Are you sure you don't just want to use Ubuntu?

The assistant superintendent came to me on Thursday with a very sad laptop; it was malware city, population 1. Although it's his own laptop, he uses it all the time for school-related work, so I was happy to fix it up for him.

The assistant superintendent came to me on Thursday with a very sad laptop; it was malware city, population 1. Although it's his own laptop, he uses it all the time for school-related work, so I was happy to fix it up for him. Well, not happy, exactly, but certainly willing, since I actually like the guy and malware fixes can usually be one of those parallel processes that you chug away on throughout a day as you get real work done.

Alas, a few runs through Clamwin and Windows Defender showed this Windows XP Pro install to be utterly FUBAR. Time for a reinstall. Like a good user, he had already backed up all of his important documents. Like the bad user that lurks inside all of the people we support, he didn't have any of his system disks. Of course, I have a few OEM disks sitting around, but then I'd have to go hunting for a valid activation code and be worrying about angering the licensing gods, so I headed for the Microsoft eopen site. We have a volume license for XP Pro, so I figured I'd be in the clear.

Wrong again. The folks in Redmond kindly don't offer XP iso's anymore, instead favoring an executable file. Seemed a bit strange, but some Googling showed that this file is a self-extracting zip archive that will run directly on the target machine. Okeedokee, but the executable turned out to be corrupted (this took quite a bit more Googling to determine just why the executable kept giving me a "too big to fit in memory" error).

Finally, after a fair amount more mucking about, I got an actual, properly licensed, fresh install of Windows XP Pro, SP3 running on his machine. Most of you can probably guess what happened: XP didn't recognize any of the worthwhile drivers. No video, no Ethernet (wired or wireless), no sound. Just big yellow question marks in the system hardware profile. Without any documentation for the 3-year old computer, I headed to the Dell website, punched in the service tag, and found myself with several options for each of the hardware drivers noted above. Was the wireless a Dell PCI card or an Intel chip? Which of the 3 or 4 choices for each was actually installed? ATI or Intel video? Broadcom or Intel wired Ethernet?

The whole time, I kept thinking that if I were installing Ubuntu, it would just know which drivers to use. It would recognize my hardware and it would work. Wouldn't he really rather just use Ubuntu? As it turns out, to finally determine the actual hardware, I was able to get some information out of the BIOS, but ultimately just loaded an Ubuntu 8.10 Live CD, ran the hardware test, and wrote down the hardware it detected. A few downloads from Dell later (on my Mac, since none of the networking was enabled on the XP machine) and some more Googling to determine that the Broadcom wireless Ubuntu detected was what Dell passed off as their TrueMobile 1300 mini PCI card, and the troublesome machine was running.

This whole process took several hours. Had Ubuntu been loaded on the laptop, the malware never would have been installed in the first place. Hardware recognition would have been a snap, even if I had wanted to reinstall the operating system (obviously I wouldn't have needed to). He only uses productivity software and web-based applications. Why not just use Ubuntu?

Once again, I'm just not seeing it. Why would the average user (or even the above average user) bother with Windows when Ubuntu is so mature, so highly usable, and so free?