With the catalyst of the surge in popularity of Linux as an OS on various other devices such as netbooks and phones, I believe we are closer to chow time than we have ever been.
Over the weekend I've been checking out the latest incarnation of Canonical's Ubuntu distribution - 10.04 LTS (rather more imaginatively codenamed Lucid Lynx). The 'LTS' prefix basically means it will be supported for the next 3 years even though Canonical release a major update to their operating system every 6 months or so.
I installed it on 2 machines, an old Dell Inspiron 500m with 512mb of RAM and an existing XP Pro installation and also on a Dell Inspiron 9400 with 2GB of RAM. While there were issues with the installation on both machines, both potential showstoppers for a casual computer user with one of these machines trying out Linux for the first time, there were documented fixes for the issues which I tracked down with relative ease.
Ubuntu 10.04 on Dell Inspiron 500m
I ran the install from inside XP and on rebooting I found that I could not complete the installtion using the graphical user interface - the PC hung with a blank black screen. I rebooted and tried in graphics failsafe mode and I was able to complete the installation - albeit with the graphic user interface.
After a lot of experimenting with xorg.conf settings I finally discovered that the fix is really quite simple. You need to upgrade the Kernel to 2.6.34-020634rc5_generic using instructions I found here.
1. After powering on your PC, press shift (keep pressed) until see the boot loader menu. Choose the recovery mode option.
2. On next step select start failsafeX session.
3. Your grapical user interface may load but for me it didn't.
4. Login in any case.
5. Open a terminal command line (Application > Accessories -> terminal if you are in the GUI)
6. Type this command and press enter (without quotes):
"sudo -i" and enter your password.
7. Type this command and press enter (without quotes):
8. Type this command and press enter (without quotes):
9. Type this command and press enter (without quotes):
"dpkg -i linux-image-
10. Type this command and press enter (whitout quotes):
"apt-get update && apt-get upgrade"
11. However, what wasn't mentioned was that you may then need to change the Driver from 'vesa' to 'intel' in your /etc/X11/xorg.conf file.
which will open up the xorg.conf file in a simple editor called Nano.
Then change the line Driver "vesa" to Driver "intel"
Then we press Ctl + o to save and then Ctl + x to exit Nano.
12. Type this command and press enter (whitout quotes):
"init 6" Your computer will restart with new kernel as the default option to load in GRUB.. Use it and your GUI should load without issues - at least it did for me.
I had no other issues with the install on the Dell Inspiron 500m and even with only 512MB RAM the machine is reasonably responsive - much more so than it was running XP.
Ubuntu 10.04 on Dell Inspiron 9400
There were two issues with this machine. wi-fi card (no surprises there eh) and sound.
The wi-fi card, based on a Broadcom chip, required proprietary drivers which can easily be installed from the Ubuntu user interface itself by choosing System > Administration > Hardware Drivers from the main menu.
The Sigmatel soundcard (which incidentally had caused me no end of hassles originally under Vista) also had issues - essentially using the slider to control volume only output sound after it was raised to 17% and at 17% it was extremely loud. A quick search on Google turned up this - the final solution on the page produced a decent result for me.
The interface for Lucid Lynx is very pretty - quite OSXish in appearance and with Ubuntu taking care of the installation of MP3 codecs when you open Rythmbox now to support the new Ubuntu music store and Adobe doing a much better job of distributing the latest version of Flash to Ubuntu machines (installation is at least as easy as it is for Windows) not to mention the leaps forward in functionality for the Empathy multi-protocol chat client (which now supports Facebook chat and audio/video calls in Google Talk) as well as the handy Gwibble client for getting even more social on Facebook, Flickr and Twitter directly from the desktop, Ubuntu should easily meet the needs of most casual desktop computing users.
The only little gripe I have is how little space comes with the free version of Ubuntu One - the cloud storage service bundled with Ubuntu, which only offers 2GB as opposed to the much greater capacity offered by MS Mesh.