Sunday, 20 January 2008

Ubuntu and XP (sitting in a tree...)

Several weeks have passed since I started my Ubuntu Linux project. The journey has been a long one, and the short version of it: I've picked up a lot of new knowledge and sweated a lot during that time.

Now my PC is dual-boot. Dual boot means when it is switched on, a menu will appear and asks which operating system (OS) we would like to use. Ubuntu or XP? Dual doesn't necessarily mean just two but applies to multiple number of OSes. The good thing about dual booting is we can use Ubuntu Linux side by side with Windows XP and not have them interfere with one another.

Dual booting is a great for long time Windows users like me to get started on Linux. Keep Windows, and play around Linux. Have it both ways. No sacrificing necessary.

Ubuntu does this using GRUB (Grand Unified Bootloader). By default, GRUB will make Ubuntu the first OS in dual-boot menu I mentioned.

If we want to change GRUB's setting, like make XP the default OS, we need to edit GRUB's menu.lst file. This is done by changing values in that file.

And this where many Linux newcomer mess up. GRUB handles some of the most sensitive processes of the PC, i.e. the loading (or boot loading, whichever term you prefer) of an OS. In a nutshell, you don't want to mess with the loading process. If this process goes wonky, you're going to end up with PC that cannot start. This is because almost everything with PC is managed by the OS. I've been there, my friend, and I was sweating buckets.

The simple solution to this problem is to install QGRUBEditor, a graphical GRUB tool that makes changing its setting a whole lot easier.

There's another wonderful feature of Ubuntu that allows it to co-exist peacefully with XP. Ubuntu can open and save files from and to Windows drives.

But first Ubuntu needs to add a Windows drive to the list of drives. This process is known as "mounting". It is similar to when we plug in a USB thumbdrive into our computer's USB socket. We will then be notified that a USB device is detected. It really means that the USB thumbdrive is mounted and ready for use.

Being able to work effortless from Windows drives is a huge factor why I'm jumping to Linux. This morning, I typed my dad's letter to the bank while I was using XP. Later in the afternoon I opened it when I was using Ubuntu and printed it out. Everything went a-OK.

(One the first things I did after installing Ubuntu was making sure my printer could work in it. I'm using a Canon Pixma printer, a low-cost model with ink cartridges that cost less than RM50. Great if you're mostly printing document.)

As I've said, it has been a journey. They were mountains to climb and fields to roam. But I can honestly say Ubuntu and other Linux distributions are slowing closing in on Windows' territory. Windows is in for a fight for its own survival, at least when it comes to tech-savvy users.

In getting through to beginner users, the less tech-savvy crowd, Linux has a lot more ground to cover. Microsoft is a megabrand that even people who don't the computer recognise. Linux needs to convince people that it is a good alternative to Windows. They need to do so in simple words, not dumb down but make people see things clearly without any confusing technospeak. I'm hoping to see the day when people say, "Linux? No sweat!"


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