Sunday, January 31, 2010

Converting The Wife to Ubuntu (In Stages)

The Wife has some serious bad mojo on her computer - the sort where crudely formatted scripting windows pop up to ask for our bank account and routing numbers as well as her mother's maiden name.  On top of that, the hard drive clicks away any time the ethernet cable is plugged in.  When we unplug the Internet, the computer works for half an hour or so - then locks up.
Damn Microsoft Windows.  I switched myself over to a Mac three years ago and then started messing around with Linux a year after that.  I've never had any desire to go back.  It's always been an unpleasant experience to sit down in front of a Windows PC and try to get anything done.  Of course, the only time I ever do this is when I'm trying to fix a computer, so there's a slight bias to my perceptions.  Regardless, the Windows user experience is staggeringly bad.

When I think about how much that PC cost (about $1000, three years ago) and what its predecessor cost (almost $4000, ten years ago), and when I think about how many hours I've spent trying to make the most out of these machines systems, tweaking for performance, digging problems out of the registry, running scans for viruses and spyware, backing up all the files and re-installing the entire operating system every couple of years when things get too bent out of shape (like now), just for the privilege of using machines that we spent a great deal of money for, I feel such a torrent of red-faced, hot-blooded physical rage that I need to close my eyes and slow my breathing before I damage the hardware in some primitive and physical way.

I can take some solace from the thought that not all that money has been wasted.  The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation does some wonderful work.  They use their money to treat the problems and diseases that take the most lives, rather than tooting their own horn by tackling the most popular and glamorous causes.  From this perspective, it seems that Microsoft has existed for the past few decades for the purpose of redistributing wealth from idiots, suckers, geeks and corporations to needy and sick populations.  Looked at this way, you can almost admire them - even when you're one of the fleeced.

The Wife has not been able to share in my enthusiasm for Ubuntu, much to my dismay, as her computer faces every new virus and glitch.  This is because she's built up her blog and website around a suite of tools which don't have clear analogues in Linux yet - or if they do, they have interfaces so different that she just can't be expected to learn the new tools and still have time to create website content and cook supper.  Our 1998 copy of Photoshop (version 5.5!) fits her like a glove after years of use, so switching to GIMP, even if it's both a superior image editor and free to boot, just isn't an option.  Then there's Dreamweaver, another substantial investment.  Credit where credit's due: she laid out her site with frames and then dumped a whole forum inside it.  I was telling her not to expect so much in such a short time, but once she got those online tutorials rolling there was no stopping her.

Still, I might prevail upon her, in time, to switch all those tools over to open source versions.  After all, if she can learn how to use Dreamweaver from a couple of online tutorials, she should be able to make sense of Kompozer.  Then, when there's an update to her software, she won't have to pay for it.

That leaves the stumbling block of Windows Live Writer, the tool she's been using to blog for the past year.  Apparently it's the only thing in the world that lets you rant, offline, to your heart's content, drag and drop pictures wherever you please, and then make the post show up online in just the same way.  I've been all over the internets looking for an alternative.  No luck.  All the Linux offline blog editors seem as buggy, quirky, and lacking in features as the rest of linux was a decade ago.  Even the Mac alternatives to Live Writer, back when I was using the Mac as a Mac, seemed limited, lacking an easy way of inserting pictures and assigning posts to categories.

What's going on here?  A blog editor has to be on somebody's list.  Lots of folks are unwilling to give up on Windows now just because of this application.  "Live Writer is the only thing I still need Windows for," is a common complaint.

Oh well.  We'll take it when we can get it.  All this software is free, after all, and since I lack the programming chops to contribute to open-source software, all I can do is evangelize and wait for it to fill the rest of my needs.  And The Wife's needs.

In the meantime, this is what I'll do to woo her over.  Now that her computer is so thoroughly skunked that only a complete overhaul will do, it gives me the opportunity to partition her drive.  The stuff she needs to do in Windows can go in a small Windows partition.  The software itself doesn't take up much room, when it comes down to it, so she'll still have plenty of space for pictures and documents.

The rest of her hard drive is getting set aside for the Ubuntu partition, where she'll fall in love with the simple but elegant interface, the menu full of free applications available for the trying, the lack of proprietary pre-installed crapware, and the freedom from running antivirus scans and worrying about spyware.

I'm hoping she'll do most of her web-browsing, downloading, and video-watching in Ubuntu.  Eventually she'll get so sick of re-booting into Windows to write her blog posts that, by the time we do have a good Linux alternative to Live Writer, she'll be all too happy to just let the Windows partition go.

