#1. My future home open desktop: The resolution

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I live in a hybrid desktop world and it bugs me. Like many people, I have a dual boot machine that runs both Microsoft Windows® XP and GNU/Linux. The flavor of Linux (as I will abbreviate it) is Ubuntu. I just want to have one operating system running on the machine and I want it to be Linux.

Let me further qualify this. I’m talking about my private, home desktop computer, not my work machine. All my remarks on this topic concern this personal machine and don’t have anything to do with the configuration I use in my profession. That doesn’t mean I won’t open up that topic in the future, but that’s not where this thread is headed.

Here is a resolution for 2007: by the end of the year, my primary home desktop will only run Linux. I may keep an old computer running Windows for the occasional application, but I will work over time to eliminate that entirely.

I’ve been through many operating systems (OSs) in my life since I first used computers in 1973. I would start using an OS because 1) the primary computer I needed to use employed it, or 2) something about my job required it. The OSs I’ve used include mainframes ones like VM, several flavors of Unix, the personal computer DOSs, NextStep, the OS for the Digital PDP 11, about 10 different distros of Linux, OS/2, and a lot of the Windows editions going back to Windows 3.1.

I don’t use hardly any of these any more and some I will never use again. It is not unusual for me to move on once my interests and needs change. I’m sensing a similar transition approaching.

It’s ok to have principles when deciding what software you are going to use. These could be things like preference of open source over not, needing paid support or not, past experience with the provider, not liking a vendor’s approach to social issues or standards, or even wanting to use the software that your employer sells. I’ve got my principles, you’ve got yours, and they don’t have to be the same. Therefore, think of my OS transition as a personal journey for me, though I know many of you have traveled the road before.

There are several tactics I will be employing:

  • Try to do everything on Linux, though I may need to boot into Windows sometimes.
  • Modify the Windows environment as much as possible to use the same software I am running under Linux. For example, I have long used the Firefox browser under both. When I can employ the common software, delete the Windows-only version from my machine if it will not break the OS.
  • Not employ Wine or CrossOver Office or any such thing to cheat and run Windows apps on Linux.
  • Where I cannot find software that runs in both environments, prefer open source software on Windows if I do not have a compelling need to run proprietary software. One example of this is FileZilla, an ftp client. This is actually fudging a bit, because I could use FireFTP under Firefox, but FileZilla is so nice. There might eventually be a version for Linux, and that would resolve this philosophical dilemma.
  • Increasingly use Office 2.0 online applications where they do what I need. For example, I could use Google Docs from anywhere I have a browser and broadband.
  • Look at other Linux distros before I completely settle on Ubuntu moving forward. I was going to try Fedora last week, but there was some sort of glitch in writing the DVD, so I’ll have to try again later. There are several distros that I will not be testing again, for the sorts of reasons I outlined above.
  • Make my dual environment as portable as possible, both in terms of data and applications used. Therefore I will avoid using “proprietary format wolves in open standards sheep’s clothing.”
  • While I will install Windows security patches, I will not upgrade the OS.

My plan is to incrementally do this and report on my progress in blog entries from time to time. I expect that I will be dealing with a few device driver issues (ahem). There may also be a few applications like Apple iTunes that I will be reluctant to give up. I am aware that switching to a Mac would solve some or all of these problems!

Once I get to the point where I have a minimal Windows environment, I hope to build a new Linux-only machine with my chosen environment. I’ll then strip down the Windows machine to the minimum hardware necessary, install a KVM switch, and stick it in a corner.

Next: An update


  1. I embarked on your journey about a year ago. An important milestone for me was producing a blog entry using only open source software from the first keystroke to the publishing. The most important tool I found along the way was Automatix.

    My world forces Microsoft on me for work. My personal space is Ubuntu. It’s on a shared computer in my home and has to please my wife as well as myself. Here’s a list of what it does:

    * surf the web
    * watch cable TV with Happaugue board
    *stream XM satillire radio
    * youtube video
    * mail (Google mail for me, Evolution for wifey)
    *Open Office
    * Palm connectivity

    There stuff I’m missing and not every component “just worked”. But I learned a lot and am comfortable enough to deploy a Ubuntu desktop for a non-techie user.

