My Dell mini 10v netbook runs Windows XP Home Edition. The XP OS is really old but it works. However I’ve decided to try to give Linux a go again, this time with Xubuntu 10.10.
On a laptop in today’s computing world, XP sucks for basically one reason: Power management is abysmal. Today’s modern OSes will literally give you 30 minutes to an hour of extra battery life due to much better software control. This is true in Windows 7 and all Linux distros. In basic terms, modern power profiles allow you to much better selectively choose the enabling and disabling of certain hardware under battery power, and in some instances even enable/disable specific to when certain apps are running. XP simply doesn’t have those features baked into the OS, and the third-party OEM utilities to accommodate for what XP doesn’t have are all awful.
I paid $300 for my netbook and wasn’t about to spend $100 on a Win7 license, because spending a third of the cost of the unit just for a modern OS seemed (and is) ridiculous.
What I decided to do is Wubi-install Xubuntu 10.10 “on top” of XP. The way this is done is easy. Burn a disc (or mount an ISO) of Xubuntu 10.10. When the disc is inserted, an autorun app launches and asks if you’d like to install Linux side-by-side with Windows – but do it in a way that if you don’t like Linux and want to uninstall it, all it takes is an Add/Remove-uninstall from XP’s Control Panel. This was the most amicable solution because I didn’t want to format my hard drive and didn’t want to dual-boot the ‘traditional’ way.
Here’s what I’ve discovered from my use of Xubuntu 10.10 on the netbook, both good and bad, starting with the bad:
Wireless setup still wonky
This is the only true bad part of getting Linux to work on a laptop.
In order to set up a laptop or netbook with Xubuntu (or any Ubuntu derivative), you must install the OS on a wired network first. This will allow the OS to install all updates it needs from the internet – including the hardware drivers necessary for your specific laptop.
Unfortunately it is still required that you must enable ‘restricted’ stuff just to get the wi-fi card to work.
Fortunately however at least it’s now easy to get to in Xubuntu:
“Additional Drivers” is the option to click. While you’re on a wired connection, click that and then you can choose your wi-fi card which Xubuntu most likely already ‘knows’ what it is. Drivers are downloaded and then you can connect wirelessly.
It’s very important to note that this is the most difficult part. If you can get your wi-fi to work, everything is fairly easy from here on out.
Since it’s all about the browser these days, all you need is Firefox or Chrome
Xubuntu comes with the latest Firefox 3.6.13 at the time of this writing, however Chrome is also super-easy (for Linux anyway) to install.
When you go to download Chrome, you pick your .deb (that’s a Debian installer package):
Download, double-click the .deb to install the package and install:
Once installed, Chrome will be in Network from the Applications menu:
Launch Chrome, browse happy:
Stuff you can actually use installs easy on Linux now
The best example of this is Dropbox; it installs with little fuss.
Download the .deb:
Install the .deb, click the little info bulb in the panel (you know it as a taskbar), which brings up this:
Start Dropbox, which will download the proprietary software, configure your account. When done, it’s happy-syncing time:
Linux now qualifies much better as an XP replacement
Two years ago I couldn’t say Linux was good for too much on the desktop, but today I can say that it is. Today’s computing world revolves very heavily on the browser and cloud more than anything else. Given the fact you can run Firefox or Chrome and use Dropbox and that the Ubuntu Software Center is way better than it used to be, Xubuntu in particular is a very good XP replacement if you don’t want to spend the cash on Windows 7.
A few final notes for problems Linux still has that haven’t been resolved (yet)
- Printer support still sucks, specifically with all-in-one print/scan/fax units.If you’re going to print in Linux, the best printer to have is still a black/white laser. Why? Because laser printers typically do not have ultra-proprietary must-run-on-Windows control software whereas inkjet and all-in-one printers do. That’s not Linux’s fault but rather printer OEM’s.
- If you want to connect a smart device of any kind (tablet, smartphone, etc.), in a nutshell it’s Android yes, iPhone no.
- Editing photos on Linux is easy, editing video on Linux is still horrible.
Believe it or not, that’s it. I really can’t think of anything else Linux is truly bad at doing/doesn’t support. You’ll notice this list now in 2011 is a lot shorter compared to how Linux complaints used to stack up. While it’s true no OS will ever reach the zero-complaint dept., the fact Linux’s is so short these days is good progress. Xubuntu might be just the thing you were looking for as a good free XP replacement.