Converting from Vista to Ubuntu

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I have a good friend, a fellow math major here at Rocky. He's a smart guy, but never really "got into" computers- he uses them for school and is as good as anyone researching on Google, but he never really had the time to learn about what makes a computer work. Not to say he's not interested, or wanting to learn- he's just been involved in other things.

He'd had a Toshiba Satellite for about 1/2 a year when my story starts. It came with Windows Vista, and he'd bought himself a copy of Office 2007. He'd also dropped his laptop once- it was powered off, with no damage to the HDD or any internals, but it does have a nasty crack in the case and doesn't quite close properly. Even so, it's a screaming 2.4ghz dual-core with 2GB of RAM and a 160GB HDD. Thus begins the story.

A little over a month ago, Vista somehow deleted or corrupted several boot files. In a rush to get finals finished, he grabbed a friend's Vista boot disk- fired up, finished his projects, and passed all his classes. A month later, Vista starts grumbling. "Activation required" Vista says. "WTH?" he replies. Yes, indeed- the Toshiba shipped with Windows Vista Home Basic. His friend gave him a Windows Vista Home Premium disk. Without warning or notice, it upgraded itself to a trial edition- and the trial just ran out.

First, he calls Toshiba. Toshiba won't touch the computer itself, because of the aforementioned cosmetic damage. It's $25 to send him a recovery disk. Being a poor college kid, he calls Microsoft for help. Sorry, you've upgraded! The only solution is to spend $200 for a copy of Vista Home Premium. Looking at a choice between $25 and $200, neither of which he has, he calls me. "David, is there such a thing as a free operating system?"

Ding! "Why yes, of course. It's called Linux- 100% free, and generally more usable than Vista." Of course, that last one was stretching things a little, but I already knew he wasn't afraid of his computer, he just hadn't had time to learn it intimately. Well, we got together the next evening, and fired up the Ubuntu live disk. With a quick explanation of the difference between the Linux Kernel and the Ubuntu Distribution (8.04 Hardy Heron), he was piqued. Fired up Compiz- he was sold.

10 minutes of backing up his important files (~200 MB, he had already lost most of his music when Vista shat the bit), it was reformat time! Absolutely astounded that the entire OS installed in 15 minutes, he fired up the staples- FGLRX for the ATI card, Compiz and all its pretties, and OpenOffice. He was mostly impressed, until he made it to OpenOffice Spreadsheet. He is an Excel 2007 Power User, and OOo Spreadsheet simply lacks some features he uses regularly in Excel (Analysis packs, specifically).

Seeing as he had spent $149.99 on a copy of Office 2007, the least I could do is get it working. This took some effort- specifically, a default install of Wine, rebuild of from CrossOver Games source, and several Wine Tricks. Even so, it loaded and booted up just fine- until you try to either paste between applications (causes a crash pasting anything more than text) and the important clincher- the Analysis pack wouldn't work.

It was getting late and he decided to call it a night. I was out of town for the next couple days backpacking, but alas, all was not perfect when I returned. As it happens, the default Atheros drivers weren't working- he had spent the last two days without precious wireless internet. Moreover, another friend of his had rather definitively stated that it would never work- because Atheros had proprietary drivers, you could never use an Atheros card on Linux. The story is that this was after five hours of searching and trying things. Not sure what his problem was. lspci lists the card as an ar5007eg; the first Google search for ar5007eg is an article on using the drivers with ndiswrapper.

So, about 20 minutes after he came over depressed about not having wireless, I ran modprobe ndiswrapper and Network Manager popped up "7 wireless networks detected". He was ready to kiss me. Undaunted, we had only two tasks in front of us: first, VirtualBox OSE + XP for Office 2007 (he told me up front he was aggravated with Microsoft, and had already downloaded an XP iso from the torrents); second, Steam. Well, Steam is listed platinum in the wine app DB, and all the steam games are Platinum or Gold. Indeed, Steam is a platinum app- download the installer from the site, and everything runs perfectly.

With a bit of tweaking (it turns out you need virtualbox-ose-modules-386, not virtualbox-ose-modules-generic) VirtualBox was up and running. With 1ghz of 1 of the dual cores, 512 megs of RAM and a 5-gig dynamic volume, Office 2007 was running in under an hour. He was so happy he said he would kiss me. I said a pack of beer or Red Bull would suffice. He has yet to deliver... but he is happy with Ubuntu, Compiz, most of OpenOffice, VirtualBox... really, he hasn't found anything that doesn't work as good or better than Vista, in his opinion.

