A Year With Ubuntu

This time last year I got a new work laptop, a Dell E6400, dual core 2.8GHz, 4GB, enough hard disk capacity that I’ve forgotten what it is. I dutifully installed the corporate Windows XP image and eventually after the ubiquituous reboots got to a nice clean desktop, looking forward to a nice jump in computing power, I hit the start button to get on with installing the rest of the software I’m going to need, and nothing happens. Of course that always seems to happen on XP, you have to wait seconds to minutes after the desktop displaying before things have settled down enough to get anything to happen.

At that instant I gave up on Windows, my next action was to download a 64bit Ubuntu .iso, and burn it to DVD. I’d played with virtualization and dual booting before, but on the spur of the moment I decided I was just going to wipe the hard disk one more time and throw my lot in with Ubuntu, I’d figure out how to manage without the few Windows only applications I needed somehow, it’d be better than gritting my teeth at my unresponsive desktop every morning.

In one sense this was a big deal for me, I’ve been using Microsoft operating systems since MSDOS 2.0, not exclusively, but certainly as my primary O.S. When other kids were zapping their way through Zaxxon on the C64 etc, I was making do with Kings Quest on our trusty green screen Ferranti PC clone. DOS and Windows was where I learned to program, I’d read the Norton and Petzold books cover to cover many times over. Now I was closing the door on all of that.

In another sense it was not a big deal at all. I rebooted the machine, wiped the hard disk, installed Ubuntu in minutes and quickly booted to a desktop that responded to clicks straight away! Being a Java developer for the past decade, I continue to use the exact same tools as on Windows. The benefits greatly outweight the drawbacks for me. The UI is fast and responsive, and has all that modern eye candy that XP lacks. Installing software is a breeze. OpenOffice is a credible alternative to MS Office. It easily runs an install of Oracle without affecting system responiveness, which is something that I could never manage on Windows. And of course its Un*x, which to me as programmer is a huge benefit, it’s handy to develop on the same platform as the platform where the majority of my work will get deployed.

Of course there are niggles. I can’t disable just the trackpad and not the nipple, it keeps re-enabling itself, hibernate/sleep has stopped working (it used to work great, but somewhere along the way things regressed). It’s slow to connect to wifi and it often fails to connect properly, ending up with a address, requiring me to delete the wifi connection and reconnect to workaround (anyways I’m blaming the router for this one, it’s flaky). All very annoying, but none of them make me want to go back to Windows.

I’ve also had to do some iPhone development in the past year, so for a while used our domestic Macbook Pro as my work machine. The experience was very similar to Ubuntu but I’ll go out on a limb here and say if you’re a Java developer at least, Ubuntu provides a nicer environment than OS/X. My envy of all the cool programmers turning up at meetings with shiny Macbooks has passed.

I wonder if I’ll still be using some Linux distro as my primary O/S in another 20-30 years time?