I'm writing in Ubuntu 7.04, freshly installed on my laptop. Now I have my very own triple-boot system (Windows Vista Business, 32-bit; Windows XP Pro, 64-bit; and Ubuntu, 64-bit). The question I posed earlier this week was, "Will the latest Ubuntu distro finally provide a mainstream Windows alternative?" I'm writing in Ubuntu 7.04, freshly installed on my laptop. Now I have my very own triple-boot system (Windows Vista Business, 32-bit; Windows XP Pro, 64-bit; and Ubuntu, 64-bit). The question I posed earlier this week was, "Will the latest Ubuntu distro finally provide a mainstream Windows alternative?" Obviously, a quick install, a few software updates, and a blog post hardly qualify me to answer that question. However, this was truly the most seamless, painless Linux install ever.
The ISO image download was fairly speedy considering it was the first day of release for this incarnation of Ubuntu (also known as Feisty Fawn): it only took about half an hour via my cable modem. Given that I live in the middle of rural Massachusetts, it would certainly take me longer to drive somewhere and buy a retail box version of Windows Vista. The install itself was also pretty quick, although not quite as snappy as previous releases. As in the past, the installer does a fine job of resizing existing partitions to preserve old operating systems and I've had no problems launching into either of the other Windows systems installed on my machine.
Great...so what? Ubuntu is known for ease of use and certainly ease of installation, but can it go mainstream? I'm not sure, but there are a couple of pieces that make me wonder if Windows might finally see some genuine competition in the next year. The first and (IMHO) most important comes in the form of the picture below:
It's just the upper corner of a screen shot, but notice the blue wireless signal indicator? That worked immediately, no configuration required. The icon to the left of the signal indicator shows that proprietary drivers ("restricted drivers" in Ubuntu-speak) are in use, a testament to the partnership between the Linux community and hardware vendors to sort out the driver issues that have plagued Linux distros from day 1. No messing about with NDISwrapper or jumping through any hoops. As advertised, it just works.
The second is, as has widely been reported throughout the blogosphere, Michael Dell is running this particular OS on one of his mobile PCs. This just happens to be the first PC listed on his bio page on the Dell website. My colleague, Marc Wagner, and I have long felt that for any Linux distro to become mainstream, real OEM support has to lend validity among the general public and force software development for Linux. Hmmm, a Dell preloaded with an easy-to-use, no-extra-effort-required Linux OS? I'm not going to start making out the purchase orders now, but it certainly should raise a few eyebrows.
What does this mean for those of us in Ed Tech? First of all, Edubuntu, the close cousin of Ubuntu directed at educational markets, was also upgraded to Version 7.04. Although I still need to download and install it if the ease of use and very limited configuration needs carry over to this version of the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP), then this particular option becomes more interesting to mainstream ed tech-ers looking to save some money and break into server-centric computing. It also means that any of the 'buntu's (Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, and Edubuntu) are becoming more viable options for whiteboxes. The easier this becomes, the more educational technologists will be able to save money on new acquisitions by looking outside the Windows/Mac arena.
For me, I've just made a considerable investment in Windows machines (and associated licensing). These are working really well right now and my users are happier than they've been in a while. However, it will only take a few using Linux on their home computers (maybe purchased from Dell, preloaded with Ubuntu?) to start looking at alternatives for new purchases and tech refreshes in the months and years to come, especially in the schools with even more limited budgets than mine.