Ubuntu 7 - A Viable Windows Desktop Replacement?

Saturday Apr 28th 2007 by Sonny Discini

Why all the hype? A feature-packed OS with a user friendly interface and the stability of Linux. Fire it up and see if it makes a believer out of you too.

Many are resisting upgrading to Windows Vista. Reasons range from performance issues to the general perception of few, if any, value added features. Unfortunately, many Windows users are being forced into Vista by large OEMs such as Dell. By the end of December, XP will no longer be an option when purchasing a new PC.

But what if you had a choice? Would you stay with a Microsoft operating system if you knew that a free alternative exists that provided better stability and comparable features?

People have long avoided Linux desktop distros because of driver support, interoperability issues and limited software packages. While that may have been the truth in years past, the days of Linux obscurity are just about over.

Several Linux desktop operating systems have been rapidly gaining in popularity worldwide. One such operating system is Ubuntu.

Ubuntu has just released version 7 of their desktop and server operating system. After a close look at the ease of use and feature sets, one quickly realizes that the need for Vista or any other Microsoft desktop operating system is waning.

Installation is very simple. Download the ISO disk image and burn it to CD. You not only have a live CD version to take on the road, but you also can install the OS right to your hard drive by double-clicking the “INSTALL” icon that appears on the desktop after booting the CD.

Proof is in the features

As if ease of installation and stability weren’t enough, the available feature sets are excellent. Let’s go over a few of the “must haves”.

Automatix is a GUI based tool used to automate the installation of common applications that people use. After patching up your Ubuntu installation, the very next thing to do is setup Automatix.

Visit http://www.getautomatix.com/wiki/index.php?title=Installation from your Ubuntu host and simply allow the GDebi Package Installer run by clicking OK. Once the install is complete, browse to Applications > System Tools > Automatix. Once you arrive, you'll be faced with a wealth of useful applications to choose from.

Several worthwhile apps to check out are the Firestarter firewall and ClamAV combo. Firestarter offers a very intuitive interface and filters inbound and outbound connections. ClamAV is, of course, the long standing open source antivirus scanner, which is also extremely simple to use.

For those with NTFS hard drives, Ubuntu offers an auto-mount tool that easily provides access to all of your files that reside on NTFS drives.

Ubuntu makes adding the Java JRE browser plugin much less painful than most other Linux distros. No more symbolic links or the like. For proof, have a look at the many browser plugins that can be added to Firefox with a simple mouse click.

Eye Candy Anyone?

Beryl Window Manager
Using Linux no longer requires you to skimp on the eye candy.
If catchy skins are your cup of tea, you’ll be very pleased with the Beryl Window Manager. Ubuntu supports this flashy window manager but you’re going to have to do some legwork to get it running.

First you must disable Desktop Effects by clicking “Enable Desktop Effects”. Sounds strange but trust me, this is how it’s done. Now open a Terminal window by clicking Applications > Accessories > Terminal and enter the following command:

sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list

Add the following line to the top of the file that appears for editing:

deb http://ubuntu.beryl-project.org feisty main

Save and quit. Now back on the command line, type in the following commands, noting that the “O” below is a letter, not a number:

wget http://ubuntu.beryl-project.org/root@lupine.me.uk.gpg -O- | sudo apt-key add –

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get install beryl beryl-manager emerald-themes heliodor beryl-manager


There should now be a shiny red gem in the notification area (Windows refugees, think "system tray") near the upper right of your screen. Right-clicking that icon offers you several useful options.

“Select Window Manager” lets you switch among Beryl, Compiz, or Metacity (the default, plain-vanilla window manager for Gnome). “Select Window Decorator” affects how the frames around windows are drawn. Select Emerald, and you'll get window frames designed with Beryl in mind.

If Beryl runs stably and you'd like it enabled every time you log in, select System, Preferences, Sessions. On the Startup Programs tab, click New. Enter beryl-manager in both text-entry fields and click OK. Now click Close.

Ubuntu offers much in the way of multimedia and office suites as well. If you don’t like OpenOffice, take your pick of the productivity suites available within Automatix, which we covered earlier in this article.

If you have Ubuntu on a laptop and your wireless card isn’t detected, don’t sweat it. Open the Synaptic Package Manager and search for Ndisgtk. This tool, when run, searches for Windows INF files (on disk, etc.) and will attempt to import the settings for use.

After looking around and playing with Ubuntu 7, it’s safe to say that the features, ease of use and stability of this distro may be enough to edge Linux desktops into corporate offices. Given that Ubuntu supports a VMWare-like environment, you can bet that Ubuntu will crop up in many test labs as well.

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