About a month ago my brother in-law came to me with his wife's "dead" Windows XP computer. The computer would not boot at all. After a successful POST, the system would just sit there, unable to find any bootable media. I was asked if I could recover their files for them. Outside of that, they didn't want to put any money into the computer. They were thinking about getting a Mac.
I told them that as long as there wasn't a serious hard drive failure, I could probably get all of their files. I figured I could boot the system to a Live CD and backup the files to my USB hard drive.
So off I went, Ubuntu 10.04 Live CD in hand. The first thing I did after booting to the CD was to install and run ClamAV. Sure enough, I found a virus infecting excel.exe. With all of the user data verified as clean, I went ahead with the backup to my USB hard drive.
This whole process convinced me that the computer hardware was fine. The issues were with the operating system and the boot sector on the hard drive.
Having worked on their computer before, I knew this had not been the first virus issue for them. They mentioned an interest in getting a Mac, so I knew they willing to break from the MS Windows mindset. They'd also given up the computer for dead, so why not revive it with Linux and let them give it a try.
Trying Linux Mint
I'd heard a lot of good things about Linux Mint. It seems to have the reputation as being one of the best distros for beginners. Having been a longtime Ubuntu user I figured it would be best to try the LTS version based on Ubuntu 10.04. So I downloaded and installed Linux Mint 9.
This was my first experience with Linux Mint. The first thing that I really took exception to was the fact that Google searches through Firefox were using Google Custom Search to display ads. It's not a deal breaker, but the extra screen space taken up by the ads is certainly annoying.
I did run into what I felt was a big issue though. The software update notification appeared to be broken. Basically, the system would not notify the user of available updates. I had to launch the update manager to manually check for new packages. It's not a big deal for an experienced user, but considering Mint's reputation as a beginner friendly distro, it seemed like too much to ask of a rookie. For me, I couldn't hand over a system with that kind of issue to a beginner.
Back to Ubuntu
So back I went to my tried and true Ubuntu 10.04 LTS. I then went about installing multimedia codecs from Medibuntu as well as Firefox 4 from the Mozilla Team PPA. I also installed the proprietary AMD video drivers for the integrated video card. With everything up and working, I created the other user accounts they'd need and restored the old Windows user data.
That was it. The computer was ready to go back to my sister in-law. A few days later I drove the computer over to set the computer back up in my SIL's office and to give her a short orientation on using her new Ubuntu installation.
The trouble starts
The video had been working fine at my house along with my HP monitor. When I got the computer hooked up to my sister in-law's Dell monitor, the desktop would not display after booting into Ubuntu. Things were fine at the GRUB boot screen and the splash displayed properly, but after that, nothing.
After trying a number of different things, I eventually just ended up removing the proprietary AMD video driver and going back to the default open source driver. Since she just wanted to get back to her writing, and wasn't really interested in 3-D gaming, I figured that she'd get by just fine with the more basic driver.
Getting the printer working
I'd never dealt with a wireless printer before. I've got an HP all-in-one USB printer at home which works great with Linux. As luck would have it, my sister in-law's wireless printer is also an HP. I figured that the driver CD that came with the printer would be of little use in getting it to work with Linux, so I did a quick search of the Internet to look for help. It turned out that all I had to do was install the same hplip package that I use with my USB printer, and then run the
command and then just follow through the prompts to get linked up with the printer. It was all pretty simple and easy.
Showing off Ubuntu
I gave my sister in-law a quick run through of what was going to be different about using Ubuntu 10.04 vs. using Windows XP. I explained that MS Office would not work well for her and that she'd be able to open and edit all of her old files using OpenOffice. I then went on to show her how to use the Ubuntu Software Center to look for new programs and she was absolutely amazed. She loved it!
Finally, I showed her how to use Cryptkeeper to set up an encrypted folder for important records like tax returns, etc. With that done, I left her with the new setup and headed home.
I still wasn't sure this whole experiment was going to work, but I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. A few days later, I got an email from my sister in-law.
[Linerd], I am sooooo happy with my computer!!! THANK YOU SO SO SO SO SO MUCH!!! YOU ROCK!
I really love Linux and the computer moves at WARP SPEED now! I also love, love, love the secret files. That is toooo cool. I will definitely get a lot of use out of that! Thanks again!
Please think of something I can do to repay you. You have done me such a huge favor so many times and I would really love to be able to do something for you. Just let me know!
Thanks again for everything!!! Oh, and if I don't talk to you before you leave, have a fab trip!
[Linerd's sister in-law]
I asked her for permission before publishing the above email and the following is the response I got. It contains another great endorsement for Ubuntu Linux.
Yep, things are great! I haven't had as much time to play around as I want, but from the time I have spent...I love everything!!! So far I've just been busy working on my writing again. I am sooo excited about everything. I was actually just looking at the Educational downloads while waiting for dinner to cook. I already know I like this much more than Windows. I'm so happy and really can't thank you enough.
Yep, go ahead and put my email down, anything I can do to help. Let anyone know to contact me, too. But really, I would love to return all your favors, so when you think of some stuff I can help you out with, please let me know asap!
Tell your beautiful wife and daughter I said hi too!
Since then I've only had one request for help. She was trying to print coupons from a certain website that was giving her an unsupported browser error. I pointed her to the Firefox User Agent Switcher add-on and everything has been fine since.
Well, I guess that makes for one successful conversion to Ubuntu Linux, at least for the time being. The interface changes in Ubuntu 11.04 are certainly divisive. Hopefully things will come together a bit better before by the next LTS release. If not, I've got a few years to find a good alternative.