The Move to Linux - Netbook Remix

If you have been following my postings over the last year, you will have read about my attempts to migrate to Linux. Some have been partially successful, others have been unmitigated disasters. I have heard comments from Linux is for smart people to You are right when I comment that the installation process should not be as hard as it sometimes is.

Now, before I regale you with my latest tale, I should point out that I have been using Linux since the early 1990s when you did have to be a rocket scientist to install it. In fact many of the early network drivers for the 3Com boards came out of NASA and their use of Linux. Compiling applications was routine and debugging the compile errors usually took longer than the actual process of compiling. If you were going to use Linux with more than what the distribution installed for you (which was sometimes barely more than the kernel, a shell and vi or emacs), you had to be smart. I installed a number of Slackware and Red Hat systems during the early days, mainly for fun, eventually settling on the Red Hat model for my preferred distribution.

By 2000, installing Linux was certainly less painful, but hardly a walk in the park. There were a greater range of drivers and other necessary modules prepackaged for use, either as an RPM or some binary distribution (such as Java support), but there was still a great deal of software that only came in a roll your own fashion. In some cases, specifically Apache, rolling your own was the only way to effectively get all the pieces and parts working together correctly.

Flash forward to 2009 and I would argue that Linux is mature. If I was to use an analogy, I would put it as the same level as Windows 2000 or NetWare 5.1. It generally installs without problem, and if you utilize Red Hat Enterprise Linux or SuSE's commercial version, you have dedicated support and stable technology ready to deploy in your datacenter. Now before I get flamed, I would not compare Linux to Windows 2000. That is a fruitless effort. There are features in Linux today that will never be incorporated into Windows and there are features that are just coming into Windows that have been in the core distributions of Linux or the kernel since the very beginning. I am simply trying to put a stake in the maturity ground. The reason I choose Windows 2000 is because that was really the first version of Windows that you did not have to fight to install. Yes, Redmond goofed a couple of things, and if you had a RAID array or board behind your system, it would really be a struggle (especially if you were still using ESIA technology) but the entire installation process worked better than it had at any point prior to that.

And that is where I feel the Linux install process has gotten too. It is easier to install Linux today than it has been in the past but it still has a fair distance to go to make it fool proof. This is not all Linux's fault. Many of the devices that are being sold as commodity hardware today really are Windows only either in terms of driver support or more than simple functionality. I have ranted about this before as have others and I do not want to plow that ground again.

What I want to do is highlight a recent experience that makes me feel good about the Linux installation experience. One of the things I mentioned before is that the Linux desktop is something that is ready for general consumption, either by the private individual or the commercial enterprise, but one of the largest detractors is the installation process. So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I set about converting my Asus Eee PC from the installed Windows XP Home to some form of Linux.

One of the major leaps in the last few years that makes me just giddy is the Live CD. Originally made popular by the Knoppix distribution, today you can find Live CDs for almost every distribution. It is a great marketing tool. But what I really like, and where I find it to be a great utility, is the ability to put the Live CD onto a flash drive. I did this originally with Knoppix, creating an SD RAM based rescue chip that I could use on a variety of systems. I still carry it with me, along with USB keys with Fedora 11 and Ubuntu Netbook Remix. What I like, besides the great market potential, is the ability to test drive hardware before you go though the sometimes destructive process of installing the operating system only to find this or that piece of hardware does not work. This alone makes any of the Live CDs worth its weight in gold.

So I took my copy of Ubuntu and booted my netbook into it and played with it. Tested the features, made sure the hardware worked and that I could live with the changes. Nothing seemed too alien to me so I rebooted and selected the installation feature. For those who have never played with the Remix, you have the opportunity to install the operating system straight from the Live CD (which in this case is really a USB stick). The installation options are either a dual boot option (where it installs next to Windows) or a full blown destructive installation where it blows away the existing OS. Initially I went with the dual boot option as I was not sure I had finished copying all of my Windows files. This was less than satisfactory. There was not enough swap space allocated, nor was there enough space for the root allocated and, as a result, Ubuntu was slow. Glacially slow. Unacceptably slow. Now I will admit I did not tweak the install, I just took the defaults. So shame on me.

After I made sure I had backed up the files I needed, I regrouped and got serious. First, I did a custom disk format. I prefer 2x my RAM as my swap space (a hold over from early days...perhaps it uses more disk than needed, but it has worked for me, so that is what I do). Also, because I only have one disk, I do not see a need to partition the disk into root and var and usr. Instead I just set the initial partition to root and let the file system fall out below that. If I had a multi-disk system I might set it up differently, but when it is a single spindle, I don't see the value and have been slapped by the limitations when you restrictively partition. There really were not a lot of other choices to make beyond making sure the time zone and keyboard type were set and said install!

The installation was quick and painless. Dare I say bing, bang, boom? It was that quick. One reboot later and the system was up and ready to go. I was running Ubuntu and shortly there after the first set of patches were presented for me to install. The base installation is sufficient for most users. The basic package has Evolution, Firefox, Pidgin, and a couple of other tools that that most folks can get up and on-line with. To this I added a few things. I prefer Thunderbird to Evolution as my email package, so I installed that and a few packages for Amateur Radio (xaster and FBB being two of them) and a few other little things that I felt were necessary. In all, I have about 4 GB worth of operating system files installed on my 160 GB disk. As I write this (in Open Office Writer), I am connected wirelessly to a hotel network in Toronto and have done all the things that I normally would do in Windows. In fact, my wife has even checked her email (she has her own account) and done some web surfing with no difficulties.

All Linux installations should be this easy and this straight forward. Yes, Linux is an incredibly flexible and incredibly powerful operating system. This is one of its strengths. But if the OS is going to make a dent in the desktop market, especially the non-technical, end-user market, then the installation experience offered by the Ubuntu Netbook Remix is an experience that I would hold up as the gold standard. It has certainly been one of the easiest Linux installations I have done in quite some time.


