Now that Ubuntu 11.4 and Windows 7 are installed and happily coexisting on my shiny new machine, I’d like to cover a little bit of the pains experienced in coming to this peaceable (though somewhat imperfect) resolution. Of primary concern is the topic of file systems and shared storage space, and furthermore, the triumphs and tribulations associated with changing to a new, “free” (as in freedom) operating system after many years of acquiescence and abuse. Yes, I do have a flair for dramatic verbiage. Read on!
If you’ve ever had a roommate, then you know two different people can’t easily coexist together without a few compromises. I suppose the same applies to multi-booting your computer if you intend for the operating systems to share the same storage space — it’s not perfect, but you can make it work.
My original plan was to partition my hard drive into 3 sections: an NTFS partition for Windows 7, whatever file system Linux liked for its partition (this turned out to be Ext4 — a journaling file system), and another NTFS partition as a shared storage space. In theory, Windows and all its software would go on its drive, Linux and its software would go on its drive, and user files like photos, MP3s, word processing documents, etc., would all go on the storage partition so that either operating system could access those files. Furthermore, I had hoped to map the Linux “/home” directory (or at least my user directory) to the storage partition, and all of that stuff would be there if Windows wanted to use it, or if I decided to change Linux distributions, I could just install to the Linux drive and point the new distro’s /home to the /home on the storage drive. Sounds beautiful, doesn’t it? Sadly, this does not really work out well at all. The reason? The file systems.
Linux can easily read from most any file system. Windows typically requires NTFS or Fat32 (though I’ve learned there are tools which enable Windows to view ext-family file systems). So, for a shared space, you need to use NTFS. The problem is, you can’t easily map your /home directory to the NTFS partition, because, as I understand it, while Linux can read most any file system, it pretty much requires that ext-family file system (and its user read/write permissions) for OS-specific things, like the /home directory. You can see there’s a problem — the two operating systems can’t agree on a file system.
In walks compromise. In the end, I decided to keep the 3-partition layout, and though it didn’t turn out as beautiful a solution as I intended, it still works. After following some helpful tips to get my NTFS storage partition to mount at boot up, I copied the visible folders (the standard Photos, Music, Videos, Documents, etc.) to the storage partition, deleted them from my /home directory, then created symbolic links in my /home directory to point to the same folders on the storage drive. I don’t think Ubuntu views these folders the same as it did before (it used to give them spiffy icons and they listed in the Places menu as an obvious part of the OS, but now neither are true), but their functionality is still there. Windows and Ubuntu can both read from storage, so I don’t have to duplicate my data. In the end, that’s the main benefit, and it is there, so I can work with it (at least for a semester).
Call Me Dorothy
…because I’m not in Kansas anymore. I think Ubuntu strives very hard to provide Windows (and perhaps Mac) users ready-made familiarity to ease the transition into Linux. They do a lot of things similarly to the more common OS’s and it really helps. There’s a “task bar” with a system tray complete with time and date. There’s a “start menu” of sorts to get to your applications and system settings (though with Unity, you hardly need it). The GUI is pretty familiar as well — you have “windows” you can move around, resize, maximize, close, etc., and you have the typical File, Edit, etc. menus at the top (though they sit on the “task bar” instead of on the actual window); you can even do spiffy things like snap two windows side-by-side by dragging them to the left and right side of the screen, or maximize them by dragging to the top (just as in Windows 7). Many of the standard keyboard shortcuts (CTRL-C to copy, CTRL-V to paste, things of that nature) are there as well. It’s familiar and comfortable and usable in those respects, and it serves to make me feel more at home after using some version or another of Windows for the past 16+ years (before then it was Commodore64!).
It’s hard to get past the fact that the underlying operating system — the bones beneath the flesh — are vastly different, however. I don’t quite feel as comfortable just doing normal stuff, because it’s still a little new and uncertain feeling. I’m sure it just takes some getting used to and in short order I will be my regular, productive self. I don’t see this sticking around as a problem for long.
In regards to Unity, I think I like it. The “launcher”, as it’s called, felt a little obtrusive at first — sitting there, clinging desperately to the left side of my desktop — but I soon fell into an easy rhythm with it. The “dash” is pretty neat, too — you can quickly search for and access your programs from there (or download new ones). I’m still a little unsure about the mail client and social networking stuff built into the OS (the twitter broadcast box seems a little buggy), but the Banshee music software and its integration into the “task bar” is fantastic. I thought I would miss the Creative software I had on Windows XP, but Banshee is just as good — better, even. While an image viewer (two, actually) are present by default, neither the Image Viewer or Shotwell seemed to have a resize function. Maybe I just missed it, but it’s moot point — I’ll probably install GiMP (through I wish I could still use IrfanView — anyone know of a similar Linux app?).
I’m still a little uneasy with installing software. For the most part, the Software Center is nice and easy, but it doesn’t seem to be all-inclusive. For example, I like to use Chrome as my default browser, but only Chromium was available (though they’re pretty much identical) — I had to hit the Google website for Chrome to get it, which felt odd. It’s great that there’s a Development Tools section in the Software Center — very encouraging. I’ve also grabbed a few things using APT on the command line. I’ve not yet installed Eclipse, but I’ve read that using apt-get may not result in the latest version, so I should download it directly from the website (it also seems to be available in the software center). All things considered, it’s great to have multiple avenues to find and install software, and furthermore, I’m pretty impressed with the offerings available in Linux. I haven’t noticed any real deficiencies thus far. I really don’t expect I’ll encounter any, games withstanding (not that there aren’t games for Linux — there are many and the list is rapidly expanding, but Windows is still the PC-gaming king for sure).
Honestly, I’m loving Ubuntu so far, but it’s really too soon to draw any firm conclusions. I haven’t done much in the way of “computing” as yet, aside from browsing the web and playing some MP3’s. I’ve not installed any development tools (much less do any development), perform any word processing or spreadsheet-ing, process some photos, try to use WINE, see if Flash support is as bad as I’ve heard, or anything of that nature — any of which could be a potential deal breaker (though I find it doubtful). I just need a lot more good quality time with Linux and the results of which will be divulged in my next (few?) post(s). I’ll see you again soon!