  2. (found you from reddit)
    I’ve been running pure Linux for some time now at home (maybe 3 years? 4?). I think the best moment was when I just said “screw it” and backed up my data to an external drive, and just wiped the machine. It was a bit like the “throw the kid in the water” philosophy of teaching a child to swim. And it worked. Sure, there was a lot of effort involved, but it was *fun* effort. Figuring out what I should do with my Word documents, what I should use to edit my resume, play my music, watch movies, etc etc They were all fun undertakings.

    Now I actually do have one machine dual booting windows, mainly because I have so many running Linux, I needed some variety. I also have “the big machine” installed with 6 different OSes/distros, just to play with.

    One thing to note: in place of the KVM, you can use rdesktop to communicate with the windows machine over remote desktop. No need to buy some $50 KVM when, ideally, you would be using the windows machine very little.

    I hope you have as much fun as I did. It’s worth it.

  3. For the time being I would look into Parallels. It would allow you to run linux and just your occasional apps in windows and for $50 it sure beats dual booting. Having this product also allows you to slowly migrate over and only use the windows apps as necessary. Mind you I don’t work for them. I just think they have a good, fast product.

  4. Or how about using VMware to give yourself the XP desktop – I know it’s not open source – but it is a viable alternative to having an extra machine just for Windows

  5. I’ll be outlining my particular environment in future installments and how I either decide to move of the components, replace them, or just give them up.

    Tim, I like the idea a clean machine with just the Linux OS on it. My machine serves as a print server and a file server for the rest of the family, so I’ll be moving those functions to one or the other machine.

    The desktop I’m running now is getting rather old, so this offers an excuse to build a new one and add capabilities to it over time.

  6. Running Linux will be rather like a single-handed round-the-world sail; compared with running Windows being like buying a ticket for a cruise liner.
    Either can hit an iceberg and sink, of course, but you’re more in control of your own destiny when doing it single-handed.

    The significant difference will come when it is a matter of ‘interaction with human senses’.
    For example, if you want to play ‘mp3’ music under Linux, you will find you need a licence from these guys http://www.mp3-tech.org/patents.html . Licences cost about 75 cents per device but there is a ‘minimum’ of $15000; so you may find it more practical to buy an IPod.
    If you want to play commercial DVDs, you will run into these guys http://www.dvdcca.org/ who insist that all DVD players shall be licenced; before they give you the decryption keys, you have to sign to say that you promise not to let your DVD player make copies. So maybe a standalone DVD player would be a good investment, too; they are cheap enough.
    If you want to play commercial videogames, then you’ll find that Windows knows how to lock the CD drive shut with the game disk in, whereas Linux has an ‘eject’ command to spit the CD out; and since ‘locking the CD in the drive’ is how the game studios make sure they get paid, they tend to prefer Windows. Here, an investment in an XBox360, a Playstation3, or a ‘Wii’ might help.

    That said, Linux will probably let you do all you need, as would VM; VM comes with an IBM guarantee included in the price, of course, whereas an IBM guarantee on Ubuntu is an optional extra.

    If you find you need to write any extra bits of code to keep you going … single-handed round-the-world sailors are usually handy with running repairs … do feed them back to Mark Shuttleworth http://www.tsf.org.za/ . You too can get your name on the next version.

  7. Bob, I’ve been on a tour of Linux desktops for some time now looking for ‘that perfect one’ to replace my dual boot desktop at home… didn’t find one to handle everything, but I just installed OpenSuse 10.2 last weekend in a pure Linux environment. Issues with Ubuntu: it’s very Ubuntu. Issues with Fedora: too ‘experimental’. Gentoo was a great setup, but I just don’t have the time anymore.

