The Truth About Switching

What it’s really like to move to Ubuntu

I saw a great article linked on digg and it rang some bells. Many of the points made apply to Ubuntu as well as Mac OS X. So here it is with thanks and apologies to Bill Westerman. For this to make sense, you should probably at least skim that article first.

Note: I say Ubuntu here because that’s what I use. Fact is most of this applies to most Linux distributions

01. People will ridicule you for using Ubuntu

I have been sat at work and had people actually laugh out loud at my laptop running Ubuntu. I’ve had people pick up the free professionally-made official Ubuntu CDs, sneer and throw them back at me. Once people try it out though, they often change their opinion. Even if they don’t use it daily, their respect for Ubuntu goes up after at least trying it.

02. You’ll feel a part of a rapidly growing community

With the huge number of people jumping on the Ubuntu bandwagon, the community of people willing to support and help out with Ubuntu grows every day.

03. People will help you for no reason

I spent a day last year in the centre of London with a bunch of other Free Software fans, giving out information and CDs to members of the public. One guy asked “Why are you doing this?” to which I replied “Because I want you to try Free software”. I am not alone in this, many people around the world give up their own time to help others learn how to use Ubuntu and get the best from it.

04. Fewer people will try to attack you

Technically it’s mostly not people that attack, but often compromised Windows computers instructed by nasty people to do their bidding. Ubuntu ships with no externally accessible services enabled by default, and probably one of the best free firewalls available out of the box. That is combined with regular free updates to keep my system up to date. I rarely worry about the nasty people and compromised computers out there, and wont have to install 3rd party applications to secure my machine, and certainly wont lose sleep over it.

05. You’ll be able to ignore most viruses

I don’t run an AntiVirus program on Ubuntu. There I said it. Arguably, due to the lower market share of Ubuntu on the desktop, and the robust and well thought out security model on Ubuntu, there are almost no viruses to speak of which could successfully compromise a well maintained Ubuntu desktop. Viruses just don’t exist in the same volumes as they do for Windows.

06. You’ll have some compatibility problems

There are free office applications available immediately after Ubuntu is installed which can read and write many popular office formats such as Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and Powerpoint presentations. There may be some incompatibilities with complex documents incorporating rich content or documents which include complicated macros, but these are few and far between. Most often there may be slight formatting issues, but for the most part, documents open just fine.

07. The Internet will mostly be the same

Whether you browse the web, chat online, watch videos, download music or talk to friends the internet experience will be much the same as it is on Windows. The applications you use may have different names, and may look different or be missing some features, but for the most part, most people won’t notice a difference.

08. You’ll be continually amazed at the fit and finish

With projects such as Beryl and Compiz, Cairo and Tango, the look and feel of the Ubuntu desktop is getting better with every release. Ubuntu has had the 3D desktop for some time now, and is vastly more customisable in look and feel to either Windows or Mac OS X. With numerous Desktop Environments and Window Managers to choose from, many screensavers & themes and desktop tools & utilities, Ubuntu can look every bit as good, if not better than, the competition.

09. You’ll have a “damn it!” moments

Ubuntu is not Windows or Mac OS X, things are different. Get used to that. Sometimes a hardware vendor won’t ship a driver for their product, or a video card may not work as expected, or a popular application on Windows just isn’t available for Ubuntu. Things are getting better, Ubuntu has better hardware support out of the box than either Windows or Mac OS X, video drivers are constantly under improvement and applications are being written and ported all the time by the community. The “damn it!” moments are becoming less and less in my house.

10. You’ll have some “ah-ha” moments

It’s not difficult to be amazed how easy things are in Ubuntu. For example to install an application there is often only one place one needs to go – the package manager. Generally it’s a simple matter of choosing the software from a list. Ubuntu will download it, and any dependant packages or libraries and install it all. putting a handy icon in the menu for it. For removing packages it’s just as easy as installing and can remove the dependent packages too.

11. Keyboard shortcuts will drive you nuts

Some keyboards have extra keys with pretty little pictures on them. Most work, some may not, but might in the future. For those that do work it’s possible to configure them to do many common tasks like open email, start the calculator, turn the volume up and down or even put a picture of a teddy bear on the screen if that’s what you want.

12. You’ll regret your purchase – of Windows, but you’ll get over it

Most computers these days come with Windows pre-installed, and paid for. Once Ubuntu is installed, either by dual-booting or completely removing Windows, you will regret that money you paid for Windows. It didn’t take me long to remove Windows completely from the first computer I dual-booted. Maybe you could call up your hardware vendor and try and get a refund. Maybe you could put that money towards a new toy for yourself, or even donate it to a good cause.

