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A beginners day with Ubuntu OS

A day with Ubuntu

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Up until this morning I was a complete Ubuntu novice, I had never touched any Linux operating systems and, frankly, knew very little about them… apart from the amusing penguin logo of its predecessor… I liked that.

Over the weekend I decided to throw myself in at the deep end and attempt to use Ubuntu without any help. So here’s my initial take on the Linux operating system from the point of a true beginner… Me.

To start things off my level of computing is relatively competent. I use both Windows and Mac for various tasks, I’ve got a few android devices at home and work daily with the array of tech Ebuyer has to offer me. Admittedly, I’m no tech genius so I struggle with complex programming tasks, coding or anything that requires serious thinking time… So as a litmus test for the ‘typical consumer’, I’m right in the middle.

For this review we used the Ubuntu installed, HP 255 G1 which is now on sale at Ebuyer.com for £209.99.

Out of the box

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Getting set up with the HP laptop was pretty simple. The Ubuntu operating system asked for the usual names, pictures and passwords on initial set up, then played a jazzy animation to remind me I had not accidently bought a Windows PC.

Initial boot time was a little longer than on the Windows 8 Laptop I had setup the previous day, however this could be attributed to the processing power (AMD E1 vs Intel i5) not the OS. Overall the boot and first install took about 12 minutes without any major hassle… I was not scared off just yet

Initial Navigation

I liked it! Ubuntu feels like it’s taken the stylish designs, layout and tricks from Apple OS but kept the sensible things that actually worked from Windows. Admittedly, as a Windows 7 user, I was initially thrown by some of the features like the minimise/close button in the top left and simple tricks like ejecting a device in the recycle bin, but for starters, it was pretty straightforward.

My progress was slowed a little by some of the basics operational differences I found after years of Mac and PC use. It took a few frustrated clicks to realise a window doesn’t automatically jump to the front of the screen when selected and right click doesn’t unlock the world to everything.

Design and layout

Ubuntu feels basic, but I think this stripped-down, almost retro style works well. I like that that it’s not pretentious with extra animations or gimmicky apps and tabs, if you want to find something it’s only ever going to be in a few places.

The search bar’s not hidden away, it’s there glued to the top of the screen which seems sensible to me. As for the ‘launcher’ or sidebar as I shall be referring to it as- I can’t decide if having the icons down the left hand side is handy or perpetually annoying? I’d probably need to use it for a few weeks to find my heart swayed either way.

Having said that, I do miss the spacious feeling you get on a Windows machine and the slick design you find with Mac OS, the Ubuntu felt a little compact and short of space.

Apps and Software

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I’ll admit this is where I began to get a little frustrated so lets start with the good bits first.

I love that you get free, open software built in. LibreOffice worked perfectly well as a replacement for MS Office even if it does lack a few of the flash extras you get on the Microsoft Original. I’ve got a lot of time for Firefox and frankly it feels more at home on the Ubuntu OS than on my other laptop, where I’m usually a Chrome advocate.

I was also impressed at how files were converted to Ubuntu-friendly versions automatically, no need to tiptoe around sending Word files or downloading clunky converters.

There are hundreds of free or cheap alternate bits of software in the Ubuntu Software Centre, where I’m sure those in the know could find perfectly suited replacements for mainstream programs.

This, however, is where I became a little frustrated with the OS. I found installing third party mainstream programs a little difficult. I tried to download a basic Skype package, which although it worked, insisted I added on patches and updates before it would even run- not something I’m used to after working in the universally accepted Windows world.

A few other simple downloads turned into a seemingly endless stream of patches and error codes. Admittedly most were solved in the end and due to my inexperience, however as a beginner put me off the OS a little. For someone with less knowledge, or patience, it could have been a deal breaker.

Usability

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Ubuntu is super easy to the basic user. If you want to create documents, browse the net, watch movies, quickly edit pictures and all the stuff we do 90% of the time, Ubuntu is great.

However as I dug a little deeper, I found some tasks more difficult to master. This may be with my Windows/Mac blinkers on, but I found tasks that only needed a one-click set up on a Mac would give me a plethora of options and variations on Ubuntu.

