I don’t use Windows at home. Windows has nothing to offer me, which is something that I have discussed before. I don’t worry that it’s designed to be defective, or that there are licensing issues, or about the price, or any of the other, common complaints. I don’t use it because it can’t do anything I want, and as a result, I can ignore it with a clear conscience.
On the other hand, at work, there is no option. The office is strictly a Windows-only zone, for better or for worse, and I am neither inclined nor obligated to reroute that trend. From my perspective, using Windows is a conscious choice these days, and if an office chooses to ally with Redmond, they do so with full knowledge aforethought that there are options.
And now I have an option too. I tried Portable Ubuntu for Windows today, during a few hours’ break from my weekly grind. This is the culprit, running on a fresh installation of Windows XP.
I’m impressed, really. I did a quick swing past a Windows-Linux hybrid last year, and while it was interesting, I didn’t think it was very useful, for me. On the other hand, this one might be worth buying a cheap USB drive and keeping.
Everything looks and behaves like a shoehorned version of Gnome Ubuntu, riding shotgun to a normal WinXP desktop. True, that top central panel thing isn’t really Ubuntu canon (that was a pun ), but the idea is there, and it behaves just like the Gnome menu cluster.
By default, the 450Mb .exe download comes with a slightly different variety of software too — Abiword and Gnumeric over the entire OpenOffice tumor, for example. Which is what I would prefer, really: OpenOffice is far too fat for my liking.
There are some other little differences. This is built on Hardy Heron, so some of the newer bells and whistles you might be used to from Ibex and up might not be in there. And don’t charge into this thinking you’re going to spin your Windows 98 desktop like a cube. That preconception has “fail” written all over it.
But it does act and behave identical to a full system. You can adjust the repositories (they’re preset to Argentina ), download updates, install new software, adjust themes or whatever, just like you would expect in a full Ubuntu system.
Except it’s not, and that’s kind of obvious in other ways too. Some core Linux thingies don’t behave the same — you can’t, for example, expect to find an ext2 modular drive that’s plugged into the system, and mount it like a normal Ubuntu system could. Oh well, I can’t have it all, can I?
But this is definitely a keeper for me, and I’ve already recommended it to a couple of people that I know either rely on Windows machines from time to time, or dual boot for the odd Windows program. Because after all, there’s not much difference between this and Wine, it’s just that the tables are turned: Instead of relying on an interpretation layer to handle Windows applications, you’re relying on a collection of software that is built to run along with the Windows core.
And for what I’ve seen thus far, it might, in some cases, be preferable to use this instead of Wine. I know of a couple of old games which just don’t ever seem to work for me in Wine, but behave fine against a basic XP installation. I can use those in XP if I want, and rely on the rest of Portable Ubuntu to assuage my conscience over licensing and ethics concerns.
But that’s enough postulation. I plan on keeping this around mostly for use at work (provided, of course, that it behaves as well with Vista … but that might be asking too much ), so I have access to applications I prefer without installing them fully. And that’s what it’s all about, really: Use the things you prefer, without feeling hemmed in by anyone — free software zealot or corporate lawyer.