13. You’ll be amazed at how much there is to modify

If you want to. Some people use the system as it is, out of the box. Others like to tweak their system to make it look “just so”. With Ubuntu you can do either. The system is installed, ready to go, but has many hundreds of options for tweaking this, optimising that, tuning the other, to allow you to tailor your computer to work the way you want it to. Pretty much everything is fair game for modification in Ubuntu, which can make Windows and Mac OS X look positively rigid in the flexibility.

14. You’ll actually rarely have to reboot

With fantastic stability and tools like suspend and hibernate, I can go for very long periods without actually needing to reboot my Ubuntu computer. Even after installing additional software or updating existing packages, it’s rare that a physical reboot is required. There’s almost nothing that actually requires a reboot of the computer. If an update does require a reboot of course Ubuntu will tell me, but I can usually safely dismiss and ignore it for days with no adverse effects.

15. There’s so much stuff for Ubuntu

Ubuntu has many thousands of applications and utilities available to install for free, immediately after installation. You might want to use your PC as a server, maybe as a telephony system, how about a webcam-based security system or a print server, maybe an internet kiosk or perhaps a childs first computer. Maybe you want to learn how to write programs, or research your family tree. Whatever it is you want to do with your Ubuntu computer, chances are there is set of packages you can install and configure to do it, and chances are it’s free too.

16. You’ll spend less money than with Windows

Ubuntu is free. It can be downloaded for free and burned to disc for the cost of a blank CD-R. The applictions in the repository are also free to download. Everyone has the freedom to make copies of the Ubuntu software and give away or even sell the copies to other people. You are allowed to modify the software if you want, and use it in pretty much whatever way you want. The freedom you get with Ubuntu isn’t just about money, but it certainly helps that it’s free of cost.

17. You’ll generally be able to re-use old hardware

Ubuntu needs about 256MB of RAM and a 500MHz CPU but can run in less and runs better in more. There are alternatives for computers with slow processors or low amounts of memory. Many people don’t discard old computers, but re-use them for other purposes, or hand them down to other members of the family. With Ubuntu the useful life of a computer can be much longer than originally envisaged. Of course it’s fine to wipe and reinstall Ubuntu to sell on a computer if you want to make some cash out of your old hardware.

18. Random strangers will stop to talk about Ubuntu

I have been stopped on more than one occasion and been asked about Ubuntu. People come over to look at my laptop, they want to see what Ubuntu looks like. The best bit is I can dig in my bag and give them a free CD so they can try it for themselves.

19. You’ll get more things done

Ubuntu has so much great software which is easily installable and quick to pick up that people are often amazed how quickly and easily they transition over from other platforms.

20. The hardware manufacturer is largely irelevant

Ubuntu can be installed on many different hardware platforms. From big-name laptop hardware like Dell and Apple, to independent store beige-boxes, to home-made desktop computers and enterprise servers, Ubuntu can be installed on most computers around today.

21. Everyone is griping about market share

Ubuntu works for me, it works for a lot of other people too. So it’s not the number one desktop platform measured by number of installs, but for me it’s the number one desktop in my house and business.

22. You’ll play pretty well on a Windows network

I can print to Windows shared printers, access files on Windows file shares and of course open Microsoft Office documents under Ubuntu.

So all in all, I’m pretty happy with my choice to use Ubuntu on my desktop and laptop full time. Feel free to do the same. 🙂

50 thoughts on “The Truth About Switching”

  1. I work for a top ~50 out of the top 500 Fortune 500 US companies, and we’re switching a number of application to Linux. We’ve got more than 1000 boxes running Linux in North America. We’re still growing this, but there’s no immediate plan to convert our enterprise back end to Linux in the near future (these are running on Mainframes and UNIX boxes, and a few Windows). When we ask our CEO if we plan to move our enterprise systems to Linux, the answer is not yet. The main reason is a corporate environments need products that comes with a very reliable support facility. When a show stopper hits, we want somebody accountable at the other end that will not sleep until the issue is solve.

    When we have a Linux company out there that match the service the big player provides (like IBM, EMC, Oracle, NCR, etc), that’s the time will be moving a considerable number of our enterprise application to Linux.