It felt like the introduction was simple but getting deeper into tasks required an actual working knowledge of the OS. It was no longer simple clicks here and there, I had to actually think what programmes and files needed to be installed!

Who’s it for?
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After my introduction to Ubuntu, I honestly think the Linux OS is versatile and accepting enough to be used by a range of users… but it’s not for everyone.

Naturally it lends itself to the highly specialised, computer lovers. The Linux bread and butter users, developers, programmers and the rest of the no OS lovers- These people won’t need persuading.

I think there’s a gap for basic users. Ubuntu is ideal for students wanting an all-encompassing computer with pre-installed free software, that does the same job a £100 Office package does.

I’m also going to throw another group of users out there, the older generation. I honestly think the Ubuntu system on a basic level, lends itself to simple computing. Bit of surfing here, maybe watch a movie, and create a written doc. It’s simple stuff on a simple system that is difficult to over complicate.

Am I a convert?

Honestly, no… but I won’t rule it out. I don’t think I’m brave enough to cut my Windows/Mac ties just yet. I like my mainstream games, software and programmes too much to go rooting around for the equivalent freeware.

You know what Ubuntu is… It’s the Aldi of computers. Unbranded, well priced and surprisingly good quality once you get used it. It just needs a few more people to get on board.

For the time being, I’m going to stick to what I know, Linux is a step too far but I can honestly see why Ubuntu is getting more and more converts. It’s cheap, easy to use and allows more freedom than the Mac/Windows OS Monopoly.

I’ll be practising the next few weeks and will hopefully be won over by its charms.

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Danny Young

Features Editor

16 comments

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  1. Chris 28 April, 2014 at 14:06

    Great introduction to Ubuntu, very nicely presented and nice to see there was no preferential treatment to Mac or Windows.

    For those who are unaware of how Ubuntu (and other Linux distros) works when installing applications – and it does it in a farrrrrr better way than Windows does – is to actually check what it needs and what’s already on the OS before installing the software you are asking for. This is called checking for dependencies.

    The Linux installation process has been written this way so that many applications (especially server setups) can be configured (even at compile time) with dependencies and functionality that other installations don’t or shouldn’t require.

    For example: FFMPEG can be compiled to work with different processor features, or it can have certain functionality turned on or off dependent on (for example) whether you are using the application as a desktop user or server environment. E.g. Why have desktop GUI clutter when you’re running a headless server? Easily solved: re-compile the application to not include any GUI stuff!

    Most Windows applications can’t be re-compiled, you get what you get. Yes, you can change many settings, but those settings are often not quite what you wanted, or there is a lot of unnecessary clutter if you only need parts of the application…!

  2. Paul Creedy 28 April, 2014 at 21:49

    After trying many linux version (coming from a strong Windows background), the most ‘comfortable Linux I found was Linux Mint.  Apart from when I have to use my Desktop PC for specific windows programmes, my day to day is now using an old laptop with Mint and LibreOffice.

  3. Rob 1 May, 2014 at 12:17

    Your experience exactly matches mine. I installed it, played with it, used it for a while then went back to MS. There is nothing wrong with it, it’s free, it works on the most rubbish computer, all the apps I need are there,  but it just doesn’t feel right. When XP is no longer viable I will move to Ubuntu.

  4. JJ 1 May, 2014 at 13:09

    Nice post, it gives a good account of what it’s like to use Ubuntu for the first time, and reminds me of myself somewhat. That being, Linux, as an OS, is a wildly different experience to Windows; you’ll open a word processor and feel “Oh nice! Its pretty much the same” but then you’ll try and do some other task like installing a program or a codec and suddenly you have to learn what repositories are, and how to use packages or source code. I have a feeling that most consumers, even techies, are so used to Windows that they come up against these changes and switch back to their Windows partition or machine. Afterall, Windows does everything and you know how to use it to do so.

    My experience was similar, but I had no Windows machine to go back to. So I climbed that learning curve, and at the top I found that Linux is a joy to use, and responded to my needs more than a Windows machine. Plus, I started really understanding my computer and feeling like it was becoming a tool rather than an interface to tools.

