Words of Experience on Starting with Ubuntu– Part 2

Earlier this week, with the new version of Ubuntu due in just days, I wrote a little about switching over from Windows for the first time. These are just a few of the things that I found particularly beneficial during process when I finally got started with Linux about a year-and-a-half ago. Today, I’m talking about software.

Wine — When You Just Can’t Live Without That Old Software

Wordy often asks a lot of the same questions that I had out of the chute: “What program am I going to use for [X, Y, and Z] when I switch over?” I’ve found the answer is usually one or the other– “there is something better in Linux that does the same thing,” or “you can keep using the same program.”

Obviously, a lot of very popular software has been developed on both platforms. I really don’t need to go into Firefox or other Mozilla products, and it’s fairly well-publicized that Google is at the forefront of offering their apps in a format that runs natively on Linux. When you just can’t find something to do that one special task, though, there is always Wine.

To quote directly from their site, “think of Wine as a compatibility layer for running Windows programs.” Once you install Wine, you will (almost always) be able to run a *.exe setup program to install your Windows software (or the stand-alone .exe itself, in some cases). Wine has been useful to me in a few different ways. While there are plenty of Linux apps that rip DVDs, I still haven’t found one that is as outrageously simple to use as DVD Shrink. Fortunately, it runs just about flawlessly in Wine. I use PortableApps on my USB drive for transporting certain docs and programs to work, and that runs in Wine, too. AxCrypt is an open-source encryption program I use time to time, and the stand-alone decrypter runs in Wine. The list could go on…

“But,” you say, “you’ve only mentioned a few random freeware products that you use.” True ’nuff– but with Wordy’s switch-over project in mind, I looked into a few other more mainstream software titles. Photoshop runs in Wine. Wordy’s screenwriting software, Final Draft, does too. You’d be surprised at the size of the list. Rumor has it they’re even getting close to making iTunes work in Wine. That will be a HUGE hurdle overcome for those of us with iPods…

Two pages that I have bookmarked for verifying application functionality are the Wine Application Database, and Frank’s Corner. To be completely honest, though, a lot of time I just run the install program and see what happens. No harm, no foul, y’know?

When Wine Won’t Cut It, Go Virtual

That leads me to my next endorsement– if your system has the horsepower (and it probably does; my 1.3 Athlon processor w/ 768 RAM was enough), you can always install a virtual Windows environment for the times that you absolutely, positively NEED to use Windows. VMWare Server is now a free product, and there’s also one called VirtualBox. To be honest, the latter has proven to be a little simpler to set up.

Before I picked up a wireless print server, I needed a virtual machine in order to take advantage of all the features of my scanner. When tax time rolled around this year, I came to find out that both of my favored preparers’ websites required Windows and Internet Explorer in order to work. Having that fallback option is nice on the rare occasions when I get stuck.

Ubuntu– Fantastic Out of the Box, Even Better With Some Additions

I’m not going to go into a LOT of depth with a list of software packages to install on top of you base. Once again, the forums are fantastic and helpful if you’re looking for something specific. I Google “[thing I want to do] Ubuntu” very often, and I pretty much always locate what I want. That said, here are my Top 10 or So Packages That You Really Should Get, In No Particular Order (forgive me if some of the ones I mention have now been rolled into the standard installation):

  • APTonCD — a great tool for upgrade or re-installation time. Instead of going to all that trouble of downloading packages over again, you can pull out and the stuff that you’ve added and create an APT CD and install from there. You have to be careful about cross-distro compatibility sometimes, though (like going from Gutsy to Hardy, for example).
  • Samba & all related packages — a basic summary would be to say Samba lets you connect to the other Windows machines with shared folders on your network, or set up a share on your new Linux box that the Windows machines can see. For cross-platform file sharing, it’s a must.
  • StartUp Manager — if you’re going to be using a dual-boot system, this is just a nice little GUI for editing GRUB.
  • Ubuntuzilla — for some reason, SeaMonkey is still not in the default software channels. Ubuntuzilla is a python script that installs the latest versions of Firefox, Thunderbird, or SeaMonkey, sort of bypassing the ‘official’ software channels and just checking with what’s been released by Mozilla. You can certainly install and run SeaMonkey without it (and Firefox and T-bird come standard w/ Ubuntu), but this makes it even easier, and it checks for updates, too.
  • ZSNES & GFCE Ultra NES Emulator — you gotta have your Nintendo emulators to play your ROMs. I actually had even better success with JNES and Wine for the 8-bit games.
  • Grsync — a GUI for running rsync jobs. If you have files that you carry around, or network storage devices that you want to keep in sync with your local harddrive or a portable device, this is a really nice tool. Rsync is great, but you need to not be scared of the command line to use it. Enter Grsync and your fears are abated.
  • AbiWord Word Processor — I endorse all the OpenOffice.org products, but I have to admit– they can seem a bit heavy on system resources (especially if you have the java options turned on). AbiWord is lightweight and easy to use if you’re just doing word processing.
  • VMWare Server or InnoTek VirtualBox — advantages already spelled out…
  • Gmount-iso — a GUI for mounting ISOs, which is a fantastic way to use a CD or DVD without having to burn a copy.
  • Amarok — Rhythmbox is the default Ubuntu music player/organizer, but I just like Amarok a little better.
  • EasyTAG — I found this really useful for editing tags on some mp3s. A lot of rippers are going to automatically tag your files if you’re doing fresh ones, but if you’re maybe downloading music and want to change something, or you have some really, REALLY old, pre-tagging-phenomenon mp3s, you might need it.

Speaking of playing/using media & files, I haven’t brought up any of the steps or software for “getting playback to work for [X-sort-of-file]” because there are better and thorough guides elsewhere on the webs, and getting stuff to work is supposed to be really simple and smooth with Hardy Heron. More to come on this topic after I install it…

Thanks for taking the time to read the geek posts. Good luck with your new Ubuntu system!

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