I've used Linux , on and off, several times over the past few years. My past experience has been with using the OS on a server to host email, MySql, etc. - so, I am pretty comfortable with using Linux as a server OS. Recently, though, because of a combination of blog posts I had read, podcasts I had listened to and comments from some of my cohorts, I was determined to try Linux out as a desktop OS. I'll admit, up front, that I am and have pretty much always been a Windows user when it comes to the desktop. So I approached the exercise as a chance to see whether or not I could accomplish my daily tasks on a Linux desktop. So it was a kind of test.
My criteria for the test was simple. There is a certain set of things I regularly use my laptop for and if Linux would allow me to do those things, then I'd consider the test a pass. Otherwise, a fail. I use my laptop for the following...
- .Net Development - While it's possible to do .Net development on linux using the tools from the Mono project, I didn't count this as part of my criteria.
- Email - I use Outlook, on Windows.
- Document and Spreadsheet authoring and viewing - Word and Excel
- Blog Reading - I use the RSS functionality in Outlook.
- iPod Syncing - I use iTunes and mostly for podcast downloads and syncing
- Web Browsing - I use IE 7
- Charging and syncing my Windows Mobile phone with email, contacts and calendar.
- Simple multimedia such as viewing videos and photos - Windows Media Player and Nero
Since it is so highly touted for the desktop and for its simplicity, I chose Ubuntu as the Linux distribution for my test. I freed up space on my hard drive and left it unallocated. During the install, I was able to tell the installer to use the largest block of unallocated space available and it took care of creating all the partitions needed by Linux. The install went smoothly and without error.
When I booted Ubuntu, for the first time, I logged in and was presented with a popup balloon informing me that there were over 200 updates needing to be installed. So , as I'm accustomed to doing on windows, I let the OS pull down all the updates available and install them. I must admit, I was a bit surprised when I was presented with a popup, after the installs were completed, telling me that a reboot was required.
After the reboot, I logged back into Ubuntu and started looking around. I found the desktop to be somewhat familiar. There is a recycle bin, a start menu of a sort and a task bar. Looking at the start menu, I found a meager list of applications installed by default. One of these is an application called Evolution. I recognized it as an email client, opened it and started setting it up to retrieve mail from several accounts. The application looks very similar to Outlook and felt familiar. There is a junk email folder represented, so I found the configuration setting to enable filtering, but I could not get it to filter out any emails as junk. I also missed having my RSS feeds available along with my Email. I realize that I could have used Thunderbird as both an email and RSS client, but I also wanted to be able to Sync my Windows Mobile Phone and I had heard it was possible to do so with Evolution.
I found Open Office was pre-installed and It seemed to be adequate for the level of document editing I typically do. Actually my greatest concern was being able to open documents that were natively created in Microsoft Office. I found this to be a mixed bag where some documents with more complicated layouts, created in Office 2003, did not display correctly in OpenOffice.
Ubuntu comes with a nifty package manager called Synaptic which allows you to select new programs to install from a list and have them downloaded and configured for you. The tool detects dependencies between packages and automatically selects them for you. Of the many packages I installed, all but one ran without a problem. I used this tool to download SyncCE and MultiSync which I had read would provide the functionality needed to sync my mobile phone with Evolution. Once they were installed, I tried to get syncing to work, but it would not. I ran some commands I found on the SyncCe project site and found that my phone, a Samsung Blackjack, was not supported. Oh, well.
Now, I was curious as to what Linux had to offer by way of Multimedia. I had some Divx video files I wanted to be able to view. After installing and trying 4 players, I stumbled upon the VLC media player and it was able to play any audio or video file I had a need to play. Now, If I could only find a way to Sync media and podcasts to my iPod...
I was disappointed to find that iTunes will not run on linux without some virtualization to run on top of. In the search for alternatives, I found an application that would sync my desktop and iPod, another that would play media from my iPod and a third that could talk to the iTunes music store, but could not find one that did all three.
My conclusion, here, is that the Linux world is not ready for me. That's not meant to be a knock on the OS, at all. It seems, though, that software titles are just not pervasive enough for the Linux OS to meet my needs. I could, perhaps, accomplish the same things by changing how I perform the tasks or my adding extra steps, but I'm all about getting things done in as few cycles as possible so I'm not about to go down that road.