I’ve been living in Linux for just over three months, so I thought it would be interesting to report on how I’m finding it.
The first thing I need to stress is that I really do think that the GNOME desktop environment is ideal for non-techie users. You can have “GNOME Launchers” which are just the same as Windows “Quick Launch” icons. The Windows “Start” menu idea is extended more logically as you have three menus “Applications”, “Places” and “System” all self-explanatory and logical for a new user to find what they’re looking for. One little criticism here for catering to those migrating from Windows; to open these menus from the keyboard you have to hit Alt+F1, rather than simply hitting the Windows key (know as the “Super key” to Linux/Unix operating systems). I think having the Windows key launch these menus, by default, would be more useful to novice users who are used to the Windows desktop.
The Super (Windows) key
That covers novice computer users, but for slightly more advanced users, Linux of course has lots of freedom to configure your environment. So much so that the limit to which you can customise is only practically limited by your own skill and willingness to learn. Also, there are the 3D desktop effects. These can mimic those found in Windows and OSX, but there are lots more effects, more than I’ve had time or cause to explore. Some are simply for show and I have chosen to them switch off, most notably the rotating desktop cube and the wobbly Windows. Although the ones I do find genuinely useful are the “Shift Switcher” (particularly for flipping through windows on all desktops), and the enhanced desktop zoom. Other subtle effects for minimizing and maximising windows just add another layer of class to your overall experience.
A BASH terminal
Now, you can’t talk about Linux without mentioning the command line. I accept that this is not a tool for novice users, and that there is a command line interface to Windows too. Comparing the CLI’s of both platforms, have to say, subjectively, that the Linux/Unix CLI just makes more sense to me then Window’s pseudo-DOS CLI. If I were trying to do tech support for a novice computer user of Linux, it would be a last resort for me to tell them to open the command line. Having said that, I think that if you are doing your own research into a technical problem, the ability to copy and paste some code from a trusted website into your terminal is much more efficient than following some Windows guide with a long set of “point and click here” type instructions. I am neither a computer science grade user, or a novice user, I’m probably somewhere on the advanced side of a medium level user. As such, I have really enjoyed having the command line and writing bash scripts and cron jobs to automate tasks for me. During these three months, it has really made me feel like I was using a computer again rather than just a glorified internet appliance, which is what computing of recent years seems to have turned into.
It is all these things that I do through scripts that I now find Linux indispensable. If I were to go back to using Windows full time, I’d probably need to run a Linux virtual machine all the time, because equivalents all of my bash scripts would be a lot more complicated to set up in Windows.
WINE IS NOT AN EMULATOR!
Now for some negative points. I don’t game that much these days, but occaisionally enough to make it a consideration. I’m particularly partial to a game of Team Fortress 2. Now, this game even taxed my laptop in XP, but I did manage to make it run in WINE, but it wasn’t the best gaming experience I’ve ever had. A 800×600 window which slowed to a halt whenever I got into any point-blank range action. Even Cedega was a let down as it wouldn’t even let me install Steam, which is a MASSIVE over sight for a program focused on enabling Windows games in Linux.
Having said that, there are some very nice open source games supplied with Ubuntu, out of the box, which are fun to play if you just want a 15 minute distraction. My current favourite is a Lemmings clone called Pingus (yes I know, not exactly fun for all you FPS fans!)
Also, compatibility with new hardware is something that worries me. I don’t know what the current situation is, but I know my laptop is only so well supported because it is old. I am currently looking at replacing my laptop in the next 18 months. Since I want to use Ubuntu as my main operating system, I’m going to have to do more homework than I otherwise would, just to make sure the hardware is supported without me having to do a load of command line hacking that would be beyond my current ability.
So there we have it, my experience so far of living with Linux. To sum it up, I’m happy, I don’t want to switch back to Windows. The only reason I’m keeping Windows around is to run software for my smartphone, for using Chkdsk on some of my removable drives, and in the future I’ll use it again for gaming.
