Linux For The Masses: Are We There Yet?

LinuxHaxor recently wrote a blog post discussing how every year hundreds of writers come out of the woodwork to discuss how “this is the year for Linux” or that Linux is finally ready for the masses.

Every year, every major Linux development, every major distribution release sparks a volley of so-called expert opinion of this being finally the year of the Linux. As they provide arguments and counter-arguments over certain news of Dell/HP/IBM/Asus releasing pre-installed Linux computer; and how this will single-handedly fix every problems and finally allow Linux to take over the world.

I agree that these “expert opinions” do always contain the suggestion that this could finally be the year Linux launches into a much higher stratosphere and knocks out major competition.  However, most of these “expert opinion” articles that I read every year, or every major release, mainly focus on how Linux is getting closer to becoming a much better operating system than the competition has to offer.  Isn’t that all that really matters?

As another year is coming to an end, and another major distribution is around the corner; this might be a good time to remind everyone how next year will not be much different from this year. It took years and years of dedication and innovation for MacOS to finally reach 8% market share. Depending on your level of cynicism, Linux Desktop market share is at somewhere around 1%-5% (being generous).

Sure, lets stop looking at every single Linux advancement or breakthrough with the “this is it! we’ve done it” mentality, I can agree with that.  But really, if you look at the facts, 2008 was a great year for Linux.  In fact, the past five years have been “the year of the Linux“.  Linux will continue to grow over time.  After all, Linux is an open source operating system.  Anyone can contribute, anytime, and the number of contributors continues to grow every year.  Eventually these developers will have worked out all the pesky kinks that stop most users from switching to Linux. It’s really only a matter of time before the mainstream users decide to make the switch to the Linux operating system they keep hearing more and more about.

5 Reasons Ubuntu is superior to all other Linux distributions

It may be a bold statement to make, especially considering the fact that I’m by far no Ubuntu fanboy.  My background in Linux began with Slackware, and I’ve always preferred the more simplistic distributions that allow you to have complete control over what goes on.  However, as the demand and the user base for Linux grows, it’s obvious that people want simplicity in another way; people want an operating system that is free and easy to install, configure, and most of all, use.  Ubuntu has answered the calling for a Linux desktop that moms, dads and grandmas alike can all use with a little openness to a change in the overall look and feel.  These are my arguments as to why I believe Ubuntu is superior to all other Linux distributions available today.

The ability to try everything out

The fact that Ubuntu has a live CD built right into the installation disk allows users to actually test out the basics and get a feel for Ubuntu right from the start without installing anything to your disk.  With all of the distros available to choose from these days it’s important for a distro to offer a straightforward, easy to use live CD option.

Ease of installation

Ubuntu offers users very simple methods of installation. Whether you choose to install from windows using wubi, dual boot, or single boot, every option is easily configurable and straight forward.  You don’t have to be a tech geek or have understanding of partitions and swap space in order to install Ubuntu.

Ease of upgrades

Since Ubuntu is based off Debian and uses the apt package manager, upgrades to new versions as well as security updates are simple to apply requiring almost no interaction apart from entering a root password.  It’s important to offer users an easy way to update packages for security as well as upgrade to a newer version when one is available.  Upgrading Ubuntu from one version to the latest version is as easy as pie; a few clicks, a little waiting, and a system restart and you’re on the newest version.

Community

Having a community that can offer support is crucial for any Linux distribution. It’s what makes or breaks any Linux project. Ubuntu has a great community for both development and support.  The Ubuntu forums are full of great questions and answers from both new Linux users and old timers.  The IRC channel on freenode is also a great place to hang out and ask questions or even provide your own assistance to those that need it.

Ubuntu just works

Taking into account that Ubuntu is just a distibution of Linux and it is actually Linux that “just works” it is important to note the fact that the the ubuntu developers have done in excellent job in creating a Linux distrobution that just works right out of the box. From plugging in third party devices such as digital cameras and usb drives, easy to use wireless, to the ability and awareness of using restricted device drivers if you wish makes Ubuntu great for people of all skillsets.

How To Install and Configure Avant Window Navigator for Ubuntu

If you have a video card capable of running a composition manager like Compiz, you may be interested in running the Avant Window Navigator for Ubuntu.  This document will explain the steps you need to take to install and configure the Avant Window Navigator on Ubuntu 8.04.

The Avant Window Navigator (AWN/Awn) is a dock-like navigation bar for the Linux desktop that positions itself at the bottom of the screen. It can be used to keep track of open windows and behaves like a normal window list. It is very similar to the menu doc in Mac OSX Leopard.

First, you need to make sure you have composition turned on.  In Ubuntu, navigate to the System > Preferences > Appearance > Visual Effects tab.  Make sure that visual effects is enabled.

Enable Compiz in Ubuntu

Now that we know composition is enabled, we can go ahead and install AWN.

Installing Avant Window Navigator

First we need to make sure that you have the backports repository enabled in your /etc/apt/sources.list.  This can be done via the GUI, but I am going to demonstrate how to edit the file from the command line, the true Linux way.

Edit the /etc/apt/sources.list file with a text editor such as vi or nano.

# nano /etc/apt/sources.list

Locate the following lines:

# deb http://us.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ hardy-backports main restricted universe multiverse
# deb-src http://us.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ hardy-backports main restricted universe multiverse

Uncomment these by removing the pound (#) signs on both lines.  It should now look like this:

deb http://us.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ hardy-backports main restricted universe multiverse
deb-src http://us.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ hardy-backports main restricted universe multiverse

Save the file in nano by hitting ^X then Y to accept the changes.

Now that we have allowed apt to search the backports repository, we have to tell apt-get to update the repository list.

# sudo apt-get update

Now we can install Avant Window Navigator:

# sudo apt-get install avant-window-navigator

apt-get will install a few other dependencies, such as awn manager.  Awn Manager is a tool that allows you to configure your dock.

Now that AWN is installed, you should be able to run it by going to:

Applications > Accesories > Avant Window Navigator

You should now see the AWN dock at the bottom of your screen.

Configuring Avant Window Navigator

To configure AWN to your liking, open up the Awn Manager by navigating to System > Preferences > Awn Manager

AWN Manager

You’ll notice that the Awn Manager allows you to configure many aspects of the dock.  From here, you can add applets, launchers, different themes, and modify the apperance and behavior of the dock.  Hint: A nice tip you should know is that you can add apps to the dock by navigating to the Applications menu and simply dragging applications into the dock in real time.

How to get Avant Window Navigator to run at start up

If you want AWN to run during startup, all you have to do is add it to your startup sessions.

Navigate to System > Preferences > Sessions

Under the Startup Programs tab, click +Add and fill out the New Startup Program dialog box:

Add AWN to Startup Programs

Awn should now start up during after your computer boots.

Further AWN Information

To find out more about the Avant Window Navigator visit the AWN Wiki and check out the AWN Frequently Asked Questions.