    Some issues with OpenSuse: nVidia’s download site was down … took some time to get the site back up and my desktop’s video running in XGL (once drivers were installed, XGL was so easy to install I thought I missed something). Also, they do not make it easy to get MP3 working (conversely it’s simple to get .wmv working…).

    I like OpenSuse 10.2 (over SLED 10) b/c it has a MUCH faster YaST and is easier to use with the latest versions of apps. YaST is great from running the desktop / home server perspective. I use YaST to manage a LVM disk setup with a Samba and NFS file server, print server, and a home intranet for testing web stuff…

    I’m really happy with the new setup. Now, there were a couple ‘issues’ that I have: 1) Logitech webcam doesn’t work for chatting with my little nephew/niece, 2) the high end Canon scanner I have is not supported on Linux, and 3) Adobe Photoshop is not on Linux (finally started teaching myself Gimp… it can do more than meets the eye, albeit the interface is deplorable). For those 3 ‘issue’ areas, I’m currently using an older laptop that I can boot whenever I need them. If Adobe would support Linux, I could buy new peripherals and get everything off Windows…

    BTW, I actually like the integrated Gnome FTP capabilities. Where needed I use gFTP.

  8. Right now, I use OpenSuse 10 on my laptop (might upgrade to 10.2 so I can finally use my wireless card), and things seem to work fairly well now. I can not speak for printing/scanning, but otherwise I do not see anything lacking from my distro (other than more packages, updated quicker).

    Audio/video support is the best its ever been- Real media files are the only major media files that can not be played natively with an open source program. I’m not entirely sure about the legality of playing mp3 files on your computer, but if you have a Windows license, you are obviously in the clear, so just keep a very tiny partition or a spare license somewhere.

    If you were dual booting, you might like to know that NTFS read/write is here and safe- look into ntfs-3g.

    If you are looking for a wonderful image program, look into Krita. It’s growing very fast, and supposedly has lots of features that professionals are looking for (I’m not an image guru, so I can only go on what I’ve heard from others who are more experienced.)

  9. Bob,

    I don’t really know enough about the way you use a computer, but have you thought about buying a Playstation 3 and running Linux on it. Yellow Dog Linux is up and running, but the patches for the PS3 have now been integrated into the Kernel so otehr should be along “real soon now”. This gives you a games machine, DVD Player and Linux computer all in one handy package.

  10. The only reason I use Windows at home these days is when I want to use Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver, unfortunately the GIMP and NVU just don’t quite cut it yet. I am using Dreamweaver less and less as the web pages I work on don’t tend to lend themselves to WYSIWYG editing and my recent discovery of Inkscape has surpassed the vector graphics functionality I miss from Photoshop, but not raster graphics.

    The main problem I find is when I have to bring certain University work home, my department has a “special relationship” with Microsoft which causes problems for my Ubuntu desktop use at home. Usually I can replace functionality such as Office apps, compilers and IDEs (yay, Eclipse!), but occasionally I have no choice, like at the moment I’m booted into Windows to edit an Access database (we don’t have the choice to use a real database application).

    Google Docs has been a godsend for collaborating with lab partners on reports, though when it comes to printing I’ve had a few issues (ideally I’d like to be able to just invite my lecturer as a viewer of the Google document, but they still prefer dead tree format for marking).

    Good luck with your transition to freedom! The key for me was finding portable windows versions of my favourite open source applications, so that I could use open formats everywhere I went, running my applications from a USB stick! See http://www.portableapps.com

    Btw, in answer to your question a long time ago, my experience with Drupal has been brilliant. I’m a little worried about my IBM internship application because of my performance on the aptitude test, I hate those things!

  11. For me, I made the jump and dumped my Windows for a Mac about 3.5 years ago. It does everything I want, and I try to use opensource/freeware for most everything, which isn’t that hard for a casula/home user, except maybe for Quicken, to which I’m addicted.

    On my Thinkpad, I’m still forced on Windows due to some IBM requirements, but besides that, it’s Ubuntu in a VMware for the rest of the stuff…

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