10 Simple Methods for Happily Running Ubuntu

Thursday Oct 16th 2008 by Matt Hartley
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Adopting a Linux distro, even a user friendly one like Ubuntu, requires some gumption and a few helpful pointers.

Switching to Linux. We are either talking about it or simply telling people to do it. Yet despite this all this "action," it seems that we have somehow forgotten to include the "how" when it comes to this life changing switch.

In this article, I will not only demonstrate how it can be done, I will provide you with the tools to make it happen after for your household after you finish reading this.

For those of you willing to step up, to start off with a can-do attitude, making the switch is not so much difficult as potentially troubling. For example: being told that some non-compatible hardware or habits will need to be dropped off at the curb. Yet there are ways to make the switch painless.

1) Stop expecting the OS to behave like Windows.

Seems obvious enough, yet for some reason, new users expect – no, demand – that Ubuntu run with the same perceived ease as Windows. Here is an important question – do these same individuals expect OS X to run like Windows?

Why not? Perhaps it’s because the same user was asked to buy a new hardware product that looks and feels very little like a Windows box. So it is safe to say that much of this belief system is in the heads of many otherwise tech-savvy newbies.

The solution: treat Ubuntu with that same respect and understand that you – not it – will need to do some adjusting. This is not to say that Ubuntu, among other distributions of Linux, do not do things that seem mindlessly foolish sometimes. But in the end, you have the freedom to fix any boneheaded problem dropped onto the OS.

Whether this be through hiring a programmer to create a fix for you or simply choosing to do it yourself should your skill set allow. Because in the end, if it’s that bad, switch to one of the distros based on Ubuntu that are not as bleeding edge. Even better – stop upgrading with every new release! Stability is in the control of the system admin.

So to make this simple: find the release that works for you and stick with it. Think this is mad? Why do you think Windows XP users are so hesitant to upgrade? Because it works well.

2) Look at the Windows sticker on your PC.

Read it very slowly: which OS is it clearly designed for? Well, in most cases its Windows XP or Vista. This means that installing Ubuntu on it is a complete game of chance. This is not through any fault of Ubuntu’s creators, rather due to the fact that you are expecting Ubuntu to flawlessly detect everything – while knowing fully well that most of the hardware detection was done as a community effort with little involvement with hardware vendors.

With Ubuntu, you’ll find that 99.9 percent of everything works really well. I mean, I not only have USB headsets, a wireless guitar for the Wii, and a Bluetooth dongle along with my Wacom tablet on a box with Ubuntu 8.04, I’m writing this on a dual monitor setup that was configured easily using a GUI tool called Nvidia-settings.

Clearly, the user must examine what they’re trying to get out of their Ubuntu experience. Are they willing to put the money they would be spending on an OS into a compatible HP all-in-one? Or a wireless USB dongle such as Zyxel G-220 (any version works)? Or the Edimax ew-7318usg (no revisions to worry about).

These devices work out of the box and devices cost a lot less than a new notebook PC, too.

Now to be fair, I’m not going to say that wireless is all that great with Ubuntu. Not because the support is not there. Quite to the contrary.

No, the problem is the consistent effort to support people who cannot read the OS compatibility sticker on their computers and realize that it may be best to move beyond their integrated Broadcom chipset. Those struggling with Intel chipsets, however, are forced to either use the provided drivers or blacklist the Intel modules themselves. Only then, can Intel users enjoy the fruits of the two USB alternatives above.

3) Get to know the proprietary software alternatives.

I cannot emphasize this enough: Ubuntu users must learn what the open source alternatives are to the applications they’re missing from the Windows front. Obviously it helps to have a point of reference, so here you go.

Take GIMP for example. It’s comparable to Photoshop on a number of levels. You can go to your application's menu and run the app as it’s installed by default on Ubuntu already.

Clearly, GIMP feels very different than Photoshop, so it’s totally understandable that you might want to either go to a source such as GetDeb.net to find the latest version (which has provided some usability improvements). Or, just break down and purchase a copy of CrossOver Office to run your beloved Photoshop in a Windows-compatible environment.

Speaking for myself, I long ago decided to spend some time with the open source alternatives rather than spending more money on closed source apps. In every instance, I not only learned something new that I could then teach to others, I found that the expected learning curve is not as big as people expect.

