Monday, 1 December 2008

Preloaded Linux. Simply Excellence

In one of my previous posts, I pointed out how hard it was to find a decent laptop to suit my needs. I did try to evaluate the Dell Ubuntu machines at that time but they were so hard to find that I gave up. Eventually, I bought a MacBook Pro and have been really happy with it.

Well, since then I've been approached by a combination of friends and family members, looking for computer help or advice. Below are the general details:

1) A friend with minimal computer experience, looking for a small form factor machine for browsing, email, some spreadsheet work, etc.
2) A friend looking to replace an old XP laptop for browsing, listening to music, word processing, etc
3) A family member with an existing Dell 17" Inspiron. This came with Vista, which was now refusing to boot properly. It appeared to start up but nothing responded after the Desktop was loaded. The machine could only be booted into Safe Mode.
4) A friend who had used XP before and was now looking for a small form factor machine for browsing, IM, listening to music, etc.

It's fairly obvious that each of the above is a typical non-technical user, just looking to perform basic tasks on their machine. It's also fairly obvious, at least to me, that a modern Linux desktop is absolutely perfect in these scenarios. So, that's exactly what I suggested and in each case they took my advice.

Three of them ended up with Dell/Ubuntu machines and the other bought an Eee PC 901, now running Ubuntu Eee. (I can't begin to explain how impressed I am with Ubuntu Eee, it's simply brilliant)

One of the important pieces of advice was making sure they understood that they weren't getting Windows boxes. I took some time to explain that they would be able to do all they needed with the new machines but would have to use different applications in many cases. OpenOffice instead of MS Office, Pidgin instead of Live Messenger, etc.

I agreed to do the basic setup of the machines for each person. Basically, my job was to ensure that Java, Skype, Flash, wireless, codecs, etc all worked when the users got their machine. This is where pre-installed Linux really comes into it's own. The Dell/Ubuntu machines were a dream to configure. Most of the codecs worked out of the box. Wireless just worked, as did the webcam, etc. The Eee PC was just as easy to set up. It only took about 30 mins per machine to have it fully functional.

Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as the saying goes. You can never quite know how people will react when given a new machine that's "not Windows". I could only hope I had explained things well enough before they agreed to use Ubuntu.

I'm happy to report that so far, I've had really positive feedback from everyone. These people are just happy using their computer as it should be: a tool to get things done. They appreciate not having to worry about things like viruses, malware & spyware.

I met one of them today. They've been using their machine for about a month now and I asked how things were going. I got a very interesting response. Everything was good but they had been looking for their machine online and couldn't find it. They could only find the Windows version.

I asked if I could help and they said another friend of theirs wanted the exact same machine. It had to run what they were running. I found this fascinating for four reasons:

1) My friend was clearly impressed enough to show off her machine and recommend it to others.
2) She didn't know she was running Ubuntu and didn't care. She just knew it wasn't Windows and it worked really well. All she had to do was find out from me what they needed to order.
3) They didn't buy the Windows machine, even though that's the only one they could find. They preferred to wait and get the Linux version.
4) They couldn't find the Ubuntu Dell machine. Exactly the same issue I had a few months ago. Nudge Nudge Dell. Make it easy for your customers to find what they want!

On that final point above, a previous comment on this blog by Vadi suggests trying System 76. I'll definitely consider them in future.

So, there you have it. Four more happy Linux users and another on the way.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Quote of the week

"The upshot is that millions of people got accustomed to using GUIs in one form or another. By doing so, they made Apple/Microsoft a lot of money. The fortunes of many people have become bound up with the ability of these companies to continue selling products whose salability is very much open to question."

Taken from "In The Beginning was the Command Line" by Neal Stephenson. Interestingly, the article was written in 1999.

The next time you read an article stating how "Linux is not ready for XXX", it's worth keeping the above quote in mind.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Belfast Marathon Relay

Earlier today I completed a 5.3 mile run, in a relay team, in the Belfast Marathon. It was my first time entering one of these events and I absolutely loved it. I fully intend to do it next year again and would recommend it to everyone.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Matchbox Twenty ROCK!!!

I've just been to watch them in concert, in Cardiff International Arena, Wales.

Great band live. Check them out.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Where are all the good laptops?

I've just bought a new laptop. To date, I'd been using an IBM T43 with Kubuntu 7.10. This has served me well over the last couple of years with my current employer. However, I'm branching out on my own as a software contractor, specialising in eCommerce development. That left me looking for a new laptop. I had a few requirements for this new machine:

  1. It had to have a decent spec. Dual core processor, 200Gb+ Hard Disk, 2Gb+ Memory
  2. It had to be able to run either Linux or OS X
  3. At least a 15" screen
  4. It had to look good. I'll be taking this machine to many client sites over the next few years and using it heavily for personal use, so I want something that performs well and is decent to look at.
At this point, you've probably guessed I ended up buying a MacBook Pro. What's surprising, at least to me, was the complete lack of decent alternatives. Some machines fulfilled two or three of the requirements but none, other than the MacBooks, met all four. For example, the Dell/Ubuntu machines sort of met 1, 2 and 3 but I spent so much time trying to find one that I decided I wouldn't buy a machine from Dell. There's probably another blog post in this but suffice to say their customer service totally sucked. I looked at other machines from companies like ZaReason but just couldn't find anything I liked.

I had no such trouble at Apple. Yes the machines are a bit more expensive but you do get a machine that's desiged with quality in mind. It's all the small details that make the difference, like:
  1. A back-lit keyboard
  2. The feel of the keys and the machine itself. Everything just feels solid.
  3. Gestures on the trackpad
  4. Even the magnetic power connector just snaps magically into place.
I can't figure out why companies like Dell don't just copy the MacBook design and stick a nicely themed version of Ubuntu on it. Market it heavily and sell if for considerably less than a MacBook. Maybe it's just not what they do.

Apple's lastest earning resport would suggest consumers are screaming out for alternatives to Vista. Even Dell plans to continue selling XP after MS stop supporting it.

Anyway, it's Dell's loss. I'm really happy with the MacBook Pro. It's an excellent machine. Now I just need KDE 4.1 to be released so I can use Amarok, and all my other favourite KDE apps on OS X.