One Step Further Down the Geek Path

I done installed Linux on my computer. Yes, merely Ubuntu, and it’s a dual boot, so I can suckle on Microsoft’s monopolistic teat whenever I wish or need to. Even so. I’m going to try using it as my work setup, i.e., the no-nonsense “I have things to write” OS, which I will keep intentionally free of distractions. It’s a nutty idea, but it just might work. We’ll find out on Monday, when I start actually working again (yes, I took a whole week off from writing. Because I could. Sue me).

Anyway: Now I’m part of the Linux revolution. Where’s the free cake?

65 Comments on “One Step Further Down the Geek Path”

  1. I’ve done this too, not because I love the command line so much, but because I’m tired of waiting 10 minutes for Vista to boot so that I can check the weather. If there is cake, I would of course be interested.

  2. Congrats! For about two years I was using two computers – an XP system dedicated to my music programs which require Windows (Reason, Live, Reaktor, Absynth, etc.), and a Kubuntu Linux system for absolutely everything else.

    I finally decided to buy a new, faster computer, for my music stuff, and that computer, of course, came with Vista. Because the new computer is so much faster than any of my old systems, I now use Vista for pretty much everything. But I’m still running Kubuntu in a virtual machine on my Vista box. And the funny thing about that: programs which run on both Linux and Vista – such as Open Office and the like – run faster on the virtualized Kubuntu OS-inside-an-OS than they do on the main Vista system that’s hosting them. Go figure.

  3. I had that same idea.. unfortunately I went with Slackware the first time and never managed to quite get it working… but I’ve installed Ubuntu in a VM and it’s quite nice… I’ll ptobably get it triple-booting with XP (which I just upgraded to a month ago) and a Vista install (so I can trouble shoot dad and dad-in-law’s machines more efficiently). : ) I think I’ll ask for the complete Scalzi collection for my birthday, as a happy done-with-your-novel present to you. : )

  4. Instead of dual booting your OS, you may want to consider downloading the free VMWare server and using that to run your Windows XP instance in. I do this on my Ubuntu box. It works quite well. Furthermore, you can easily leave it running, and use remote desktop from your Ubuntu to your XP virtual instance.

  5. I’d be interested in how this works for you, as I’m thinking of doing something similar.

    Can you give us an update at the end of the week?

    Oh, and because someone has to – the cake, John, is a lie. A delicious chocolaty lie!

  6. Oooh. Good luck getting Ubuntu to talk to the widescreen setup. That was a nightmarish pain in the arse for me when I ran it on a widescreen Dell laptop.

    I finally sold the laptop when I realized that if I was going to have a *nix experience, I needed the refined joy of Mac OS X. (And I run Windows on it via virtualization…so that I can suck on the Ginormous Redmond Teat as necessary.)

  7. Try PCLinuxOS instead.

    It just works better out of the box.

    And it’s running the KDE desktop which will be easier for you to use than the Gnome GUI that Ubuntu uses.

    Next up, install Hackintosh (hacked OSX for PC’s) and you’ve got triple-boot madness! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  8. When I installed Ubuntu 7.04 on my box, it figured out my widescreen weirdo resolution (1680×1050) AND autoconfigured my cable modem network connection immediately. My first boot into the system, and everything was working just fine. I’ve *never* had that good an install experience with Windows. Your mileage may vary, almost certainly will, in fact, if you’re installing on a laptop or a desktop with a weird wireless network card.

    New version (long term support version at that) due in April (8.04), FYI.

  9. I still only half-way understand the whole “lie” thing, but I think this proves what I’ve stated previously: cake is clearly superior.

  10. You are a Scifi writer, I didn’t think there was anything geekier. Equally geeky sure, but nothing geekier. This is just an added bauble to your geekishness.

  11. My wife can crash anything, including a digital watch. Windows machines succumb to bit rot with astonishing speed for her. She likes Linux because the worst thing that happens is that she can crash the windowing system (which is a much more rare event for her than the Blue Screen of Death on Windows XP at work) and still have a clean reboot from there.
    Are they offering free cake now? Is it retroactive for early adopters?

  12. I did this a few months ago and I love it. If you use Firefox and Thunderbird, you can set up the Linux versions to use your windows profiles and have access to all the same extensions, settings, bookmarks and email folders in both operating systems. I was tempted to go Linux-only for my next computer, but I find most of the iTunes alternatives unacceptable for my iPod, and I continue to lust after an iPhone, so my next computer will probably use that other OS out there, the annoying one that’s always picking on poor John Hodgman in the commercials. I look forward to figuring out how to set up a triple-boot configuration.

