The Ubuntu experience

Some days ago while visiting Oporto I took the opportunity to also visit one my younger brothers (Edgar Brito) which is studying in a local university there.

Besides dinner, I also had the chance to know a bit more about his life style in this city and one of the most interesting facts was his work methodology that was heavily based on Mac technology. He is a student of civil engineering so most of his work is without doubt related to very windows specific software such as AutoCad and others, so how did he managed to balance his Mac taste with the needed programs traditionally identified with Windows based machines?

Simple - he's using computer emulation through Mac's Boot Camp software.

His machine is a MacBook Pro equipped with 4Gb of RAM and runs several OS's in a breeze using the parallels emulation software.

I have to admit that this work method seemed very efficient as he had complete control over the OS and installed applications. He can also move around his virtual to any other new machines in the future without need to reinstall everything from scratch again. The Mac OS also ensures that he safer than the average windows user when surfing the web so I have to say that this is a very attractive way to work.

Nevertheless, mac's don't really make me happy.

I consider myself a heavy windows user since my work is also based on this platform but the mac way of doing things is in my opinion far more extremist and restrictive than Microsoft ever was.

Time to say that MS as the reputation but it turns out that Apple has the profit of adding all sort of restrictions to their own hardware and software in order to maximize the profit rate for people who want to add more features and hardware.

So, mac's are not really a solution for me but I do miss all the eye-candy sizzling features of the MacOS and wanted to move ahead to a safer platform.

Then I remembered, if I still wanted to try something similar why not Ubuntu?

And moved on to this new OS, or should I say philosophy of life?

A new version of Ubuntu was released recently and this seemed a good chance to try out a fresh and updated version on a fairly decent machine with 1Gb of RAM and a Dual Core AMD CPU (with Nvidia onboard)

For those who don't know what Ubuntu is:
it's an operative system based on linux (debian type to be more specific)

The install of Ubuntu on a Windows machine is quick and painless, all the options are clearly explained and this is pretty fast and straightforward process.

Then I decided to add eye candy and installed the Compiz-Fusion package.

Compiz is an excellent piece of software and turned a perfectly normal gnome desktop into a stunning place filled with motion and intuitive effects.

For those who started with the command line era some years ago and now have the opportunity to see a desktop working in such an amazing way I must that it is simply a dazzling experience.

At the beggining I wished that windows could one day look the same way as I could now see in Ubuntu but then again I simply thought: Why should I wait so long for Windows to (ever) add a similar feature like this?

With Vista, 1Gb of RAM is not enough to keep the Aero look sharp and fluid and behold the way how ubuntu manages to do wonders with such modest work machine.

Happy with my results I looked on the emulation options.

My obvious choice is VirtualBox

This software initially developed by Innotek and recently acquired by SUN microsystems is simply without doubt the best open source emulator currently available for the average home user.

On my opinion, it is a far better option when compared to Vmware or Virtual PC, which may be claimed as better but I think that both of these commercial solutions contain so many usage restrictions that makes me wonder how far are these opinions really accurate.

QEmu is also one my all time favourite emulators due to it's small size but VirtualBox is a champion when it comes to emulate Vista and XP with excellent speed. (an average XP got installed under 14 minutes)

So, installed VirtualBox on my machine - but there was a catch - one of the reasons for using emulation would be support for running USB devices connected to my ubuntu box since most hardware I have only supports to run under Windows.

For this to be possible, I had to install the Personal Edition of VirtualBox, which is free for personal use and enables these features.

Had to use google to find some tutorials scattered around the web and also on the ubuntu forums where other users post details regarding their tests and results.

After installing and configuring VirtualBox - behold a breath taking machine.

Runs smootly, it's safe from viruses and I can run windows specific programs using Virtual Box in seamless mode which make these specific programs like IE or Media Player (for example) work directly on your gnome based desktop.

Ubuntu also takes a lot of the complexity often associated with Linux machines.

It's truly orientated for the users who don't really care so much about using either linux or windows but need good machines to do their daily work tasks.

Look for example on the codecs and drivers questions: most of them are not open source and many linux distributions refuse to add open support for them but ubuntu is not inflexible and will use proprietary drivers (nvidia support for example) whenever there isn't a better open source solutions. Codecs are also installed when you browser a web site that needs them or open a media file without open source codec support.

I like the fact that everything I installed is completely free. No need for licenses or restrictions regarding distribution. I could for example, create my own ubuntu install DVD that contained all my personal modifications and share it with my friends without legal worries - isn't this great?

On my laptop I still use Vista as default OS but my work machine is now running exclusively on this platform which I might say that it makes me by far happier than using a Mac.

Hardware has made such a big evolution that we can now afford to work so intensively on virtual machines and no longer need to make tough choices when it comes to balance work flow with prefered work style

Ubuntu is without doubt an OS focused on the future.


-- Nuno Brito