It feels a bit like I'm trying to get someone to eat their vegetables.  "Open source is good for you.  Try it; you might like it!"  I guess that when you don't have kids, you start to play weird little games with each other.  So what?  It's more fun than arguing!

So here's hoping I can get The Wife's computer running again, and get her mind right on operating systems.  Just don't tell her what I have in mind.  It can be our little secret.


  1. Thank you very much, darling. The one good thing (well ONE of the good things) this has done is allowed me to 'clean up' my computer. I feel like it is now, like the house and my life, recieving the organizing and lists it should have. And as you know, this computer is really just a tool. A typewriter, a thesauraus, a research tool, a list maker, and filefolder for my 'committee work' (the website). Having the two operating systems (Linux and Windows) just makes me feel as if there are two substantial 'drawers' into which all my 'office work' can be organized. Much like I mentioned in my own blog today, I shall endeavour to use the technology and not let it use ME. Thanks again, honey-bunny.

  2. Forgive my computer ignorance, but why doesn't she just write her blogs using....Blogger? I don't know why writing something separately in a different software, then uploading or transferring it all into Blogger, is necessary?

  3. I hate to say it but resently went through a computer crash myself and the source it referenced the virus from was your wifes blog. Sorry Donna. I am not giving up reading your blog no matter how many crashes. I have just learned to copy over to a flash drive. I agree that windows has lots of problems but do not know how to use anything else. Keep up the good work both of you.

  4. Gingerella - Because she likes to use so many pictures in her entries, laying them out in the blogger window is slow and tedious. It seems to get overloaded; then it bunches all the pictures up at the beginning and it takes her forever to drag them all into the right place. The Live Writer software is swift and snappy. It's about the only thing in Windows that is.

    Jeanne - Sorry to hear that. What sort of log file identified the virus, something from an anti-virus program? And did it say the source was the blog with the blogspot address, or the apronrevolution web site?

    Switching to Ubuntu is super-easy now. You just download the disk image from and then burn it; you can even mail order a disk for the cost of shipping. Or if you want one I could mail it to you. You can load the operating system from the CD and play around with it, see if you like it before doing a full install.

  5. I laughed out loud at your comment about Microsoft's redistribution of wealth. Then, I read it to my husband, who also laughed at it. I suppose there is some solace to be had regarding the money we've sunk into computers during the past 20 years!

  6. YEs gingeralla, as my alloted time on the computer is my 'office/committee' work time, I need a program that will work quickly and effeciently as I also have a home to run and clean, books to read and study and images and such to scan and manipulate for the sight plus sewing clothes, doing my drawings etc etc. It just makes that time easier.

  7. I'm sure something could be programmed to sort out what you need. but it's no good just sitting on your hands waiting for knitting to knit it's self.

    Either you learn how to make it or you could ask someone who does and collaborate by doing the organisation and design and push the project (that's half the battle anyway) or you could get together with all these blog software users and pay a programmer like myself to write an open source client.

    As we say: FOSS is free of cost because it's already been paid for. If you want something that's new and doesn't exist yet, then it'll take time or money investment to get it growing.

    But do keep in with the Ubuntu community, lots going on and a fantatic new easy to use programming tool set called Quickly that allows very easy building of apps like this in python.

  8. Oh and I almost forgot, if your new to Ubuntu and want to learn more, various LoCo groups (Local Community) run training and social events to introduce people and help them getting to grips with it.

    We do here in Boston, MA every week at a community center.

  9. Doctormo - Unfortunately, I'm just an Ubuntu fanboy. I don't have any programming chops beyond writing primitive Basic programs on a 1980 IBM PC AT. I can hand-code some HTML, and I can follow instructions and run something on the Unix command line, but beyond that I'm stuck waiting for someone else to fix things. Not an ideal situation, and those classes do sound, schedule permitting, maybe there's some way I could contribute in the future. For now I'm just stuck in the role of evangelist.

    I guess part of the problem with LiveWriter is that it's built on top of Microsoft's .Net framework. Not sure exactly what that means or if there's an Ubuntu equivalent. Something that handles uploading the pictures to the appropriate hosting site and links them properly to the post?

    I didn't mean to sound whiny or ungrateful in my post. It's a tribute to the Ubuntu team that it's become easy enough for me to install, work, and play in. And it's not that we *need* a blog editor right now. It would just make it, you know, that much better.

  10. I am a Windows user, but 90% of the programs I use are open-source. Firefox and Thunderbird for Internet/email and for word processing and an office suite. It's so way better than MS Word and I will never go back to that again.

    Now if only someone would come up with an open-source program similar to Microsoft One Note...