It’s been several months now since I have switched to Dapper on my Acer Notebook. I always meant to write a follow-up, but never quite got around to doing it. Try a search on quite a few blogs and you’ll find stories on switching to Linux, but somehow a few months or a year later you see the same person talking a lot about Windows-Software and Windows-Gadgets in a way that makes it clear, that at some point they switched back. So I the past months I was keen on seeing whether I got to that point where I just wanted to “get back to good old Windows” – the short answer: it never came. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have any troubles, I did, but I always felt more in control than was the case in Windows which had it’s fair share of problems as well.
So yesterday a new release of Ubuntu saw the light of the day. The plan for Edgy was all along for it to be, well, edgy in terms of new software, lots of beta stuff and changes under the hood that were not as well tested as for Dapper, and they do no plan to offer the same long term support for Edgy as with Dapper. So I was seriously considering skipping Edgy, or at least waiting a few weeks/months. Dapper has been very good to me in the past months, and there was almost no incentive to update. Almost. Because the new Skype release wasn’t working for me (lots of cracks, noises and delays with sound), and I had read that with Edgy most of the sound-related problems for Skype would be magically solved. Then there was the shiny new Firefox2. And the other reason was a demo for xgl/beryl [60MB, avi], the 3D-Window-manager with lots of bells, whistles and, err, productivity enhancing attributes *cough*. But seriously, it has some features that I saw on MacOSX, like scaling back the windows to switch between them etc. I know, it’s been around for almost a year now, but I had never paid much attention to it because I expected it would need some serious 3D-Hardware – until I found out it that it does work on my onboard Intel i915 GMA graphics chip. My inner geek took over at that point, it was clear I wouldn’t wait several months…
So I first took the plunge with my Desktop-machine, that I’ve been upgrading all the way since Hoary (5.04 > 5.10 > 6.04 > 6.10). And the upgrade worked flawlessly. I could also test my firefox profile from the notebook, and see if any essential extensions were missing (no problems there). Skype-Audio was working, too (hadn’t tested it on that machine previously). Then I went ahead and made the upgrade on my Acer Notebook. First of course I made a proper backup and I followed the instructions on the wiki (using the update-manager). During the upgrade process I had one odd error-message relating to atop (a small utility that I had only installed test-wise and forgotten to remove), which managed to shock me a little bit – because it told me that it would stop the upgrade and revert back. Yet watching what it was doing, it seemed to upgrade further. At the end it even told me that it had reverted, yet it was clear the upgrade had went through (luckily). That was about as “edgy” (in the negative sense) as it got. I rebooted (new kernel) and continued check whether everything was working: Sound (ICH6) OK, Wireless & WPA (ipw2200 BG) OK, display/graphics (i915GMA) OK. I installed Skype, audio worked flawlessly. Hotplugging of Disks, Memorycard-reader, Scanner, Webcam, Bluetooth-Adapter – everthing still working. I then went ahead to install XGL/Beryl, and it too worked without much fiddling – and what can I say, it’s really a lot of fun. I then custom-compiled a new kernel for undervolting (saves energy and reduces heat and thereby fan noise), it worked well. I checked out suspend-to-RAM, which was still working (had to add some tweak for beryl/xgl). All in all everything improved for me, I didn’t run into any severe problems, and I am clearly better off now that previously, so the upgrade was really worth it for me (woohoo! wobbly windows, and cube-shaped virtual desktops ;)). Another minor improvement I noticed (which actually makes a big difference to me) were the new fonts which are a lot better readable at small font-sizes. Oh, and the bootup and shutdown times imprived noticably for me – it’s definitely faster than with windows, despite having several services like tor, privoxy etc. started on boot.
Switch back to Windows? No way!
I think I can say the above with certainty now. In the meantime I used some Windows machines here and there, I even mad euse of Dual-Boot on the Notebook once or twice to send a fax (there is a driver for Linux, but it costs money, and is not worth it for me for the few times I have to send a fax). And everytime I use Windows, it feels odd and clunky – exactly the same way that it felt, when I first played around with Ubuntu or other Linux distributions back then. So there really is a lot of truth to the “getting used to” of new Desktopenvironments.
Ubuntu/Linux has better support for my hardware (cardreaders [usb2] are a lot faster, than with Windows, my Bluetooth adapter has more functionality, and less trouble than with Windows, etc.). Aero (which I am not even sure is fully supported by my graphics chip) looks bland compared to XGL (not that this kind of thing is important in a serious way, but it is a fun feature). The improvements that happen in Ubuntu from version to version (which are released sooner than for windows) seem to be things that actually matter to me, which is quite a contrast to the Windows Upgrades which seem to cover things that makes it mostly interesting for Media-companies, OEMs and so forth. And finally, Windows is only a mere naked OS with little useful filler-applications, everything that one uses regularly, and has to hunt down and install separately – maintenance is even worse (though at least most applications do offer some kind of auto-update by now). Compare that to Ubuntu, which has (thanks to the great Debian community) lots and lots of useful software and Installation and Updates are a lot easier than on windows. And finally having a hacker-mindset, I have a lot more and easier access to just about any aspect of the OS. I can automate things with scripts, I can adapt things to my needs. Every hotkey or special functionality maps to some scripts where I can directly see what is happening, and how I can change it to fit my needs. And it doesn’t require a dozen seperate tray-applications and blackbox software that I can’t adapt as with Windows.
Switching back to Windows would be a serious step back and I can’t imagine doing so for any reason. Seriously, I can’t even see any advantages that would really matter to me, which I could weigh against the many benefits of running linux/ubuntu (Of course I acknowledge that there are other contexts and other needs for different people). I am certainly not saying that people should try and switch, but I am encouraging people to give Ubuntu a fair shake for a while, there’s lots to win and little to loose, even when one decides to keep using Windows.