Linux offers one alternative to Microsoft's Windows

I left Windows a little over a year ago and have not regretted it. Bill Gates has plenty of money without me. I admit it was a scary step to take. I had never before tried another operating system, other than the occasional Mac that someone else owned.

I have known about Linux for years but had always been fearful of trying it out. I thought you needed to be a geek to really know how to run it and that Linux was lacking a good graphic user interface - an area that Windows is known for. I was also concerned about the lack of good software because most programmers write for Windows.

I finally tried out Ubuntu. Ubuntu, unlike most other Linux installations, has what is called a "Live Disk." It allows the user to try out the system on your own computer without installing it. The live disk basically runs Ubuntu Linux from the CD and your RAM. The beauty of this tool is that you can see how Linux handles your drivers, and it gives you a preview of the software to be installed and the way it interacts with your hardware.

I was sold on it once I could see how simple it was to use. It was an easy install and painless for me, a novice to Linux. Since then I have upgraded twice and am now using the Hardy Heron version of Ubuntu.

My laptop computer has a 40G hard drive and less than 10 percent of it is the operating system. A comparable Windows installation using Vista would take up almost half my hard drive and require me to double my RAM. I not only get a smaller footprint on the hard drive, but Ubuntu loads faster and is more stable.

Ubuntu comes with Office software compatible with Windows, and can both open and save in formats readable by Windows so that your files can be shared. I am not really excited with the graphics program included with Linux. GIMP is a knock-off on Adobe, but it lacks a lot of the capability and is not as user friendly.

Drawbacks? No major ones. One of the interface programmers at Ubuntu must like noise, because the latest version of Ubuntu, Hardy Heron, is a bit ding happy. Bells and dings go off for everything you do by default, and you need to go in and tweak the notification settings to get it to stop. If that is the only annoyance, I would say that the operating system is not a bad way to go to get away from Windows.

Software for Ubuntu is called a package and can be taken from what Linux calls repositories. Linux and available software is free, so the added software from the repositories is also free unless you deal with a source other than an official Linux mirror. Ubuntu has two ways to download software: an Add/Remove Package manager and a Synaptic Package Manager. The Synaptic Package Manager lists 24,855 packages for Ubuntu, and the Add/Remove Package manager lists a condensed version of those repository options. Both of them require you to log in as administrator in order to install something. This is a great benefit to keeping the crud off your computer. The kids don't get to download stuff unsupervised. Both install options are easy, and no reboot is required to run a new program after installation.

Personally I recommend Ubuntu as a great alternative to Windows, and it is easy even for a beginner to learn. It also has the best support community of any operating system around. If you don't know how to do it, help is just a click away at /. You can also find documentation at a WIKI site dedicated to Ubuntu at You can order a live disk for Ubuntu or download a CD image and burn your own at

Try it. It's free ,and all it will cost you is your time.

Mitch Cole is a Beryl Junction resident. He is a member of The Spectrum & Daily News Writers Group.

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