jb… a weblog by Jonathan Buys

Tough to Turn Down

I’ve been using Linux for nearly a decade now. I first had a guy I met in a Navy school install it on my old IBM desktop. Back then, it was very hard to find the right drivers, and just about impossible to get on the Internet, seeing how almost every modem that shipped with a PC was a WinModem. X11 configuration was error prone to say the least, drivers for the sound card were hard to come by, and out in the rural English countryside where we lived, broadband was almost unheard of. Installing software could be a nightmare. Say I wanted to install a music player to listen to my CDs. The music player would have dependencies, certain libraries that needed to be installed, so I’d go and download the dependencies and try to install them, only to find out that the dependencies had dependencies! So, I’d download further dependencies, and eventually I’d be able to listen to my music. And then I’d try to launch something else, only to find out that in fulfilling the dependencies of the music player, I’d broken the dependencies of the other application that used to be installed and working.

However, on the rare occasions when it did work, Linux was fascinating. It’s been amazing to watch Linux grow over the years, and even more amazing to see the leaps and bounds in the user interface and usefulness. To say that right now, I’m writing this on my laptop, wirelessly connected to the Internet on my WPA2 secured network, listening to my Grateful Dead collection shuffle, while keeping four other virtual desktops open with several other applications running is nothing short of amazing. I’ve been critical of Linux in the past, but within the past six months, Linux on the desktop has really brought it all together.

For example, I’ve got an Airport Express on my home wireless network, with an HP PSC 1500 attached to its usb port. Ubuntu automatically detected the printer, downloaded and installed the drivers, and allowed me to print a test page just now with no frustration at all. I can’t even do that with OS X, not unless I’ve installed several gigs of printer drivers I don’t need beforehand. Scanning works much the same way … plug it in and use it, that’s it.

Ubuntu has finally fixed the dual-monitors problem that bugged me for so long, and Mint (an Ubuntu derivitive) sleeps and wakes up almost as seamlessly as my Mac. Looking at my desktop now I’ve got a ton of free software, in a system that works like I want it to. Given that all of the software I’m using now (with the exception of the IBM apps I need for work) is free, going back to my Mac when Rhonda’s Dell comes back may be harder than initally thought. Time will tell, but the free Linux desktop is becoming harder and harder to turn down.

linux productivity