I managed to install the free Ubuntu Linux operating system on my second computer with very little problem and, being very easy to get to know, it was getting high marks in my eyes.
It came with a wide selection of free software packages already installed including, as I was pleased to find, a very nice Mahjong game. I managed to use the built-in package manger to find and install a program called Wine, which lets you run many Windows programs on Linux.
The time for playing around was over, and I decided to put Ubuntu to the test to see if it could be a really viable replacement for the Windows XP I use every day. It recognised my HP D1360 printer as soon as I plugged it in, and I was able to print a document without any fuss at all.I inserted a memory card from my camera into the attached card reader and the built-in image viewer woke up and offerered to download the pictures. All were downloaded but only the the jpeg images were displayed; the RAW ones were only visible as icons.
I plugged in an audio CD and it played perfectly but the trouble started when I tried to play a DVD and the movie player flatly refused to play it. I also tried some online videos including some from YouTube, and nothing would play.
After a lot of digging around in the Help section, I discovered that the video formats are included on a list of what Ubuntu calls restricted formats. Ubuntu is free and it doesn’t play those formats out-of-the-box for legal reasons, which I don’t entirely understand.
There were full instructions about what to do to enable the restricted formats and, after fiddling for a looooong time, I managed to get DVDs to play but not, crucially, online video or sound streamed from the BBC Radio site. Why they couldn’t have built a feature in to at least warn you if you try to play a restricted file, I don’t know.
The second disappointment came when I tried to plug in my HP 4400c scanner and got absolutely zero response. After much digging through the help file on that, I discovered that, although most relatively modern scanners will work perfectly under Ubuntu, mine won’t.
The lack of hardware drivers was alway Linux’s Achilles Heel but it does seem that things are improving and that, if you have relatively new peripherals, they should be able to work under Ubuntu.
Overall, I was very impressed with Ubuntu and felt that it would make a perfectly usable system for most computer users, especially if they are starting with a new system, and only buy peripherals that are guaranteed to work with it.
The savings that can made by not having to buy an operating system and software can be considerable and may make the difference between being able to afford a PC and not.
I would say that that, for more advanced users who are likely to ask more their PCs, the decision of whether Ubuntu would be viable or not, will hinge on whether there is software available to do whatever they want to do.
Where Windows scores is that there are so many people around who can fix it and, although Ubuntu has some catching up to do, there is a growing body of people skilled in it. I don’t see that there’d be any harm for most users in choosing Ubuntu when buying a new PC.
If I was equipping a business with PCs, I’d choose Unbuntu and the associated free office suite like a shot. On the other hand, I see little need for existing users to upgrade to it, if they’ve already got a legal copy of Windows and all the software they need; time enough to consider that the next time they need a new machine.
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