    I hope that you carry on your Ubuntu journey and find out for yourself.

  5. Peter Johnson 1 May, 2014 at 14:50

    I have been useing Linux OS (operating systems) such as Ubuntu and Mint since there invention! and I am totaly commited to the use of these systems, with over 50,000 programs written and free to be used, for many puposes who needs WINDOWS XX.
    Most people that use computers are stuck in a rut with Windows, and pay a handsom price for doing so.
    Linux is free, No anti virus is needed which you pay through the nose for in Windows,! Open Office or Libre Office is free and very professional, Email and web browsers Thunderbird and Firefox are brillient. You can add Picasa for photo albums, Google Earth, Google Crome, and many popular programs especially written for Linux.
    \always use the linux repositry to aquire program downlods, do not try to get programs from the internet unless you know what you are doing! Linux is used world wide by millions of people, Governments use it in many countries.
    You will never regret trying it, its well worth the effort, and has many rewards.
    UBUNTU and MINT are in my opinion the very best of Linux.

  6. David 1 May, 2014 at 16:00

    I have been using various Linux “distros” for nearly 8 years and am a firm believer is the system.  I work with people from all walks of life including business, charities to the “elder generation”.  Have installed everything from Puppy Linux on a Windows 98 machine to installing a full business server (Centos) I firmly believe that Linux can be used for everything bar Gaming (although Steam OS is on it’s way).
    Many Windows programmes can be run using either Play on Linux or for business Crossover.
    Do not be taken in by the fud from Microsoft or Apple (which is based on BSD that’s very similar).
    Also don’t forget that Android and Google’s Chrome Books are Linux derivatives.
    For most people I would suggest Linux Mint or Mageia.

  7. RONALD 3 May, 2014 at 15:30

    Im am a computer OLDIE of over 83 and I have used all the Windows programmes from Windows 3.1, right through to Windows 8.
    I have been a Linux fan for the past 15 years, and if you use Linux sensibly, it knocks spots off Windows. What is more for under £7. can get the set up disk and use it on every computer in the street if need be. I’m fed up with supporting Bill Gates good causes.

  8. Gareth Thomas 5 May, 2014 at 08:48

    Admittedly I’m a techie, but your experience describe what I go through when I have to touch a windows machine. Linux just works if you go mint or Ubuntu, but you can customise it anyway you like if you want to – Gerry into arch and you can have the ultimate personalised experience.

    You dependency confusion is a common one, and there is no reason for the OS to tell you about it. The dependencies just resolve, and in the latest 14.04 release of Ubuntu the detail is hidden, so you simply one click and it installs.

    Repositories require some getting used to, but once used to it you stat cursing windows lack. What do you mean I have to download and install it myself?

    The other major shock to new users is the number of patches, seemingly daily. But remember those repositories? Well those allow all your applications to be updated with the OS.

    Stick with it, maybe try some other distros. Definitely move to Ubuntu 14.04 – really shiney.

    You won’t get me off my Linux now. It flies on my Macbook pro.

  9. Steve 5 May, 2014 at 11:54

    Good balanced article.
    I have been trying to persuade people to swap to Linux for some time, but it is an uohill struggle as Microsoft spend so much time and money on advertisements that it frightens the end user away from something that is; after all; FREE.
    The only problem I have with Linux, and I am using Mint/Mate, is trying to watch BT Sport, which requires Microsoft Silverlight. I have read that Moonlight is available for Linux, but have been unable to get it to work.
    Otherwise I would say go for Linux there will be a version (Distro) suitable for you.

  10. Svid 6 May, 2014 at 16:30

    Glad to see an honest evaluation of migrating to linux. Having started on unix 30 years ago I had to migrate in the opposite direction when working in places which insisted on windows. My choice at home is linux for the simple reason that if I do not like something I can change it for free – not just applications the whole user interface.
    Hopefully this blog will be continued to show readers how the writer overcomes the features he does not like.

