Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My Ubuntu Adventure

My little sister Lisa gave me an old computer she had, a laptop that is even older than my now-ancient (by computer ages) laptop. It's a Presario 2200, and had Windows XP installed on it. I intended to use it as a mobile computer since my laptop's battery has long since bit the dust, and the Presario has enough battery left to be able to be moved, about 15 minutes worth of juice. I spent several days trying to remove enough of the existing software to make it usable for my tasks, but the thing seemed to get slower and slower as I went.

Over the weekend we visited family for our birthdays, and my evil twin Lisa told me about Dropbox. I'd heard of it, but hadn't really given it much thought. I hardly need a way to sync between my single computer, right? Well, now I have TWO computers, so maybe Dropbox would come in handy after all. Once I got home and got the invitation from my sister, I signed up and started to move every file that I felt was crucial to my computer life into the new Dropbox folder. However, to my annoyance, the older computer didn't want anything to do with Dropbox.

That sealed the deal. I decided to install Ubuntu on the new/old computer just to see what would happen. Lisa had reported that the CD drive on the thing was busted, so I prepped a USB stick to install from, and then attempted to change the BIOS so it would boot from USB. Ha. No such setting. I tried a number of ways to convince the BIOS that I really wanted it to read from the USB drive, but it refused. Argh.

So, I clearly needed to install a boot manager. I considered grub, but I ended up using plop. I had to install it on the harddrive, but not from Windows. This turned out to be a bit difficult, but through my Google-fu and persistence, I managed it. All that work, just to completely wipe the drive and install Ubuntu over it! Which is what I did.

And so I ended up with a fresh clean install of Ubuntu on this nice old computer. It was great except for one looming issue. I couldn't get the wireless network to work. The network card was disabled, the light that indicates it's on wouldn't even flicker into life. I had no internet. I tried about a dozen different things suggested by various sites I found on Google, but eventually I had to give up and plug the computer directly into the modem. After my last experience with network problems on an Ubuntu machine, I was just glad this one HAD a network port to plug into. Sure enough, there was a firmware driver download for the obsolete card in the Presario, and I was able to get the wireless working after about an hour of various downloads.

The next thing I installed was Dropbox. And working with my two laptops side-by-side, I set up a variety of things on the Presario that were already set up on Artie, my old computer. I got Firefox almost to the exact set of add-ons, and installed Calibre for my Kindle. I also installed a version of my password saver program that allowed me to share the passwords across Dropbox. My ReminderFox points to a shared file Dropbox now, and shows the same reminders on both computers. In short, I got all the browser stuff done yesterday.

Today I added Thunderbird email to the mix, and it took me awhile to get all my email set up the way I wanted. Especially since I choose to run an older version of Thunderbird on Artie, and I couldn't quite figure out how to install the same version on the Presario. At least I have email, and in a form I almost like. I also started to customize a bit more, and installed Wine.

Wine allows you to run Windows programs on Ubuntu. While I've been using open source software that is available on Ubuntu as well as Windows for most of my needs for many years, there is at least one piece of software I need Windows for: Calorie King. I wouldn't have lost 100 pounds without it, so I wanted to be able to run it on Ubuntu. And I'll tell you, it installed quickly and cleanly under the latest Wine, and runs great.

In any case, I'm nearly to the point where I'm willing to take Artie upstairs and make it a desktop in my room, while I use the Presario as my regular system. If nothing else, it would show me fairly quickly what stuff I've forgotten to set up on the Presario. And it is all just a step on moving away from Windows computers entirely when I can next get a new system. At least now I'm more convinced than ever that I can make that jump, and it won't be nearly as much a pain as I was afraid it would be.


Eric TF Bat said...

It's a pleasure to read such a good-news story about Ubuntu. It took me a long time to switch to Linux -- I'd try it about twice a year, giving each new version a few weeks of dual booting before I eventually decided it wasn't quite RFTD ("Ready For The Desktop"). I finally switched, for good, to Ubuntu a couple of years ago, and now all the computers in the household are running it happily. Admittedly I still need a Virtual Machine to run Windows for some programming work, but that's all. I even run Ubuntu at work now, and have had no trouble with it. But I didn't know if it was entirely RFTD for people who weren't died-in-the-wool computer geeks. I guess it is now, huh? Excellent!

Tegan said...

I know I'm a bit of a computer geek. Moreso than many. So I don't know if I'm proving anything.

But it's definitely ready for me. I was fully expecting that I'd have to upgrade to the newest Windows when I next get a new computer. But instead, I think I may just move over to Ubuntu completely.

Anonymous said...

I have a similar story. 7 computers in my house work perfectly on Ubuntu and several in my work. The first real problem started when I tried to install Ubuntu on my wife's brand new HP touchsmart TM2. It is disappointing to find that this type of computer confronts at least 5 serious bugs using Linux and all are unresolved. Anyway we are waiting for a solution in the future updates.

Tegan said...

Eeep. Next computer I get I'll check for Ubuntu compatibility first. Thanks for the warning!

Anonymous said...

I've been using Ubuntu as my main partition for almost two years now and loving it. My Dell Mini came with Ubuntu and that had proved to be such an ease of use machine that I decided to finally go that way with my main PC. I dual-boot with Winders 7 for when I want to play World of Warcrack or use Adobe Dreamweaver/Photoshop. But 90% of the time I'm in Ubuntu doing everything else. Yay for open source!