Leaving Windows Behind

I have been watching my personal laptop die a slow and agonising death for some while now. I bought my laptop way back in 2004 because I needed it for graduate school and it has been showing its age of late. It has become increasingly slow and plodding. Booting the thing has become a chore that requires at least 15 minutes and it seems to get worse with every Windows update.

Microsoft loves to stuff new services and executable files into every “fix” and these slowly pile one on top of the other to destroy PC performance. It’s Microsoft’s way of convincing you to upgrade to the latest hardware and the latest Windows operating system. Planned obsolescence, in other words.

I am not ready for my computer to be obsolete, however. I am squirreling away money and paying down debts and do not want to spend a thousand dollars on a new laptop just yet. Plus, there are several new technologies on the horizon that will be worth an upgrade (Windows 7, USB 3.0 and solid-state hard drives to name a few).

I decided to live with the slowness. I have a work laptop as well and could really do without my personal laptop if it came down to it. All I ever really do with my personal laptop any more is surf the web and play the occasional game. It has become more of a storage device for my music than anything else.

Sadly, my laptop just didn’t have another year to give. My hard drive began to show signs of imminent failure just about two weeks ago. My weekly antivirus scan took three times longer than normal and a disk check threw off innumerable errors in about 12 hours of running. I’m grateful that the drive lasted long enough for me to back up all my files before finally giving up the ghost.

Give up the ghost it did, though. Yesterday, no matter how I coaxed and cajoled, the disk simply refused to boot. It would cycle from start to loading Windows, cough, sputter and try again, all without success.

Rather than replace my computer, I decided to do a little refurb on my own. Since I had some warning of the impending demise of my hard drive, I ordered a replacement from Amazon.com. As luck would have it, I got it two days before the final failure of the old one. Good timing, that. I spent half-an-hour yesterday morning plucking out the old drive and installing the new.

I also installed Ubuntu rather than reinstalling Windows XP. I have been test driving it ever since. I have to say, I’m pretty impressed, impressed enough to question whether I’ll ever run Windows again.

The install process was simple, my machine boots in under thirty seconds and the operating system updated and patched itself in about 10 minutes after the initial install. I realise that some of the performance gain comes from having a new, faster hard drive but I’m sure not having a bloated operating system helps a great deal. I can’t imagine having to patch the my older version of XP again. It would take hours just to download all the patches, much less get them installed. That doesn’t even cover the time it would take to reinstall the various applications that make XP useful.

Ubuntu comes with a wide assortment of useful applications that I didn’t have to go dig up. It made it easy to find additional apps that I wanted and installing them was as easy as a click of a button and a few minutes.

I do have two gripes about Ubuntu thus far. The biggest by far, and it’s a biggie, is that I have no sound. Apparently there’s a bug in the native sound handling program in the latest release of the OS. I am sure that I could get it working with a little applied effort but no OS should ever be released with a bug this glaring. (Think Windows Vista, known for not recognizing a wide range of hardware.)

I do not want to spend time digging in the guts of the system to figure this kind of stuff fresh out of the box, and I’m perfectly comfortable doing so. If Canonical ever wants to compete with Microsoft, it has to be able to appeal to someone other than your average geek. Amateurish releases like this aren’t going to cut it.

Worse, out of 249 applied updates yesterday, the bug remains. I have no sound. Checking out the support forums tells me that I am by no means an isolated case. A quick Google search brings up a new solution for every search result. I tried a few of the proposed solutions with no luck. I will continue to research but it is a major knock against the OS.

The other gripe I have against the OS is nit-picking. It doesn’t have the fonts I’m used to seeing. All the fonts are freely licensed rather than the copyrighted versions in Windows. It makes things look different. I’m sure I’ll get used to it but it feels alien right now. I like my routine, folks.

I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on the subject in the future but, for now, I’m quite pleased. I feel like I have a new laptop and I only spent $40 bucks. I have another 1 GB of memory on the way and, when that’s installed, the laptop, she should be humming.

Assuming I can get the sound to work, that is.