David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack


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HP Mini from Verizon

Ji4116's picture

I have the HP Mini 1151NR netbook that I got from Verizon Wireless and I am using the 3g network for Internet service. I installed the Ubuntu Netbook Remix but the wireless Ethernet Adapter HP un2400 will not work under Ubuntu along with the IDT CODEC sound card does not work. Is there a driver for either to work or is there any fixes out there to get at least the ethernet card to work.

Google is your friend

Memo Juez's picture

and so is the Ubuntu Support Community.

I had issues with my sound card in a Toshiba laptop after installing Linux. I created a response page with the Linux Laptop Team on my make/model and corrected drivers were installed as a Linux update about a week later.

Goto their page and see if anyone has come across or solved the issue.

The advantages of incumbency and of distribution arrangements.

Tony McNamara's picture

Dave said :
" ... if the OS is going to make a dent in the desktop market, especially the non-technical, end-user market ..." then linux distributors are going to have to meet a certain standard in ease of installation. I disagree.
What keeps Ubuntu or any other distro out is not installation issues, nor usability issues. It is distribution issues, de facto document standards, and PC games.
Were it available from the PC shop preloaded or as an option with paid support then the Ubuntu et al distributions would gain some market share there. But in the corporations it is up against the major IT contractors with contracts to manage the entirety of XYZ Corp, contractors who have their supply and support lines with MS and will never look at Ubuntu et al. And it is up against the defacto standards embodied in MS Office. And MS Office dictated MS operating system.
As regards PC games, I believe that many run under virtual pc setups and others with emulation. But the gamers I know who know Ubuntu just want no-hassle setups.
I use Ubuntu. So far at home I have installed it on a Lenovo 3000 laptop, an Asus three-year-old laptop, and a generic PC with NVidia mobo, nic and video card. On each the install was easier and faster than MS-XP, ran faster, updated easier ... My daughter and wife use it including to generate MS Word docs for university and for work. Neither has lost any docs or e-mails in five years. I say that usability is not an issue, nor is availability of applications such as Skype.
Ubuntu et al have produced fantastic distributions. The issue of increasing market share has to do with the advantage of incumbency and the advantage in distribution.

Linux Easier to Load than Vista

Brad S's picture

A couple of weeks ago I was building a new system for my church. The system was for a new A/V system we were installing.

I jumped on a popular computer parts website and ordered up a nice Motherboard, 3 Core AMD CPU, two 1 TB hard drives, Video Card Etc. I bought the system with 32 Bit Vista Business. Figured that way the system would be supported for awhile and be as compatible as possible with various A/V software.

Was thinking about buying the same Motherboard combo to build a new home server and maybe try building a home PVR system of course running Linux. So prior to loading Vista I decided to load Centos 5.3 and see how it went.

The motherboard had built in raid so I build a 1 TB mirrored volume. I started the Centos Load and I picked pretty much all the packages and took the defaults for everything else. Centos saw the raid controller and volume with no assistance. Once the load started I walked away to do something else. 30 Minutes later I came back and finished the install.

Right off the bat the system worked as expected. I was on the network and X-Windows worked like a charm. No driver problem. ( I did find out later when I build my new server I had to load the Linux sound card drive off the Driver CD that came with the Motherboard. Yes there was one! The sound worked but audio recording would not work. A fairly new chip set so no great surprise. Easy to fix. Stuck a extra Sound Blaster Card I had laying around and away I went. )

Next I started my Vista Load. After plugging in the license code Vista couldn't find the raid card. Switch the CD to the driver CD. Loaded the driver. Then the system couldn't find the Windows CD when I switched it back. Kind of figure that would happen. Aborted the install.

Copied the Raid driver to a flash drive and started over. This time I loaded the raid card driver and Vista saw the drive. I formatted the disk as one big C: drive. Windows couldn't find "a valid drive". After fighting with it. I finally came to the conclusion windows was too stupid to handle a 1 TB boot drive. I made two partitions and sure enough the install then found the drives. Now granted Linux needs the small /boot drive but it's smart enough to do that by default!

Once the load was complete I logged on. Come to find out no network or sound. Then I remembered I had to load the drivers. Stuck the driver disk in and loaded the drivers. Now everything seemed to be working.

Next I tried playing a DVD. Low and behold because I bought Vista Business instead of Vista Home I didn't have a DVD player available under Vista. Of course I found a free open source package to replace windows media player that couldn't handle video DVD's. Centos on the other hand played the DVD no assistance.

I have also found packages are much easier to load under Linux. I love using Yum. It figure things out for you so dependancies are not such an issue. Granted if you go with some new project it sometimes gets to be a hassle. But usually that is the fault of the project because they are using a bunch of off beat libraries and or packages.

At this point I have to disagree with the author. I find that Linux is now easier to load than Windows. Especially in the 64 bit realm. I have tons of horror stories from people at work who have tried to move to 64bit Vista.

I expect that Windows 7 will make matter worse, not better. I see more and more people looking at Apples and or Linux. I see more and more vendor support for Linux. I believe that as more mainstream packages port to Linux it will become a desktop power house.


I would have to agreed with

TaNGO's picture

I would have to agreed with play a DVD movie in Linux.
Linux just bad at DVD movies. Win98SE with 16MB System RAM and a 4MB video RAM does the job (the good old days) on a 400MHz Intel CPU....
Try that on Linux...
Too many resources beeing wasted these days.

I seem to be the only one with a different opinion...

