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Upgrade: 9.04

Today I upgraded my last box to Ubuntu 9.04. It’s my test box and media player, an energy efficient Intel Atom motherboard in an old Mac Quadra box sitting next to a color calibrated 47″ LG LCD TV (the easy way to get an S-IPS flat panel without paying the Apple tax or playing the panel lottery). It was a pleasant surprise: previous versions had issues with the Logitech diNovo Edge keyboard, requiring me to unplug and re-plug the USB-Bluetooth dongle after booting. Now it works like a charm with Kubuntu.

After the glitches I experienced a year ago upgrading to 8.04 my share of time spent in Ubuntu has diminished considerably and for all practical purposes I skipped on 8.10. Kernel upgrades broke VMWare; driver upgrades broke my dual screen display configuration; Wine upgrades broke emulation of Photoshop/Windows. Nothing that can’t be fixed, but every minute spent maintaining the system is a minute of lost productivity. I needed remarkably little effort to keep Windows XP going on my workstation, despite repeated abuse such as booting it from within the VMWare environment.

With 9.04 the glitches seem to be a thing of the past, at least for now. I replaced VMWare with Virtualbox and it has withstood a kernel update, dual screen works like a charm. We’ll see how long I will last this time.

In the end, the choice of system is driven by the use made of it. And for most applications there are solutions on every major platform. I favor platform-agnostic software whose behavior is 80%+ consistent across systems: learn once, use everywhere.

For basic office work, email and web access, OpenOffice, Thunderbird and Firefox feel pretty much the same on Ubuntu and on Windows and are mature, production grade tools. Free software works, and in some cases it can even be the 800 pound gorilla in the pack.

So the choice of system boils down to the infamous “killer apps” – applications that are so desirable that they determine all other choices:

  • Photoshop is a killer app for me. Not because what it does is unique, but because I know it so well that I am now faster than on any image retouching application. I’ve tried to use the GIMP to produce the upcoming group photo for Libre Graphics Meeting and failed miserably. I spent hours trying to figure out how to do things that in Photoshop are instinctive to me. After wasting a weekend trying hard, I realized that the result is more important than the tool.
  • SONY Vegas Platinum has become a killer app for me in the past few months: I love my camcorder but the bundled software is useless. Looking for usable software to edit AVCHD videos (mostly home videos) I found that SONY Vegas Platinum had all I needed with an intuitive user interface and at a reasonable price tag. It’s cool to edit movies rather than fiddle with system libraries and other stuff to try to make something work. The downside is that it is available only for Windows. Bassam’s speech at LGM inspired me to try Blender. Blender’s user interface may seem intimidating at first, but dip the toe in the water and you’ll find that it is very consistent, well thought through, and connects efficiently the user with an extremely broad and complex set of functionalities. And, oh, it’s platform agnostic!
  • And so the killer app that got me onto Ubuntu again? MathMap. Although a Windows alpha version is out there, it is much easier to build and install on Ubuntu. And I was going to use the notebook for a presentation at LGM.

MathMap motivated me to refresh the Ubuntu installs on my workstation and on my notebook and to give myself another chance at trying to make the switch to Ubuntu. And on the server? FreeBSD rules!