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Monday, April 28, 2008

Almost Linux

I've been itching to switch to Linux for a while now. Unfortunately, I'm really rusty and really lack the confidence that I need to take the plunge. And, I didn't want to go through the hassle of dual booting (although, the solution I'm using now is essentially that). Instead, I've installed Ubuntu 8.04 using the Wubi Installer for Windows.

All I had to do was download the ISO for Ubuntu (actually, the installer offered to do it for me, but with a using DownloadThemAll! through Firefox, I downloaded the whole ISO in about 30 minutes; just put it in the same directory as the Wubi Installer and it'll use that as a local source).

Wubi setup a folder (basically a pretend partition) to install Ubuntu into and copied a bunch of files out there. Then, after a reboot, I let just the install process do its thing and it installed as if it were really installing Ubuntu, except it was installing into the directory I had specified. Then, another reboot and I was done.

The first thing you notice is that you get a boot screen (as if you had a dual boot setup) giving you the option of booting to Windows (the default) or Ubuntu. Once you chose Ubuntu, it loads up and you're in.

So, in the end I was able to test drive the Hardy Heron (Ubuntu 8.04) without disturbing Windows or going through a complicated (and potentially dangerous) repartitioning scenarios.

[UPDATE! 5/14/2009]:
I've dual booted Jaunty (9.04) and have enjoyed playing around with it. I try to boot into it and use it as often as I can. My kids love it and often ask if they can "play with Ubuntu." My youngest was so happy to see my printer's test page come out, he ran over to the fridge, threw down the "art" that was there and put the test page up instead. Guess I'm doing something right...

First Impressions of the Hardy Heron

1. MP3s

I wanted to play an .mp3 (knowing that the codecs weren't installed). So, I found my .mp3 files in My Documents (which Ubuntu was happy to auto mount for me) and double-clicked on. It loaded the media player (don't remember which one comes by default). Next, I got a message telling me that it needed a proprietary codec to play .mp3s and asked if I wanted to install it. I told it to do so and within a minute or two, I was happily playing my tunes.

2. nVidia drivers

Next, I realized that my video drivers were the standard Linux drivers, not the cool nVidia drivers that support 3D acceleration. But I found this out by going into the Appearance control applet to change the eye candy. When I clicked on the middle option (whatever that was - there are three of them), Ubuntu happily told me that I needed nVidia's proprietary driver that supports 3D acceleration and asked if I wanted to get it. I again told it to do so, and after a few minutes and a reboot, I was good to go.

3. Internet Access

I opened up Firefox (8.0.4 includes Firefox 3 Beta 5) and was up and running with no problem. Ubuntu successfully found and setup my (wired) internet connection. I don't have wireless, so I can't comment on that - but you're welcome to if you've been down that road!

4. Wine and VMware

My next thought was to see if I could get my Windows-only programs to run in Linux. This is where Ubuntu let me down. Well, I guess Wine let me down, and VMware frustrated me. Wine was unable to run the apps I needed - not even Internet Explorer (I got it to come up, but with no menus). Also, other apps (some PopCap games, etc.) refused to open.

I wasn't up for the necessary digging and tweaking to get Wine to work, so I opted to look at VMware. I ran into an issue with the vmmon package, but with a little light digging I found a solution to getting that package and getting VMware working. Unfortunately, once I got VMware up and running and ready for an appliance, I ran out of time to actually make it work. But, in my experience with virtualization on Linux, it works just fine. If I get this working, it would (of course) solve my need to get Wine working, and let me run my Windows-only apps on (or rather, in) Linux.

So, if you're feeling adventurous (or even just curious), give Wubi a look and give Ubuntu a try. You might out that it's not as scary as you think it is!


Jonathan said...

The Wireless in ubuntu just sets its self up if the network is already there you just have to click the network icon and select the network you want to join and put in the password and your in. If your using Fluxbox Window Manager then its a little more tricky.

Jonathan said...

If you upgrade to Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope They now have .mp3 and nvidia drivers still missing some video codecs but those are just for windows only stuff so no worries there.