NobodysFanBoy's picture

I used Ubuntu 8.10 and loved it but then made the mistake of upgrading to 9.04 and suddenly nothing worked the way it used to. 8.10 is the umpteenth distro I've tried and yeah, they're all easy to install but THAT'S NOT THE POINT! The point is that every last one of them is flaky in their own way and compatibility is hit-or-miss at best - you can get them to connect to the internet immediately but doing something as simple as playing a DVD can either be easy or an endless source of frustration. Don't waste your time flaming me or telling me I don't know what I'm doing, I'm not a noob, I speak from experience and months spent combing Ubuntu and other forums which did nothing to solve my DVD problems. I put Ubuntu on hold at least until I try 9.10 and went back to XP and it was like finding the Garden of Eden...everything worked the way it was supposed to, my Palm synced perfectly, thousands upon thousands of FREE applications were just waiting to be installed (all the same way!) and run perfectly and DVDs just played. I want to love Linux. I DO love Linux. But Linux doesn't give me the love I get from XP. I may feel dirty using XP but at least while I'm using it I know that I don't have to give up ANYTHING I need, not one single thing, just to thumb my nose at Bill Gates.


BillH's picture

You are either a noob or a troll. Everything worked in XP? How? Did you have all the drivers and codecs? No reboots to install them? You had your Palm software and installed it? You had the DVD software and installed it? How many reboots after these installs?

All your apps are installed the same way? How's that? You go to different web sites and need different installation packages (which all have their own updating software they install) and then hopefully the installation software doesn't conflict with something else? You obviously don't know how to add repositories because in all versions of Linux you go to an app that manages the software on your computer. In my favorite version, OpenSuse, it's Yast. There you can search for packages by name, put check marks in the software you want and then install. Period. One app - many installs. Not many web sites (and who knows how many of them are infected with some kind of malware) and many install packages (InstallShield, MSI, Inno Setup, NSIS installer, etc.)

OpenSuse just worked for me. I did add the VLC repository to Yast because I prefer VLC (both in Windows and Linux). Then it was fill in check boxes to install VLC. No reboots.

OpenSuse gives me KDE as the desktop, which rivals Apple's desktop for looks. It leaves Win7 users wanting, at least the ones I've shown it to. It gives me Firefox to browse the web and Dolphin to manage files (on the laptop, on my internal home server and on web sites) The webcam on my laptop works fine with Skype. DVDs and movies of all kinds play in VLC. Networking... well the hardest thing for me was to remember my security key (which I have written on the router itself). About the only thing I can't do is iTunes for my wife's iPod (thank God I don't have to deal with that resource hog any more).

You are a noob

BubbaBee's picture

or a troll. Why pick the one issue that the entertainment cartel have insured is an issue with GNU/Linux? DVDs don't play well in most distros because of the dvdcss issue, nothing more. Other than that, I'd guess but I'm sure I'm right, that the linux kernel shipping in most current distros includes more drivers for more versions of DVD players than any Microsoft OS version, including probably Windows 7. That means for most of the top 10-15 distros in terms of installed base, no hunting for drivers, the DVD player just works. Not so for Windows, good luck finding drivers for the myriad of DVD players out there, since you'll likely need to install the driver post OS installation. If you aren't a noob/troll, it then sounds like you tried, didn't rtfm, and gave up when you didn't get an answer fast enough to what was probably a poorly phrased question or question that revealed that you didn't rtfm. And for ubuntu, even if you didn't rtfm, the fact that you couldn't get an answer is suprising if true because that's one distro community that really extends a helping hand to noobs such as yourself no matter how hard you make it for yourself. Palms work on KDE and Gnome, the two most popular desktop environments, including ubuntu/kubuntu. So that destroys that part of your rant.

Thousands upon thousands of free applications in Windows XP? Welcome to the club. Debian's had over 10,000 FOSS applications free of charge, freely (gpl or other Free) licensed for the vast majority of them, and they are usable, production quality applications that just work. No shareware that I see in debian's repository. No trial period apps that I can remember. Ubuntu and other distros all have similar repositories and other sources for similar/same apps as well. Once you've invested the time in wading through the shareware and limited trial period apps available for Windows, I'm sure there are thousands of apps ready for use on that OS as well. Actually, I recall the FOSS community putting together a free downloadable cd of free FOSS apps that ran on Windows also. And with the KDE porting to Windows effort, you may even have the pleasure of running KDE on your windows desktop sometime soon. As for DVDs, dvdcss is the issue as explained above. Because of that, some distros, especially those supported by commercial companies like ubuntu may decide to decline including the software/apps needed to enable the DVDs to play because of the liability of contributory infringement issue they may face by the entertainment cartel. Because of the large number of desktop users that contribute to the distros, whether code, documentation or tech help in forums and on irc chat instead of them bitching and moaning why a particular piece of hardware doesn't work (when it really does), because of them, DVD playback of even drm'd pre-recorded disks is not only possible, but pleasureable, especially because the disks can be ripped to the hard drives and stored, sorted, and played over the network using normal FOSS applications or specialty FOSS applications like mythtv or others.

