So, I discovered Linux this week. Well, maybe “discovered” is too strong a word. Obviously, I’d heard of Linux before this week. Anybody who knows anything about computers has at least heard of Linux. If you don’t know, Linux is an open-source operating system that is found everywhere from cell phones to supercomputers. It’s a very well-known name in the computer world, but I really didn’t know much about it until recently.
I have a fascination with operating systems in general, and so I wanted to see if it was at all feasible to try out a version of Linux on my laptop. One of the most popular versions is called Ubuntu, so that was the version I decided to investigate. Much to my delight/trepidation, I quickly discovered that Ubuntu can be installed using something called Wubi, which installs Ubuntu as a program within Windows. The advantage of this is that it’s much less likely to cause problems, since you’re not messing with the underlying architecture of your system. You’re just installing a new program, which is a pretty common thing to do.
I was still nervous, because I felt like installing a second operating system on my computer was a pretty major thing to do, regardless of how it was done, and I worried about something going wrong. I don’t have an “official” backup for this laptop, although that’s not really a big deal because all of the stuff on my laptop is also on my desktop or in the cloud somewhere. My biggest worry was that something would go horribly wrong and my laptop would be toasted beyond repair. That would be 600 dollars down the drain, and I really didn’t want that to happen.
But I did some more research, and I gradually became persuaded that using Wubi to install Ubuntu was, in fact, perfectly safe. So I went ahead and did it. The install process was quick and thoroughly painless, which was nice. It worked exactly as promised, that is, it was just like installing a new program.
When I boot up my laptop now, a screen pops up that asks me if I want to use Windows 7 or Ubuntu. If I don’t do anything, after a few seconds it will automatically boot into Windows. One problem with this set-up is that in order to switch between the two, I have to restart my laptop. This pretty much means that if I’m in the middle of something on one OS, I can’t quickly switch to the other one just to check something. I wouldn’t be surprised if there actually is a way to run Ubuntu within Windows or vice versa. But if there is, I haven’t figured out how to do it yet.
After playing with Ubuntu for a few days, I’ve decided that I definitely like it. That said, there’s virtually no possibility that I will switch to using it full time. For one, I’m not convinced that I can do everything I need to do with Ubuntu. Even if I could, I’m not sure there would be enough of a benefit to justify putting in the work necessary to make that transition happen. But more importantly, I love Windows 7. I think it’s a wonderful operating system that is a joy to use. (No, I am not being paid by Microsoft.) I haven’t used Ubuntu very much yet, but I’ve seen nothing so far that would justify making a permanent switch.
Still, when I consider the fact that it’s free, I have to say that it is really, really good. Good enough that I’m surprised that more people don’t use it. I suppose that computers already come with an OS pre-installed, so there’s not much reason to use a different OS. I do wonder why more PC manufacturers don’t use Ubuntu instead of Windows, considering that Ubuntu is free and Windows is fairly expensive. I suppose they figure that the name recognition of Windows is worth the extra expense.
Even so, it would be interesting to see what happened if more PC makers did offer lower cost options running Ubuntu or a different version of Linux. After all, most people who buy PCs just want to use the internet, check email, and maybe watch some videos. I would think you could sell a pretty cheap Linux-based PC that would be perfect for people like that. I know they tried this a few years ago with netbooks and they all ended up running Windows XP. But I imagine that there would be a market for something like this if it was handled properly.
After all, does the average user really care about Windows? Does the average user even LIKE Windows? Most people probably don’t have any opinion about what OS their computer is running. They just want it to work. Of course, Windows is by far the most dominant OS when it comes to PCs, so there’s likely a great many applications that don’t work with Ubuntu or other forms of Linux. So that would be a problem. But for basic use, I think that Linux would be perfect for most people.
Interestingly, it certainly seems as if Google has a plan like this in the works. Their Chrome OS is set to be officially released sometime this year, and the goal/purpose of Chrome OS is similar if not identical to what I just described. Chrome OS is supposed to provide a lightweight and free operating system that will allow the creation and sale of really cheap laptops that provide basic functionality. There’s a lot of questions among technology enthusiasts about how successful Chrome OS will be once it finally launches. Understandably so, as Chrome OS is basically just Google’s Chrome web browser. I doubt anybody would pay more than $200 or so for a laptop that’s just running a web browser.
Still, the fact that Google is attempting this at all is fascinating to me. It will be very interesting to see what Chrome OS laptops are like, how much they cost, and how they do in the market. Perhaps we will find that there is a place for low-cost laptops running an open-source OS after all. Or perhaps not.