switching to linux, part two

Posted on by Wess Foreman

switching, part one

part two - the transition

Cold turkey has it's benefits, I suppose. Cut the cord and make it work. My brother, Joshua, did just that at the end of last year. I think, more than anything, he was just ready for a change. After telling him some of the benefits of Linux and letting him play with the live cd for a bit he said something to the effect of, "okay, how do we do this? What's next?" It was so sudden I found myself backpedaling a little, asking him, "are you sure you want to switch?", and going through a mental checklist, looking for any reason he should not go through with it. Finding very little, I relented, and we installed Ubuntu. We did have a small transitional step in there: we had to create a separate partition for all his music files before wiping out the Windows partition and installing Ubuntu. Unfortunately, his Sirius satellite player program was Windows only, and we could find no workaround for this - we ended up reinstalling Windows in a dual-boot with Ubuntu so he could access this one program to transfer music to and from his portable player.

Let me explain the live cd: Ubuntu, like many other Linux distributions these days, comes on a cd that you can boot from to test out the system before installing it to your hard drive. It's quite remarkable (just keep in mind it will run a little slower than it will once installed permanently to the hard drive). I was very impressed recently with the Mandriva 2007 live cd which included the option of activating the new 3D desktop effects - it worked flawlessly, even on my five year old computer with 512 MB of ram.

Back to my transition story. I had installed Ubuntu on my computer well before we installed it on Joshua's system. But I had it dual-booting with - and subordinate to - my Windows installation. Dual booting, I should mention, is the method of installing two (or more) operating systems on a single computer, choosing which to use each time the computer boots. I would occasionally reboot into Ubuntu simply to play its included games and tinker with its configuration, learning about Linux as I went along, but I was always tethered to Windows as my primary operating system. The one thing holding me back from using Linux while I had Windows installed was the simple fact that all my information resided on my Windows partition. Though Linux was able to read NTFS partitions natively, it could not write information back to NTFS - in other words, I was able to see all my Windows files from Linux but could not save anything back to Windows (and Windows cannot see Linux partitions at all). This most directly affected things like checking email and browsing the internet - emails, bookmarks, browsing history and extensions and themes could only be saved in whichever operating system I was in at the time. The first solution I found was creating a separate FAT32 partition that both Windows and Linux could read and write to and then configuring my email client and browser to use this "third-party" partition. This worked okay but every now and then my browser would inexplicably forget where it was supposed to be looking for it's information and would lose all its bookmarks and so forth (until I directed it back to the FAT32 partition). By the time I started using Ubuntu as my primary operating system, I discovered a much better solution that allowed Linux to read and write directly to NTFS (so everything could be kept up with my Windows partition).

In some sense I am still in transition from Windows to Linux. Until I purchase a new Linux-compatible scanner, and until a software tweak in my audio setup or a distribution update to correct my mic-always-on problem (or perhaps a purchase of a new usb microphone would do the trick?) - until these two issues are corrected, I guess I am still transitioning. But 98% of the time these days, I'm in Ubuntu and happier for it. More to come -

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