  13. Tell you what, if you’re still using Ubuntu by Worldcon, I’ll bring you some cake during the con.

  14. “You have to compile the cake yourself. Read “man cake”.”

    Dude. Open a terminal, log in as root, and type
    apt-get cake

    Or use Synaptic. That’s even easier.

  15. Huh. I thought since you were a guest at a Penguicon that you’d be all over this Linux stuff already. Look out for weirdo special characters if you do a Open Office file in Word, or vice versa. I still haven’t figured it all out.

  16. I took my old (really old) Dell laptop, with it’s ginormous 450mb drive, and loaded DOS.
    Just DOS. I’ve got three different editors that I switch between, depending on wether I’m writing or editing.
    It boots in about 40 seconds, and shuts down in none. No gui, no internet, no distractions.

  17. I took the Koolaid and installed Fedora 8 last weekend. So far I’m loving it.

    I did switch from Gnome to KDE though. And I’m still working on some of the peripherals…But, dang, it’s fun and it beats working.

  18. I too did the Ubuntu switch a few months ago after my XP finally drove me out of my head. Zero problems with the initial install. Got my wireless ethernet and monitor set up with no problem at all. A few bumps in the road but overall, a good experience. Feel free to put out “calls for help” if you need’em as I’ve run into a few quirks here and there and I’m sure others here can help as well.

    Best of luck John!

  19. All the cool kids use OpenBSD these days. Or maybe just us wacky mutant alien netadmins who drink too much stout. I can never keep those two straight.

    Although people I respect tell me Ubuntu is shiny.

  20. Nah, the cake isn’t a lie. It’s just free “as in speech” cake, not free “as in beer” cake. (Mmmm … beer cake …) You can get the recipe by asking on #freecake, then bake it yourself. And eat it knowing you’re no longer suckling at the monopolistic Hostess™ teat.

    (Though, keep in mind that if you use the GPL-licensed version of the cake, you have to flush a copy of the recipe the next time you use the toilet.)

  21. This is a triumph.
    I’m making a note here, huge success.

    But seriously, I just installed Mythbuntu (kind of a roll your own Tivo), and except for some ongoing headaches with the remote, I love it. Ubuntu has become my default recommendation for new Linux users. Also, if you haven’t done so already, you might want to turn on all of the graphical effects. I seem to remember you bought a fairly mighty PC, and Ubuntu has some fun toys to take advantage of it.

  22. Mike, can I sew that quote on my Bill Gates voodoo doll? You know, to remind me to laugh the next time I’m sticking needles in it.

  23. Paul @ 24 Just DOS. I’ve got three different editors that I switch between, depending on wether I’m writing or editing.

    Makes me yearn for the halcyon days of WordPerfect 5.1. A blue screen and nothing else.

  24. Woohoo! Congrats, John! “Linux for writing” sounds like a great idea.
    Heh, I did the transition to Ubuntu myself a year and a half ago, and haven’t looked back since.

    But be careful, if you’ve long been familiar with Windows, you may soon feel the lack of distraction that comes from OS glitches… ;)

  25. Tom Nixon @ 35: Makes me yearn for the halcyon days of WordPerfect 5.1. A blue screen and nothing else.
    There are several editors that can mimic WP5.1 keybindings and visuals. One I’m sure can do it is Jed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if both vim and emacs can do it too. Whether your operating system can handle full-screen text-windows is a totally different thing, though =)

    Burns! @ 12: the “Cake is a lie” comes, most recently, from the computer game Portal. Search youtube for the “Portal Test XX” videos, where XX is a number 00 and up, and “Portal, Still Alive” ending credits video. (Which is just absolutely delightully funny and creepy)

    And every linux user has their favorite linux distro and keep wanting everyone else to convert to using that. Mine’s Debian, and it works for me, but for people starting out on linux I recommend Ubuntu.
    Scalzi: I hope you have a good relationship with an über-geek, for those tricky situations when the distro doesn’t work like it should on your setup. Those things will happen ;)

  26. I run Linux on my XO, but it’s their silly Sugar interface. I just gave my mom an EEE PC for Xmas though, and that’s got a nice windows-esque interface but is Linux through and through. It came with a Windows boot disc though. (Ironic, because there’s no CD drive.)