  2. I love ubuntu. BUT you missed out the tortured hours an hours spent in following guides and searching and more researching in an attempt to get something that you need to work to work. I love Beryl but I have spent far too many hours trying to get xorg.conf et al to play nice with nvidia. I know its no fault of the open source community but for me “the truth” must include some mention of the sheer frustration you can feel trying this and that way and, in my case, still not having tv-out and other stuff that i took for granted with windoze. Ah well, such is the price of freedom 😉

  3. Beryl is not a requirement of Ubuntu; as cool as beryl can be, most people will never need it, or even really use the parts that make computing better. I don’t think it’s really fair to ask someone reviewing Ubuntu to include the trials and tribulations of Beryl installation. Of course, if Ubuntu includes it as the default window manager, you’ve got a pretty good case, but they didn’t just a couple versions ago (6.06 lts on my server upstairs)

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  4. I can appreciate the fact that arts is not a dependency of KDE, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why samba and avahi are? Please stop doing that.

  5. I don’t understand why Ubuntu (and linux in general) requires Adobe’s support. I think the three major Adobe products in the popular computer market today are Acrobat Reader, Photoshop, and Flash.

    Personally, I find Acrobat to be incredible bulky and inefficient, and I know I’m not alone. There are plenty of suitable FREE (in terms of both cost and open source) apps available for linux that will read and create pdf docs. (eg. evince)

    Photoshop can be largely replaced by the GIMP. I don’t really make much use of either, so this is mostly hearsay.

    Flash CAN be installed in Linux. In fact, I’m watching Flash videos right now, in Firefox with Flash installed, on my Dell Inspiron 6000 laptop running Ubuntu 6.10.

    The only areas where Linux is lacking in terms of application availability are proprietary games (although Linux has it’s share of games, and WINE emulation is possible, in my opinion, Windows is still the best OS for gaming) and high-end audio, video, and image creation/manipulation apps. (eg. Reason) Mac OS X is definately the best choice when it comes to this area.

    However, when it comes to application/web development, programming/coding, media playing and internet use, I’ll choose Linux every time.

    Note: The best distro I’ve found for mobile use (ie. laptops & wireless) is Ubuntu (or Kubuntu or Xubuntu). I used Fedora previously, and when I made the switch to Ubuntu, I was amazed that straight-off-the-cd, first boot, wireless was up and running, all by itself, no configuration necessary.

    If you have any questions or comments about my post here or my Linux experience, feel free to send me an email:

  6. The future is not in only one OS, the future is VIRTUAL! 🙂

    Well, let’s face it, Windows is not replaceable. At least not yet, and not so soon.
    Btw. WINE is no alternative.

    I’m suprised nobody mentioned – VMware!

    There is no replacement for stuff like Visio, Checkpoint VPN client, Cisco IP Communicator, Adobe Acrobat Professional, Macromedia Dreamweaver… What about audio and video tools like Traktor DJ studio, Camtasia Studio, Adobe Premiere, Ulead DVD authoring…?

    I can’t live without various management GUI’s that only run on win32: VMware Infrastructure 3 GUI, Windows Server 2003 Administration Tools, Exchange/SMS/MoM tools, various HP Openview clients, Checkpoint GUI, Aladdin eSafe GUI, SecureComputing GUI, storage stuff, SQL frontends… Quest TOAD, Crystal Reports…

    Ubuntu is great, the most flexible Linux distro. But not enough.
    Ubuntu as host OS + VMware for a Windows guest (and a lot of other stuff of course, like virtual networks… 🙂 – that is my weapon of choice 🙂

    Apple users would say they got Parallels, but VMware is far more advanced.

  7. Actually, Mac OS X didn’t run alot of Adobe applications natively either for a long time. Recently Adobe fixed that, but before they did, guess what? It was being run by an emulator. Mac OS X is “mainstream” but doesn’t have any support for some of the software that I need that linux has support for, for example Matlab. There is no real problem with mainstream applications being made for linux, infact most applications that matter (ones that don’t involve pretty gui’s and for graphic design) run more often than not on linux than they do on Mac OS X and even Windows in some cases (i.e. Apache Web Server.) Note that ubuntu is working on making a Graphics Suite comparable to perhaps even Adobe or Macromedia that is coming out in about 2 realeases. Check it out on google.

  8. One thing that I was lucky to find out about right as I was attempting to setup Beryl is a very handy little Python app called Envy that not only downloads and applies the latest driver for your video card, but configures your xorg file for you. I had installed Beryl and was of course having issues prior to trying this, but after running Envy and restarting, I had a flawless Beryl running and have not had any issues since.

  9. Where do you get the figure of 98% of commercial software from?

    I understand that the vast majority of software vendors don’t port their applications to Linux, but some of the big names do. Of the top 10 software companies on the planet ('s_largest_software_companies) Microsoft is one of the few not to embrace Linux. Google, Yahoo, SAP, Oracle all do to varying degrees.