  11. JEFF WALMSLEY 9 May, 2014 at 15:15

    I’m not quite as old as Ronald, being a mere 82, but I too have been using Windows since 3.1 (and CP/M before that), although I’ve stopped at XP, seeing no value in subsequent incarnations. I would dearly have liked to switch to Linux, and have made several attempts over the past several years; but I’ve always found two big problems. The first was that I earned money using my PC and although I’ve never used Word anyway, there was no useful Linux alternative to Photoshop. The second was the requirement to learn what amounts to a completely new daily language; for example, when you’ve been calling things drives and folders every day for years, it’s hard to switch over to thinking of them as devices and directories in the hurly-burly of everyday working life, to quote just one simple instance; nor was I comfortable with the vast dictionary of wholly uninformative, made-up words used to describe applications – of which there were far too many for making easy choices. Great if you’re a geek, but in sum, for the rest of us there was/is no painless way to switch from one OS to the other and maintain productivity. That, I believe, is why Linux has failed to take a hold as I for one would have hoped. I wish someone would address that problem fully.

    I enjoyed reading Danny’s blog, but I get the feeling that his problems with Linux are the same as mine…

  12. DaveH 18 May, 2014 at 19:16

    I really enjoyed reading this article, it was well written honest and most of all unbiased , Ubuntu is without doubt one of the best products no money can buy:)  I’ve dabbled with linux for about 5/6 years now and have loved many of it’s forms during that time particular favourites are Ubuntu and Mint .
    I’m not some tech geek i just like to tinker, however like many similar tinkerers out there and i suspect also the author, I seem to lack the commitment and dedication to truly persevere through the linux learning curve, if i can’t make it work, after a good few tries i run back to Windows, hence most of my devices are dual boot, Ubuntu or Mint and Windows

  13. Roger P 25 May, 2014 at 22:32

    Well written and fair article. I have now been using Linux for 7 years now. For the first six months I was constantly switching between Windows and Linux. Then, slowly I used Windows less and less. I can now do almost anything I want without Windows and have not even got it installed anymore as after a long time with no use there are so many updates to do that after about three restarts I’m just craving to get back to Linux and I’m still waiting for the computer to start. Main Problem for me is Photoshop. It’s perfect on the Mac, acceptable but annoying in Windows and a pain to use running through Wine (WINdows Emulator). I would say give it a try and you might grow to like it better than any other operating system.

  14. Jon 27 May, 2014 at 16:02

    This welcome article illustrates an unavoidable fact about computers: if you don’t understand at least a minimum about how they work you will sooner or later come unstuck, The only extra information needed for Linux over Windows is that filenames are case=sensitive. Other than that, the required basic knowledge level is similar. The difference however is that because it is free, Linux does not concern itself with OS or application licensing and the like. My worst experiences with Windows have been in the course of moving my world from one machine to another. The combination of Windows Registry, hardware drivers and the ‘Genuine Advantage’ or whatever they call the copy protection is seldom easy to negotiate. With Linux you feel that your data is yours to move about and use as you wish, and its modular nature means you can have it vanilla and bland, or very spicy – highly adapted to your own needs. I started using it for mounting Windows drives to rescue data from machines that wouldn’t boot, and I would not want to go back to the old days..

  15. Chris Hunter 21 June, 2014 at 10:53

    This quite a fair and balanced view of trying out Ubuntu. However, there are a couple of easier Linux options around. Mint Linux is particularly easy to install, configure and use. It’s based on Ubuntu, but has been tweaked for ease of use by beginners.

    If you’re going to “make the move” (and you should!) – it helps to have a Linux-savvy friend to help you at first. They can explain the idea of repositories (a sort of no-charge App Store!) and how to add or remove programmes. It’s actually very easy, but easiest of all if you’re shown how.

    Your only investment will be a little time and effort to learn the slightly different ways of doing things. You’ll quickly discover that Linux is beautifully consistent, utterly stable, fast, and very secure. The GUI can be configured to be very beautiful (my wife loves the look of Mint), and if you’re prepared to learn a little, you’ll find it very rewarding.

    Give it a go! Linux Mint [URL]http://www.linuxmint.com/ [/URL] is probably your best starting point. Good luck!

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