Is 2010 the year for Linux on the Desktop?

It is for me!  I have finally made the leap -- on a test basis anyway.  I sat down and took a long, hard look at what my laptop needs are, and felt pretty good that they could be met with the open source tools.  In the midst of hemming and hawing over whether or not to commit some time to installing & getting used to a new operating system, the deal breaker happened:  Ironically, it was in the form of receiving an .xslx file which made my vintage copy of MS Office choke.  I read an article confirming that the latest version of OpenOffice can work with the new-fashioned MS Office files, and decided to jump in feet first.

Introduction:  My Needs

Here's what I decided were the critical applications I need when I'm on the move with my laptop (note that I do run a Windows XP desktop when I'm at my home office):

Firefox (with Web Developer and Weave Sync add-ins), a POP and IMAP capable email client, Skype, Open Office, a media player, a text editor, an SSH client (capable of SSH tunneling) and that's it.  Of course it needed to work with my hardware:  an aged Dell laptop with a RealTek USB WiFi adapter.

Attempt 1:  Debian

Since I'm most familiar with Debian (I use Debian exclusively on servers that I own, and really prefer it on servers I manage), I decided to try it.  I found the Debian on the Desktop subproject and liked everything they were talking about there.  Downloaded disc one, booted from it and was off to the races.  The first thing I noticed was how long it took to download and install.  The text-based installer asked me a ton of geeky questions that I was able to answer, but that anyone who isn't as geeky as me would have trouble with.  Installed, rebooted, logged in.  I opted for KDE over Gnome, and thought it looked terrible.  (Dear Debian:  get a better logo.)  Screen fonts were horrible and jaggy, performance seemed pretty sluggish, but with hope in my heart, I carried on.

First thing I need:  Firefox.  Well.  It turns out that Debian and Mozilla are in some (probably interesting and rightfully fought) war over trademarks and there was nothing in the package manager called Firefox.  I notice that there is something already installed called Iceweasel.  This is Debian's rebrand & repackage of Firefox.  Well, I can live with that.  I start to install my necessary add-ins.  Web Developer, check.  Weave... fail.  Weave is fairly bleeding edge, and you have to be running a very new version of Firefox in order to install Weave, and the most recent version of Iceweasel isn't new enough.  No go on weave.

Next:  Skype.  Skype is probably the only non-open source software that I'm completely reliant upon.  I don't mind.  It's pretty good.  Long story short:  uber-fail trying to install Skype.  I spent a bunch of time trying to track down and install dependencies and finally gave up.  Remember, I'm a system admin and am pretty handy with Linux, Debian in particular, and I couldn't make it happen.  Skype Fail.

It was right about this time that I was starting to feel like an idiot and was gearing up to, defeated, grudgingly reinstall XP when I decided to try one of the more mainstream Linux distributions.  A bit of opinion research led me to Ubuntu.  Downloaded disc one, booted up and...

Attempt 2: Ubuntu

I won't go into all the details, but installation was smooth, painless and fast (and the geeky questions offered helpful information right there), the "Ubuntu Software Center" front-end of the package manager is very user friendly and straightforward, and the Ubuntu Forums are so chock-full of good information that I was up and running with all my requirements met in just a couple hours.  I even found great tools that meet my weird and specific requirements: SSHMenu is awesome, gSTM SSH tunnel manager fit the bill perfectly, Ndiswrapper accomodated my cheap Wifi adapter.  Evolution is no Outlook, and The Gimp is no Photoshop, but these are small prices to pay -- for me, it was either this or shell out hundreds of dollars to upgrade MS Office.

Conclusion:

Is 2010 the year for Linux on the Desktop?  Nope.  Not in my book.  My set of filters for making such judgements is looking at dialog boxes and error messages through non-technical eyes and evaluating from their point of view.   Fail.  The user experience has definitely come a very long way in a very short time, but as with other emerging technologies seeking ubiquity, there is a last mile problem.  Maybe next year.

Comments

And just a bit of follow-up. 

And just a bit of follow-up.  To achieve stability & acceptable performance, I definitely had to perform some super-geeky tasks such as a kernel upgrade, some tweaks to grub, some manual tweaking of video settings... mostly stuff that is well outside the skill (or interest) level of most folks.  But I'm happy to do it.  :-)

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