    Many people do run commercial software on Linux – I know I do. Not much of it mind, because the vast majority of what I do can be done with free software. But I have a pragmatic approach, I would rather use free and open software if it is available, but will reluctantly use proprietary software if required

    Don’t forget the reasons why people don’t like commercial software. It’s not just that people want their software at no cost, it’s non-open/free (as in speech) aspects too. I don’t like commercial software that isn’t free because it restricts what I can do with the software or my computer.

    I disagree that yum and apt (and other package management tools) are inappropriate for distribution of commercial software. The main problem often comes where the software vendor uses a restrictive license which actively prohibits the Linux distribution from including their product in their repository. Some software vendors have seen the light though. Java (even before it became open), Real Player, SugarCRM and Opera are all in the Ubuntu commercial repository and can thus be installed using the standard package management tools.

    Adobe Photoshop _is_ one of the most asked for applications. It does run on Linux, using Crossover:-

  10. I havent used Windows in so long i have forgotten what it is like to use it, i tend to do all my computing with Ubuntu either using the XFCE or KDE desktops. My only major grudge when i made the switch was the amount of stuffing around involved to get my Radeon 9250 working with hardware acceleration working with a dual head configuration.

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  11. You misunderstand, or I was not clear enough. I was contrasting what I love and works, Beryl, with what doesn’t; tv-out, dual monitor, nvidia drivers, etc. These fail with or without Beryl. If they had failed because of Beryl I would have simply turned Beryl off. Of course I don’t need beryl, yet it worked with only minor tinkering. I still live in hope that one day, tv-out, for example, will work. But, until that day, it’s more hours of study working towards the Utopia of everything that i need to work working.

  12. 23. You can’t run Adobe applications, (and therefore macromedia applications either). Or pretty much all major commercial software, 98% of it.

    Before Linux on the desktop will ever be mainstream (as in greater than 1%), the linux community will need to learn to accept commercial software running in linux.

    Presently there is an anti-commercial attitude in the linux community which is an overreaction to Microsoft. Microsoft is evil, not all commercial software is. The attitude is reinforced by the (otherwise goodly and beneficial) distribution systems like yum and apt. Those systems are great at distributing open source software. They don’t do so well at commercial software. This hard-codes the anti-commercial attitude.

    Until major commercial software is written for linux, linux on the desktop will forever be niche. Faking it with wine and vmware is just that.

    Presently, getting Adobe’s support would be the most significant thing for linux on the desktop.

    And btw, because I know some of you will, don’t forget that Adobe sells other apps besides Photoshop.

  13. But we will loose the Sheer Fun of Using pirated Softwares after Downloading them from ware Z sites. 🙂

    Now that is one thing I hate loosing.

  14. Not really. If you are evil enuf to use pirated software, you might as well decompile it and then recompile it on Linux.

  15. Next time before you comment the linux community in not supplying the commercial application you need. Ask first to the software company that produces it why they don’t supply a linux version of the application
    if you get an awnser it will be something like “there is no market!”, “It works better with windows drivers” “we are considering that in a near future”.
    It is not for the linux communitie to make comertial applications to work in linux- it it up to the software houses to find advantages (namelly profit) in producing linux applications and leverage that with its cost (contract programmers used to linux instead of vba)

    You can’t run any application that their sellers don’t want in linux…
    You cand emulate windows functionalities to make then work.
    You talk about loobies against Windows? Never tought about the opposite.
    Applications are made to run in windows for ages and Windows claims to have the biggest share of the users market witch is probably true. Therefore Software companies only produces Windows code.

    Personally it is easier to imagine:
    1. windows putting a lobbie on linux by threatning to “your application might not work so well in our system if you start making linux ports and have a lot of crashes”
    2. software companies only produce Windows applications because that is where their end users are. THat produces a dependency because end users actually need that application that runs on windows. And producing applications for an extra OS costs money…
    3. software companies don’t produce linux applications with fear that someone will decompile it all and find all their secrets…

    Linux community can only cope with this by either making it clear to software companies that there is a market in linux OS users (and puting in their head that they don’t need to make something open source to put it in linux) or by comming up with new applications that provide the same.

    Personnaly I think the first sollution would profit all. The second solution implies struggling to produce products from zero that provide for a few a product that will not be as good as the commercial version (that has years of production and study)

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    Canonical offers three types of production support: Desktop, Server and Thin Client/Cluster Support.

