Ubuntu Lucid Lynx: free OS that Just Works

Today, I got caught up enough from my tour to update my ThinkPad to the latest version of Ubuntu. Lucid Lynx went in like butter. The update ran unattended, took about 1h including downloading the whole OS, updated all of my apps without a hitch, and is running smoothly. I'll let you know if anything breaks, but this looks like yet another flawless Ubuntu update for me, making me a very, very satisfied user indeed.

I know I once promised to document my Ubuntu Linux changeover in detail, but it doesn't look like it's going to happen. To be honest, there just wasn't much to write about. I bought a ThinkPad (currently using the X200, lusting after the X201), downloaded and burned a CD, stuck it in the drive, turned it on, clicked "Install." To move my data over from my old Mac, I booted it into USB-drive mode and dragged the files over. Getting DRM'ed audiobooks out of iTunes was the hardest part (all hail AudioHijack, which let me capture the files, though it took a month's constant playback on three old Powerbooks to convert my thousands of dollars' worth of Audible books to MP3 so I could take them with).

Since then, it's Just Worked. When I need to do something new — edit audio, say — I go to the software center and look at what apps exist for that purpose, select some highly rated ones, download them, try them, keep the one I like (all the software is free, so this is easy). Migrating to new machines? Easy. Just take my list of installed apps to the new machine as a text-file on a USB key and ask Software Center to download them and configure them. Backups? Easy: external generic USB drive and rsync (exactly what I used with my Mac).

For the first two or three weeks, there was some disorientation. None of the things I used were where I expected to find them. It was the OS equivalent of when we remodeled the kitchen and it took me two weeks to remember where the new cutlery drawer was. Then the OS vanished: of course it did. It's plumbing. You're not supposed to notice plumbing. If you have to notice plumbing, there's something wrong with the plumbing.

Do I have to type in a lot of arcane command-line gibberish? No. I sometimes choose to because I like having little pythony things lying around that friends have written for me or that I've pieced together myself, but that was true on my Mac as well. I could happily do all the important things on my machine without ever touching the terminal.

Does everything work? Hell yeah. Ubuntu's support for arcane stuff like 3G modems is vastly superior to anything I've seen on the Mac or Windows: just plug in the modem, wait for it to autodetect, confirm its guess, and go. The sexy multifunction Logitech mouse? Just worked — no drivers required. My HP all-in-one scanner/copier/printer? Just worked. Webcams, USB mics, etc etc? Never had to download a driver, never had to install a driver: they just worked.

Oh, sure, sometimes I don't know off the bat how to do something a little arcane (after I replaced the UK keyboard my ThinkPad came with with the US version, I had to figure out where to tell the OS about it, for instance), but it's never more than one or two googles away. And sometimes apps crash, but not often — and the OS itself has crashed so infrequently that the most common cause of my reboots is running out of battery.

The folks at Canonical were kind enough to give me a comp support account, and I've used it a couple times for weird, dire things, like recovering from serious hardware errors or getting the crypto stuff on my encrypted partition just right, and they are excellent, but these are the kinds of problems I expect to need a hint or two from an expert with.

So there you have it: Ubuntu: It Just Works. Install it, spend two weeks wondering where the cutlery drawer is, watch it disappear. Thereafter, only notice it when it does something amazing, like flawless OS updates or very simple transfers to new machines.

You can download and burn a Lucid Lynx CD free, boot any machine from it, and give Ubuntu a test-drive. Try it!

Lucid Lynx