Sunday, May 31, 2009

I'm an Ubuntu.

We've all seen the ads on television, "Hi I'm a Mac. Hi I'm a PC." The Mac always ends up making the PC look like an idiot because the Mac is so superior and so much more stable and just better and more shiny in every way.

Microsoft has recently come out with ads where they give people $1500 to buy a computer, and these people inevitably find that a PC is a better value than a Mac.

Well, as it turns out, both ads are correct. Mac software is more stable and works better than PC software. PCs, on the other hand, are, without a doubt, a much better value. The trouble is that you can't put the wonderfully stable Mac software onto a PC, because Apple has decided to hoard its BIOS in a secret cupboard somewhere, thus forcing consumers to buy Mac hardware with their Mac software. And anytime anyone cracks the code, builds their own computer and puts OS10 on it, Apple sues them.

The trouble is that if you compare a $1200 IMac to the PC you can build for $1200, well, it's just not a competition. A $1200 IMac is a base system, with very little RAM, a small hard drive, a very basic graphics card, and you absolutely cannot expand, customize, or change the hardware in any way. Ok, sure, you can add RAM. But that's it.

If you're an intelligent person who knows how to shop for hardware, you can build a rip roaring gaming or productivity PC with 4 (or more) gigs of ram, a screaming graphics card, and a cavernous hard drive for much, much less than $1200. Hell, we got a refurbished Dell tower that cost $1200 new for $600, and it's much, much better than the base IMac.

But then you're stuck with Windows. Which sucks.

Or are you?

Hi, I'm an Ubuntu.

Ubuntu is an open source Linux build that is designed for people who don't really have the time or energy to learn all of the technical jargon that is normally required to use Linux. It's free, and all of the software that goes with it is free. It looks and feels a lot like an amalgam of what's best about the Mac OS and the few things that are good about Windows. Best of all, it can run on either PC or Mac hardware.

We recently converted both of our Windows laptops to Ubuntu. The laptop that I'm using now has 2 gigs of ram, a pretty fast processor, and a decent graphics card. It CRAWLED when I had the enormous resource hog known as Vista installed on it. And it was buggy as hell. Now that I have Ubuntu on it, it just simply works, and it works well.

Alright, that's not quite true.

Ubuntu isn't as "plug and play" as you might want it to be. You do need to learn some Linux to get around and do certain things. It also works a whole lot more smoothly on desktops than it does on laptops. I had a hell of a time getting the wireless networking card on this laptop to work with Ubuntu, and getting Java on here was a bit of a headache as well. But the Ubuntu website links you with its support community, which has message boards, knowledge bases, and all of the stuff you need to make your computer yours.

And that's another nice thing about Ubuntu. Everything's free, everything's customizable, and you can really personalize your computer as much as you want, depending on how deeply you want to learn the system. You can even design your own operating system based on Ubuntu and use that instead, and distribute it freely to the Linux community.

Ubuntu is a good solution to the dilemma of how to get good software to work with good hardware. Build yourself a PC with everything you want on it, and do it for much less than you'd spend on a base model Mac, and then put Ubuntu on it. Dell is now actually selling laptops installed with Ubuntu instead of Windows. Good for them.

Now, one caveat. It is handy to have one computer in your household that runs one of the two major operating systems - Windows or Mac. Ubuntu isn't supported by everything, and especially for gaming, it's not a bad idea to have one of the others. Can you get, say, World of Warcraft to work on Ubuntu? Yes, but it takes a little work.

On the other hand, the things that do work work really really well. OpenOffice, for example, is a free open-source office suite that is easy to use and can open and save to any other format you want. You can create a document in OpenOffice and save it to Microsoft Word. You can create a spreadsheet and save it as Excel. You can open an Excel spreadsheet in OpenOffice and save it back as Excel. It's a snap.

Ubuntu's OS updates are also all completely free. Using Vista and want Windows 7? Prepare to empty your wallet. Using OS10 "Panther" and want to upgrade to "Cheetah" or whatever? That'll cost you. Using Ubuntu's "Hardy Heron" and want to upgrade to "Jaunty Jackalope?" It'll cost you a blank CD. That's it.

Ubuntu is a community of software geeks and programmers, who are dedicated to creating an operating system and a suite of software that everyone can enjoy for free, without the stupid restrictions that the Windows and Mac people put on their products because they're more concerned with money and marketing than actually making a decent product.

Ubuntu is an example of how capitalism can be beaten by people power.