Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Using Ubuntu Linux Instead of a Windows 8 Upgrade

Using Ubuntu Linux Instead of a Windows 8 Upgrade

By Dennis D. McDonald

Earlier this year I started thinking about  what to do about my aging desktop machine and it’s Windows 7 install. My trusty Sony VAIO laptop running Windows 7 Professional had finally died. I cannibalized its hard drive for external storage. Should I now upgrade my workhorse HP desktop machine to Windows 8?

What stopped me was that my old copy of Microsoft Office 2003 was incompatible with Windows 8. Even though most of my work now relies on Google Docs or other cloud-based services I still have the occasional need for a native version of Word, Excel, or Access. I started looking at alternatives. I didn’t want to invest in an entire Office suite and wasn’t sure the online version of Office would suffice.

Most desired would be a MacBook Pro but I balked at the price. Next I considered installing Chrome OS on an older laptop. Moving to the Google cloud on a different machine would seem the perfect solution; I could keep the Windows 7 machine and its legacy Microsoft applications as a backup.

Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried I could not figure out how to install the Chrome software on an old laptop.  After many tries I finally gave up and concluded — perhaps too cynically —  that Google wants to encourage people to buy Chrome machines, not install free OS downloads.

That left Linux as an alternative to Windows 8. I had an old laptop with 2GB of RAM and a decent display in storage. After some research I settled on Ubuntu Linux and started the install.

It worked like a charm. Peripherals including the laptop camera were recognized immediately along with the printer and scanner.  I was up and running!

The Linux device is now my downstairs computer. My Windows 7 machine is upstairs in my office and I move back and forth between the two when working at home.

So, what are my reactions to using Linux on a daily basis for at least six months? Keep in mind I’m neither a programmer nor a coder and have always relied on Windows or Macs. Let’s just say I’m an experienced user more interested in productivity then modifying configuration files or tinkering. I like things to work “out the box” and, as an independent consultant, I  have to rely on myself for “tech support.”

In that regard I’ve been very happy using Ubuntu Linux. I’ve made only minor modifications to the user interface, and I’ve accepted all of the suggested file updates and downloads. For the most part I’d call this a “stock install.”

I use the Linux device mostly for e-mail, web surfing, blog updates, and Google Docs, plus occasional image-editing. I like the way that the Chrome browser syncs between my Windows machine and the Linux machine. I also like the “plain vanilla” user interface. It’s minimalist out-of-the-box configuration is a welcome relief from the way I have allowed the Windows desktop to be overtaken by too many visual barnacles.

There are some downsides that have prevented me from making the Linux machine my sole  machine, though.

The netbook has only 2 GB of RAM. This shows up when I occasionally edit photographs on this machine using the powerful GIMP Image Editor. Opening, cropping, closing, and saving files takes a bit longer than on the Windows machine where I use Irfanview.exe on the Windows desktop to edit my .jpg files.

Linux software tool availability is generally good and Ubuntu makes it easy to locate stuff via the online Ubuntu Software Center. I especially like “Clementine” which I use for playing streaming Soma FM music [must remember to send them another check!] or occasionally for playing the MP3 files on an old iPod Classic.

So far, though, I have found no Linux version of local Google Drive software which on my Windows machine allows me to easily sync files and folders on its local hard drive with files on Google Drive. Given my daily use of Google Docs and Google Drive this deficiency on the Linux platform is a major disappointment. (I am aware there are workarounds but as noted above I like things to work “out-of-the-box.”)

Another missing application is Netflix but this is not an issue as we have more Netflix compatible devices in this household than we need.

Would I recommend Linux to friends? Maybe, maybe not. As noted above, there are still reasons why I view this as complementing my Windows machine. Down the road and if the financial dice roll in the right direction I could see replacing both machines with a powerful MacBook Pro. Till that happens, though, I really do enjoy using Ubuntu Linux on a regular basis.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Dennis D. McDonald

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