As for giving anything up, since finalizing on Debian, I really miss the days when I had to run anti-spyware and anti-virus on my systems. I really miss the pop-up nagware. I really miss changing a couple of pieces of hardware and then being accused of being a pirate (aaaaarrr!). I really miss hunting down authorization numbers. I really miss keeping track of all the authorization/serial numbers. I really miss the anti-piracy hardware dongles. I really miss hunting for drivers. I really miss having to reboot. I really miss crashed/frozen systems and the opportunity they provided for a coffee or lunch break while rebooting fixed the issue. I really miss the lost work from crashed/frozen systems. I really miss telling customers to hold on, I'm having a slow computer/down computer issue, like they tell me when I call them and they admit they are on a Windows system. I really miss employees asking me tech support questions for a crashed or misbehaving application/os when the systems 'just work' I really miss the thrill of rebooting an old server to finish a patch install that everyone is afraid to reboot because it may not come back up due to a hardware failure, and watching that baby cough, sputter and spit as it heroically pulls itself up by its bootstraps and actually does come back up. I miss the thrill of installing a patch and the spontaneous automatic reboot that follows, losing work on that system or booting users off the system. I really miss having to reinstall, especially for new releases of the OS, especially since apt-get dist-upgrade 'just works'. But what I miss the most of all is the thrill of that brown suited individual ringing the doorbell to wheel in a stack of boxes, and the thrill of opening up those boxes to unpack the shiny new hardware needed to run the latest and greatest OS of all time because the current desktops and servers just can't take the excitement of a shiny new OS when they were so used to the old and comfortable. What I really miss is being the systems analyst/admin for family members and friends I never knew I had, especially for their children's spyware/virus infested systems that need to be repaired (somehow, magically, over the phone, or even in person) on a Sunday night or Monday night of a three day weekend, so that they and their kids can stay up all night finishing (starting/finishing) a report or project that they were given three weeks earlier.

Yeah, those were the days. Man, I really miss a lot since settling on Debian. Maybe I'll install Windows in a virtual machine just for nostalgia purposes. Wait, can I do that? Which version is (currently) allowed that privilege?

A Brief Confirmation

Leonard's picture

I recently had fun with a Toshiba Tecra M5 laptop that became infested with the Virtob.W32-something or other virus and several other interesting beasties that took up residency on the end of every .exe file in the Windows system directory. After downloading and trying every major "free for 10 days" antivirus and antispyware software, I had to give in and perform the dreaded hard drive format. In this process, I spent spent countless hours and many cups of coffee without availing.

However, I also have a Dell Mini 9 laptop running Linux Mint distro....NO viruses, NO spyware, NO trialware, NO reboots, NO reformatting, none of the junk. NO daily updating, hourly scanning, etc. IT JUST WORKS.

With M$ Window$, there is always a fear of infection from the web, but how many times have you smiled when a script meant to damage Windows pops up from a web site and Mozilla just pops up a big "Huh, what do you want to do with this?" message?

Gone are the days of defragging, virus scanning, proving I own Windows XP again and again, spyware scanning, updating Office, updating every other component, malicious software removal tool downloading, service pack installing, rebooting, rebooting, and a final reboot, memory errors, open ports, etc. etc. etc.

Windows "Ease" of installation?

jfk's picture

Has anyone actually _tried_ installing Windows XP from scratch on say, an IBM thinkpad lately? You will find you need *a lot* of patience, analysis, visits to OEM websites and quite a few downloads before all your devices work. I'd like to see Joe User cope with that!

Most modern Linux distros don't have this problem. The worst case is where you may have to enable "restricted" drivers, but at least you don't have to play hunt the driver before you can get sound card, decent video res (or in many cases an ethernet or USB 2 port) working. XP often isn't that helpful either, "Unknown" in the hardware list means you often have to guess the device by elimination from what IS working. In fact on a recent corporate desktop estate OS upgrade I assisted with, we often ended up booting Linux LiveCD's so we could use Linux's hardware detection to tell us what devices were on the various types of laptop and then grab the drivers from IBM/Lenovo as needed.

To clarify, we were upgrading Win 2000 to XP, replacing Microsoft Office with, Outlook with Thunderbird and IE with Firefox. However, there were a large number of PC model variants and the client had failed to carry out any kind of decent inventory (as agreed) before we arrived to run the migrations. The result was that there was a lot of custom work to do, installing Linux would have been far easier and faster. What's more, when the upgrades had been actually run, the biggest complaint the users had was that the desktops had changed (2000 to XP) and their icons/shortcuts had moved - that was all they cared about. It would have been no more painful had the client gone Linux desktop.

The main reason Windows is seen as easier to install than Linux is that 99% of the target audience don't have to actually *do* it as it's invariably OEM pre-installed. It's not a fair comparison.

Parent post is correct.

BubbaBee's picture

Any article criticizing how hard GNU/Linux is to install must also include a report on how easy/hard the latest/greatest from Microsoft is to install on the same system from scratch.

Oh, a driver hunting we will go. How about timing it as well?

And as for 99% of the users don't actually have to do it, that's not the only issue. IT departments (or the admin guy, or the admin guy's son) of businesses of all sizes are given the task of helping (whether sanctioned or hush,hush) to install/reinstall Windows on home laptops and even home desktops) in many cases. Either that, or the son or daughter's teenage friend is tasked to help out.

Otherwise, I can see two desktops in my line of site right now abandoned because in one case Windows stopped recognizing it's main hard disk and won't boot (boots fine with Linux), and a second because it's so loaded with viruses and spyware that the user gave up and is using his girlfriend's computer to check email and surf, or his computer at work to do the same as well as other personal tasks. I stopped providing support for Windows at home for a number of years now, and when friends/relatives used to call asking for support and I told them I can't support them anymore because I've been using Linux too long now to know enough about Windows to help them, they no longer bother calling to bother me about their spyware/virus problems or crashed system/recovery problems. Don't know who else they are calling (I have an idea in my extended family, but he's so busy at work I'm guessing that systems are being abandoned for new ones now instead), but I'm no longer being bothered.

Time has come for a new awakening

Kylea's picture

I am using Ubuntu 9.10 64 bit. Its still Alpha and it kills Windows for ease of use and speed and installation ease.

Install was simple and fast and updates were easy. Where else can you get an system that installs itself and then you can run a file that automatically installs ALL the apps you need for FREE and then get the whole lot updated automatically for FREE and then have a huge community to help when things go a bit pear shaped for FREE.

Add in SystemRescue on a CD and fsarchiver and then you have the perfect backup solution.

