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My Ubuntu

posted 3 Jul 2009, 21:42 by S V Ramu   [ updated 5 Jul 2009, 00:07 ]
I'm on Ubuntu for more than 6 months now! Trivial eh? For me it was a long sweet road, with sweeter prize at the end. Consciously I tried to avoid writing about it prematurely, since I have many time installed linux, only to frustratingly move away back to old windows. This time I started with 8.10 (some how 8.04 attempt failed) as it was released, and even upgraded online to 9.04 without any permanent damage!

Once you stick, Linux grows on you. Off late, I even feel that a strange new OS is becoming more popular than Ubuntu, on other people's PC: Windows. No exaggeration, but I'm so much at home with ubuntu, that even the old monopoly look alien and unatural. Strangely I'm proud that I can feel so close to linux, more so after almost 5-10 years of earnest attempts.

Move to open cross platform tools : Step 1

Sometime back I realized with a shock that migrating to Linux can happen only after I migrate all my applications. Obvious now, but at that time, it was a shock to be forced to accept so much change in the day-to-day habits just for the vanity of moving to a then less usable and less popular platform.


I distinctly remember settling into firefox 0.8 some half a decade before (2004). Before that, I dabbled with the then shiny new (yet already down played) Netscape 6, recognizing that browser addiction is a tough part of the migration. That is when I heard of the new and light-weight software whose name (Phoenix) was in debate. So, I know this baby from when it was named, and I have seen it only growing. Though my attempts with the early 0.6 was not pleasant, I sure have trusted and lumbered on. Now more options are coming, and yet the old choice is still looking good and seriously competing, but more importantly the innovations at Mozilla is seemingly much faster and deeper now (thanks to Chrome?). Ubiquity, Weave, Snowl, Prism, Jetpack, Bespin, Personas, <video>, @font-face,...  man! is the list growing? Anyway, web is lot more interesting now with Google Wave, Cloud, and lot more, but that is a different story.


Migration out of Outlook Express was much more painful for me. Thunderbird was simply not comfortable at that time. After much pain I moved to Mozilla suite. Initially my Internet bandwidth was around 3K/sec (Hutch GPRS over 6610), and the obscure download progress indicator in mozilla mail client was confusing. Soon Thunderbird (TB) took over and I never seriously tried SeaMonkey. I remember the sense of relief when TB introduced global inbox (relatively simple things, but all matters when breaking a habit). The loss of Mozilla suite was mainly in loosing Composer, which was latter compensated by Nvu, and then again by Kompozer. Now, after seeing GMail offline, surely a heavy mail client looks silly. Fortunately there is Snowl (though some of my earlier queries to forums were discouraging), though not fully usable yet. With this, Google Docs is mostly replacing my composer needs (many time TB's new mail editor), more so with spell checkers (and surely we need a standard open editor alternative for the possible Google 'Hegemony').


Then I needed an open, cross-platform spreadsheet app. For many, MS Office is one another serious lock-in into windows. Thank fully the curiously named OpenOffice.org (I remember using the StarOffice 5.2 before) came out, and even Abiword (thus Eric Sink led me to Joel and onwards to developer to entrepreneur inspiration). I was not a serious presentation user then, and when recently Google gave the online version, it was just only right time for me. All I needed was a simple spreadsheet (I'm not into serious macros or VBA). Again off late, browser looks like a decent candidate for being the whole office app (the recent openoffice efforts is not keeping nimbleness seriously in the agenda). One good thing that has come out is ODF, which is now an ISO standard (so is OpenXML, but ODF is relatively more popular), and thus format lock-in of MS is seriously dented.


I worshiped Slava Pestov, and used his jEdit it for long time till its end. I discovered jEdit somewhere in its 3.x version. My initial dowload had a serious copy paste performance problem, and maybe I settled for some early 4.x.

"At this time we were using jEdit text editor. But we were following it from its pre 3.0 stage (at that time it had a nasty bug with copy-paste). jEdit has this nice feature of presenting just the editor for you, and putting all other functionality behind. Being in Java it was inherently slower than TextPad and others, but provided all those functionality in an unbelievable open design. Any new extraneous functionality was a plugin jar, all to itself, but amazingly working together with the rest of the application."

- old article

At that time there was good competition between Jext and Jedit. But around same time, both projects were abandoned when Netbeans 4.0 came about under the heat of Eclipse 3.1 (I remember seeing eclipse as a proprietary company when I was researching jedit, and decided against it, that it is too big and closed). Even Romain Guy of Jext moved over to Sun/Netbeans (and then to Google) and that is when I eyed netbeans too and eventually switching to it.

Java and other things...

After the hard nuts were broken, the other tools like GIMP, MinGW, and GnuWin32, were natural but not ultra important for the eventual migration. Of course Java was a big part of this migration. Sometime back when I switched from Delphi 3 to Java 1.2, and gleefully saw that the same jEdit jar file worked when drag and dropped from Windows to Linux through Samba (It was Red Hat before Fedora and before RHEL then) that I was convinced of Java's WORA.


When all things looked set and ready for my complete Linux embrace, I was using IBM Sametime chat client in my day job. Now I have to migrate from this, and that too convince all who I work with. Fortunately there was Gaim, which was a nice open source, cross-platform, multi-protocol chat client. After some search, and even some buggy early versions, settled on the sametime plugin (now merged with the main release). Going forward, we even installed our own Jive jabber server, and XMPP was a natural protocol for Pidgin. Anyway, as with all things, the browser replaced this too. When my company migrated to Google Apps, the all-in-browser google chat client simply ridiculed any heavy desktop client.

