the Windows one.
My Comments: We are talking a very old Gateway laptop here, so the *significant* increase in speed is not to be sneered at. In effect she’s gained a brand new spec laptop out of an old one, simply by installing some free software. Pretty cool. One very interesting thing to note is the fact that the other day she upgraded from Ubuntu 10.10 to 11.10 for some reason and came running in to me in annoyance because the interface had changed to Unity. I had to revert it to the Classic 10.10 look, because she *really* didn’t like the new way of doing things. So is that a familiarity issue or is Unity really that bad?
Question Three. What do you like most/least about Ubuntu?
MW: Most – the big speed improvement and the simple layout of the main screen are both great. It’s also nice not to have all those pop up screens <dialog boxes> happening all the time like in Windows. Oh and the Ubuntu version of Microsoft Office <LibreOffice> is SO much better than the Microsoft program. It’s easier to use, you can add photos much better and other stuff. MS Word was always a bit wobbly. Least – There are some things you can’t run in Linux, or at least I can’t get them to work, like Spotify or Touchnote <a photo postcard app>.
My Comments: The LibreOffice love was a big surprise, I didn’t realise that she had even used it in anger, but apparently she’s used it to design posters and other things. I also didn’t appreciate the fact that Ubuntu doesn’t plague you with dialog boxes all the time. I guess Windows users just get used to having all that junk going on after a while.
Question Four. What do you miss from Windows?
MW: Nothing really, except I’d like to use those programs I mentioned. It’s also sometimes a bit frustrating when it’s not compatible with Windows, like the other day when I tried to buy and print off a coat pattern from the Web and it failed.
My Comments: Even though she mentions it here, the lack of compatibility is WAY less of an issue than I thought it would be. The Spotify thing is some sort of bug in Spotify which won’t install on Ubuntu if you try to integrate with Facebook and Touchnote is a weird browser issue. The problem with the pattern was again a bug on the part of the PDF DRM the company was using to protect its downloads.
Sigh, why do companies do this sort of stupid stuff? In the event I had to downgrade Adobe Reader to get it to print properly, but it took a couple of hours to sort out. One other huge surprise for me is how well Wine copes with installing general purpose Windows programs. I’ve installed two or three Windows programs on her laptop for her, and they’ve run faultlessly so far.
Question Five. What would you like to see changed or added to in Ununtu?
MW: Nothing. Don’t know, maybe if it could help around the house as well?
Question Six. Would you go back to Windows?
MW: I have absolutely no reason to. I’m very happy with my current set up.
Question Seven. Would you recommend Ubuntu to others?
MW: I think I already have on Facebook, when someone came on to complain about their laptop problems. So I guess I would.
Marks out of 10?
Conclusion? There’s no question that making the switch from Windows to Linux is something which comes with a learning curve. It’s not just the interface, but also the way you install programs, find hidden features and get used to a different way of working on your desktop. But that said, it’s now clear to me at least, that the move can be incredibly beneficial, even to a non-technical person who’s only ever used Microsoft’s products.
The vastly increased performance on elderly hardware, the improved stability of programs like LibreOffice and the massive improvement in security all mean that Linux, and in this case Ubuntu, has a real message to deliver to the Rest of Us who still do most of our day to day computing on laptop and desktop computers around the world. As a huge fan of open source software I’m of course delighted, and surprised, but even so I still have a lot of respect for what Microsoft and Intel did to unify the desktop all those decades ago. Things are changing fast it seems.