Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Something for nothing

by John D Ramsey

Cara's laptop died last week. Actually the hardware was fine, the operating system failed and rendered a perfectly good piece of hardware worthless. Yes, we all know the name of the operating system, so I do not have to mention it. It is very sophisticated and includes a feature that should allow it to be restored in case of failure, but none of the restore points worked. When she realized her next business day support from a major computer manufacturer was about as functional as her operating system, Cara became frustrated and sent her computer to me. She thinks of me as the ultimate geek, and it is a lovely thing when daughters think highly of their fathers (even if their opinions are exaggerated).

Cara's laptop has two hard drive bays, and from the recovery mode I was able to copy important files from her old drive onto a new one. After doing this I restored the factory image which serves a dual purpose: making the computer operational again and destroying all evidence of what made it crash in the first place.

After restoring Cara's operating system, I copied her files back to their original location. This was probably all that Cara expected me to do, but I would rather find solutions than fix problems. I found a solution: Ubuntu.

I have never been a fan of Linux. I first tried Linux in 1998. I bought a retail copy of Red Hat 5.2 at Nebraska Furniture Mart in Omaha. I thought it would be appropriate to breathe life into a bank of old library computers on the network I managed. The computers were used only for web browsing, and Linux was a reasonable solution. I did not win that argument, and the computers ended up piled in a storage room, c'est le vie. They were not much of anything, but they could have remained useful.

I have used Linux since, but I was never too serious about it. I work with other technologies. A coworker gave me a copy of Ubuntu four or five years ago, and I've kept the CD as a reminder that I wanted to take a closer look someday. Someday came last week. The CD was far outdated, so I downloaded the latest Ubuntu version (8.04.1).

Very long story made short, I installed Ubuntu on Cara's laptop. She can still boot to her legacy operating system. Whether she will make Ubuntu her primary OS is entirely up to her. Ubuntu is still geeky in places, but it is a commendable operating system. I think Cara will like it. I put Ubuntu through paces on Cara's laptop and it performed very well. I ripped a CD, burned a DVD, imported photographs from a camera, copied files to and from an SD card, and took my photograph with a webcam (Yes, Cara, you can delete it). I connected to my wireless network and moved files to and from Cara's legacy drive. I listened to music, and I watched videos. I even installed a costly legacy productivity suite that Cara uses. It runs through emulation software on Ubuntu, so whether Cara decides to activate it is entirely up to her. She has about 20 more chances to try it before it locks up.

I like Ubuntu very much. I still need to use other technologies on a daily basis, but Ubuntu has a bright future at my house. I have old hardware in my basement that could suddenly become useful again. Tonight I pulled my old Red Hat Administrator's Handbook off the bookshelf and read all about smb.conf. I could have read online, but I still like the feel of books. Ink on paper is for me an added value.

I wonder how much value Cara has received from her legacy operating system and software. I know she spent a lot of money on next day support which was supposed to include software support. I encouraged her to buy the support package because I was not going to be close by to fix her computer when it failed. I think she spent a lot of money for nothing. Ubuntu did not cost me anything. Sure, it cost money for the second hard drive, but Ubuntu cost me no money for licensing. Ubuntu cost me time to learn, but that was time invested in my daughter's life when she lives far away. Such moments are, as they say, "Priceless."

I do not think that there is anything that Cara needs to do that she cannot do from within Ubuntu. Even if she reverts to using her legacy OS, Ubuntu will still be waiting on her new hard drive ready to boot when the legacy operating system fails again. That, at least, is something.


  1. AnonymousJuly 09, 2008

    Beautiful story! I use Ubuntu and really like it! Read my post about Ubuntu for the reasons I made the switch from the legacy system.

  2. AnonymousJuly 12, 2008

    Maybe you'll start developing JSPs, too.

  3. Jim Ong said... Maybe you'll start developing JSPs, too.

    Actually, Jim, I'm quite impressed with where Microsoft is going with Silverlight 2.0. With WCF, it uses async event handlers and return delegates along with some very smart data binding.

    I just worry about whether it will work on Vista;-)