I “chucked” Windows (the operating system) about four years ago. Why? I was tired of reformatting, reinstalling, defragmenting, and forever tinkering with the “registry” to get the darn thing to work. My Windows experience always went something like this – perhaps you've had similar moments: one day Windows is working fine – the next – either a hacker, upgrade, or installation gunged the thing beyond repair and it's spewing corrupted data worse than anything seen in The Exorcist. Personally I've reloaded Windows so many times, I've memorized all the little “helpful hints” displayed on screen during the lengthly reload. Operating systems are for operating, otherwise they would be named “Loading Systems”.
Now, I don't worry about that anymore. I don't even use Windows. More on that later.
Today we have a “new” Windows OS called “Vista” and for $200 you can get the latest version, install it , and then, for another $300 addOffice, and fork another $50 for HRD or other ham software. Oh, and did I mention Vista slows your computer down to a crawl? By the time you get this thing “up and running” you will have already spent between $500 and $1000 for software AND hardware.
Now, wouldn't you rather spend that kind of money on a new radio, do-dad, toy, or maybe dinner out with the XYL, rather than on an operating system with looks “prettier” than XP but doesn't really DO all that much more?
I thought not.
I offer you an alternative. Join the growing ranks of Linux! What? That dweebed out, wonk-anized, impossible-to-understand, operating system?
Okay, it's time to come to a realization. First, let me pull you up close and whisper this in your ear so the neighbors can't hear:
Your house and car are outfitted with numerous antennas and radios, which means your stuff already looks like a NASA ground station and the neighbors think you secretly communicate with old Communists and Banana Republic dictators anyhow – so it's not that huge of a leap to “jump into” a more geeky operating system, is it? You can do it!
Still not convinced? How about if I told you over 100 FREE ham programs await you – not to mention the operating system will run AX.25 natively (packet radio, man!), out of the box, without emulators, kludges, or other confusing Windows like “fixes”.
And what if I told you, installing programs on Linux can be done with the click of a button – no compiling, decompressing files, and other time consuming and frustrating processes.
It's all true. The latest release of Ubuntu (it's an African Bantu word for social “alliances and relationships” meaing Ubuntu was created by a comminity of programmers who play well with each other) will run on your current PC, plus give you some “Vista” like features, and, here's the holy grail, run all the free Amateur Radio programs you can imagine (I've included a list in this article).
I can hear the comments already:
“But I can't load that stuff on my computer – I don't know how!”
“Bill Gates will come over to my house and beat me up!”
“I still have a bunch of programs I still run on my Commodore 64 I have stashed next to the bed.”
Okay, I can't help you with the last comment, but you can actually buy (or build) a very conservative computer with everything you need for under $200, but I'll save that for another article.
Fortunately for all of us, Ubuntu is available on a DVD for FREE! No, you don't even pay postage (or you can download it from the “internets”). If you go the “mail route”, you'll wait about three weeks for your choice of disks (Intel based, AMD64, or PowerPC – give your old Mac new life!) to show up but it's all free. The OS is compact and can be loaded in about 30 minutes (see if Vista or your 900th reload of XP goes that quickly!). There's relatively painless network (or dialup) setup and the graphical interface works almost exactly like XP (actually better, as the “Start” menu is replaced with “Applications”, “Places”, and “System” for different OS functions. Microsoft should have thought of that one!
If you're nervous about going to Ubuntu, but would like to try it – the DVD will also allow you to “try it live” - no files are written to your existing machine. The only down side, of course, is you can't load a bunch of programs onto a read-only “CD”. But there's a reasonably easy way to try before you make the big jump. You'll need a reasonalbly large, hard drive , on your existing Windows machine just “spin up” your Ubuntu disk and the Superior OS will make room on your hard drive and create a “dual boot” function. Simply stated; at startup you can choose between “Bill” or Ubuntu! (Pick Ubuntu! Pick Ubuntu!) It can't get much easier than that.
When connecting the OS to your radio, you'll need to do some tweaking on the RS-232 or USB interfaces, but I found one evening Googling the issues solved that (and you are willing to make the jump, I'll help you get your PC set up!). Within 24 hours I was on 144.390 APRS using nothing more than my TNC-2, Yaseu FT-8900, and my Ubuntu laptop. How cool is that? (Okay, it's geeky – but it's cool to my geeky friends!)
Linux' maturity over the last 5 years as a “server solution” is well known in the business community (ask Novell). But with Ubuntu, the revolutionary OS has finally broken through to desktops by heeding the feedback of Windows and Mac users and taking some well thought out ideas from both those releases. Inspired Ubuntu developers mimic the best from both operating systems, while offering up an interface which is intuitive and usable for the “technical super genious” to the average user; it's perfect for the typical ham who is obviously somewhere “in between”.
Give it a try, I think you'll love it as much as I do.
Ed. Note – this article and pictures were created on a really old Pentium III clone, with Ubuntu using OpenOffice and Gimp (free Linux programs). No hard drives were harmed while producing this article.