My wife is using Kubuntu 8.10, - have not updated for 8 months, it just works for her, Open Office, Thunderbird, Firefox, thats all. She complained bitterly for 4 months, I just said no, because I was not prepared fix Windows again after it became un-usable, 17 year old daughter and 21 year old son, Ubuntu 9.10 I386 Alpha versions - just brilliant.

The time is now - the next release of Ubuntu - Karmic Kola will be the water shed moment.

The Move to Linux - Netbook Remix

j.fera's picture

Soft Landings 0.99 on a whitebox with 4megs of RAM (DIP), a 1x CDROM, 30meg HD... a harder install than Windows 3.11

Most people (not corporations) run yesterday's hardware and yesterday's software for the most part. Compare the installation of a current shrink wrapped version of 'Windows' to a comparable version of 'Ubuntu' on yesterday's 'whitebox'. Don't assume 'Corporate IT', or reinstall disks, or driver disks.

I know which is easier... faster... but its not 'Windows'

There in lies the rub...


Clyde's picture

I installed Red Hat (5 or 6.1) on an IBM 1412 in 2000 with no linux experience. It took a while to figure out the ncurses installer, but it wasn't all that difficult. Since then I have installed about 20 different distros on different PCs. It is now easier to install than Windows, and the only Windows OS I have retained is Vista (unused except for registration) on my new laptop for warranty purposes only. There is no comparison between a modern OS and Windows as far as I'm concerned. While updates can and do sometimes break a linux installation, it is repairable. When XP choked on the SP3 update on another laptop, it wasn't worth it to re-install, so now I am running 2 linux distros on that old laptop, one on the new one, and four on my desktop. None of them have given me the trouble that one install of Windows did.


Anonymous's picture

...and you're surprised by this because? Could we not all agree once and for all that Linux is, hands down, the most POWERFUL operating system on the planet and move on to making it even more user-friendly and accessible? It never ceases to amaze me that Windows users (and I had been one for a total of 15 years) can not and will not read the writing on the wall: The Days of the Bloated, Expensive OS Tyranny are OVER - Welcome To The Revolution.

Come on, tell us about your hardware

Foo Bar's picture

We all know that Linux can *eventually* be installed on anything, but we want to know who makes Linux friendly hardware. Machines that are instantly, completely functional like yours are still not in the majority. Perhaps I favor esoteric hardware, but there's always *something* that needs tweaking to get it working right.

Who makes Linux friendly hardware? Just about everyone.

BubbaBee's picture

Case in point, my laptop. Didn't find many reports of success of installation of a linux distro on my laptop. Nothing for my model on But I did find reports of different models with similar hardware specs, after a lot of hunting. I had good experience installing debian on several Toshiba laptops, so I took the plunge and laid out $1,500 for an ASUS M70VN. When it arrived, I opened up the hard drive bay and removed the hard drive with Windows XP on it without even starting it up so I'd have it just in case I had to return the laptop for warranty. In its place I installed a larger hard drive. In the second drive bay I installed an identical hard drive to the first. I popped the CD drive upon with a paper clip, installed a debian network install disk, partitioned up the drive to include software raid for /home /usr and / along with raided swap partitions, then installed debian with kde as the desktop environment. While I was able to start using the laptop immediately, I slowly checked the features against the one success report I found on the internet. Everything I could think of worked, except some volume control feature built into the touchpad that appears to be windows-based. No problem. There are a couple of volume controls on the kde desktop that I regularly use. Wireless 'just worked' without my installing anything, and after I turned wireless on, it picked up two encrypted networks in the area. Then I disabled it as I don't trust wireless with my data. The only two things I didn't check at first because I simply forgot was whether suspend to ram and suspend to disk worked (I didn't check because I'm using this laptop as a desktop replacement and my uptimes are in the hundreds of days, so I don't suspend to anything, the laptop runs 24/7), and I also didn't check suspend because of past reported issues with it a while ago that I didn't investigate further. I later tried closing the lid to see if suspend worked, but it shut down instead. I did a bit of googling and found that I needed to install an app, so I fired up synaptic, a couple of points and clicks, the app installed, and suspend to ram and suspend to disk is working flawlessly for me now. The last thing someone mentioned is a usb headset for skype. I put mine away when using debian lenny on my toshiba and it didn't seem to work and I couldn't figure out why. I just recently pulled them back out, and since I had a camera installed on the laptop, I figure I'd install skype. Well, the usb headset works, and skype works. I installed the static version of skype since that was the advice for the Linux version. The headset works, I have an account and number now with skype, and the camera also works (which I promptly pointed the other way and covered with tape along with disabling the laptop's built-in mike.

I have an absolutely gorgeous 17" display with better than hi-def video, decent sound, and am happy with everything about this laptop running Linux except for the limitation of 4GB of RAM. I'm a memory hog when I use a computer, so even a raided swap partition doesn't help when memory use gets above 4GB. I'll put up with it until ssd drives drop in price enough for me to afford two of them for this laptop. By then I may not need it as cpu speed and memory capacities (and SATA and USB interface speeds) will climb and I may end up selling this laptop and moving up to something faster. In the meanwhile, I'm enjoying Debian on this laptop, including DVD playback and movie watching, compared to a problematic Toshiba laptop I have that's three years old and has a problem video card in it.

Linux friendly hardware? Who knew that linux would work well on these little laptops coming out now? Look at all the embedded systems out there that run some other OS and hackers get Linux running on them? Who knew that Linux would not only run on Sony playstations, but that you could build a kick-ass cluster of them because of the cpu it uses? Who knew that Linux would run on an XBox? Don't you know that your TIVO runs on Linux? Your cable modem or dsl modem probably runs on Linux? Your digital television probably runs on Linux?

