Archive for July, 2009

The Penguin and I

July 21, 2009

Earlier in the year I decided to embark on “An Alternative OS” project and see if there was life without Windows. My motivation was in part curiousity, some irritation with Windows Vista and buzz I was picking up on Ubuntu. Armed with an old Thinkpad T60, I decided to give things a whirl.

First off I was quite pleased to find a thriving community in IBM on Ubuntu on the desktop and laid my hands on an excellent resource on installing and configuring Ubuntu within IBM. At this point I was using Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid, and my first major challenge was getting LEAP wireless support to work .. it just didn’t, some digging around pointed to both hardware as well as OS issues, so I laid my hands on a T61 and it worked like a charm. The next step of configurations that definitely were quirky (from a Windows or even Mac user perspective) was getting the graphics display properly configured so that the screen didn’t look like a PC circa 1980, and getting digital media files, to work properly. Ubuntu does not really ship with the codec support needed to watch a DVD or play an MP4 and a repetitive process of playing a sample file, triggering the package manager to instal required pre-reqs, or hunting down online resources to explain how to add in necessary repositories to get required libraries ensued. For my productivity suite, I had Firefox (I use a lot of internal web based apps), Lotus Notes 8.0.2, Lotus Symphony 1.1 and Open Office 3.0 installed. Given I handle a lot of documents in Powerpoint format (.ppt) this was to be the true test, would I feel as productive without Microsoft Office? The simple answer was “NO”, while I was able to satisfactorily review docs, I just did not find OO or Symphony a nice environment in which to create presentations from scratch. I also dreaded the conversion issues that plagued me from time to time. I decided running a Windows based virtual machine might be the answer, for when I really really needed to drop back to MS Office, but performance of my image in VMWare player soon put a stop to that idea (even with 3GB of RAM onboard). With a major conference coming up and lots of docs to handle related to products I was launching, I decided to end my relationship with the penguin and return with my tail between my legs to my Windows box.

The release of Ubuntu 9.0.4 Jaunty, caused me to want to revisit my experiment, as well as some belief that Sun’s VirtualBox might give me a more performant Hypervisor for my Windows virtual machine. This time I went for broke, swapping in a new hard drive into my everyday Thinkpad X60, I decided it would either work on my primary machine or I was done experimenting. Installation proved to be a breeze, and Lord Behold, graphics cards were configured and optimized right out of the box (no more setting of Autohinter), LEAP worked with no issues, things were looking up!

Based on previous experience I was now an old pro at leveraging the Package Manager for installations, and a quick visit to got me sorted with all the codec support I needed to handle my digital needs. I had heard good things about OpenOffice 3.1 and a quick upgrade of the version shipped as part of Ubuntu gave me an environment that at least handled complex ppt. files better, even if I still think its authoring experience leaves much to be desired. For the occassions when I absolutely need MS Office, I decided to try out VirtualBox. That didn’t work out so well, I could not start a VMWare image I already had (a supported configuration) and I could not find a windows install CD to build a new image from scratch(even though I had license keys to spare), I guess since Windows comes pre-installed, Microsoft does not provide any download options (once again I stress I had a license key, just wanted the binary). Using VMWare Player was no better, then I discovered CrossOver Linux from CodeWeavers (this after a failed attempt at using WINE). Couple of minutes later I had MS Office 2007 running natively on my Ubuntu desktop .. Success!!!! I am using the CrossOver Linux trial and a week in, I’ll say while not perfect it does provide an easy way for me to use Powerpoint when I really need to. Its a little quirky, but so far nothing I can’t tolerate, and coupled with OpenOffice 3.1 I have generally found I can get on quite well.

So right now its official, the Penguin and I are back together and we will see if this is a lasting relationship. In case your wondering why I didn’t just go out and buy a Mac … beyond the fact that I would have been spending my own money for a work machine that would have just been too easy!