Linux at home

I installed the lastest version of SUSE Linux on my home computer last weekend. 

Linux is a free alternative to Windows.  For technically-minded people, it can be more powerful, safer and much cheaper to use than Windows.  It is now widely used by businesses for servers (most webservers run on Linux).  Easy-to-use desktop versions have been slower to emerge, partly because many of the geeks who contribute their time (free) to write, debug, improve and document Linux have not always given a high priority to developing an easy user interface.

If you have been using Firefox web browser (and about 20% of the readers of this blog do) you will know that free, open source software can be considerably more powerful, more reliable, easier to use, and more safe than the proprietary alternatives such as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.  And what is true for the web browser is true for the entire operating system.

The latest version of SUSE is a joy to use.  I have Windows XP on my laptop, and I can honestly say that I think SUSE is better desktop operating system.  It comes laden with free software, from music players (without any Digital Rights Management) to a free alternative to Microsoft Office which does the job at least as well (and in some ways better).

Installing and updating Linux on my desktop was quicker and easier than installing and updating Windows XP on my laptop.   Installing Windows required me to update the driver for my laptop’s sound card so that I could update successfully to Service Pack 2; install SP2 (which takes an hour or more); and then uninstall various Windows services that I do not need to secure my laptop.  SUSE Linux, by contrast, recognised all my hardware automatically, installed all the correct drivers, and updated itself online in 20 minutes.

I’ve made some notes here about the installation, mainly relating to ensuring that the computer correctly handles multimedia (such as MP3 files and commercial DVDs). 

In addition, I have set up my own IMAP mail server at home.  This is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut (I now have a commercial strength, secure mail server) and is quite involved (just as it would be in Windows).  But it is also rewarding, as it gives me a very powerful and easy to use central mail system which I can access in many different ways.    Full details here

7 comments on “Linux at home”

  1. I tried installing Ubuntu 5.10 on my laptop a couple of weeks ago – that was a real barrel of laughs. After several messing about for a few hours (fretting about partitioning my harddrive and possible losing my XP operating system – it was a risk I was prepared to take) the installation process finally came to an end. Unfortunately, there was something wrong with the video drivers so I couldn’t make head nor tail of the screen’s output. Pah! I also tried installing FreeBSD, but that never got off the ground, and also installing linux on to my iPod, which killed that off too. I did however notice later that there’s a version of linux tailored for the iPod, but by this late stage I’d already decided to give the whole thing a rest.

    Owen replies: I am sorry you had problems with Ubuntu.  It is a common experience that Linux is harder to install on laptops than on desktops, because the hardware is often less standard.  (The same is true of Windows – my laptop would not install a retail version of Wiindows – you have to use the CDs that come with it and then upgrade from there).  But I did install SUSE Linux on my laptop and it recognized all the hardware perfectly, so you can be lucky.   Now that Linux has good support for suspend/resume and wireless cards, it works pretty well on laptops too.

  2. Ubuntu is a fantastic distro. My WindoZe Tablet PC gave up the ghost (or so I thought) a while ago. I was unable to reinstall the special tablet pc edition of WindoZe XP, as the OS failed to recognise the external USB CD-Rom drive. I then decided to install Ubuntu and it booted immediately from the external drive and installed with no glitches.  It’s been running perfectly ever since. The next step is to try and find a stable tablet PC Linux distro…..if any one knows of any please let me know.

    If anyone is interested in open source with an international development angle they should check out the latest edition of DFID’s ‘Developments’ publication. I managed to pull off quite a stunt by suggesting they write an Open Source story and put the OpenCD on the front cover. (Incidentally it contains an evaluation copy of Ubuntu Linux on the CD).

    Owen replies: Jason – great to hear from you.  Well done on getting the OpenCD on the front of Developments magazine – a real coup.  Very interesting to hear that Ubuntu would install where Window$ wouldn’t on your laptop.  I think we are nearing a tipping point at which Linux is ready for the desktop of non-specialist users.  I suspect the success of Firefox has contributed a lot to user willingness to use free software.  

    I understand the Ubuntu has a reputation for being a distro that ‘just works’ – not too much choice, not too many different components; but what there is works right away with no additional configuration.  Is that right? (It reminds me of OSX – Macs are very popular here on the West Coast). 

  3. Thanks Owen – nice to be back in touch. Having dabbled with a few Linux distros before, Ubuntu was by far the easiest to install. It picked up all my hardware with no problems. It was all the more impressive considering it was a Tablet PC. I didn’t have any additional work to do other than a standard install. In the past I have had difficulties with Linux detecting wireless adaptors – but no problems this time.
    This process did highlight how far Linux has become and I think it is almost ready for the masses.  What remains is a dummy-proof way of installing software for newbies.  Ubuntu certainly comes close. As a Power Book owner and a massive fan of OS X I can see the similarities. I like to see them as close cousins from the same UNIX family.

  4. hi, i have a toshiba portege with an external cd rom and it wont read the cd rom on boot. i have looked at linux suse 10 and am wondering if it woulif it would boot.please let me know what you think …thanks…bob. 

  5. Bob

    You may need to go into the computer’s bios, by holding down the ESC key during boot, and changing the boot sequence to boot first from the CD-ROM. 

    If the computer is very old and the bios does not support booting from CDROM, you will need to create a boot floppy disk instead with the drivers for your CDROM or for your network so that you can complete the intallation.

    I suggest you consider the new Ubuntu – which seems to install on almost any system.

    Owen

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Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and