Early adventures with Ubuntu

I’ve been thinking about switching from Fedora to Ubuntu. I downloaded the latest Ubuntu version a few weeks ago. Today I took the plunge and booted it up.

First thing I noticed, no wireless networks. It detected my card and it seemed to work, but no networks were listed by NetworkManager. I unplugged the power and went through to the living room to plug in with a good old fashioned ethernet cable. Fairly quickly I found a solution. So back to my desk on wireless.

Appearance

At first glance, Ubuntu is just not as pretty as Fedora. The graphics seemed a bit too Windows 3.1 for me. I switched to one of the other included themes. It was a bit better. I think I’d have to hunt around for a nicer Ubuntu theme. Personally, I think this is a big failure for Ubuntu. In aiming to bring free software to everyone, appearance matters.

For a Windows user, comparing Windows Vista with Ubuntu 8.04, I think Vista wins on appearance. For many users, that’s an important factor. Personally, it’s not a deal breaker, but I will do something about it.

Installing software

The package manager in Ubuntu is streets ahead of Fedora. Straight away it just works. It feels nice and clean. It tells you the expected download time until all your packages have downloaded. It strikes a great balance between the fine grained control I get with yumex and the simple interface of the default Fedora package manager. Thumbs up for Ubuntu.

Proprietary formats

Playing MP3 files, avi files, or any other non-free format is a little tricky on Linux. You need to install software which can be “questionable” in terms of it’s copyright position. Fedora gets round this problem by not shipping any of that software. Instead you grab that stuff from livna. However, livna is not installed by default. You have to manually add it yourself.

In Ubuntu, I tried to play an MP3 file. It asked if I’d like to search for the codecs. Then it warned me that I was installing software from the Ubuntu community. A minute or so later, the song started playing. Whatever magic happens behind the scenes in Ubuntu happens automatically. A big plus for Ubuntu, particularly for new users.

Installation

By default, Ubuntu boots in Live CD mode. So no changes are made to your hard drive. It’s a great option for new users. You can test the operating system. Check all your hardware works. Then choose to install if you want to. It was at this point that Ubuntu crashed. I’m not sure what went wrong. I could move the mouse, and the clock was ticking, but nothing else. I tried a ctrl-alt-backspace to restart X, no luck.

Ironically, I was proceeding with the install when it crashed. Now I’ve booted back to Fedora. I’m still swaying on whether to try Fedora 9 or not. If I do go with Fedora 9, I almost certainly won’t switch to Ubuntu. In Ubuntu’s favour, I already have the CD. I’ll have to go to the local library to download Fedora 9. That might end up being the deciding factor! 🙂

Conclusion

I recommend Ubuntu to anyone interested in trying Linux. I think they work really hard to make it easy to use, and largely succeed. Personally, being fairly experienced with Linux, I don’t think there will be much difference. Package managing is better in Ubuntu. TrueCrypt ships .debs and not .rpms, so that’s a bonus. I’m just not sure if it will be worth the effort of switching.

For new users, Ubuntu is great. Personally, time will tell.

RIP Bennett Robinson

This morning I learned that Bennett Robinson passed away about a year ago.

I met Bennett on a flight from Singapore to Bangkok, he gave me the push to actually install Linux on my laptop. He was running it himself (a man in his sixties), and convinced me it was easy to make the switch. We kept in touch. There was talk of working together on a few projects, but nothing materialised on that front.

Bennett was a real open source evangelist. His business was built around open source software. He presented it as a genuine business alternative to commercially licensed software. It was inspiring to see a man of such experience so vibrantly engaging with the concept.

I’ll be back in Bangkok in a month, so I dropped Bennett an email. It bounced. I tracked him down online to the American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand. They kindly informed me of his passing. He was skiing in Japan when he suffered a heart attack they said.

Bennett left a wife and young children, my condolences to them. Bennett my friend, rest in peace.

Open source and adding value

There has been an interesting shift in Intellectual Property over the last few years. Particularly, the rise in popularity of open-source software. Companies like MySQL, Zend, RedHat, and others are pioneering a new way of doing business. Their core “product”, the software, is freely available. Not only is the product free to use, but you’re free to modify and re-distribute it.

I think this marks an interesting change in focus. What do these companies do to create value? The typical, old-fashioned model is you create something once (some Intellectual Property, IP) and you sell it many times over (Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, etc). Yet these new companies give you the IP for free.

Where many of these companies make money is by charging for additional services. Support, consultancy. Some also charge for alternative licences if you want to include their free software within your non-free software.

Personally, I like this direction. I support the idea of people being paid when they actually do something, rather than being paid many times for the same work. I think music will move in this direction over time, where fans pay for concerts, for events, but not for the music that has already been recorded. Interesting times.

I’ve Been Fired!

This morning I woke up to find an email in my inbox telling me that my volunteer services are no longer required by CouchSurfing.

Apparently I have “fundamental differences in ideology and communication styles”. I’ve asked for clarification on that, fundamentally different from whom. I’m not holding my breath for an answer!

One thing was stated clearly in the email, CouchSurfing is not going open source. Not now, not any time soon. So at last the OpenCouchSurfing campaign has received one answer. That’s real progress I think.

Interesting times… 🙂