So, all it takes to convert to Ubuntu is:
1. Anger and Frustration with Vista.
2. Ubuntu + Compiz
3. ndiswrapper on persnickety wireless cards
4. Wine 1.1.0 for 80% of common Windows apps.
5. VirtualBox-OSE + XP for those 20% who you bought, but haven't made it in Wine.
Note- building CrossOver Games from source may help bring that 80% to 90%.

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bodhi.zazen's picture

Linux user

First, glad you got wireless to work, you saved me the effort of posting a how-to for that card, lol.

Second, to be honest $25 is not *that* much money, and seems quite reasonable in fact. I do not like the idea that Linux is free as in free beer. As with NPR (National Public Radio), we should be willing to contribute back to Linux. We should encourage people to give back to open source, either with time or by donating annually to their favorite project. Developers need to feed there families too, lets keep them working on Linux, rather then working for Microsoft during the day and coding for Linux in their free time.

I prefer to promote Linux as Free as in Freedom (Open Source).

Third, I do not think we should condone illegitimate copies of Windows. This is not to say I am a fan of Microsoft, I am just pointing out I do not feel it is appropriate for us to "turn a blind eye" to this type of cracking. Also this continues the "addiction" to closed source applications. Open Office is quite powerful and I have been using OOO for professional lectures for almost a decade now. Most of the time (not always) there is an open source alternate.

Last, I don't have a problems with windows apps running in Virtualization (so long as they are all legitimate). There is often a transition period for new users and many of them used to dual boot. Sometimes there is no open source alternate. Either way, with Virtualization this (dual booting) is no longer required. Of course this assumes they are actually using Linux for more then a platform to boot Windows, otherwise I agree with Dowdle, lol. If all you want is to run Windows Apps, just install Windows (which may be the best solution for some people).

I think it is legitimate to call anyone who uses Linux a Linux user, I really do not see the need for any qualification that one has to use Linux Apps 100% the time.

Now if you use Linux apps all the time you can feel the freedom from Microsoft :)

While we are on the subject of Virtualization, there are other options for Virtualization.

First, to be honest, I would download Virtualbox from the Sun site rather then use the OSE (less problems, more features, and in this case we are not talking Open Source at all costs, lol).

There are other options to Virtualbox as well, VMWare and KVM to name a few. VMWare server is freely available and, IMO, is just as user friendly and a little more powerful. KVM boots physical hard drives very very smoothly.

Of course, if is not broken ....

not a real linux user??

MS owns 80% - 90% of the market, to say they are not the dominate player because they don't own 100% of the market is absurd. So is saying a linux user who spends 80% - 90% of his/her time on linux but the other 10 - 20% on a virtual (legal) windows is not really a linux convert.

I take what I feel is a more common and realistic approach to open source and linux. I do not feel it is the best tool for every job. Nor do I believe it ever will be. So if we can find a way to legally blend the two environments together (wine, etc) and use the best tool for the best job then we have won our own personal battle. To be honest, one of the best things that could happen to linux in the short and long term is the same thing that has pushed apple up in popularity - the ability to run windows apps on linux. once users can try without giving up their favorite windows app they will be more willing to. and like OSX, they may find they enjoy linux and are willing to live without some of those so called great windows products or even find a better open source product. Furthermore this would cause improved development on the linux platform in a manner that would only benefit the over all linux user. Just my personal opinion though!

Restore CD/DVD/ Recovery partitions

The newer computers that I've worked on no longer have recovery discs with them, a lot of them have an option for the user to make the discs......most people don't. Some PC's also have recovery partitions, but again, people have fun with their hard drives and sometimes those partitions are no longer available.

I've taken Vista off of laptops and installed Windows XP for users, of course, they have the COA with their copy of XP. Are there ways around it, without pirating WinXP, of course.

Vista Business offers Downgrade

If you purchase a Vista Business license it includes the ability to downgrade to Windows XP. That is the only legal way that normal users can get XP installed that I know of right now.
/-\ ndrew

You win some, you lose some.


The first three paragraphs are indeed old news ;) - he was lucky that all his schoolwork was already backed up on class sites, email, etc (yay Gmail). I know I asked him if he had tried the restore partition, and he said he had- when he called me, he was at the end of his rope trying everything he and some other friends knew how Vista wise. When I heard from him, the impression was "I need a free OS or my computer will be unusable tomorrow."

