Last week, I spent a few days with a beta version of Chrome OS on a prototype notebook provided by Google. In other words, I lived in the Chrome browser and used Google Apps for about 72 hours. The experience wasn't half bad -- assuming a reliable 24/7 Wi-Fi or 3G connection.
But then I thought: Chrome OS is basically Linux with the Chrome browser as a shell. Can't I do that on my own? It wouldn't cost a dime, and unlike with the Chrome notebook, I'd be able to compute offline. Plus, I had just the candidate for the hardware: an old Acer Aspire One netbook that, ever since I installed Windows XP SP3 on it, had become so painfully slow it was unusable.
[ Also on InfoWorld: Canonical recently decided to use the Unity interface across all Ubuntu versions. | Can desktop Linux succeed in general business? InfoWorld's Neil McAllister is not so sure. ]
Desktop Linux and Chrome OS both offer low-cost alternatives to Windows. Which might make more sense for business users?
So I went to the Ubuntu site in search of the latest, greatest desktop Linux distro. As luck would have it, the fresh Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition promoted on the home page featured Unity, "an innovative user interface super-optimized for smaller screens." It even included Oracle OpenOffice preinstalled.
The Ubuntu experience
As instructed, I downloaded the .iso file and saved it to a USB stick, then booted from the USB drive to play around with Ubuntu before installing it -- looking good! Then came a crucial moment of decision: According to the documentation, I was supposed to be given the choice to "install alongside other operating system." For some reason I wasn't getting that option.
After some hesitation -- blam! -- I blew away Windows XP. What did I have to lose? I wasn't going to upgrade the little sucker to Windows 7. Its wimpy little Atom processor was already choking to death on XP.
My first impression post-installation: This isn't just usable, it's darn quick. The GUI is quirky, but nice enough. At last, an appropriate operating system for the hardware. Now, how do I connect to Wi-Fi? In terms of hardware compatibility, this would be the acid test.
I looked in Applications, found the Network Connections utility, and fired it up. Bingo -- I was on the air. But hmm, no "view available wireless networks" list presented itself. I needed to know the SSID name and enter it along with the security info: done. (Only later did I discover that available wireless networks are displayed in a separate utility called Network Manager.)