My Ubuntu Experiment or Living with Linux

2000px-Tux.svgLinux has always been one of those mysterious systems hovering on the edges of the unknown. The images it generates are of beatnik types, sitting in a dark room and huddled over a keyboard. Are they hacking something? Are they developing some obscure program only the Linux community will have access to? Accurate or not, most people who are aware of Linux have a general image of what it is and who are using it even.

For a number of years, I ran a TF2 gaming website and servers. The servers allowed our members to play on servers with other members and over 6 plus years, we built a nice community. During that time, I was introduced to Linux as there was a large number of game server operators using it. The concept always intrigued me and, in the back of my mind, I thought someday I would give it a try.

About a year or so ago, I purchased a new computer and my old PC just sat in my office collecting dust. When Windows 10 came out, I remembered the old PC and instead of trying update from XP to 10, I thought this might be the perfect time to try Linux.

I have always been a PC guy. I know some coding. I know databases. I know how to build and run websites. I have run and managed gaming servers for TF2 and Minecraft, but I have never tried Linux. With its “techie” reputation, I felt I could handle the challenge.

While my original idea was to run a TF2 game server on it, this no longer held the same appeal for me as it did a few years ago. I was, however, curious if the Linux environment would work for me and my daily computer usage. I also wanted to see if it would work for the average user. Like my Mom for example. She surfs and reads/sends email, so would a Linux environment work for her? Would she be able to get used to it? I had a lot of questions and considerations. Before I got started, I thought I should set some goals to make sure I was able to get a good feel for the OS. Here is my list.

  • Can I run a home based, web business?
  • Are there any desktop/graphic design tools?
  • How easy is it to store files and organize them?
  • Can I do the basics: surf, send email, and write?
  • Can I do some heavy lifting, like presentations or managing large spreadsheets?
  • Can I play all my video games?
  • Can I setup and manage a TF2 gaming server?
  • What about enterprise options? How easy is it to maintain a large network with a lot of core users?
  • Can all of my software run on Linux? If not, are there reasonable alternatives?

Now that I had some things to test and work on, I was ready to get started.

First Step
The first thing to do when moving to Linux is to pick a “distro” or distribution package. This is basically an interface to use Linux. There are a number of them out there. A good place to start your research is an article on TechRadar.com that talks about the top ones. Considering I am a Linux noob, it does not really make sense for me to do a thorough comparison of each distro, but I can share my thought process.

The Linux community is one of those serious techie communities, very proud of Linux and their own proficiency in it. It’s not mainstream, so if you have it, you would have had to install it and run it yourself. Picking a distro is as much a part of your identity as a Linux user as anything.

It is common knowledge Ubuntu is far and away the most stable and best supported OS (in fact, a number of distro packages are actually based on Ubuntu). This includes a great website and community, as well as more apps available than any other distro. Apparently, the problem with Ubuntu is its “controversial” desktop but, and I am just guessing, I would imagine this is one of those “if you don’t know Linux you just won’t get it” kind of a thing. When I looked at the other desktops, they looked more like a Win 7 desktop, while Ubuntu has an Apple feel to it. And despite this (I am not an Apple guy), I chose Ubuntu. Once I got it up and running, I enjoyed the interface. It was so foreign to me it felt as if I was truly using something new and different.

One appealing aspect of Ubuntu is its more traditional GUI. Linux is command line driven, giving users much more control over their system. Windows still offers a command line, but it is not the full access a user once had through the command prompt. Having been a hard core DOS user, let me tell you, command line access, while powerful, is overrated for most users.

I also chose Ubuntu because, while I wanted to learn more about it, I really did not want something too technical. I wanted something I could use right away and not have to worry about doing too many manual things to run my everyday things. I also imagined myself trying to sell the idea of switching to a Linux based system to someone else who may or may not be technically inclined. Considering all of these things, Ubuntu seemed to be the right choice.

For those who are interested, I think my second choice would be Linux Mint. It offers a much more traditional desktop and looks a lot more like Windows than the others so it might be easier to make the transition.

First Observations
The installation was easy enough and there are plenty of great instructions on the Ubuntu website so I am not going to go through it here, but here is where you can get started.

