Extreme OS Makeover: Ubuntu To The Rescue

Posted by tadelste on Mar 11, 2006 4:35 AM EDT
LXer; By DC Parris
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  LXer Feature: 6-Mar-06

Charlotte, NC - LXer editor Don Parris gives a family of computer novices an extreme OS makeover when their Windows system proved unreliable. This is just one example of how people around the United States, and in other countries, are discovering the freedom of a GNU/Linux system. LXer will be tracking the couple, who are just beginning to venture into the wild world of computing. Share your conversion experiences with LXer.

The Chapmans, a local couple I know very well, called me recently to ask if I could look at their troublesome keyboard and mouse setup. The husband and wife are both computer novices, just starting with their first computer, the gift of a family member. They seem to understand some basic concepts, but not much else. It's not that they don't want to know. It's that they have a more limited income than many of us, and have had little or no interaction with computers. Until now, their access to computers has been extremely limited. Let's see how we can help this couple, who also have a granddaughter that loves to play on the computer.



Upon arriving, I discovered a keyboard with no escape key. In fact, getting the space key to work was a physical workout. The mouse didn't move at all. It had worked briefly while the BellSouth DSL setup CD was in the drive, but just quit shortly after completing the setup process. Testing the mouse on another box proved the mouse had, in fact, died. A spare keyboard also failed. A new mouse, and three keyboards later, and the hardware was good to go.



The mangled keyboard and dead mouse were not the only problems for the novice computer users. The installed Windows XP system was full of all sorts of malware. Attempts at removing it were taking entirely too much time. And although I had heard of people using the administrative account by default, I had never actually seen this until now. They didn't even have a password at all. The couple did not have the original Windows CD; either it came that way, or the original owner kept the CD. The wife had homework to do and needed to get things handed in to her professor sooner than we could fix the Windows system. This situation definitely called for an extreme OS makeover.



I initally tried to make do with the original keyboard. Unfortunately, I ran into a problem when trying to modify the boot sequence in Dell's BIOS utility. I'm used to using F10, not Escape, to exit. I did manage to pluck the Escape key from a spare keyboard that would not work with the box. That enabled me to change the BIOS, but then the keyboard failed at the boot prompt when booting Ubuntu from the CD-ROM drive. Hence, the need to try two other keyboards with this box. The third time was a charm, and I was able to actually boot Ubuntu 5.10. From there it was smooth sailing.



On a humorous note, the box has a 700MHz processor, but only 128MB of RAM. When I suggested boosting the RAM to improve performance, Mrs. Chapman didn't want the computer to outpace her. Yes, they are that new to computing. Can you imagine leaving this couple to manage the security of a Windows box on their own? If they hadn't already, they were likely to discover their box had been hi-jacked as a zombie for attacks on other systems. The Linux4Christians list has been debating the merits of Ubuntu's use of sudo as a security measure. Needless to say, for a couple like this, sudo is probably a gift from God.



The Ubuntu 5.10 was even more impressive than the 4.10 and 5.04 installations I've seen. This is the first time I've seen Ubuntu actually self-configure the ADSL connection. I had spent a little time tracking down the BellSouth DNS servers so I could enter them when needed. Unlike with using SUSE Linux, I didn't need them at all. Once we were logged into the system, Ubuntu let us know there were updates to install. And install them we did. I assisted the Chapmans with setting up their e-mail account and even helped them subscribe to an e-mail listerv with moderate traffic.



After taking a little time to show them around the system, I wrapped it up. Since they are novices being introduced to a Microsoft world, it will be interesting to see how they fare. We will track their progress over time, noting any issues that arise as they go boldly into the brave GNU world. For now, they are experiencing freedom from malware, freedom from software license issues, and freedom from proprietary software developers who seek to divide and conquer their customers.



In reality, this story isn't such big news. This isn't the first family I have helped. What's more, this kind of thing happens all the time. And that's the real news. All over the world, people are helping friends and relatives migrate from Windows to GNU/Linux, and for many of the same reasons stated here. LXer previously conducted a straw poll among SUSE and Ubuntu users. Many of the responses indicated that people were helping their friends and loved ones make the move.



I think most knowledgeable people agree that GNU/Linux will gain its ground this way, rather than through mass victories on the OS battlefield. One can almost hear Winston Churchill now, giving his famous speech. "We shall displace Windows in the homes and in the schools. We shall displace Windows in the hallowed halls of our government institutions. We shall displace Windows on the corporate desktops..." I know, I should snap out of it. But it is happening.



One or two displacements here, ten or twenty elsewhere. Slowly but surely, GNU/Linux is creeping into people's lives. Is Windows Vista likely to stem the tide? I doubt it. How about sharing your conversion story with LXer? How many people have you converted over? Why were they willing to convert? Is it a total conversion (no dual-booting), or a partial conversion, where Windows still gets some use? How much technical assistance have your 'converts' required?

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