Are we there yet?

After years with dual boot Windows XP / Fedora, with a new machine I’ve also hauled myself up a notch in OS stakes, and now I’m dual booting Ubuntu / Windows 7.   Putting Linux first in the new system is not an accident – I hadn’t planned it that way but I’m finally pleased to be defaulting to Ubuntu. It’s taken some time, but finally it seems that Linux has got beyond being my developer and server OS, and into the realms of something that is actually as easy (maybe easier) for every day use compared to Windows.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a Linux advocate for years, and have been running Mandrake / Debian / Fedora / Ubuntu for 10 years now. But it’s never really been my everyday OS, just a dev platform or a server environment… until now.

Both Windows 7 and Ubuntu are substantial improvements over Windows XP. But since Windows 7 is closed, and Ubuntu is free, there’s no reason to buy Windows unless you need it – which to me is a tipping point. What’s Ubuntu got over Windows 7 ? I’d say

  • Flexibility – Traditionally I’d start with stability here, but amazingly I’ve never managed to crash Windows 7. But if something goes wrong with Ubuntu, I have the tools to fix it. If something is broken, I can have a go at repairing it. Windows 7 signature system brings stability at the cost of flexibility, but Ubuntu retains both.
  • Performance – Now here’s one I thought I’d never say… Ubuntu starts faster than Windows 7! After years of a 5 minute Debian boot time in just 2006, this one blows my mind, it takes less than 5 seconds to start Ubuntu. Equally surprisingly, both sound and power management worked out-of-the-box. And on top of all that, Gnome is actually responsive in a way that’s comparable to Windows.
  • Software install – Aptitude has been way better than any other software install platform for years, and it just keeps giving. No wondering where and why at install time, ask for it and it is done… and done without viruses!
  • Media – This one’s been brewing for some time. Amarok is still the best music manager out there, and VLC the best playback software, but until recently the poor rendering under Linux has been cutting them short. Not any more. 2 clicks after install takes you to a great media platform.

I’d be lying if I said it was all good though. There are some good reasons to keep Windows 7

  • Fonts – Yeah yeah, I know you can steal the actual fonts, but Windows somehow makes the text more readable. It’s so important and so obvious, and clearly so hard (or expensive) to do right. But it’s in your face as soon as you reboot in Windows, text in Ubuntu is still a bit square.
  • Graphics and Games – DirectX is a locked platform you can’t avoid if you want to do 3D-rendering or play games on your PC. And DirectX 10 is really very very shiny.
  • Aero – There once was a vast gulf between the usability of Gnome, and that of Windows. Then sometime around 2007, Gnome overtook Windows XP. And so now Windows 7 has surpassed Gnome… mostly by stealing a bunch of stuff from Apple OS. Windows 7 makes better use of the screen, and has a marginally better User Experience, if you ask me.
  • Compatibility – Lets face it, if you have some obscure program you need, or some piece of hardware that’s not supported, you still have no choice. You’ll need Windows.

But now, they’ll have to make me reboot to use it!


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