Back in the day of windows software modems and when SGI and Sun ruled workstations especially for CAD and movie rendering, it was a pain in the ass struggle with X (the video driver). And yes, we did have to put up with proprietary drivers that didn't always work right or with less functional free reverse-engineered (or best guess) versions of the same drivers. And with sound card manufacturers playing third fiddle to Linux. And with even Foxconn scanning the OS during bootup and then crippling the OS if it detected linux...but those days are largely over. Most computer chips, cpus, chipsets, and other hardware is already out and working with Linux. Anything new that comes out is usually a rebrand of generic underlying hardware, so it 'just works' as well. Newer/faster hardware is just newer/faster of the same underlying hardware, with generally the same or very similar firmware, so it 'just works' as well.

Manufacturers, especially in this economy, but earlier as well, don't want to reinvent the wheel. So the original design manufacturers reuse as much hardware, chips, chipsets as they can, building now to standards. And if built to standards, Linux works, in most cases even where drm may stick it's nose in. Microsoft's customers have had it with interoperability problems. Look at how MS's customers are forcing MS to work with Red Hat even though Red Hat refused to sign a patent agreement with MS. The only issue these days is whether an end user has to upgrade to a newer kernel version or if they don't want to or don't know how and won't take the time to learn, upgrade to a newer version of their distro instead, that has a newer kernel version, so that their latest and greatest hardware will work. Thanks to debian backports repository, I can run both lenny and etch (old stable, new stable) with the newest kernels, and since they are precompiled it is a simple point and click installation, then a reboot to run the new kernel. Hopefully, with the new ksplice app, even reboots will be a thing of the past.

When I dig out an old system from my basement, or need to get some info long forgotten off an old laptop, it isn't Windows that I boot into. Hopefully the system has (or I can install) a cd player. Then I can boot a minimal distro of linux and move all the data off the old computer and onto media or across the network to a desktop or server. The same with old desktops and servers at my old company. The same at my friend's company. The same at my relatives' companies. It isn't a Windows disk I bring with me, it's a Linux disk. And as long as it isn't some versions of a windows modem, or some limited versions of motherboards that didn't play well with Linux sound in the past, there isn't a problem. With the disk, it 'just works' without hunting for drivers. Linux sound and video drivers have matured quite a bit, especially more recently. Just a handful of years ago, Linux wasn't supported by commercial companies like it is today. So there were sometimes major issues with some hardware. But with IBM, Red Hat, LG Electronics, Asus, Dell, HP, Epson, many of the original design manufacturers and many of the original equipment manufacturers now being told (or deciding for themselves) that they must also work with Linux and work well with Linux, that issue is going away and going away fast.

With the growing number of companies, and their individual shrinking research budgets, the collaboration and joint research and development possible with Linux and the GPL that underpins it, Linux is getting better and more capable, at an increasing rate. The amount of development of the linux kernel and linux applications that will be completed this year will far exceed the amount of development completed two or three years ago. And two or three years ago, the same could be said then, the amount of development completed then far exceeded the two or three years before then. Some of you may recall how bad the original 'staroffice' was when Sun first bought out star. It was a grating experience to use 'staroffice 5.2' back then. And for a long time afterward. Look at where was two years ago, then a year ago, and now. Mozilla/Firefox is the same. Very slow development years ago. This year, Firefox is one of the leaders in browser development, a feat that Microsoft will never be able to match anymore unless they open source their browser development under a free license, along with everything else they put out, otherwise they just won't get the critical mass that Free Software/GPL'd or Apache licensed or similar projects now have.

The only issue for "Linux friendly hardware" is whether it (drivers) is in the kernel version your installed distro uses or not. And if not, are you willing to upgrade your distro to a non-stable version, or just upgrade the kernel? Debian has pre-compiled kernels ready for use in older versions of it's distro. Most other distros have the same. Or you can follow a step-by-step, fully explained guide to upgrading your kernel on your installation. Or you can check if the manufacturer has a driver that you can install for the hardware, which more and more are either on their own site, or on a third party site that they unofficially sanction and support.

In any case, for the most part these days and getting more so by the day, installing and running Linux on just about any hardware new or old or very old is not only possible, but easier to do than with using Windows.


David Lane's picture

I have been talking about my hardware as I have done these posts (especially when it fails - like the P Series RAID drivers from HP), but I agree, the biggest impediment is not the software but the myriad of various hardware devices, like NICs (both wired and wireless), RAID controllers, SD Card readers, etc, and in some cases, if you have a laptop, you do not have the ability to pick and choose the hardware that would best support your Linux distribution of choice.

For this particular installation, my netbook was an Asus Eee PC 1000H. Not sure the chipset on the wireless card or the wired NIC or the SD card reader but if you really want to know, I will dig into it and see what it is.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack

It is all about the drivers

SwiftNet's picture

I run a small IT company. I mainly support Windows users. I run Linux on all of my equipment and I run Linux on all of my clients servers. What I've seen after hundreds of Windows installs is this, if you have the drivers on a CD or usb stick, the Windows install is fairly painless. It is very time consuming, but relatively painless. If you do not have a driver disk it turns into a very significant undertaking. I've found that Windows XP does not support many network adapters natively. If the network adapter is not supported, there is no easy way to download a driver from the Internet. This is a chicken and egg thing. Can't connect to get the drivers to allow you to connect. Most Linux distro's natively support a huge variety of network adapters. This alone makes a Linux distro install much easier than a Windows install, imo. I've often had to use a Linux live CD to download a network driver for a Windows install and then use ntfs-3g to write the downloaded driver to the Windows drive/partition. After the initial install of Windows and all required drivers, you must install all of your applications, everything from archiving software to office suites to graphics packages. This takes a huge amount of time, generally eating up the whole day to get a Windows system tweaked for a user. A good Linux based distro will install all of the commonly used apps along with the OS.

