Thursday, December 6, 2012

Divorcing Apple, trying WIndows 7 and Ubuntu on Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook

Divorcing Apple

Dear Apple, I'm very sorry, but after quite a few years through thick and thin, poorer for me and richer, much richer, for you, I want a divorce. I remember the dark days before Jobs returned, when many including me thought you would go bust, when Microsoft invested some money to keep you going. I’ve been with you through CPU architecture changes and software architecture changes, when you were the alternative to the corporate behemoths like IBM and Microsoft. Back then, you were the plucky upstart challenger. Today, you are the establishment. You are the one protecting your turf, those rectangles with the rounded corners. Yes, you’ve changed.

I want a divorce.

The thing is, I need a computing companion, I need to start ‘dating’ again. To get back out there again, I decided to buy a Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook. It was for 4 keys reasons:

  1. I want to try Windows 7 Home Premium because I need Photoshop which doesn't run on Linux.
  2. Dell and Canonical have created an Ubuntu distro "Sputnik" which has hardware specific capabilities. Based on 12.04 Long Term Support version it’ll be here for a while.
  3. I do happen to like Apple design (just not their business practices and attitude towards customers) so an Ultrabook was a good option. But I’m not going to buy a MacAir to run Ubuntu just so I don’t have to run OSX. Although MacBook Pros do run Ubuntu very well.
  4. A local reseller had acquired some 2nd generation XPS Ultrabooks and was selling them at a very good price.

So, after over 10 years away from Dell, here I am again. Lets see how the ‘date’ went.

First off, the un-boxing. Its clear that Dell have learnt from the Apple school of design and user experience, and how to make a product feel cared for and loved during the design and production process.

Although the supplied power lead supplied is too short, nice to see Dell still use the 'clover leaf' so I fetch a longer one from the garage. Same lead as my ChromeBook takes (though not power brick of course)

Then its the first boot into Windows 7. Fairly pleasant OOBE, as the UX folks call it, though it takes an age to go past data entry to a desktop.

And this, to be honest, is the end of the pleasant part of the journey with Windows 7. After this the road is rocky:

  1. I need a huge number of updates, including BIOS. Fair enough, but having the user work out each on an individual basis compares poorly to Apple Software Update experience. Dell and Microsoft have been partners for how many years? Why no Dell version of Software Update that just works?
  2. Windows Update goes OK, if slowly
  3. MacAfee gets an iron grip wanting to interfere with everything. Uninstall it
  4. Uninstall Flash as well while I'm at it
  5. And Skype too

We already know I’m here because I want a divorce from Apple. So is Windows a good alternative date? Well, no. Its really like mutton dressed as lamb, or if you prefer, like an old lady pretending to some youth by buying at great expense huge amount of make-up, or as we say where I come from, slap. I cannot, to be honest, see any innovation after Windows XP. What did they do with the 10 years? And the billions of dollars?

Rather than have an end to end consistent experience, its a hodge podge of windows 2000 and xp and a thin layer of ‘we won’t trust the user’. Why just a recycle bin on the desktop? Why the random and arbitrary selection of apps under the Windows menu?

An example: I have a home network, so I’d like the XPS to join my workgroup. The setup process says its detecting networks etc, but doesn’t ask to join my workgroup. How do I set the workgroup? Well with WinXp I would use the classic desktop, right click the computer and set the properties there. But in Win 7 there is no “Computer” on the desktop. To get there I have to click the Windows menu, computer, then right click and select properties. Extra steps for no good reason.

So how about Ubuntu 12.04, fresh out of finishing school?

First boot after install takes me to the GRUB boot menu where I can choose what to boot ie Ubuntu or Windows, which is good. Getting to GRUB takes about 2 or 3 seconds. I can choose to boot Ubuntu, or the default is to boot after only a few seconds anyway.

From boot menu to logon screen takes only 6 or 7 seconds, which is quite quick I think. I login and get the Unity interface, which is a little like a cross between OSX and iOS. You’ll either like it or loathe it. If you’re moving from one OS to another you’ve got some adjustments to make anyway.

As it happens I don’t like Unity, so I installed Gnome from Ubuntu Software Centre.

Then log out, select the environment, and log back in. And thats about it.

By default you get applications such as:

Shotwell - iPhoto a-like
Movie Player
Disc burning apps
Music players

Pretty much everything else you could ever need is available through the Ubuntu Software Centre. My list is:
GIMP - not really like Photoshop though still quite powerful
AVIDemux - movie editor, CODEC changer
InkScape - Illustrator a-like
Scribus - InDesign a-like
Audacity - audio record and edit
TrueCrypt - encrypt disks
Digikam - Aperture a-like, and handily the best EXIF editor and geo-locator for photos and GPS tracks
LibreOffice - just like Microsoft Office 2003 and before, and free
VLC - plays just about every video format in existence

Don’t forget Chrome from of course, and when you sign in you get all your bookmarks, extensions and what your other devices have open.

If you like OSX quick view ie press the spacebar to quickly view known files, then install Sushi

If you want to get down and dirty then you probably want to install Synaptic, again from the Software Center.

And thats about it! Gets you a pretty much full-featured system, and takes easily less than an hour. Ubuntu Software Centre has loads of applications.

Oh yeah, lets compare the user experience:

  1. Update Manager kicked in automatically, and installed what was required.
  2. Update Manager was nicely speedy
  3. There’s no MacAfee
  4. Or Flash
  5. And no Skype either
  6. Super easy install of new stuff

If you really like OSX, then you can make Ubuntu look just like it. Look for Cairo in Ubuntu Software Centre which replaces all your icons and gives you a dock.

So to answer the question: what should I get to replace my 2010 MacBook Pro? Which is the better computing companion? The Dell as a windows device, or as an Ubuntu device?. Its not really even a fair question: its Ubuntu all the way. Ubuntu is so much fresher and easier to use. With the Sputnik add-ons everything works right away (small note below).

In the spirit of disclosure, I should mention:

  1. First that the keyboard layout is not quite right for this laptop - I can’t find how to do things like ‘euro’ or ‘pound’ keys.
  2. I haven’t gotten MTP working yet so I cannot transfer files to/from my Galaxy Nexus or Nexus 7

Secondly that I’ve run Ubuntu 11.04 on old non-Unibody 15” MacBook Pro and found it to be great, actually runs better than OSX, right up until the MacBook died, as well as having a 12 core beast running 12.04 at work, which really flies.

Ummmm and thats it.

But what about Ubuntu and the XPS versus my 13” MacBook Pro and OSX. Can I really leave all my Mac OSX apps behind?

Well it turns out I can, with the exception of Photoshop, and for that, see above. Since Apple have weaned me off Dashboard, I don’t even miss that very much. And if you do like the Dashboard and Widgets, Gnome has them.

I’ve worked through the list of what I use, and the thing is that today with Cloud Computing and so much being web based, that I don’t actually use that many programmes, and those I do mostly have Linux version or at least very near equivalents and alternatives. Here’s my list.

One last thing: we really need Google Drive to be available on Linux! In the meantime Insync is really very good, and mutli-user aware.

So whats it take to get Ubuntu 12.04 up and running?

Stay tuned for part 2! Here's part 2, of 3.


previouslysilent said...

truecrypt is good for creating secure file stores you take with you, e.g. on a usb stick.

encryption doesn't play well with SSDs.
however, most SSDs have encryption hardware which is on by default so all data in flash is already encrypted, setting the hard disk password actually locks the keys.

if you don't like ubuntu unity, try cinnamon, a friend defected from unity to it and loves it.

previouslysilent said...

p.s. check out cinelerra as a video editor.

previouslysilent said...