i’ve been a longtime fan and occasional user of linux. i had it running for about a year as my primary operating system under ubuntu. microsoft announced the release of their windows 7 RC-1 the other day, and as part of the announcement stated that all of their beta testers, whether you’re using win 7 beta or a win 7 RC, will need to do a wipe/reinstall to get the final, retail windows 7 installed. not only that — which is somewhat expected — but to upgrade from beta to RC1, you also have to do a wipe/reinstall. seeing as how i’m going to have to wipe/reinstall my system in the summer when the beta expires, i’m not overly inclined to wipe/reinstall my system now to get the RC1 running on it.
this got me thinking again about linux and osx as desktop operating systems and curiosity got the best of me. it’s been a few iterations since i’ve played in ubuntu and i don’t think i’ve used wine since it hit 1.0 (and never used it for photoshop or ms office, really), so i decided it was time to poke around again. the first thing i noticed was when i was looking for a version to download; in addition to the direct download and bit torrent downloads that they’ve had for a while, there was now a windows-based installer called Wubi (i’m guessing Windows UBuntu Installer?). since i had my 1yr old daughter sleeping on my shoulder at the time, and moving to grab a blank cd-r may mean waking her up, i thought i’d see what Wubi was about.
wubi is a tiny download, but that’s because part of it is a downloader. the speeds seemed too fast to be anything other than bit torrent, but even so, it’s a little unrealistic as a straight downloader/installer since even on my (really fast) connection, i still needed to wait about an hour for it to finish downloading, which is a bit much for one sitting (i’d be just as happy starting a torrent and walking away, then coming back to it later). still, it offers 4 flavors of ubuntu, straight ubuntu, xubuntu, kubuntu, and mythbuntu. i might suggest customizing it a bit so that the first step is just downloading core ubuntu files and the kernel, stuff that would be the same across the distributions, then offering a choice and a package list to pick what applications you want to install — that way you’re only waiting for the bits you actually want to install. that kind of goes against the ubuntu philosophy of creating a package deal with everything you’d want out of the box, but i know a lot of non-n00bs use ubuntu, and for the advanced users, something like this would be a lot more useful to get out of a windows-based installer.
it finishes an asks me to reboot. one interesting thing is it adds itself to the windows boot menu, as opposed to using grub as the boot loader — well, in addition to using grub, really, since grub is mostly irreplaceable in a linux install. this means i was confronted by a windows menu asking if i wanted to boot to windows 7 or ubuntu rather than a grub menu. then it loads a much prettier ubuntu loading screen than last i saw, asks me to log in, and loads the desktop. it actually loads so quickly, that i end up staring at the screen waiting for something to happen, sure that it must be loading something. it’s been so long, i’d forgotten what a really fast operating system was like.
my primary goal here is productivity. i am dependant on my windows apps that i use daily for design work. namely, adobe creative suite, and, recently ms office. i can probably do without office, using OpenOffice.org and Evolution for email, but the docx has become so ubiquitous and, last i checked OOo still wasn’t supporting it, and being so familiar already with Outlook (and there really isn’t another email app with calendar integration that compares, unfortunately, especially with the Google Calendar Sync tool) that i made the switch.
so i set out to figure out if Wine was going to cut it for office and adobe cs.
the short answer is i’m several hours into this experiment and i’ve booted back into windows after having thrown in the towel.
the somewhat longer answer is this: i’m sure i could get the adobe and office products to install if i spent enough time futzing with them. i found and tried various tricks and hacks and ultimately for office got to the documented error of getting 2/3 through the install before it crashes. (apparently it runs fine if it was installed on a different version. however, the different version that would be functional is not the 1.0.1 that ships with the latest ubuntu, and not the 1.1.20 which is the most recent wine — it’s somewhere in between 1.1.13 and 1.1.17 and i didn’t spend the time futzing with older versions to try to get it to work.) there were a few workaround/hacks and i was trying them, but one of them was sketchy (download dlls from random site with popups) and one of them required me to download CrossOver Games, which required an email, which i couldn’t really get since i didn’t have office installed and i didn’t really want to set up Evolution just for one email. and my gmail inbox is inundated with thousands of messages now since i’ve switched to using outlook via pop3.
in the process, i learned a few things: pidgin has a plugin for facebook chat. there’s a very nice osx dock-like window manager from google called avant. you can now write to an NTFS file system — a previously impossible feat in linux, which really opens the doors a huge amount in ways that don’t really translate well into non-geek-speak, but basically means that you can now save stuff on your windows side of things (which means, among other things, that you don’t need to reserve nearly as much space for your linux install since you can now use your windows partitions natively — see, non-geek-speak-untranslatable…). also, my desktop resolution was matched 1:1 when i booted to linux — previously, in other installs, i had to downgrade to a lower res because it wouldn’t handle the higher display. either my graphics card is better, the nvidia graphics driver is better, or there’s some other magic going on that makes the hardware more supportable. whatever the reason, it not only displayed at my 1440 x 900 display but recognized the type of monitor i was using (considering that not all monitors identify themselves and even windows defaults to “generic plug and play monitor” about 90% of the time, i was impressed).
as i’m typing, i’m wondering if it may be possible to export my entire registry (or at least just the keys that apply to office and creative suite) and import them into the Wine registry and run my already installed versions that way. and maybe i’ll try that. eventually. for now, running windows is a necessary evil, still, for graphic design. now all you mac addicts will throw your arms in the air and gape about what kind of freak would use windows for design rather than a mac. well, i’m not arguing with you — but the kind of freak that would do that is the kind of freak who would rather spend $600 and build his own, custom, kickass system rather than dropping $2500 for a mac pro. period. i would really like to try photoshop under linux, to see how well it handled memory allocation and if it’s more/less likely to crash when dealing with large files. and really, dreamweaver isn’t all that irreplaceable, there’s plenty of other options under linux that would do just as well. but that will, alas, have to wait.