I’ve been thinking about what sort of electronics I’d want if I were setting up my own home (i.e. living alone). I know I watch virtually no TV series any more. What few things I do watch, I could easily watch on the internet (via such things as the BBC iPlayer).
As time has gone on, much more of the video content I watch is only available on-line, via podcasts. I also just watch less content, I read more, either e-books or websites. I interact with people more and generally try to get more useful things done around the house.
Although, I know that if you’re watching with someone else, watching things from a computer screen is not the best viewing experience. One solution would be to have a projector to plug into the computer as and when needed, but this is an expensive option. Some people also have games consoles (and I might do this in the future since gaming on Linux still comes with a certain amount of pain), which need some sort of screen too.
So I’ve ended up at the uncomfortable conclusion that 99% of the time, I would not need or want a TV, but I’d probably still end up begrudgingly buying one, for the purpose of entertaining guests.
This is the first time I’ve done a game review. I’ll be honest, I don’t really get new games. Although I have started using Steam as a games platform, partly because I prefer not to deal with physical media. One day, as I loaded up Steam to play Team Fortress 2, the Steam news page popped up with an alert to a game available for pre-order, something called “AudioSurf” [Wikipedia].
AudioSurf is a music visualisation game. If you’re like me, then the idea of standing in front of a TV with a toy guitar for something like Guitar Hero makes you cringe. AudioSurf is different though, besides the music visualisation, AudioSurf feels like the result of a wild one night stand between F-Zero and Columns. The audio visualisation comes by means of determining the course’s speed and curvature, and density of blocks. As the music’s tempo slows down you tend to climb up hill, as if you’re on a roller coaster. Then when the tempo speeds up you’re going down hill, and fast! For particularly intense periods in the music, you get treated to a psychedelic tunnel of light.
When you first play the game you are taken through a helpful set of video tutorials, which give you an idea of what you’re doing. My first impression when I started playing was “WOW”. Not because of the graphics, but because of the speed and intensity of the experience. As you’ll have gathered, I liked this, I liked it a lot. Your basic view is a three lane highway with a “hard shoulder” on each side. The central three lanes are littered with different coloured blocks. You have to hit the blocks with your car, which then register as coloured squares in a grid beneath your car. Making patterns of three or more blocks scores you points and makes them disappear. Blocks which were above the ones you’ve just made disappear fall down in a Tetris/Columns fashion, hopefully to make new like-colour patterns.
After racing to your first few tracks, you get to unlock “characters”. Characters in this games are different sorts of racing cars. Each have different abilities, which gives you very different styles of game play. For instance, there’s the “Picker” with which you can scoop up blocks by pressing your left mouse button, then drop them with your right mouse button. There’s the “Pusher” with which you can push blocks into neighbouring lanes with your left or right mouse buttons. These different cars also have difficulty related variants, at “Casual”, “Pro”, and “Elite” levels. There is also a co-operative type car for a two player mode, but I haven’t found anyone to play this with yet . Given that we’re living in the social web age, there are also internet wide high-score tables to compare yourself against. The latter makes it all the more surprising to me that you can’t play the cooperative mode with a friend elsewhere via the internet.
We haven’t even covered the most attractive features yet though! The biggest selling point of this game to me was that you can use all of your own music. AudioSurf can play MP3, OGG, FLAC, M4A, WMA. It can even pull music from your iTunes library, if you have one. If you’re not pulling from iTunes, you are given a simple file navigator to choose your music from. This level of freedom is a welcome breath of fresh air. The other very attractive feature of this game is that it only cost 5 UK Pounds to order on Steam.
Overall, AudioSurf is a highly original game with fantastic graphics. Most of all though, it is fun, which is something games tend to miss these days. It’s too early to say whether this game is relying on its novelty value instead of longevity. Although for £5, a novelty game isn’t that painful. My only other possible concern with this game is that, I hope it isn’t some elaborate industry ploy to spy on what music we all have. All that said, and putting my tinfoil hat aside, I am happy with my purchase and I recommend it.
Finally, here is a video of me playing the game (excuse the poor camera work):