Make the move : Step 2

Even while transitioning the tools to its open cross-platform alternatives, I constantly tried to install the linux itself. Alas, not every developer is system savy. They know code, and algorithms, and of course the computer box, but if they are like me, they will not dare open the PC, or debug windows installation. My theory is, it is not just fear, else it won't be so prevalent, but more to do with hardware cost (what if I break a board or chip?), and more importantly the bad example set by Microsoft in not having enough documents for the system internals.


So, when an linux installation ask me to 'partition' the HDD while installing, that just scares me off. So, many of my tries till 2006 was either mirred by my incomplete (pidgin was the last) tools transition, or my ignorance to the OS installation jargons (primary HDD, IDE, MBR), and that was too much. If even a new machine (so first you need another machine) installation was discomforting, dual boot was literally scary (what if I loose my data). Thus began my minimal education to understand the OS installation, boot model. But all was theoretical and I never dared to test it out.


Then I noticed Ubuntu 6.06 (Dapper Drake). I think this is the first Ubuntu I installed, but had problems. It remained in my other machine, but rarely used. I think somewhere then ubuntu made ext3 as its default file system. The key thing was it was a journaling file system, which means "Such file systems are less likely to become corrupted in the event of power failure or system crash". The first time I saw an ext2 FS going dead on power failures, that gave me shivers, but ext3 made it easy. 

Automatic network configuration

After ext3, my problem was internet. At that time, though there were windows software to setup driver, linux had to fend for itself, and that it did poorly. Only recently with 8.10 it had automatic network management. Before that I somehow scrambled to read and setup PPoE for my modem, but it was not so easy, and that made me uncomfortable, as I was already living most of my professional life in internet.


With internet under control, it was all there. Almost. USB hot swap gave new fears. What if I need to dump our digital camera content? What about other hardware compatibility like USB blootooth dongle? That gave a pause, but some ubuntu 8.x solved that like a magic. Does Linus read my mind?! Basically linux kernel, and the distributions were focusing an the low hanging fruits: Drivers and device utilities. That was good for me.


About this time, I saw Compiz, and that was too much of an eye candy to miss. But I was unable to convince myself to shell out more money for a graphics card, just for this eye candy. I have been an utilitarian all along. But an accidental testing of Nvidia card, thanks to my system service person, convinced me of linux power. When windows 2000 could not use that card's driver, ubuntu 8.04 worked like magic (almost out of box).

Unsupported Windows 2000

And all along, my windows 2000 was threatening to abandon me. I owed not to move to XP, lest I'm lured. But when successively, Google Lively (now dead), Google Chrome (then no linux either), announced no support for its software in Win2K, that made me think. Win2K is dying. I remember moving to it from W95 long back, being ignorant. When VirtualBox too shunned win2k, it was clear that this is a dead end, as I cannot test any new software, even in a sandboxed simulated environments.


So when Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex came along, I ran out of all excuses. But frankly installation was still painful before this. So I have been watching the progress of Wubi. And that being included natively in 8.10 changed it all. Like any windows software, here I'm installing ubuntu linux inside windows, yet all my hardware, network, is identified smoothly. I went with this linux-inside-windows version for many months, before long I was feeling embarrassed being unable to go free of windows.


Then dared to use LVPM. Like copying a folder, it copied my whole linux and I was ready to go... Alas not so easy. I did a safe thing, had two HDD. So while using LVPM I moved the linux to other free HDD, and in my bios, made that the primary HDD (Hard Disk Drive), and tried booting up. Nope. Fortunately when I switched back my HDD, all was fine with windows. Now more study of GRUB, and I dared to edit the sacred menu.lst! But before this attempt, I remember once installing it in the same windows hard disk by mistake, and I was locked out of even windows. Was that very scary! Some reasoning made me think of my old 7.10 ship it cd, booted up, hunted for MBR reseting linux tool, some USB mangling, and reset MBR... whew back to windows. So this second time when I have linux in the separate HDD, I was calm and collected. menu.lst edit did the trick, I was straight into ubuntu, in the same machine, with just a change in BIOS. Windows away in the separate HDD, at last.


I'm a ubuntu man now fully. Slowly and slowly, I never logged into windows, but for IE. And then I installed VirtualBox with Windows XP, and there I was inside Linux, with even the shiny Chrome and IE8! Ironical twist of role. For some reason I was never comfortable with Ie4linux over Wine, and this virtualBox eased that pain.


Though there was GIMP, the simple MS Paint feature of transparent selection mode, was so important for my Wink patch activity (while on it, also learn some hidden tricks). I did learn some GIMP tricks to do most of it, but was never comfortable. If only I can have MS Paint equivalent... Why equivalent, I can have the real thing. Wine allowed me to run MS Paint exe/dll directly on linux (legality not too clear). Amazing. Almost a similar feeling like seeing Java WORA, but a different technology (API level emulation). For some reason, this made all my pains worth it. I'm now in linux proper and whats more I have all my windows goodies with me. Even Google Sketchup 7 executable installed smooth on wine! I'm in cloud nine.

Half yearly OS upgrade

My final test was, to upgrade to next version of the OS. 9.04 came. So many alphas, it looked like eons, and I desperately wanted to see the upgrade (It also had OO.0 3 and FF 3). Finally, being unable to wait for the final release, I upgraded to 9.04 RC2. Some hiccups, some retries, some personal cursing, whew now in 9.04. And when the final came, only very few packages got upgraded. So here I'm not only established in linux, but even survived an upgrade. Nothing else can be more satisfying. Now I can write this article with confidence. This is my ubuntu, my linux, and it is here to stay with me.

Taste linux, and you'll just love it.