Off XP and into Ubuntu

Sun 11 October 2009

This weekend I managed to take care of the problems that have kept me from transitioning my main workstation from XP to Ubuntu.

The details follow.

OS Version

I downgraded to the 32-bit version of Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty). I found no advantages in running at 64bit, and plenty of hoops to jump through to to get some stuff to run. My opinion is that 64bit Linux is not yet mature enough for a desktop.

Work

I still have projects that require Windows, and WinXP virtualized with VirtualBox runs great, indistinguishable from native (of course, the virtualized XP is pristine, and doesn’t have all the crap of the original, three-year-old installation). VirtualBox complains that I assigned too much memory to XP, but Ubuntu keeps running well when the virtual machine is up, which only happens when I need to be in Windows mode. I used the “bridged” network connection mode for the virtualized XP, so I can access it remotely using RDP, netbios, or whatever.

The exercise of bringing TRANUS compilation up on the virtualized XP helped me debug some unknown dependencies on the way stuff in my old XP was configured.

Repartitioning

I found that Linux already has stable read/write access to NTFS partitions through ntfs-3g, so I decided to keep my NTFS partitions:

  • On the first disk, the old Windows partition, for “just in case”, and for copying stuff to the new virtualized XP (more on that later).
  • On the second disk, the partition where photographs, music, videos, and downloaded installers are kept. It has only 32GiB of free space left, so I expect to fill it up by the end of the year. When it becomes legacy, it won’t matter the format it is in.

I upgraded the Linux partitions (the main one on the first disk, and the auxiliary one on the second disk) to ext4.

Printing

Printing works great using Ubuntu printer sharing for Ubuntu machines, and SAMBA for (the two remaining) Windows machines.

Scanning

The XSane image scanner works great. I hadn’t grokked it on the first try.

Email

Since a learning curve was inevitable, and almost all my email is routed through GMail, I decided to try the GMail Web interface. It took some time to get used to it, but it works great. I enabled offline GMail in case my Internet connection goes down. I still log into the old XP every once in a while to backup my emails locally to MS Outlook PST files.

Web

The beta version of Google Chrome for Linux is very stable. Oddly, it still doesn’t support Google Gears well, so I have to launch Firefox to get my email backed up locally.

VPN

I still haven’t been able to connect to a Windows PPTP server from Ubuntu, but I can do it from the virtualized XP, so I consider this issue dead, at least until Ubuntu 9.10 comes out by the end of the month. I only need the VPNs for maintenance of Windows servers, so…

Bluetooth

Still not working. I’ll wait for Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala). I got a Genius wireless (USB) mouse similar to the Logitech bluetooth I had to deal with the mousing problem.

Remote Access

Oddly enough, remote access to my desktop using Ubuntu’s Remote Desktop Viewer sucks big time, but RDP to the virtualized XP using Terminal Server Client shines. I tried xrdp, but it sucks worse than Remote Desktop Viewer. I may try with plain tightvnc later. Remoting single programs using plain XWindows works great, of course.

Office

OpenOffice is diffrent enough from MS Office than some pain ahead is for sure. My MS Excel macros don’t work with OO Spreadsheet, but I took care of the most urgent need with the Hamster time tracking applet. MS Office documents, including invoices, print fine from OpenOffice, and that takes care of the rest. As I mentioned in a previous post, most of my writing is nowadays done on Web applications.