Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Experience: Switching the laptop from Windows to Linux

Recently I started to use a Linux-based laptop computer for work, after many years on Windows XP. Over the past years most of my private activities (on another machine) have already been on Linux, so the changes were not that big. However, there are different requirements for a private environment (emails, pictures, some games, some videos, some word processing)  than for a business environment. My new system is now running on Ubuntu 9.10, my private machine is still on an older Mandriva.

The actual move was quick and included copying over all my two data directories with all kinds of documents and the Lotus Notes databases. I also needed some selected configuration files, but overall I was up and running again after about an hour.

The first trouble I had was to (persistently!) configure a two-screen environment with my laptop on the right and the monitor on the left. The default is the monitor on the right side. Depending on the hardware in the machine there are different tools to solve that. Just using the Display Preferences works fine now (most of the time).

On Windows I was a big user of hibernation and tried to avoid rebooting the machine as long as possible (2 months or longer). Hibernation is supported on Linux/Ubuntu, too, but it takes significantly longer to revive the machine than on Windows. Overall, the felt one or two minutes more is ok since it is once a day. After logging in I most of the time run into the issue that both screens display the same. Using Control+Alt+F1 and then Control+Alt+F7 switches to the correct settings. It took me a while to figure out this workaround.

As a heavy user of MS Powerpoint and MS Word I feared the switch to Lotus Symphony and OpenOffice.org the most based on experiences with my private computer. For most documents the import filters are "ok", but sometimes macros or special formatting does not work.
The biggest shock was to try to give a presentation without a presenter mode which Powerpoint has. However, after some research I found out that there is a suitable presenter console extension which seems to be even more powerful than the one in Powerpoint.

After few weeks with the new machine and OS environment, I am mostly fine as the problems above are so far the only ones I ran into. For most software there are Linux versions or suitable replacements. My USB UMTS stick for mobile Internet works (mostly? some speed issues) fine out of the box, DB2 is available on Linux (big surprise here, right?), and Firefox and Flash (here that, A!) work as well. And for one Windows-based program I had to make use of wine.

Is it worth switching? So far I would say it is a definitive yes.