Playing Linux Again


I think I am falling in “love” again…

(It is reputed that 2% of the computers in the world runs on Ubuntu – a free and open source OS that stands on it’s own against Windows based OS and 90% of the supercomputers in the world runs on Linux. Image source: http://masoncloud.com)

Couple of months ago, my old but robust 32 bit DELL Vostro 1200 laptop got replaced by a faster, more updated 64 bit DELL Vostro 3500 laptop. I had no other choice; the old laptop was not powerful enough to run Oracle databases (which was needed in some part of my work) – it was slow and running out of disc space too. So, I managed to get a more powerful laptop but there was a catch to the whole deal. The OS that came with the new laptop was a 32 bit Windows XP. On the onset, it akin to a Ferrari attached with Kancil tires – right there with the right hardware but not with the right software.

Running a 32 bit Windows XP on a 64 bit machine posed some problems – drivers for some of the laptop component was hard to get and even if we got the right drivers, it was not working all the time (Wi-fi can be detected but cannot be connected and I still have words “missing” from the screen).

The 4GB RAM that came with the laptop was only recognised up to 3GB by the 32 bit XP (thus wasting 1GB of RAM and 1GB is a lot of RAM). DELL recommended Windows 7 to resolve the issue but we had to consider the cost of licensing and support as well. There was concern that the request to migrate Windows 7 may open the floodgates for more requests to migrate to Windows 7. Windows XP is a great OS but when facing the newer generations of Intel chips and hardware, Windows XP does show its shortcomings at the wrong time.

That is when I was re-introduced to an old friend – Linux.

My colleague who had the same model and with the same OS shared his list of problems with the laptop and he suggested us to look for cheaper alternative (since Windows 7 was costly). After my initial “test” with Linux Mint (which used Ubuntu as its base), I decided to move to 64 bit Ubuntu version 10.10 (the latest of the Ubuntu releases – code named “Maverick Meerkat” – released on 10th October 2010).

I have used Ubuntu before, back in 2006. When my house’s Pentium 3 powered desktop’s Windows XP crashed and continued to give problem, I decided enough is enough and decided to install Ubuntu (version 6.10). But having Linux as the main OS, poses other problems, namely when one needs to install a new program (the latest Ubuntu makes things easier by having a package manager). Getting the right drivers for the hardware under Ubuntu was a major pain in the neck – I had a tough time getting my dial-up modem to work before I could proceed with other updates. Then there is another problem of getting Window based application to run in Linux. Back then, options were limited for newbies when it comes to Linux but things have changed a lot in the last few years.

Ubuntu latest version is 10.10 and a lot of drivers are now supported under the new version. No longer, I had the problem looking high and low for modem drivers and so on. Hardware is auto detected and appropriate drivers are recommended. If there is none, a lot of the hardware and application providers now have a Linux version of their drivers / applications. Installation was breeze but you need to be careful with the partitioning of the HDD.

You can get the installer to run auto but since I had installed Linux Mint (for my testing) – I had plenty of do to uninstall Linux Mint and then rebuild the grub and boot before I can install Ubuntu. Thankfully, there were plenty of leads, guides and clues on the internet.

(Here’s something interesting – 90% of the desktops at Weta Digital ran on Ubuntu Linux for the production of the movie: Avatar. Image source: http://www.slegrand.blogspot.com)

I installed the latest version of Ubuntu together with the existing OS (Windows XP – sadly it is still need to run some proprietary applications) without major errors and been working steadily to fully migrate from Windows to Linux. Ubuntu also comes with “Software Center” which easily provides categories of software that can be downloaded to Ubuntu (categories available is Games, Office, Fonts, Developer Tools, System, Education, etc).

This has helped a lot in getting the corresponding Windows software for Ubuntu (there is another option of installing Windows applications in Linux – by using Wines but I rather get a proper Linux applications for now). More importantly, Ubuntu recognise the whole 4GB of RAM and thus my applications run faster under Ubuntu than under Windows. Understandably, under Linux, the start-up and shut-down of the OS has been lightning speed as well (there is always an error message – some services failing to shut down – when I shut the Windows XP).

To run SQLs on Oracle Database, I downloaded and run Oracle SQL Developer tools (in Windows, I usually use Quest’s Toad). It worked fine. For emails, I am using open source Evolution Mail and for IMs, Empathy IM (Linux Mint on the other hand uses Thunderbird and Pidgin). I am toying with VMWare lately but there is one thing I still not been able to resolve – getting my Firefox to run Java version 1.6 (version 6 update 21).

I managed to get it running in Linux Mint (it took me couple of weeks though) and I tried to retrace my steps on how I did it in Linux Mint but I still could not get the Java up in Ubuntu. I must have missed something but I cannot put my finger on it, yet. I have downloaded both JDK & JRE version and even looked up into the Ubuntu’s Package Manager but recognition of Java at browser level proves to be a tough nut to crack.

This reminds me of the days when I was tinkering with Ubuntu 6.10, almost 4 years ago. Linux has not been an easy OS to use with (even with the latest Windows like, wizard guided installation) but perhaps that is what makes it exciting for software “geek” like me. It can be better than Windows if we are able to get the packages right but you may need to look for it high and low. Sometimes, you may need to rely on an alternative solution.

It is back to doing more research before I can say that I am 100% Ubuntu – this should be an interesting journey.