Thoughts about linux (ubuntu 8.1) from a new user

After my macbook fried and my xp box got infected beyond repair, I decided to start all over with linux. I’ve never used it before, so here are some initial reactions from a long time computer user, both in windows and mac environments, starting fresh:

  1. It’s the most user-friendly environment I’ve tried. It combines the best of windows and mac in one interface. Open folders and files along the bottom (the tray?) is such a natural thing that I always liked about windows. The intrusive dock is something I’ve always disliked about mac. Everything is crisp, the system fonts are legible, and working in it from a gui standpoint is very satisfying.
  2. I love discovering how it works. At first, it’s annoying to deal with package installations and terminal commands, but after a while you get a feel for how and why they work.  There are strange icons nestled into the various static bars on the top and bottom of the screen (menu bar? task bar? Again, I need to learn the lingo), that do cool stuff when you click them.  For instance, in the lower left is an interesting one, that nicle hides everything on your desktop when clicked. I know os x does this and much more with the f9 f10 f11 keys, can’t think of what they call it at the moment. But all I ever really need regarding windows is a quick way to see my desktop. Each time I find something new in it, I feel a sense of accomplishment (wow I am a geek).
  3. It seems no faster or slower than osx or windows at the moment (maybe a little bit faster, I’m using a dell 4600 with 1.5 gb Ram).
  4. I wish the windows were anti-aliased. Probably a memory saver, but I’d turn it on if I knew how.
  5. It came with some interesting apps. So far, I’ve used gimp (graphics), rythmbox (music management), firefox (web browser), picasa (photo manager), and Kino (video editor). Some thoughts:
    • Gimp sucks. Gimp is such a horrible name for software anyway; it connotes a crippled, inferior entity, which Gimp unfortunately seems to be. I need shape layers, I need precision zooming, and I can’t imagine Gimp has Photoshop’s anti-aliasing prowess (see my previous post), so I’ll do my icon work on my old mac for now. If you don’t have an old mac with photoshop 7 on it to use, then I guess gimp is for you.
    • Rythmbox with built in lastfm is cool, and I’d love to get better at it. Unfortunately, my ipod/iphone centric life would need some hardware adjustments.
    • Firefox is fine, although one of my sites looked weird, maybe due to font issues, which I’ll address in a future post.
    • Picasa is really critical. I have every photo I’ve taken in the last 10 years on the second drive of this machine, and it was all managed via picasa running on xp before I wiped the first drive and installed ubuntu. It seems that picasa won’t recognize the 2nd drive. I briefly checked for answers via google and hit the wall (future post). You would think it would be easy for picasa to pick up where it left off, but no luck yet.
    • Kino imported the .mps files from my camcorder, but made them look weird. Need to investigate.
  6. I miss Georgia, more than anything. Nothing reads like that font. Please, Matthew Carter, if you ever read this, get me some Georgia on Linux.
  7. Using Linux makes you feel free, in general. But Inkscape and Gimp just ain’t Illustrator and Photoshop.
  8. FTP is perfect. I don’t know why OS X doesn’t build it in like linux. FTP programs are pointless when you can just mount a remote server like any disk.


11 responses to “Thoughts about linux (ubuntu 8.1) from a new user”

  1. Interesting, I just took the plunge into Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex. It’s so far been good, haven’t had TOO many issues, no more than Windows gives me on a daily basis. I bought my friends laptop, 1.7 dual core 1gig ram 120gig drive, intel integrated, and a bunch of other stuff you’d expect in an HP. $230.00 – a steal I think, new battery with it too.

    Anyway, i’ve been in Linux before, but never got too far, but since I finished school, just beginning my program career, I understand code much better. So using the Terminal didn’t hurt too badly this time around. Biggest issue I’m having is installing none packaged software (ie, crap I have to compile myself, such as Aptana (unless I’m missing something)).

    But it’s been good, stuff works as it should right out of the box, whereas on my Vista computer and other it is a hassle and a half to get them on the interwebs.

    It’s good stuff.

  2. Hey Ben,

    I’ve been using Linux since 96, using it for professional purposes (working as a translator) full time since then … and my impression would be that you just need a little more patience here… Already you’re saying Ubuntu is very user-friendly, and trust me it will get better virtually every day. If you really hate Gimp, just keep your Win/Mac systems around for a while. Or use Wine or some other emulation/virtualization software to have Photoshop et al working on your Ubuntu desktop. For photo management, try F-Spot, or gThumb. These are native apps (afaik, Picasa isn’t, and Google has become a nasty monster anyway). Making the switch implies some tradeoffs and getting rid of some old habits, i.e. you might lose a feature or two in photo management, but gain many others. It just takes a little time, and trying the choices that are available. In any case, it’s not a good idea getting addicted to just one particular app for a given purpose, especially if that app is provided by a company which could drop their Linux support any second (well that’s my opinion anyway…)

    Re the Georgia font — are you referring to the Georgia font found on MS systems? Well, that would be an easy one. Just make a “.fonts” directory (mind the dot) in you home directory, and copy the font into that dir. Or install the whole shebang, open System -> Administration -> Synaptic and select the msttcorefonts package, it contains Georgia and some other common MS fonts. Problem solved (??? -I hope).

