Last week saw the first anniversary of my adoption of Linux on my desktop PC so I thought I’d write a quick summary of how things went in the last 12 months as I always enjoy reading real-life user adoption stories.
Initially, I installed Linux Mint 7 (Gloria) on my aged Dell Dimension and in the following weeks, I subsequently upgraded to Linux Mint 8 (Helena) in November and again in May 2011 when Linux Mint 9 (Isadora) was released.
In April, I finally heeded some not so subtle hints from my wife and bought her an relatively inexpensive Acer Aspire laptop for her birthday. The machine came pre-installed with Windows 7 but, as she had been gradually getting used to the Linux Mint interface and had never previously used Vista or Windows 7, I took the rather bold step of unpacking the laptop and surreptitiously installing Linux Mint. This was mainly because I felt constantly switching between Linux and Windows may prove to be rather confusing and hinder the drive for Linux adoption.
The laptop proved to be a great success and my wife initially used AbiWord to write essays for a part-time course she was studying. We had the inevitable hiccup when she emailed AbiWord format documents to colleagues at work who were unable to read them. Although I managed to get AbiWord to use the Microsoft Word .doc format by default, I still saw the odd compatibility issue which led me to install Open Office Writer.
In June, my wife had to give a short 5 minute presentation for an interview and created the slides in Open Office Impress and then presented her work, from a USB stick, on a Windows computer using Microsoft PowerPoint. Although I had tested this route (48 times) myself, this successful use of Linux software went down very well and seemed to boost her confidence that using this ‘Linux thing’ wasn’t so bad after all.
My wife mainly uses the two computers for Internet access, email, simple word processing and printing. It was quite interesting to see that she fully expected everything (email, files, Firefox favourites) to be identical and immediately available on both machines. Obviously, this isn’t the case out of the box but luckily, my ISP, Virgin Media, had recently converted to the Gmail platform with IMAP available so I configured Thunderbird on both PC’s and, lo and behold, all her email is simultaneously available on both machines as well as being backed up on a server elsewhere.
For file synchronisation, I toyed with configuring simple network file sharing between the two Linux boxes but as the desktop PC isn’t always turned on, this wasn’t too attractive. I also installed DropBox which I thought would be ideal but, by then, the wife had already become accustomed to sending documents to herself via email which did the job just as well.
For browser synchronisation, there was a useful Firefox addon called Xmarks that worked seamlessly. Unfortunately, the Xmarks service will be closing down at the end of the year so I have converted to Firefox Sync that seems to offer similar functionality if not quite as polished.
As the year progressed, my wife increasingly used the laptop almost exclusively and really only used the desktop PC for printing documents. This was a blessing really as it allowed me to embark on a period of concerted distro hopping to see what other Linux distributions were available. After experimenting with Debian, Linux Mint Debian, Fedora, Ubuntu, PepperMint and Arch, I eventiually settled on Fedora 13 (Gnome) which is very stable and comes with all the main software packages I use. Being based on RedHat, Fedora offers a nice contrast with Linux Mint which is based on Ubuntu which, in turn, is based on Debian.
As for the future, well, my wife keeps asking for a quick Nautilus tutorial on how to effectively manage and organise her growing number of files as currently, her documents and downloaded papers from the Internet are liberally scattered across ‘Downloads’, ‘Home Folder’ and ‘Documents’ and the temporary folder used by Firefox.
My wife seems quite content with Linux; in fact she recently recounted colleagues telling war stories over lunch about their computers being out of action after being struck down by viruses and having to purchase a Microsoft Office license just to be ‘able to work on documents at home.’ My wife told them that her husband had installed this Linux thing onto her computer so she didn’t have to worry about viruses and she used a ‘free’ version of Word.
From my point of view, the laptop is fast and still boots as quickly as the day I installed it. No Windows or vendor crapware, no spyware and no crippled, limited period anti-virus program suites to be uninstalled which would have undoubtedly been the case had I left Windows 7 on the laptop.
There are a couple of minor irritations; printing on Linux is OK but it is still difficult to accurately monitor the ink levels on the Canon Pixma ip4000 without hooking up a Windows laptop and my wfie is able to occasionally crash Open Office Writer simply by copying and pasting content from Web pages into a document which is rather embarrassing.
The laptop runs Linux Mint 9 (LTS = Long Term Support) which means this version will continue to be supported for a full 3 years until May 2013. However, there is also the tantalising prospect of migrating to Linux Mint Debian which looks and feels like Mint but decouples the dependency from Ubuntu and is based directly on a rolling Debian release which is quite attractive as, theoretically, this would never need upgrading (as in a re-install).
Also, today, hot on the heels of last week’s Ubuntu 10.10 release, the Mint development team has just announced the first Release Candidate for Linux Mint 10 (Julia) today which is another possibility.
As for the desktop PC currently running Fedora 13, I quite like Fedora as it’s stable, fast, looks great and offers a comprehensive list of up-to-date software available in the repositories. Fedora also appears to be gaining in popularity so I may well upgrade the desktop PC to the imminent release of Fedora 14.