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Almost Ready to Switch from Windows XP to Ubuntu 7.10

October 25th, 2007 · 1 Comment

Getting to know U(buntu)

Shortly after the second version ever of Ubuntu was released, I heard some buzz about it. While I was impressed with the graphics and general feel of it, it failed the “Dad test“: could my Dad use this if I just gave him the CD? At that point, probably not, and in a bluntly honest way, probably not still today. But in three years, Ubuntu has matured dramatically.

I’ve been experimenting with Ubuntu on a PC equipped with an AMD Athlon 64-bit 4000+ processor with plenty of RAM. The motherboard has on-board graphics and AC97 sound. So if you’re familiar with Ubuntu, you’re probably already noticing two problems: lack of graphics drivers, and the 64-bit processor support. I want to feel like I’m at least using my hardware to its fullest. The thing is, 64-bit operating systems require 64-bit software.

Some programs work in both 64-bit and 32-bit without needing code changes, some don’t. I tried Windows XP 64-bit edition free (and you can too). It was a complete nightmare, but 64-bit Ubuntu wasn’t much better. For starters, 64-bit Adobe Flash was non-existent, which is a major deal breaker for casual desktop computing. If YouTube doesn’t work, and worse can’t work, it fails the Dad test.

Installing Ubuntu

As for the graphics, the restricted drivers manager in the last two releases of Ubuntu has done an adequate job of installing the correct driver if the graphics card was not supported using free (as in speech) linux drivers. In fact, the latest version – 7.10 – should include expanded graphics support out-of-box. However, when I installed from the live CD, the graphics driver didn’t work properly still. My screen was limited to 480×640. Yuck. The problem was the installer dialogs take up more than 640×480! I couldn’t see the buttons I needed to click, and I couldn’t drag the window into a position where I could. Since my friend Mike and I were installing Ubuntu at the same time on separate PCs at an informal sort of LAN-party, I could still install Ubuntu by using the keyboard shortcuts as I saw them on Mike’s laptop screen. But I doubt a noob that didn’t have a nerdy friend to reference would be out of luck. So I was able to maneuver through the install dialogs, and the install started.

I formatted the disk and allowed Ubuntu to cleanly install. Mike chose to use the manual partition settings to preserve his Windows XP and (ugh) Windows Vista partitions. My installer completed with no problems. Mike’s appeared to, but on first boot, he noticed that the operating system selection still listed his Ubuntu 7.04 installation even though he tried to install over the previously installed copy. He was able to boot, but for some reason when he would restart, the shutdown meter would be displayed off-center on the screen, and the machine would hang right before the shutdown process completed.

Even after trying with three different external wireless cards, we couldn’t get Mike’s laptop to connect to my wireless router. The router doesn’t broadcast it’s SSID and uses WPA, so I think this contributed to the failures. We also didn’t try to connect the laptop to a wired connection to look for drivers — we were using it as it installed from the CD. Still, it didn’t work the way we expected it to. Windows XP can connect to the same wireless, using the same cards, using generic drivers. Ubuntu should be able to as well. When Mike booted back into Windows XP, it ran CHKDSK for unknown reasons. Mike gave up on the Ubuntu install for the time we were together and may or may not be still tinkering with it now.

Out-of-Box Experience

Graphics Drivers

Aside from my graphic trouble initially, my install went without a hitch. As soon as it booted for the first time, I was able to run the graphics card updater and immediately I was immersed into the wonderful world of 1024×768 resolution (and I could go higher). The operating system installed some updates, and it was off from there.

64-bit Linux Flash / Java Support

The next thing to try was YouTube. Launching FireFox and directing it to YouTube resulted in the typical prompts to install a new plugin. Adobe Flash appeared in the automatic list of plugins. I hadn’t heard they released a 64-bit Flash for Linux, but apparently, they didn’t and it still works somehow, because it worked right through the browser installation! Just a few clicks and it was installed. Same with the Java plugin — nice.