4) Gaming on Linux should remain native.

Face the fact: Windows games don’t play as well in Linux. This undeniable, so expecting various programs that use WINE to play Windows games in Linux – and hoping for a seamless game – is naive in my opinion.

This is not to say that some people will not have limited success. But the reality is that this success will not come without a bunch of tweaks and hours of frustration. So what’s the fix? Simple, either dual-boot carefully or use dedicated machines for both Ubuntu and Windows. I am sorry for being so blunt about this, but it’s the truth.

Now that the truth is out there, it should be noted that Linux gaming is really beginning to pick up steam, thanks to efforts within the open source community and from those who port proprietary games over to Linux.

So to put it bluntly, to support native games, buy a console system like the PS3 or just game on the Windows platform if the above native gaming options do nothing for you.

5) There is no such thing as a malware proof PC.

You read this right, there is no way in the world that any OS, even Ubuntu Linux, is going to provide you 100 percent protection against silly user mistakes or outward malware aimed at creating problems for your computer.

To this day, there are simple one-line commands I can convince most people to click on, in a script form, that will hose their installation of Ubuntu. If that’s not considered malware, then I don’t know what is. Clearly, being aware of what you are installing, executing or clicking on from the Web remains as important as it does in Windows.

6) Get a CrashPlan.

Backing up your system is key, even when you are using Ubuntu. It you think this isn’t important, try losing your data when something goes wrong with a software update and you forgot to partition your home folder onto its own partition.

Which application is best? Some users might point to one of the various open source products for data backup, but without any question in my mind, nothing even comes close to the value provided by CrashPlan. It can either be free for local PC-to-PC backup or you can pay a premium for offsite backup. It’s cross platform, secure and it actually works. I highly recommend it.

7) There is no free lunch.

One of my biggest pet peeves are people who can afford to pay for open source products or services, but choose not to because it’s not mandatory. Then to make matters worse, they throw a fit when the project goes down the tubes or is not updated very often.

While it may seem like it’s not a big deal supporting those projects we benefit from, just remember that it is free as in freedom, not as in a free ride.

8) Be willing to relearn what you think you already know.

This is definitely a sticking point with most people trying to make the transition over to Ubuntu. These individuals cling so tightly to doing things on a PC as they always have that any deviation amounts to personal anarchy.

It’s important to remember that Ubuntu is not going to be like other operating systems. As a Linux distribution, it has laid things out in such a manner that it will undoubtedly seem foreign at first to some people. But diligence will pay off. And believe me: not only has Linux saved me big dollars over the years, learning as much as I could about the OS has even proven to be profitable to some extent.

Take the time to learn all you can as time permits – your Ubuntu experience will benefit from the effort.

9) Upgrade/update when it makes sense to you.

From a security perspective, it would be irresponsible for me to sit here and tell you not to upgrade your system. After all, Ubuntu updates are there to help you with your computing experience, right?

Sure, so long as you understand that just like a Windows update gone wrong, Ubuntu updates in some cases do create problems that were not there previously.

My best advice is to setup your updates to alert you to them, then install them after ensuring that if the update goes badly, recovery is only going to take a few minutes to restore your system. The other option is not to bother with updates, while being aware that you could be putting your system in jeopardy.

The simple fix is to clearly backup and research updates before installing them. You would be surprised what a few well-placed Google searches can turn up.

10) Make the commitment.

Using any distribution of Linux, Ubuntu or otherwise, is about commitment. Most people that switch from Windows to Linux have no idea what they are in for.

I myself had a revelation a few years ago when I first tried Red Hat, and later started using Debian. In each instance, I found myself tempted to turn back. And to a lesser degree, I continued to use Windows as I learned about what made Linux tick.

Today, I like to think I am fairly comfortable with almost any distribution of Linux. I find myself quite at home troubleshooting most Ubuntu issues as they arise.

My advice to those who want to try Ubuntu is to use the Wubi installer. And for those who know that Linux is the way they want to go – no matter how difficult they might perceive it to be the next day – I suggest a dedicated installation with VirtualBox or VMWare providing a Windows guest installation.

While I may run four Linux boxes, I still find that having access to a Windows install is handy from time to time. Not so much for the software, but rather to serve as a reminder as to how far I have come as a computer power user.

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