release of Ubuntu on my Thinkpad in the
hopes that one day, I will be able to boot
it as my primary operating system and
cut the cord to Windows, particularly the
need to constantly defend against viruses
The biggest thrill of using Linux on the
desktop is a sense that you can do almost
anything you want—if only you can figure
out how to do it. With Windows, customers
are increasingly aware that its features are
driven largely by what Microsoft has calculated will be good for their bottom line.
Mac users, intensely loyal though they are,
are basically forced to use their machines in
the specific way that Apple—and even more
specifically, Steve Jobs—wants them to.
Although this is the Mac’s great appeal if
you think like Steve does, it is also its great
constraint if you do not.
In contrast, Linux is the shapeshifter of
operating systems. Although Ubuntu has
a certain default “out of the box” look
and design, its architecture imposes very
few limitations. But with power can come
complexity. If Linux were a car, the ques-
and run text-based commands to accomplish things that are impossible or nonobvious through the visual desktop.
Upon installing and booting the latest Ubuntu release, things were humming
along rather smoothly at first. My laptop’s
wireless card was automatically detected
and I was connected to the wireless network in seconds. I launched Firefox and
tried playing a You Tube video. Uh oh.
Flash is not installed.
You can find detailed solutions to many
Linux problems online. The community
really is great. But you can make a strong
case that installing the Flash player—which
comes pre-installed with Windows and the
Mac—shouldn’t be one of the problems I
needed to research.
In a matter of minutes, I found myself
there again—inside a terminal window, typing commands. This car’s hood was wide
open, parked on the side of the road.
My favorite feature of the latest generation of desktop Linux is the composited
desktop environment, also known as a
“3D desktop.” Like OS X and Windows
THE BIGGEST THRILL OF USING LINUX
ON THE DESKTOP IS A SENSE THAT
YOU CAN DO ALMOST ANYTHING
YOU WANT—IF ONLY YOU CAN FIGURE
OUT HOW TO DO IT.
tion for typical users would be how often
do you need to pull over to the side of the
road and pop the hood?
Whenever I try a new Linux distribution,
I informally gauge its usability by noting
how far I can drive it before pulling over to
pop the hood. In Linux, to “pop the hood”
means to drop into the terminal window
Vista, Linux can now use the accelerated
rendering capabilities of modern video
cards to produce enhanced visual effects.
Some of these, like wobbly windows that
stretch and bounce as you move them,
are pure eye candy. But others, like auto-arranging windows on focus, multiple
virtual desktops arranged as sides of rota-