Ubuntu: 1 Windows:0

June 5, 2010

The other evening my cousin called, he had phoned to say that he was on the way but gave no clue as to the reason for the visit. When he arrived he was carrying his daughters netbook, a bright pink Acer Aspire One (10.2″ model). I remembered that I had promised to install Ubuntu on the machine for her but had forgotten to do so as the weeks passed. She had seen Ubuntu for the first time when my cousin took possession of my own AA1 (the original 8.9″ model) earlier on in the year and had liked the look and feel of it. Over the next few weeks however she also became impressed with the overall speed of the machine especially during the boot process. Her own machine had XP along with all the normal bloatware installed by Acer, booted to the desktop at least 20 to 30 seconds after Ubuntu and then took another 30 before the desktop was usable, meanwhile her dad had been browsing happily for what seemed like minutes.
I was looking forward to having another Linux convert, so I plunged in, popped a USB pen drive into a slot, booted up and prepared to install Ubuntu 10.04. Then I found out that she used a 3G dongle for her Internet connection. In an instance what had seemed like a normal familiar installation became fraught with the expectation of failure. Although I had seen many 3G dongles I had never seen one in operation on Linux and had no experience to fall back on. I hastily tried the dongle in my own machine running 10.04 and was delighted to find that it was detected and recognised immediately. A few clicks and one PIN later it was configured and connected.
An hour later the installation was completed, the bottom panel had been deleted and replaced by Avant Window Navigator, the machine was tested, including making the process of connecting the dongle automatic and was ready to be returned to it’s owner.
I’ve been a Linux user now for about the last two years and after some initial distro hopping settled on Ubuntu as my distro of choice because of it’s simplicity and ease of use. The majority of the installations I have done for family and friends in that time have also been Ubuntu or it’s derivative Linux Mint. Every one of those installations presented its own difficulties and each in its own way contributed to my ever increasing knowledge and confidence in Linux.

Ubuntu 10.04 on a Dell 1564

March 26, 2010

Last month I was delighted to be able to purchase a new laptop. This was indeed a very rare occasion and I was determined to get the best value for money possible. I spent months looking at all of the laptops within my price range and in the end came down to two options. The first was an Acer Aspire 5536G, with an AMD 2.1Ghz processor and a 512Mb graphics card, the other was the recently released Dell Inspiron 1564, with a Core i3 2.1Ghz processor; both had 3Gb RAM and a 250Gb HD. The fact that the Dell had the better processor and a nicer design tilted the odds in its favour, however the deal breaker was the realization that if I purchased a machine with a 512Mb graphics card I would never see said machine, as the kids would monopolize it playing games. So, I became the very happy owner of a Dell Inspiron with Windows 7 64bit installed. Once I had resized the partition I installed Ubuntu 9.10 only to find the neither the screen (resolution) or the wireless card worked. I tried with an 9.04 CD and found that while the screen resolution was limited to 1024×768, the wireless card, a Broadcom unit worked with the closed source driver. I hit the forums determined to find a solution that would give me the best of both worlds. The first thing on offer was to install a later kernel with 9.10, so with the necessary documentation to hand I hacked away. Many many hours later I realized that I had made a fundemental mistake, while I had the correct screen resolution, the wireless card stubbornly refused to work. Every time it tried to install a driver jockey-gtk would crash and I was back to square one. Back to google for a few more days of searching and the only distro that would completely support the 1564 was 10.04 alpha. One download and one cd lighter I had a fully working laptop. The alpha release was a bit buggy, plymouth crashed on every boot, firefox a bit more occasionally, but since the beta everything has improved, with very few bugs at all. So far its only been getting better, window control buttons aside.

Lucid Lynx on the Dell 1564

Cronyism in Ireland

February 6, 2010

It was soon after completing my leaving certificate that I first encountered cronyism in Ireland. I had applied for a position in a local technical college, to do a course in electronics but was lacking the necessary funds to attend, so had applied for a scholarship with the VEC (Vocational Educational Council). I had high hopes as my grades had been quite high, far better than the entry requirements but were quashed when I learned that the place had been given to a fellow member of my class. It was much later when I learned why he had been given the place in my stead. It certainly wasn’t because he had gained a greater academical grade. He had not, in fact he had failed the maths exam, a course requirement. He gained the place because his father was on the board of the VEC. So with his father’s intervention a lesser student went on to college to study electronics, a course he failed to complete, dropping out 9 months later.

My next encounter came a few years ago. My circumstances had changed due to ill health, I had been prescribed a morphine derivative for pain relief and was no longer fit to work. At the time we were in rented accommodation and had put our names on the local councils waiting list for a house. The small village in which we resided had a batch of newly built council houses. We had hoped that one of them would be allocated to us. Alas, we were not one of the lucky ones. However I was soon to discover that one of the houses, a 3 bedroom dwelling had been given to a 19 year old single man. We contacted the local county council with a complaint about the allocation and received the response “we cannot comment on individual circumstances”. Not at all happy with this we arranged a meeting with our local county councillor and the local TD. At this meeting it was admitted in plain English that it was a clear case of corruption, that the gentleman in question should never have been given tenancy of an 3 bedroom house. My wife, quite the detective in this whole affair, found out that another local councillor had been the one involved, a “brown envelope” had been received by him from a certain family. When accused of this he denied any involvement, but did go on to say that the the 19 year old had been on the councils waiting list for four years, a claim that is quite improbable as the age limit to apply for council accommodation is 18. A few months later and having had no response from the two politicians we had contacted, I decided to write to the minister for housing and the ombudsman. I had almost given up on  getting a reply when letters from both arrived about six months later. I opened the letters immediately, my anticipation palpable only to have that initial eagerness dashed as soon as I had read their response. They advised that we should contact the county council in question, the same county council who had responded with “we cannot comment on individual circumstances”.

Sometimes I feel like a hamster who has stepped onto the revolving wheel of accountability, destined to go round and round forever.

Is Linux harder to use than Windows?

January 29, 2010

There has been a lot of debate on various websites recently on whether Desktop Linux is harder to use than Windows. From my own experience and for the average user I have to say that in the vast majority of cases the answer is no.

I joined the then budding IT industry in the late eighties, was at the launch of Windows 3.0, supported the various iterations of that software through to Vista. Throughout those years I supported mostly end users in their various guises, from the workers on the office floor through to senior management. The level of their experience ran the whole gamut, from the endless tinkerer who regularly called in desperation when something they were doing went haywire to the ones suffering from technology shock when presented with a computer. I also became the person to call when a family member or friend had a problem, the fount of all knowledge technological, spending many hours reloading Windows, installing software and sorting out virus infected machines.

Now, thanks to Linux those days, at least for family and friends have ended, they are all happy and contented Ubuntu users. They are with one exception average everyday users, their PCs and laptops used for email, browsing the web, occasional letter writing and photo management. They want for nothing more. Ubuntu provides them with a stable and secure platform that does not need to be defragged, does not bombard them with system messages telling them that their computer is not secure, that Windows cannot find any anti-virus software installed or any of the other myriad pop-up messages that plague Vista especially. The only support that I provide now is the occasional reminder to keep their machines updated so that they remain secure.

Do they care that they are running Ubuntu and not Windows…..No!

Do they, the average user find their daily computing any harder…..No!