I know he won't be using Vista in 6 months- he's fed up with it and doesn't want to either pay money or deal with the threat that it could cost him money to fix it in the future- he realizes that with Linux at least he won't have to pay $$ to install it. As for Wine/VirtualBox- I don't personally understand the argument that using them to deal with problem applications individually is somehow "not entirely converted"- he already spent $150 for Office 2007 and enjoys features it provides which OpenOffice doesn't- why should he pay for SoftMaker or any other edition when he's already made his choice and spent his money? Wine and VirtualBox are Linux apps designed to do specifically what he's trying to do.

Re his seemingly pirated copy of XP, I told him how to install VirtualBox and gave some guidelines on using it. He went from there. I don't condone what he did, but the way I see it Microsoft no longer sells XP- if they don't want the revenue from consumer demand for copies of XP, that's their problem. If I were a manager at MS, I would advocate selling XP-SP3 licenses for $20 with no support whatsoever. Consumers could use the operating system they want to spend money on, and the license absolves MS of any ongoing support costs. I mean, the entire point of F/OSS software is choice, right?

Anyway, that's my two cents. I'll be posting on the exact steps to get Office 2007 running on Wine (even only being a Bronze application, it is still nice to be able to do). I'm also looking at writing a "Complete Vista user's guide to Linux" aimed at showing users of all levels how to use (probably Ubuntu) Linux as an end user- from install to troubleshooting hardware to basic command line to wine to IDK from there, but generally explaining not only what to do, but _why_ you're doing that.

Scott Dowdle's picture

Using Windows apps and virtual Windows is still Windows

See title.

It reminds me of the Mac users I know who spend most of their time with the Windows desktop in full-screen mode in Parallels. They claim to be Mac users but aren't.

If you want to run Office 2007 well, you might consider CrossOver Office. Sure it costs money... but they give back to Wine development.

Why use SoftMaker Office? Because running Office 2007 in Wine or under a fully virtualized OS is always going to be more resource intensive than an efficient native application... and SoftMaker offers a Linux native version. Currently the Linux release is one version behind but they are working on an update... so RSN. Anyway, the SoftMaker apps are incredibly fast and light-weight. The academic pricing is only $20 for students, or $20 for an entire Academic Department. Now, I'm not advocating it over the FOSS but if SoftMaker Office will do what you need it to do and won't... the try before you buy trial and the excellent academic pricing make it quite attractive. I'd love to see someone (like Red Hat for example) buy SoftMaker and release their products as FOSS. Now if SoftMaker won't do what you need it to do, nevermind. :)

hardware & software

"It reminds me of the Mac users I know who spend most of their time with the Windows desktop in full-screen mode in Parallels. They claim to be Mac users but aren't."

If someone is running Mac hardware ...

If they were virtualizing Fedora I'm sure you'd be delighted.

Scott Dowdle's picture

Some disappointment

Regarding the hard drive mess up... those sometimes happen and aren't always the fault of the OS... although in your case, I have no evidence one way or another. One some Linux only systems I've seen grub get nuked for no good reason... making Linux not boot. Often there are easy fixes for those situations though... if you know how. In any event, my point here is that backups are good... but no one seems to do them until they have a problem. I'd recommend he back up any important files/data even in Linux because physical hard drive failures are quite common. I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. :)

I can't blame Toshiba for wanting $25 to ship him install media. One question... did his laptop come with any kind of install/restore media? Many do... or a restore partition.

He really should not have installed one version of Vista on top of another... and the result is totally his fault. I can't really blame Microsoft for what they did regarding converting it from whatever to trail. They just as well could have turned it off completely for not being licensed properly. Read those license agreements. That isn't to say that I'm fond of proprietary software, because I'm not, but if you don't agree with their licenses, don't use their software.

I'm disappointed to hear that not only does it appear that your friend pirated Windows XP, but then you mention it here (a Linux website) making Linux users look bad. :( I don't recommend you run pirated copies of commercial software because you never know what is in them... they might have been altered.

I also wouldn't claim that you have converted him to Linux when he is still using WINE for Windows application compatibility and VirtualBox for problem Windows applications. I'm glad to hear he is using a legit Office 2007. Regarding the Excel power user stuff, if wont' do what you need it to do but you still want a Linux native application, give SoftMaker Office a try. You can download it and use it for 30 days trail and their academic pricing is excellent. I don't know if it'll do all of the spreadsheet stuff you want or not but it can't hurt to try.

I'm am glad to see him using Linux too... and even though this comment might sound quite negative I'm glad you shared and encourage you to do so in the future. It's a good writeup other than the points I've mentioned.

Now let's see if your friend is still using Linux 6 months from now.

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