The first thing I needed to learn was how to take a screenshot. If I was going to share my experiences, I needed to be able to show some of the things I was doing. The good news is the typical Windows commands (shift+ctrl+PrtScn) for screenshots worked just fine and Ubuntu will actually open a file manager up for you and give you the option to save the screenshot. If you do that in Windows, you have to paste it into some kind of document and save it, so right off the bat, Linux is ahead of Windows. In full disclosure, however, I have to say the screenshots did not always seem to register and the Picture folder did not always open up. I did have to try to take a screenshot a couple of times to get it to work. This did not happen everytime, but it did happen.

So now I had the screenshots saved, but how was I going to get them to my main PC? I had not setup any email yet, so I thought I would use my Microsoft OneDrive account. I launched the browser and opened OneDrive. Here was my first compatibility test and it was pretty early on in my foray into this Ubuntu experiment, but I knew going in there were going to be problems like this, so I started to look for ways to make it work.

I was able to navigate through and view all my files and folders in OneDrive, but for some reason, I was not able to upload anything. A quick diversion to Google yielded information on how to access it. The short version is, yes, there is a way to make it work. You have to use a tool like OneDrive-D. The long version is as I started to scroll down through the installation instructions, I had discovered the geeky nirvana of command prompts and a multitude of steps. To someone who is not technically inclined, I can see them simply closing the page and looking for alternatives, so I decided to take both routes. Right now, I will show you my “work-around” and in a later article I will review the installation process to get OneDrive working. If you have ever built a website and needed to give a plugin or API access to your site, it is the same principle. You essentially have to authenticate the OneDrive-D application.

My work around was simple and easy, I just used Google Drive. I dragged and dropped my pictures from the folder into Google Drive and they uploaded immediately and I was able to access them on my main PC. As Phineas and Ferb would say, “easy peasy lemon squeezy”.

After all that, here is a picture of my original desktop. The only thing additional I installed was the Google Chrome browser but this is essentially what it looked like after the initial installation.

Screenshot from 2015-09-19 20-16-46

So not really a Windows feel but kind of an Apple feel. All the menu commands can be accessed by clicking on the top left of the desktop and not the window you are working out of (although you can change that).

Below is the desktop with a browser opened. Now here you can see the buttons to close the window in the upper left is more Applish.

Screenshot from 2015-09-19 20-16-29

Here is a close up shot of the screen. You can see Google Chrome in the top left of the desktop. If you click on it, the menu will show up for Chrome… very similar to Apple.

Chrome Enlarged

This is the System Settings window blown up a bit. It all looks very familiar and comfortable. So far, there is nothing really that screams user “un-friendly”.

Screenshot from 2015-09-21 19-24-07

So the next thing I thought I would try to do is personalize the desktop a bit and not surprisingly, all you have to do is click on Appearance in the System Settings and it is pretty easy to walk through. Here are the screens.

This first one is the screen that opens up when you click on Appearance. As you can see it is pretty straight forward.

Screenshot from 2015-09-25 19-02-35

If you click on the Behavior tab, it will display this screen. Here we can change some of the behaviors of the desktop. We can choose to hide the Launch Bar or we can leave it static. The Shows the Menus for a Window section allows you to chance where the menu is for the open Window; you can choose the Desktop (default) or the window itself. I opted for Default. I also added the desktop to the Launch Bar as well.

Screenshot from 2015-09-25 19-03-03

After all that, here is the desktop layout I landed on. It is one of the stock selections, but I like it better than the default. I would imagine there are plenty of ways to customize it.

Screenshot from 2015-09-21 19-22-58 (1)

Initial Conclusions
So far, so good. I can tell it is going to be a different environment and there are going to be challenges. For example, I am taking an online Graphic Design course, and while I was able to log into class and do all the web-based work, it is clear there are no Linux versions of Adobe. There seems to be a huge outcry from the Linux community, but so far no Adobe.

It’s still early, but I think the average user could use and enjoy Ubuntu. I will be exploring their free versions of the office suite and at some point I will need to try to setup my email. They seem to have a robust software center so I am looking forward to exploring that but for now, I am going to be getting to know the file structure and how to navigate the system itself.

Continue with me on this Ubuntu adventure and look for my next post soon.