Ubuntu Linux: I like it, but it doesn't like me

Can a regular Windows user completely migrate to Ubuntu Linux as their desktop operating system?
Written by Scott Raymond, Inactive

Like my colleague Jason Perlow, I quite like the Ubuntu Linux operating system. I use it as the operating system for my home server, and prefer it for server systems professionally. At home I use the desktop version, configured to act as a server as well as a desktop system.

My primary system, however is a Lenovo Thinkpad X100e laptop installed with Windows 7 64-bit. For both my personal use and my work as a system administrator, I use quite a few apps for work and personal use that are typically only usable under Windows or Mac.

Normally I run Ubuntu in a virtual machine on my laptop for network diagnostics. This week, however, I had the urge to try getting all of my applications and tasks migrated to a Ubuntu system.

I decided to use my desktop/server system as a test platform. I knew that I could install Ubuntu on my laptop and that it would work with all of the devices. Typically Linux has some issues with various laptop devices, such as Wi-Fi and audio. My laptop, however, would not have such issues.

The first thing I checked for compatibility was World of Warcraft. To be honest, I haven't been playing it much lately and probably wouldn't miss it all that much, but it is a fairly complex game. If it worked for me, it would at least prove that compatibility with similar programs would be possible.

A little digging on the Web showed that World of Warcraft works pretty well under Ubuntu using Wine. There's even a very good guide for installing Wine and WoW under Ubuntu.

I switched the game to use OpenGL instead of Direct3D, and fixed an issue with the audio. The game actually was fairly playable at 25-30fps. Performance was kind of disappointing compared to even my pokey little Thinkpad X100e laptop. With effects turned down I can still get over 60fps. My server is much beefier. I'm given to understand that this is common with trying to play games under Linux. It's disappointing, but not a deal-breaker.

I started researching other important items that I could not just discard. I use a Blackberry 9700 phone, and synchronize it with Microsoft Outlook 2010. I tether my phone to my laptop as a modem. I use Office 2010, Trillian for IM chat, and Sonicwall VPN at work.

At this point in time, Office 2010 is not installable under the latest incarnation of Wine. This isn't a deal-breaker, since I can use OpenOffice.org or IBM Lotus Symphony, or I could go back to Office 2007 which does install under Wine. Outlook is a bit more difficult to give up; I connect to Exchange Server at work, and I actually like Outlook as an email client.

That being said, the Evolution email client does connect to Exchange server, including calendar access. Worst case scenario, I could use Outlook Web Access to get at my work email and calendar.

Synchronizing and tethering the Blackberry is a bit trickier. Blackberry Desktop Manager simply does not work under Linux. However, there are two synchronization solutions available: Barry and OpenSync. There are also guides for tethering available online which involve the use of Barry.

Blackberry can sync with Evolution on Linux. There is no way to sync with Outlook unless you install a Windows virtual machine. Free solutions to allow this are VMware Player and VirtualBox. Another alternative is to simply forgo syncing directly with a USB cable and doing over the air synchronization with Google Sync.

In place of Trillian 5, I could use Empathy IM or Pidgin. Aesthetically they're not the same, but they get the job done.

Finally, solutions for pretty much every VPN connection can be found to work with Linux. Solutions for Sonicwall VPN connections are complex, but workable. Cisco makes their own VPN clients, and OpenVPN is open-source and cross-platform.

All-in-all, it's quite possible for me to completely migrate my working laptop entirely over to Ubuntu. I am disappointed by the inability of several of my favorite apps to work under Wine. While running them in a Windows virtual machine is entirely possible, resorting to that is a failure. The idea is to migrate to Ubuntu, not run Windows under Ubuntu.

Right now I am going to stick with Windows 7. To be honest, it's still a lot easier to install and use everything I do with Windows, and log into my server when I need to do certain tasks that are best done under Linux.

It is true that for all the functionality that is required, everything I do now will work under Ubuntu. But as you can see from my own attempt, a lot more effort is required in order to make the transition. People use Apple Macs because they "just work". To put it another way, people don't want to have to spend more effort getting their system to handle their tasks than the actual tasks themselves.

I might revisit this again in the future. This experience was actually a lot easier than the last time I attempted a desktop migration to Linux. This time I actually have working alternatives to everything I need on my laptop. That in itself is progress.

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