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15 August 2006
In an earlier blog I mentioned that I had given a copy of Ubuntu Linux to a complete Linux Beginner. The benefits are two fold, it promotes the use of Linux (showing how it can be used by complete beginners), and provides them with a free and legal alternative to Windows. There are also numerous other benefits that he is now using Linux. In fact I still have to keep convincing him that there is no need for an additional anti-virus program, anti-spyware software, or to regularly defragment the hard disk.
The first problem encountered was due to the poor quality adsl modem provided by Tiscali. ISPs often use poor quality USB cable modems with no Linux drivers. In this case the modem was made by Sagem. A search on the Internet shows that it may be possible to get this working by compiling and installing your own driver, this looked particularly tedious. Wit the difficulty in connecting to the Internet through one machine to transfer the package to another, as well as the potential work needed to troubleshoot this would not have been a good advocate to a new user. The preferred solution was therefore to buy a external cable modem/router that could be connected to the Ethernet port of the computer.
A SMC ADSL Modem Router & firewall was therefore purchased (see Amazon.co.uk ad right). With the new modem connected to the ethernet port it was simply a case of pointing the webbrowser at the modem (the network interface on the PC had been assigned using DHCP), and add the appropriate settings. Even then most of the settings were autocompleted by just entering the name of the ISP, only leaving the username and password to be configured.
Using the external modem then had the added advantage of an "always on" Internet connection. So instead of having to login whenever the Internet is needed the adsl modem handled this itself. No changes were needed to Ubuntu to get the network connection working.
The next step was to install some additional programs, in particular to add support for reading MP3s and DVDs etc.. In the past I would have done this by manually choosing packages, but something else I've discovered recently is easy ubuntu. EasyUbuntu is a small software application that can automate installing some of the most common "non-free" software downloads. To use EasyUbuntu you simply copy and paste the following lines into a terminal:
wget http://easyubuntu.freecontrib.org/files/easyubuntu-3.022.tar.gz tar -zxf easyubuntu-3.022.tar.gz cd easyubuntu sudo python easyubuntu.in
Note: This is for the current version of easyubuntu (3.022). You may want to check for the latest version at the EasyUbuntu web site.
The program then pops up a small GUI where you just tick the applications / drivers / fonts / codecs that you want and it goes away and instals them. The first time I tried this I enabled most of the useful features and ran it. Unfortunately it hung. I then tried it by enabling each of the features one at a time which worked much better. I think at the time I tried there was a problem with the midi downloads, which was a feature I didn't really need anyway.
I did do a quick search using the Add/Remove programs for some more applications that he may find useful and pointed out some of the applications already included.
That was pretty much it, the rest of the install, ie. the actual operating system installed first, had already been done by a "complete Linux beginner" without any manuals or help. This is less than the amount of support I would expect to have to give to someone installing Windows for the first time, and ongoing use should be much easier without the problems of spyware and viruses etc.
I really think that this is a good example of how Linux is ready for the desktop and suitable for beginners. There are still a few applications that some users (though probably not this one) will have to dual boot with Windows (e.g. some Games and at the moment Video editing), but those are being addressed all the time.