My 2 cents,


Alex C.

Linux is easy

Anonymous's picture


even in the 90s installing linux was an easy task, piece of cake, you guys want a dumb install? come on and learn something.

and even if it was hard, you just need to install it ONE TIME, from then on you computer will never be the same again.

come on guys, what is wrong with you??

Good overview

apexwm's picture

This article hits the main points. Linux IS easier to install than ever. It IS just as easy to install compared to Windows. Anybody that is installing an operating system is going to have to expect to learn some things, in order to tweak their new system. This is a fact no matter what operating system you use. In Windows, there is some tweaking to be done, as well as Linux. However, the amount of tweaking in Linux sometimes surpasses that of Windows. It takes some patience. But, it is WELL worth it in the long run. In the end, by using Linux, you will save yourself MANY many hours of troubleshooting, virus cleaning, spyware cleaning, and general Windoze slowdown.. by using Linux and not dealing with ANY of that.


kaddy's picture

I can't think of a Popular Distrubution of Linux that is at ALL painful to install..........?
Unless we are talking about Arch Linux or Gentoo!
They ALL have automated options and the rest takes care of itself! How Easy do You Want an Installation to be!!????

Not necessarily

Ken Sarkies's picture

If you go back three to four years, Linux often seemed to choke on lack of drivers for sound and wireless. Now the problem seems a lot less, but if you go for a very recent motherboard release it may still be an issue. Windows drivers are released at the same time as the hardware, but Linux drivers are rarely ever released by the manufacturers. I am still even now compiling alsa in order to use Skype because the version in the Ubuntu respository is several releases behind the version that supports my headphones on a two year old laptop.

I am not a computer geek by

Anonymous's picture

I am not a computer geek by any stretch. I have played games on PC's since Pong. Everyday I used to LOAD"*",8,1 on my C-64 and go ride my bike for an hour while my copied version of any game I owned loaded and i prayed it didn't get hung up......
Its 2009 now and I got my first Knoppix Laptop for Xmas cause the guy that had it before me didn't like Windows.
I played with it for a bit and decide hey since I am on a shoestring budget and I would like to learn more about computers, I will check out this Linux thing.
Almost a year later I have dual booted my laptop with XP and LinuxMint.
My point is this.......if you know nothing about installing or computers you are gonna have trouble installing either one. Simply cause you don't know. I did the RTFM thing and am learning now.
And now my laptop only has Linux on it and I have an old Pentium 3 with Xubuntu on it.....LOL!!!!

"End-users" don't install operating systems anyway

Anonymous's picture

Anyone who knows enough to install any operating system (Windows, Linux, or anything else) can easily use install and use Linux. "Ease of installation" is not the barrier keeping most people using Windows - it is simply the fact that almost all computers come with Windows, so that is what they use. Most people aren't even aware that consumer-available computers run anything but Windows or OS-X.

If a large segment of the population ever starts using Linux, it won't occur from everyone starting to reformat their hard drives - it will be from greater sales of computers that come with Linux already installed.

Multi-Boot Success Stories Can Be Found On The Ubuntuforums!

John and Dagny Galt's picture

Multi-Boot Success Stories Can Be Found On The Ubuntuforums!

One contributor, Lew Rockwell, has installed a half-dozen distros on an Acer Aspire One Netbook.

John and Dagny Galt
Atlas Shrugged, Owner's Manual For The Universe!(tm)



lighans's picture

Well, netbook remix is slow compared to a lot of distributions. I prefer Pardus Linux. On your netbook it has some glinches during install, but it's not ment for netbooks. The fun part is that it's quick and eficient. Just for my needs. On a normal desktop or laptop I dare to say that the installation is as easy as with Ubuntu.

First Windows is easy but later things might change.

Antero's picture

I agree that Windows is still much easier to install if your hardware support it. But if you have to change e.g your motherboard or sounddevice things might change dramatically. Thunder broke my sounddevice 1 year ago and after i've to reinstall Windows little bit later (worms and trojans) i had to search 1 our drivers for new sounddevice. Xp couldn't even found new drivers for new inkjet printer (Canon S100). It was really frustrating websearching to find them.

During the same day i installed Ubuntu beside Xp and you know what - Ubuntu 8.04 found easily all these drivers and installation was surprisingly easy. I've installed Red Hat in 2000 and remember how difficult it was (actually without help of my friend i'd have not done it). But the best thing in Ubuntu is the community. As a novice i had to ask some help for e.g flashvideos and some javaplugins. Community gave the help many times in just few minutes. With Windows you don't have any community help. There don't exist any real "Windows-community".

There are so many reasons to stay now in Linux and avoid Windows. Later i've installed e.g Linux Mint Gloria - it has been even more easier than Ubuntu. I just wonder who really can nowadays argue that Linux is just for geeks and nerds. When you have problems with Windows nowadays you gotta to be nerd to solve them. And some times it could be even impossible. There ain't flexibility in Windows like in Linux.

XP/Vista/7 easier to install than Linux?

Saif's picture

The only reason XP etc may appear easier to install is that you are provided with a driver disk by the manufacturer of the netbook or PC that contains all the drivers necessary for Windows to work. True a lot of the drivers are packaged with the OS CD, but I bet most modern hardware will not be able to have an optimal install without this collection of machine specific collection of drivers. Linux has to manage without this manufacturer support...and does so better than XP, Vista or I expect Windows 7 would if there were no supplied driver disk...