  27. Congrats, welcome to the dark side! Good choice with Ubuntu, it’s the best desktop Linux I’ve tried, and I’ve tried a lot. When I installed it on my laptop, everything just *worked*. Widescreen display, wireless NIC, sound, you name it, it worked. The thumbprint reader was the only thing that didn’t work out of the box, took a couple of minutes in Synaptic to install the package, and now that works too.

    For virtualization I would HIGHLY recommend Virtualbox. It is so slick your draw will drop. Way easier than Vmware or Xen, by a long shot. And there is a repository you can add so install is a breeze. I have an XP and a Vista container on my laptop for testing stuff, but other than that I really never NEED to be in Windows. Linux has been pretty much my exclusive desktop for about 4 or 5 years.

  28. BTW – I’ll be curious to here if the dual boot works as a “when I’m here, I’m writing” strategy.

    For a while, I had an office with an old PC that was non-internet. An old Windows 2000 PC with Office 2000 on it. It was pretty cool. I would sit down in that chair and it was writing time. I had it for about 2 months before the room got taken over for other uses.

    I’d love to get back to that setup.

  29. John,

    Welcome to the fold. Ubuntu is the best OS out there. Soon you will leave Windows behind, as I have just done.

    Also, I’m sure you can get the widescreen resolution right: I have a 22″ 1680×1050 monitor that looks beautiful – after I installed the restricted drivers. This is an easy feat, since Ubuntu should autodetect their necessity and pop-up a message about it.

    Have fun! Welcome to freedom!

  30. Actually, I was going to recommend that you turn the special effects off. I think beryl/compiz has some kind of memory leak, and it tends to crash my computer with it’s gigabyte of memory. (Go to “system,” “preferences,” “advanced desktop effects settings” and turn everything off.)

    Also note that you can do very nicely with only one taskbar. Right click on the applets you want to keep, uncheck “Lock to Panel” and move them to the other panel. Then you can right click the extra panel and get rid of it.

    Lastly, try right clicking on the remaining panel and making it completely transparent. I think that’s a very pretty effect with the right background.


  31. I’ve been using Kubuntu for probably almost a year now, and it’s hard to go back. I have a Windows machine I almost never use now, except for playing music (and that’s only because it’s attached to the hard drive all the music lives on); I’ve even thought about converting the Windows box to Linux, but it’s seemed prudent to have a “majority OS” backup system around just in case, and because my PDA (now smartphone) needs Windows to sync.

    But, man, Kubuntu has just been freakin’ awesome. It’s been awesome even when I’ve had problems: I’ve never had the level of frustration with Linux that Windows gives you when something breaks and Windows won’t tell you why or how to fix it. Windows just asks you if you want to send a report, and when you do it almost always seems like their stock answer is “It’s not my fault!” Dudes, it’s not the Millennium Falcon, it’s a freaking laptop.

    I will admit I have not spent the time necessary to get a Canon printer to work off the Kubuntu machine–in part because the presence of the Windows machine has made me lazy. And it did take some effort to get my nVidia card to work. So it’s not perfect. But it’s getting close.

    John, you may know this (or you may not care), but if you find that you’re not thrilled with Ubuntu’s Gnome interface (people seem to love it or hate it), it’s pretty easy to set up a menu so you can try KDE, Enlightenment, et al. without too much effort.

    Sorry about the fanboy gushing. I’ve become one of those people. But I hope you love the Linux.

  32. I’ve actually got it on Xubuntu, and it’s working just fine.

    I’m not actually worried about loving Linux, I just don’t plan to fill it up with distractions. It’s got Firefox and it’s got OpenOffice, and that’s all I plan to put on it.

  33. Linux? Wimps. Real nerds use punch cards. And JCL.

    Besides, you’re all relying on the documentation. Real nerds know that there are always lots of undocumented commands and parameters. And, in the tradition of true *nix, there isn’t a single process to make(cake): One must pipe the output from one process into another. The command line in BakingSystemDeluxe 7.6 looks like this:

    mix -lv -c | pan -9 -c | bake -d180 -s2400

    Of course, the parameters are probably different under Ubuntu, and XWindows may require creating a single-entry command function to replace the pipes. I haven’t run a disassembler on the code to find the other parameters yet…

  34. Funny I still keep the slice RMS sent me in the freezer. Oh wait, I must have correctly referred to it by the canonical name “GNU/Linux”.

