I have fooled around with Linux even before it was highlighted big time in the media. I first learned about Linux back around 1999 when I was reading an article piece about FreeBSD which was a free O/S used for running servers. I thought, “Hey! Cool. Would like to try that!” So I decided to did around the internet to find out more information about operating systems that was free. Somehow, I ended up on a website explaining the concept of Linux and it seem rather intriguing.
Way back then, connection was like the Stone Age with only dial up connection speed that was not even 56kpbs, though it was cutting age at that time. How technology has progress since then! Downloading a whole complete Linux package was just way to painfully slow. I did manage to download some small package from Debian to at least install a command line version of Linux. But I wanted to install a Linux system that had something like a Windows interface. Anyway, I needed to know how Linux worked and decided to go for the popular Red Hat distribution and bought a SAM book with a Red Hat CD installation disk included.
Installation was not easy and there were some caveats as Linux was still rather raw then; you had to get down and dirty with lots of manual configuration including partitioning, settings, as well as determining what kind of hardware you have, especially your graphic card and monitor resolution for the x-windows. If you didn’t set it up properly, you run the risk of burning your screen!
Setting up a Linux was not easy and it was pretty much for geeks and for those who were anti-microsoft (as a way of protest against the market dominating windows operating system of Microsoft). Though Linux has lots and lots of application you could use but they were all rather unpolished though usable.
With the Ubuntu Linux, this looks like it could almost take on Windows as a possible alternative. Almost, because Linux is still a few steps behind Windows. Part of the problem is usually the hardware drivers. Most hardware device manufacturer seldom provide Linux drivers and will have to depend on the open source programmers who will try to figure how it should work together with the Linux kernel. Though there is some shift nowadays as some manufacturer do provide such drivers as they see that Linux is not a fad and will continue to progress albeit taking a bit of the Microsoft market.
The Ubuntu ISO image was a nearly 700MB download and it took me about 4 hours to download it with a broadband connection. The first mirror from Taiwan was a let down with its connection break, though fortunately it broke early on during the downloading process (better that way, imagine your frustration if it broke at 99% download completion!). I decided to try the Hong Kong mirror and it turn out to be a good one with fairly quick connection speed. I chose the AMD64 version since that was what had for both my desktop and laptop system. I also downloaded the Intel version just in case I wanted to install on such a system too, so that was another 4 more hours of downloading!
After burning the ISO image, and booting up the CD, I chose the live/install which went straight into the live session. It was able to detect all my various hardware without any problem and display a very polish graphical interface. I believe it was using the Gnome graphical interface. Accessing my windows NTFS drive was very smooth too with its auto mount feature. I didn’t have to manually mount any drive, all I needed was to click on the particular drive and it will be mounted automatically and I could access all my files. Back in the early days of Linux, it could only read FAT system, but I guess some pool of programmers finally included it as part of the Linux kernel. Late last year when I tried out the Freespire Linux, it could not read NTFS file system. I guess the open source community finally got together to implement that one out.
What’s the use of using Linux if there is no good software to go together with it, right? Instead of stuffing in hoards of software and application, the guys at Ubuntu chose a few good ones instead. For office productivity, they use Open Office, for browsing, they have Mozilla Firefox, they even have a multi instant messaging platform which I used it to connect to my MSN messenger account. By trimming off excesses, the whole package could fit into one CD, unlike some of my previous Linux installs, like my Mandrake Linux installation some years back which required 3 CDs to complete the installation! Now it is lean and mean and just providing only the necessary stuff. I think it is good to have a few good software applications then to have hoards and hoards of free open source software trying to outdo each other.
I don’t know whether it has come to the stage where if you want to install a software that was not included in the package, all you need to do was just download it and click at it just like the way it is done in windows rather than trying to figure out that you will need to link to this library or type in some cryptic code to make the installation work. Hopefully it will come to that stage in future, that would really make M$ really worried. (I think they are already! After all Linux has been capturing the server market share from Windows!)
Installation in my desktop was a breeze, but installing it on my laptop was a problem as I had run out of partition to install Linux. I think it was because the type of partition table used. I just learned that there are two ways to store partition table information. The new version called the GPT (GUID Partition Table, but what the hell is GUID anyway?) can have more than 4 primary partitions on a disk, while the older MBR (Master Boot Record) version could only hold a max of 4 primary partitions. You need to have at least two primary partitions to install Ubuntu Linux; one partition is for the swap file, while the other is for the ext file system. I find it strange that it must have primary partition in order to install, as previously I could install Linux in extended partition including the swap file onto an extended partition. I guess I will just skip installing Linux in my laptop for now.