The Move to Linux

Jean Chicoine's picture

I'm fairly new to Linux. I switched from Windows XP to Ubuntu 8.10 some six months ago and I will never regret my move. Since then I've installed Ubuntu 8.10 on my daughter's computer. She's 8 years old and as far as she's concerned, Ubuntu rules! She hated the anti-virus and anti-spyware programs she had to put up with on Windows. I've also installed the distribution (8.10) on 3 other computers with no problems whatsoever. Maybe a few minor tweaks here and there and that was it, the machines were ready to go.
However, when I decided to upgrade my own computer from 8.10 to 9.04 I ran into some problems. I read the forums, found solutions and workarounds. Nevertheless, I decided to revert back to 8.10 (had to reinstall it, nothing there) and I will stick to it until the end of its support. Then I will upgrade to 9.04 (when everybody else has already upgraded to 9.10).
Is Linux mature and easy to install enough to appeal to the general public? Almost. I'd say 95% ready. On the other hand, when I see the problems that people go through when they upgrade their Windows distribution, I say: move to Linux! It's gonna be easier and if you run into some problems, you WILL find help and solutions among the Linux community.
By the way, my daughter and I surf the web on Opera, the best browser, the fastest, the coolest, the sexiest. She skinned hers Princess Pink. I skinned mine à la Star Trek.
Opera rocks! Ubuntu rules!


Roland's picture

The very first linux release was a liveCD: google 'Yggdrasil'. It was dead-slow on my 386 in '94. Also, for ham/swl try 'fldigi'. CW, Rtty, psk, etc.

Netbook remix

Wine Curmudgeon's picture

I have installed it twice on two ASUS machines, replacing Xandros and the goofy version of XP that ASUS has been bribed to use these days. It was a snap. I compare this to the horror that is upgrading Windows, which I did once years ago and have vowed never to do again.

I have been running Windows since I replaced my DOS machine all those years ago, and even when it works well (Windows 95, XP), it's still an adventure to turn it on every day. Maybe I just have the zeal of a convert (and I don't need to run any Adobe products), but when I can find the time to back up my Vista system, I'm going to do a Live CD and install Ubuntu.

Windows 2000?

Anonymous's picture

"Flash forward to 2009 and I would argue that Linux is mature. If I was to use an analogy, I would put it as the same level as Windows 2000 or NetWare 5.1."

Get some sense man, windows 2000? Almost every Linux distribution as you mentioned give you the opportunity to install from live CD how could you be comparing that with windows 2000? Most Linux distributions offers the easiest and most advanced method of installation available, if you use the mainline distributions which is what you should, not even Windows Xp or Vista can hold a candle to the Linux way.


David Lane's picture

Sorry, as good as Live CDs are, the installation process is still not as mature as XP across all distributions. Yes, there are some that are, but most are not.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack

Mature in what way? I agree

Barista Uno's picture

Mature in what way?

I agree that some distros are a pain to install. But based on my few months of experience with a number of distros, I think Linux is heaven-sent in terms of: 1) speed of installation vis-a-vis Windows; and 2) freedom from having to beg some company to activate your freshly installed OS.

Define "all"

twrock's picture

"...the installation process is still not as mature as XP across all distributions."

The problem with your statement is that you are setting an unfair parameter: "all". So technically, your statement is true. All anyone needs to do is to find one Linux distribution whose installation process is not as mature as XP's and your statement is technically true. But it really is an unfair statement. It demands that "all" (or "most") distributions achieve the same high standard before Linux installs can be deemed "mature". That is nonsense since it will never happen. Within the hundreds of Linux distro's there will always be at least one that has serious installation problems.

At the moment I only run Windows XP and Ubuntu 9.04 on my computers (every machine runs on Ubuntu but not all can dualboot into Windows). Compared to installing Ubuntu, Windows XP definitely is not as "mature". (I have no experience with Vista, and it is my intention to never have.) I dread the thought of having to reinstall XP, but Ubuntu is so "mature" that I don't hesitate to install the next version the moment it comes out. With a separate /home partition, the process is a no brainer that completes in minutes (vs. hours) with extremely little input necessary on my part. Reboot, one update, and it's done.

Yes, Ubuntu is just one distro, and you can always find "some" Linux distros for which the installation process is not as mature as Windows XP, but I do not see how that is a fair comparison at all.

Apples and Granny Smiths

mrmomoto's picture

Agreed (with rebuttal above to OP's argument); you can compare Ubuntu (or it's happier, giddier offspring, Mint) to, say, Feather Linux or Xandros or Fedora and then state that "ease of installation" should be generically uplifting across the board, but you'd be a fool to do so. It's like saying some grapes suck since they're not seedless or All Apples Should Taste Like Granny-Smiths Because Green Is Prettier. Compare apples to apples and state a preference and we'll all get along better in the long run.

Not Buying That

Anonymous's picture

I think you are a little bit in the past the live CD installation is a mature method of installation, it works more often and much easier for me than any windows installation ever, I usually have Win. XP quite often stucking with 13% remaining or have a SATA drive not recognized, even in the early days of live Linux installation I have never had a drive not being recognized, yes this is a driver issue but the fact is that the installation failed, and do I need to mention a drive formatted with something other than FAT or NTFS?

I usually have to build a custom xp install cd to get SATA recognized or have a CD form Dell or other OEM that to me Is way below par and we can not go comparing things across all distributions you have to use the mainline distributions, you will have to demonstrate to me in what way is a windows 2000 installation on par with a 2009 live Linux distribution and how Windows Xp installation method is more mature than the Linux Live CD method of today, what do you mean by mature? Chronologically? or that the thing is more robust and capable? Windows Xp's method may be older I think, more robust? No, I think not.

Care to offer any examples?

vivaelamor's picture

I cannot think of one way in which Windows XP is more mature than any of the main desktop focused Linux distributions when it comes to installation. In fact, I cannot think of a lot of ways that it is even on par with Linux in that regard. I'd argue that Slackware has a more mature installation procedure than Windows XP and that is not even a desktop focused distribution.

By mature I mean well designed and working.