Shared Folders with Windows File Sharing

One other thing that just never seemed to work for me was the Shared Folders feature. Any time I would configure a shared folder, I would always have my password rejected when I tried to connect from another computer. I googled this extensively, and people offered various rather complicated solutions involving editing text configuration files. I tried these and they didn’t work for me. This miserably fails the Dad test. My Dad would probably never need to share folders anyway. In Ubuntu 7.10, I seemed to have the same trouble. But I googled it again and found this gem buried in a message board:

sudo smbpasswd -e

This worked like a charm for me. The strange thing is, this command is supposed to re-enabled a disabled account. But in fact, I was trying to enable everything from the beginning. Perhaps the Shared Folders dialog should also do this by default? Or Perhaps others don’t have this problem. In any event, it’s all good now! This was a major step for me, because I have an old PC running Windows Server 2003 just so it can serve me files stored on its enormous hard drives (1TB, about 800GB used). Sure, I could have just installed Windows XP and shared the folder that way, but how hard is that? One thing I like is efficiency: Server 2003 has less overhead than XP and is more secure. I don’t even have a monitor hooked up to it, so I don’t need any user eXPerience. But now, it might make sense to just through those drives in the Ubuntu PC so I can decommission the old PC and save some electricity. Though that PC has been with me for 10 years, and I’ll be sad since we’ve been through a lot. Makes me think about how Dell used to make good computers; those were the days. But I digress — in summary I’m pumped that I can share between my Linux and Windows systems easily now.

64-bit Linux VMware Player

I hit another snag though when I tried to install the VMware Player through the Add/Remove… menu, but apparently there is no 64-bit version. Hopefully with all the money they made from their IPO, they can make a 64-bit Linux VMware Player. But for now, no dice. The good news is, I found out about VirtualBox, and the best part is, it’s free (as in beer), and it worked just fine for me without with two little bugs before I got going. I got an error that said, run the command below, so I did what it said:

sudo /etc/init.d/vboxdrv start

I tried it again, but now the error was different:

Failed to start the virtual machine

The VirtualBox kernel driver is not accessible to the current user. Make sure that the user has write permissions for /dev/vboxdrv by adding them to the vboxusers groups. You will need to logout for the change to take effect..
VBox status code: -1909 (VERR_VM_DRIVER_NOT_ACCESSIBLE).

Result Code: 0x80004005
Component: Console
Interface: IConsole {1dea5c4b-0753-4193-b909-22330f64ec45}

I checked the permissions of that file by running:

ls -lrt /dev/vboxdrv

And I saw that the owner of the file was root. So I changed the owner to myself:

sudo chown /dev/vboxdrv

I tried it again, and it worked. I was able to install both Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

Making the Switch?

Suddenly I realized, why do I even really want to Windows anymore? Just to hedge my bets, I don’t think I’m quite ready to switch completely yet. But seeing the most recent version of Ubuntu is impressive to say the least. I can actually start to see myself using it now. But more importantly, I could see it passing the Dad test some day — possibly soon. To make things even more interesting, Ubuntu 8.04, due out in April of 2008, will be a long-term support release, the first since Ubuntu 6.06, and the second ever, meaning that hardware manufacturers that bundle Ubuntu will be able to enjoy the new features of the steadily progressing 2007 releases.

Ubuntu Linux is becoming a serious competitor for desktop computing now that its capabilities are being expanded. If Microsoft pulls another Vista with Windows 7, Linux and Apple may move in to dominate the markets. Or, in my socialist dream world, Linux crushes both Apple and Microsoft and collective cooperation triumphs over capitalism.

What do you think of Ubuntu 7.10, and what would you like to see in the future?

Tags: Computers · Skippy Stuff · Technology

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Saskboy // Nov 2, 2007 at 11:15 pm

    Ubuntu passed my Dad Test, but he’s built computers since the 70’s.

    I found your blog by accident, looking for a funny domain name I thought no one would pick 😀

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