    Coverage 9 x 5 24 x 7
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  17. I have found a home in Ubuntu after years of torturing myself with Windows. The “games” the lammers like to play with Widnows simply don’t work in linux. I don’t use ClamAV or any a/v program and trust the security of the root barrier to protect my computer. It also helps to be observant and wary of “links” meant to direct you elsewhere than the indented page. I’m getting another computer next week with XP Professional installed. The very first thing I do when I get it will be to rip XP out and put Ubuntu in. Windows is like an old addiction. Force of habit makes you want to keep going back to it despite the problems you would always have with it. I will see my last copy of windows go away when I get the new computer.


  18. Having heard about Ubuntu in an email just a couple of weeks before W2K died a horrible death, and repeated the action two more times, Ubuntu was stuck in my main thoughts and the fear of the unknown became less then the fear of the known.
    The known was: a new computer ($$) to support a new version of M$ Vista (No, please not that, I’ve read too much about it).
    Hey, lets look at Ubuntu. In two months I’ve installed Unubtu at least 4 times, and upgraded from 6.06 to 6.10 to 7.04. The extra three installs are totally my fault, I was trying things, what I did manage to save from the Great Crash of W2K was safely stored on CD’s. Having used M$ for years I’m used to re-installing things.
    But I should stay on topic here. Great article.
    I’m a home user, not a programmer. My computing needs are simple, getting an odd email with my grandsons pictures, doing online banking, and minor cruising on the web. I don’t have TV-in/out on my computer. Firefox has the Real plugin, so I can see those just fine. JPilot looks after my Tungten E/2 quite nicely thank you. In other words, Ubuntu does everything I need and more. I’m even learning how to play The Battle for Wesnoth game.
    My P-III 800Mhz machine on an Intel D815EEA motherboard (the standard “everything is built-in” type motherboard) is “smokin'” compared to when it was running W2K.
    Yup – I Love Ubuntu.

  19. A recent reason I found to hate microsoft, was trying to open a microsoft works file with microsoft word, I figured it would be no problem, but no, it won’t, So I had to reboot into ubuntu and open it with Open office then save it as a word doc. That to me is just unbelievable, I know works is old but come on, it should be able to open it.

  20. Please donate your old boxes to a church-group or some needy student in these hard times! To comply with the law, and with Microsoft’s leasing policy, you can now replace Microsoft OS with the free and legal (download from the net) Ubuntu OS, which can be set to erase the hard drive of all traces of the illegal Microsoft system, before donation! Now, explain to your lucky recipient that all the manuals they will ever need are available for free on the internet! Just ask for them in Google! OpenOffice, which is installed already is plenty adequate for homework assignments and with a little exploring, everything else can work well too! Happy commuting!

  21. I too use Ubuntu (as Dual boot with Windows). I must agree with you. All 22 of them are real facts. Point no 1 is expectationally true. My Windows friends ridicule me when they see me using Linux so one day I passed four of them the “free professionally-made official Ubuntu CDs” giving rest of them a “You are next” look. So what do these four pals do? Three of them put the CDs in their bag saying tht they will try it out when they get time and the fourth one said:”Hey I like the design on the cover and threw the CD out of the window!

    That incident made me really angry and I retrieved the CD later to pass on to more intelligent friends.

    But what do my friends who use other Linux Distro tell me when they see Ubuntu. They too laugh at me and says Ubuntu is for n00bs!

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  22. I agree. As a student money for me is pretty well non-existent and that immediately ruled out windows. Ie $250.00 for office was way out of my league and $100.00 for anti virus. People laughed at me for switching and said but why did you when it worked when you bought the laptop? My response was because i can. Since switching yes i have had problems, but hey on this computer I CAUSE THEM. Not the OS. Once i got used to Ubuntu i quickly found “it just worked”. It wasnt fussy, it didnt care about UAC or that i didnt eject the flash drive and best of all i will now have this laptop for the next 6 to 8 years, thanks to how efficient Ubuntu is. So now when someone asks me why i use Ubuntu when vista apparently works i just smile ever so sweetly and say “Just you wait… just you wait…”

  23. I also love Ubuntu.

    I bought my wife a very expensive Windoze Vista laptop and it is the worst, slowest, and most frustrating OS I have used in my last 30+ years of using computers (DOS from the beginning, VAX VMS, IBM Mainframe, all versions of Windows, Mac OS from OS 5 to OS X, Unix, Linux, etc.).

    I will by my wife a Mac and load her laptop with Ubuntu. Vista is the best thing that has ever happened to Apple and Linux.

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