    Re the websites not looking good in Firefox, my guess would be that they’re not up to web standards. But I could be mistaken.

    If you rely on ftp a lot, you could also try the command-line “ftp” built into the system since the old days. Also, you should investigate ssh, once properly set up you can use it as an FTP-like program (under the name sftp), with full desktop integration like ftp — only that ssh is encrypted and ftp is not.

    Just my 2 or 3 Eurocents.

    Greetings from Berlin,


  3. Thanks Peluchin for all the comments. I’ll try the font install; I don’t know why I thought I couldn’t install it! Of course you should be able to install ttf fonts on linux. I think the website issue is not having verdana/georgia installed, and you’re right, they should look good no matter what fonts. I’ll definitely investigate.
    I’ve always wanted to get better at command line stuff, and ftp seems to be a good place to start. I also need to understand the difference between sftp and ssh, if in fact there is one.
    I’ll buy you a beer next time I’m in Berlin. I love that city, I visited it for a week, stayed in a bunch of different houses/hostels. There was a beautiful park right in the middle, can’t remember the name…

  4. Michael, you might find the package installer useful-it’s great because most commonly used linux packages are located there; you don’t have to download and install apps like you do on mac or windows via a browser or torrent. Maybe that helps?

  5. ZackMorris Avatar

    You should take a look at:

    Emma lists some great alternates (Inkscape is kind-of weak she subs: Xara Xtreme and Skencil.) Probably the one that will help you the most is “Gimpshop.” I can’t work in GIMP, i’m far too used to PS and using wine to run PS can slow it down a little. For quick edits Gimpshop is more usable to me than booting up Wine+PS and easier to navigate than GIMP-straight up, no chaser.

    Also: I find that Opera tends to deal with poorly coded websites better than Firefox (although I prefer FFX on a daily basis) so you’ll probably want to DL it as well, just for referencing: “Is it Firefox or”

  6. Zack,
    Thanks for the link-I’ll definitely dig around her site for ideas. I’ve heard of Gimpshop. The biggest thing for me is how photoshop handles anti-aliasing of vector shapes-it is just superior to Illustrator, Fireworks or Gimp. I’ll see how Gimpshop does.

  7. peluchin Avatar


    thanks in advance for the beverage 🙂

    Just stumbled on this, a brief outline of font installation:

    As far as sftp is concerned, you needn’t bother with it unless your situation requires encrypted file transfers NOW. It’s only that ssh/sftp have more or less become some kind of standard for file transfers and remote operation. sftp is part of the ssh package and basically provides command-line (encrypted) ftp functionality; it is also well supported on the gnome desktop. For this to work, you have to install the packages openssh-server or openssh-client, depending on which side you are working. But before putting them to use, make sure you read one of the relevant tutorials on the subject that are around on the Internet — otherwise ssh will make you cringe, whine, and commit suicide :-). Once set up ssh works flawlessly and can also be used from Win/Mac. I would really recommend it in the long run as the benefits are tremendous. You can also have a look at the rather terse manual pages, by typing “man ssh”, and “man sftp” in a terminal window, or use the Help System and go to Advanced Topics -> Terminal Commands Reference -> Applications -> ssh/sftp.

    Ah I almost forgot, the f-Spot photo manager also supports exporting to PicasaWeb. Never tested it, but you might give it a try.

    Good luck,


  8. Hi Ben,

    If you didn’t know, I’ve been on Ubuntu for 2 years. Use VMWARE server 1.6 to run XP (for cross compilers and whatnot). Opera for mail and browsing. 99% of the hardware works wonderfully on this HP laptop!

    After all is said and done, I feel like the system doesn’t work quite as nicely as WinXP — though it’s close, but the idea that the software is open & free makes it well worth the hassle.

    Jim C

  9. I like it.
    Thought along those lines when I did a backup recently.

  10. I realize this is a little off-topic, but what template are you using? Is it custom? I love it!

  11. Hi, I’m a webmaster in Paris. Just wanted to let you know I thought your web site was cool. Thanks!

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