Monday, November 30, 2009

Linux Monday: Karmic Koala vs. Windows 7

Black Friday meets Linux Monday

My latest effort to inflict Linux on a new user got more complicated, but more interesting this weekend.

Like all geeks, my holiday family visits include a fair amount of tech support. A month or so ago my sister in law's laptop died so I promised her a rebuilt machine at Thanksgiving--with of course the qualifier that it would be a Linux machine. She was cool with it, I promised to make it easy, she's not doing much more than browsing, web-based email, and the occasional word processor document, so the FUD (that's geekspeak for "fear uncertainty and doubt) was minimal.

The machine itself is an old Dell with a 2.0 gig processor. It was hers in the first place, then got passed along to my father in law where it died. So the family geek here determined the issue was a dead hard drive, grabbed one from the parts pile, threw Ubuntu on it, and happily detected aliens with it for a few months.

I checked the box out thoroughly while I got it ready for her; by coincidence this was while my laptop was in the shop and I used it as my main machine for a month, long enough to know I should bump the memory up from 512 meg to a gig. Also by coincidence this time frame fell during the updrade of Ubuntu upgrade from Jaunty Jackalope to Karmic Koala, so I was able to work through the upgrade issues on a "test" machine.

(Tangent: Jaunty to Karmic has been an unpleasant move. I've had no one major problem, like the audio issues I had the past two upgrades... but boot time and responsiveness just seems a little slower.)

Delivery was scheduled for last Saturday (she has the biggest place and the central location so it's always the holiday meeting place). Unfortunately, this fell the day after Black Friday, and Best Buy was having a sale...

So the geek and the Linux box were greeted by a cute little netbook (I didn't bother to get the specs), and I came face to face with Windows 7 for the first time.

She still wanted two machines, one for portability and one as the base station mothership sort of machine. Yes! The mission is still on!

My mission also included setting up a Linksys wifi hub which I'd picked up used while junk crawling. I decided to try that in Windows 7, just to see if it would be a straight plug and play thing. That didn't happen. A little Googling later, I found myself at, of all things, a DOS prompt! running ipconfig. Maybe a brand-new router would have worked straight out of the box I dunno (my issue was that I didn't have a router name and password and had to reset it to the defaut factory settings.)

Printer setup was smoother. The setup CDs weren't handy but weren't needed. I had to select the printer from a list but after that it was just a bunch of next, next, next. While I was at it I noticed a "system issues" or something icon in the system tray; most were readily resolved including setup of the "Free for 60 days" Norton antivirus. (I saved the "you don't need antivirus with Linux" lecture and the joys of AVG's free antivirus program, for another time; we're still back at the difference between antivirus, anti-spyware and firewall.)

So far so good. But after the printer setup it came time to, you guessed it, reboot. And the little thing refused to fully power off for at least a half hour as it processed 24 Windows updates. I've gotten spoiled with the Linux approach: no need to reboot unless it's the kernel, and even then you can choose when to reboot. Obviously Windows 7 isn't approaching that model yet.

While that endless reboot happened, I moved on to my true mission: the Linux box. Most of my work was done back home. I set it up to auto-log in to her account, and selected a very Windows-XP-y theme in Gnome. I started with this (which has actually fooled a few folks) then toned it down to at least acknowledge that no, this is not Windows. Boot up, connect the printer, we're ready.

Here's the extent of the Linux lesson.

  • "Pretend this little round logo thingie is your start button."
  • "This is Open Office." "Oh, that looks just like Word." "Just remember to save files as .doc if you want to re-open them at work in Word."
  • "This is Firefox. It looks just like Internet Explorer but it's better."
  • "Oh look, you got my pictures on my screensaver."
  • "When you see a little sunburst or red arrow down here that's an update. Just click on it and enter your password, which is (very easy to remember). If you see a little blue recycle thingie after you need to restart but you don't have to do it right away."
  • "If you want to play around with it here's an instruction manual on your desktop."

    This isn't really a fair test because we're not just comparing operating systems, we're comparing netbook vs. desktop. My prediction is the netbook will get more use for browsing but the desktop will get seriously checked out for writing a paper. We'll keep you posted. Now all I have to do is fix my father in law's Mac.
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