I’ve been fiddling with Linux for a decade now. And, frankly, back then it was a total bear to get it working – you had to really, really, want to. Once you could get Linux to fire up, it was rock solid of course as it has always been, but the process of installing it was challenging even for geeks. Then you had to figure out how to get it to use your screen as anything more than a line by line device – Linux could and can do this beautifully and flexibly, but you had to know so much about your hardware and edit the configurations just so before it would go.
How things have changed! First Mandrake through the early noughties, and now Ubuntu are making wonderfully good and easy to install CDs of Linux. (Just a note to the side – Linux is just the kernel or core of an operating system, and you need a lot of other software to make it work. A lot of that software comes from the GNU project, so it’s more proper to refer to GNU/Linux. And that’s how the different flavours, or distributions of GNU/Linux differ – it’s all a matter of which additional programs are supplied with the kernel, and how it is packaged up for installation.)
Ubuntu was founded by Mark Shuttleworth, a South African man who made a lot of money in the dot com boom and has obviously decided to put something back. And with its latest release, Ubuntu has surpassed the ease of use of Windows in many respects – especially those annoying registrations and activiations, because Ubuntu is totally free.
The latest release of Ubuntu, which goes by the names 7.10 or Gutsy Gibbon, is very good indeed. It installs easily, and provides access to an ocean of free software, some of which is of the highest quality, through the menus. You can try Ubuntu without installing it on your computer, or you can install it side by side with Windows, or you can put Ubuntu on first, then virtual machine software from Virtualbox and re-install your Windows in a VM so it lives in a window under Ubuntu.