  35. Just one suggestion, or rather a precise order: use only synaptic to install new software.
    With a modern linux distro, the package manager is your best friend!

  36. The free Linux cake is the cake of self-satisfaction, slathered with the deliciously smug frosting of condescending elitism. Savory!

    Ubuntu is pretty cool, though.

  37. Interesting that you picked the XFCE version. What inspired you to make that choice? I love XFCE and am a long time user, but I didn’t realize it was sufficiently popular and well advertised to make it a first-time linux user’s choice.

    I suppose it was probably XFCE’s minimalist approach, which squares nicely with your desire to use linux strictly for work?

  38. Awesome, John. I missed this post, I suspect my RSS reader ate it. Prolly thought it was cake or something.

    You’ve got a fair shake of Linux geeks here, so calls for help will likely be responded to rather abundantly. :)

    And yes, depending on the outcome, this should go over very well at Penguicon. (Which will actually be my first con, I’m looking forward to it)

  39. I’m sure John had no worry that we fanbois would come out of the woodwork when he admitted that he’d added the Linux badge to his geek scout uniform.

    Honestly, if he’s looked at his access logs at all, he must have known he’d have a built in tech support team when the time came to take the plunge.

  40. John,

    I think you’ll find Linux is pretty cool. I made an almost complete switch about a year and a half ago. It’s an almost complete switch because I still need Windows XP to play a bunch of flight simulators. (In fact, I’m using Windows now because I just finished shooting down some MiGs.)

    I started with Ubuntu, but later moved to the even geekier Slackware. Slackware requires a little more work to configure, but it is a simple, clean, stable, and full-featured OS. I had OpenSUSE on my laptop for about a year before migrating over to Slackware for that computer too.

    Open Office runs well in both Windows and Linux. It has a feature that I simply love — predictive word completion! (I’m not sure if Word 2007, the latest version, has that feature. Word 2003 doesn’t.) In any event, I almost effortlessly switched between Word and Open Office Writer in both Windows and Linux when working on my thesis this past spring. After a while, I got to really liking Open Office because of the predictive completion.

    If you really want to geek out with Linux, start using Emacs for your writing. Randall Wood is a writer who has written a lot about distraction-free writing:

    He’s got a good article on using Emacs for writing text rather than programs:

    I pretty much use Emacs exclusively now when I write magazine articles. Frankly, I think I’d still feel more comfortable in Open Office or Word for more substantial works — but Emacs *is* pretty free of distractions.

  41. I’m stunned it took a whole five posts for the now unfunny Portal “cake is a lie” joke to lurch into being. Folks, the “cake is a lie” is no longer clever. Move on.

  42. I’ve been running Linux on a couple of servers for some years now, and I’ve flirted with a Linux desktop on my main PC a couple of times. It doensn’t help that my business involves writing software for Windows.

    Anyhow, I put Ubuntu on my PC a couple of days back, after carving out a 10 gig partition from empty space. It was my third or fourth install from the same CD, and it’s pretty easy.

    I installed Linux on my mum’s PC when she got it 4 or 5 years ago, btw. She’s windows-free, and I’ve had ONE call for help which involved pressing Ctrl+Alt+Backspace to exit her current session.

    One thing – you might prefer KDE to Gnome. I know I do.

    Oh, and Compiz with full effects is something to behold.

    And Wine has improved out of sight.

  43. Do I need to have my friend who fixes my ‘puter for me read this, or can I just scroll down and look for the baconcat stuff now?

  44. @Jimbo: Most modern distros handle widescreen monitors just fine.

    @Kaf: Actually if you’re going to use the command-line, the preferred method is “sudo aptitude install cake”. That way if you later decide to remove the cake, aptitude will be sure to remove all of cake’s dependencies you don’t need (e.g. fat & calories).

    @Mike: Geeks-with-a-life have better things to do than babysit Windows+Firewall+AntiVirus+AntiSpyware+Office through constant updates that require numerous reboots and must be done one at a time. With a properly setup Ubuntu machine, one can schedule system updates to run in the background and install updates for every piece of software installed on the machine.

    @Pixelfish: If you don’t like their Sugar interface, have you thought about replacing the distro on your XO with Ubuntu?

    @C.e. Petit: Punch cards? Nah, real nerds use butterflies.

  45. Congratulations! I personally ♥ Ubuntu and Debian, mostly for apt, which is the bestest package manager in the whole wide world. In fact, I’m writing this on Ubuntu right now. :)