Sunday, February 5, 2012


My "new" PC dates back to 2004, when it proudly boasted Windows XP, an AMD Athlon XP processor running at 2.15GHz, 256MB RAM & a 120GB hard drive.

If you are not totally gripped by the opening line, you should really just skip this post - see you later, I hope!

After a couple of years, I started to dabble in Linux, using Ubuntu which is probably the most user-friendly way to start.
Back then, their brilliant slogan was: "Ubuntu - it just works!"
For some reason, they don't use that any more...

Compared with XP, Ubuntu in those days was a mixed blessing.
Philosophically, I am all for the 'Free & Open' aspect, especially compared with the Microsoft near-monopoly, with all that implies.
That is reason enough to try it & to stick with it if possible.
Practically, some things worked better, others not as well.
Particularly, back then, it was a real struggle to get WiFi, Scanning & Printing to work well & reliably.
Generally, you had to expect to put in quite a bit of time & effort to keep things ship-shape, which for an enthusiastic retiree was not a problem.

One continuing issue which cannot be ignored is the 6-monthly upgrade process, which usually involves a very long download, quite a lot of little improvements & possibly some real disasters, like being unable to boot at all...
Actually, you can choose to avoid or defer this trauma by opting for the 'Long Term Support' cycle, where you only need to upgrade every 3 years.
But then you need to make a 3-year jump instead of a 6-month jump.

Over time, XP on my PC got slower & slower.
I still have XP (for sentimental reasons & as a life-belt & because it can still print photos fractionally better when really necessary).
But when I switch to XP, I know I may as well go away for 20 minutes while the anti-virus etc does its stuff, during which time the PC is nearly frozen.
And that is after an upgrade to 512MB RAM (OK - I know that is laughably small today, but read on).

Over that same time, Ubuntu has got better & better.
Particularly it handles WiFi & Scanning & Printing acceptably & without too much fuss, though maybe not quite up to the standards provided by Canon & co for Microsoft.
An incidental but decisive advantage is that Linux does not need any anti-virus (don't ask me why not), which frees up a lot of my PC's little brain & muscles for real work.
So Ubuntu went from strength to strength - until the last upgrade.

There seems to have been a change in direction from 'above' (read millionaire Mark Shuttleworth, to whom all praise, at least before the latest course-correction).
Instead of "It Just Works", Ubuntu now seems to want to take on Apple & co (my interpretation, I don't know).
Their latest Desktop, called Unity, appears to be aimed at Smartphones & Tablets, rather than old desktop PC's.
Probably it looks "cool" & probably it has no end of visual effects, including transparent rotating cubes & wobbly windows or whatever.
But it is too complicated for my old PC which gets automatically downgraded to the "2D" version by some invisible hand, with no arguing.
The 2D version maybe still looks "cool"-ish (I wouldn't judge) but it is "ergonomically-challenged" in my humble opinion.

I spent a solid week beating my head against Unity, in which time I found it really locks out a lot of old habits, like click-to-open menus & user-customizable launchers.
Nearly everything you do requires several clicks plus typing in a search bar.
All the usual activities seem to need more actions & more personal memory, like "what was that application called, so I can ask for it?" instead of just picking from a list.

So, after a week, I decided to revert to the previous desktop style, now called Gnome-Classic.
That is another very good point about Ubuntu - you can keep the latest updated software, but choose the interface you use it with.
Gnome-Classic was nearly as good as my previous Gnome, but not quite.
In addition, I was noticing more & more that the PC was beginning to slow down in Ubuntu like in XP a few years back.
Open too many browser windows at once & it would grind to a near halt.
I reckoned it was time for another RAM upgrade (to 1GB) & ordered one.
It has not arrived yet.

In parallel, I started looking at other options, and found (I knew but had never investigated) that there are several "flavours" of Ubuntu, suitable for different users.
You can have it as Xubuntu, Kubuntu, Edubuntu etc.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from the all-singing, all-dancing but power-hungry & unergonomic Unity, there is a thing called Lubuntu.
Its motto could be, but isn't "Keep it simple, stupid".
It is aimed at the older PC & maybe at the older PC user, but they are too kind to say that.
It uses about half as much RAM & less processor time, so that everything works much faster on small-brained PC's.
It is more flexible for personalization, but (negative point) less user-friendly in its customizing tools.
A bit like stepping back in time in the Linux world.
After a week fiddling with Lubuntu, my PC is now as frisky as new, or better.
It should be a star by my standards, with its upcoming memory boost.
It looks & functions the way I want it to & I am a happy bunny again!

Of course, I could just fork out 500€ on a new PC & play with Windows 7 & Unity, but where is the challenge in that?

Parting thot: "So busy cutting through the undergrowth, we do not realize we are in the wrong jungle." - Stephen R Covey (7 habits)

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