When I mention to someone in a conversation that I use Ubuntu on a regular basis I typically receive three responses. The first response is: “What’s Ubuntu?” The second response is: “I’ve heard of that, but I’m not techie enough to use it.” And the third response is: “Me too! Don’t you love it?”
I’m taking time this week to post on Ubuntu use because I believe it’s a great operating system that’s free, easy to use, and it enables the average user a tool set that compares to a Windows or Mac platform for little to no cost with the computer she/he already has. Firefox, Thunderbird, and Chrome are all available on the Ubuntu platform.
In short (from the Ubuntu website) “Ubuntu is the world’s favorite free operating system, with more than 20 million people preferring it to commercial alternatives.” If you head over to ubuntu.com you can read in much greater detail why Ubuntu is so great. However, of course Ubuntu is going to tout their operating system on their website. I thought it would be helpful to offer some of my own personal insight as to why I use Ubuntu on a daily basis.
Before continuing I will relay that I use Mac OS X at work, my home computer has a Windows 7 installation, and Ubuntu rounds out the three operating systems I use on a daily basis. I’ve used Mac and Windows for years and I’m very comfortable in either environment. So the question remains, “Why should I use Ubuntu when I have a Mac or PC?”
I dig Mac’s but let’s face it, they are rather expensive. I’m not going to drop a grand on a Mac for my kids. I’m just not. Ubuntu is free to install and for most applications free software comes with the installation. Windows machines are cheaper but they also come with some realities that may cost you more money in the long run. Often the time associated with Windows upkeep makes a Windows installation equal (if you consider your time money or value lost).
As of this writing and for the foreseeable future Ubuntu is virus free. No antivirus to download and no making sure your definitions are up to date. This is the primary reason my kids use Ubuntu. I don’t want them to infect their machine primarily because I would be the one fixing it. I realize Mac’s are also virus free (practically speaking) but again, see the previous point.
My Windows installations inevitably slow down over time. This means I need to defragment the hard drive, clean out the junk, mess with the registry, check my startup applications, and double-check to ensure I haven’t been infected with adware or a virus. Ubuntu installations don’t require defragmentation. (check this post to see why http://www.howtogeek.com/115229/htg-explains-why-linux-doesnt-need-defragmenting/). My Ubuntu installs have remained light-speed in comparison to a Windows installation of the same age. Perhaps speed is not a deciding factor for you, but it’s certainly nice when boot up and shutdown times are expedient.
Here’s the cool thing. Ubuntu comes with some pretty killer software that is also free. LibreOffice (especially the latest version) is a fantastic MS Office alternative. It performs extremely well in comparison to its much more expensive cousin. LibreOffice is also compatible with the major office platforms. Shotwell is a solid iPhoto alternative and the GIMP will allow you to do some serious photo editing and graphic design. I’ve found that while some of the open-source applications lack the polish of their expensive counterparts they provide the average to intermediate user with a great set of tools for home and office use.
If you’ve got an older machine that is struggling to run Windows you may find that Ubuntu or some other Linux distribution will breathe new life into a machine that you’ve almost given up on trying to use. I have a Dell laptop from 2007 that is running Ubuntu 12.04 at a very acceptable speed. My son uses it all the time and hasn’t complained once about it being slow. The Windows side of it keeps blue screening but the Ubuntu partition has remained rock solid.
Ease of Use
Really? This belongs on the list? I believe it does. When you factor in no antivirus, the level of maintenance typically required on a Windows machine, and the amount of software included in a standard Ubuntu installation I believe it’s easier to use Ubuntu on a long-term basis than Windows. In fact, and I’m not making this up, my 10-year-old daughter prefers Ubuntu to Mac or Windows. She just clicks the Firefox icon in the upper left hand corner and Youtubes herself silly. She’s even done some word processing using LibreOffice without any instruction from me.
One of the downsides to Ubuntu is that because it doesn’t normally come installed on a computer from the manufacturer (although this is slowly changing) it involves downloading an image and installing that image from a CD or USB drive. I don’t believe this is overly complicated and there is a plethora of documentation on how to install Ubuntu. For many users they will dual-boot. Dual boot means that at startup the user is given a choice to boot into Ubuntu or Windows. This way you can run either Ubuntu or Windows on the same machine. Yet, for the user that just wants to turn on their computer and not think about their OS even downloading an image to install is understandably a bit frightening.
If your Windows installation has given you a lot of problems and you can’t afford to plunk down the money for a Mac, I highly recommend giving Ubuntu a spin. There’s even an option to install Ubuntu within Windows just like a software install for a very easy avenue to test drive Ubuntu. If you’re interested in learning more about Ubuntu head over to ubuntu.com.