Over the past few months my Windows XP desktop was beginning to crawl, I knew that it was getting close to the time when it would need a clean wipe and maybe some hardware upgrades. I decided to invest in an extra gigabyte of RAM and one of the fastest hard drives on the market, the Western Digital Raptor. The Raptor I chose is a 150 GB, 10K RPM, 1.5 Gb/s hard drive with 16 MB cache. Total cost was about $350.
When the new memory and hard drive arrived I decided to go with installing Linux on my desktop instead of Windows XP. I had tried running Linux as my primary operating system on two different occasion but I always ended using XP again. The first time it was because there was no good Microsoft Outlook equivalent (Evolution was still flaky) and the second time was because we were doing a lot of work in MediaShout and there was no way to get that working in Linux. We still use MediaShout, but I am no longer heavily involved with building scripts so I can get away with not having it on my machine.
Our pilot test this summer running open source applications for the summer camp technology curriculum was successful and we are ditching Microsoft Office on the desktop (except Outlook) and running OpenOffice instead for all teachers and students. We will be saving quite a bit by not having to get all those extra Microsoft Office licenses. If it goes well this year we may even consider going Linux on the desktop as well.
With that in mind, I figured that it would make sense for to test how a Linux Desktop would integrate into our environment. I had read a lot about Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) 10 and how well integrates with Active Directory so I decided to download the evaluation and give it a try. I kept getting errors trying to install, it couldn’t find the software catalog. After some time searching on Google and giving various boot options a try, I decided to see if Ubuntu would install easier (I had seen David’s post on the latest release).
Ubuntu Dapper Drake installed smoothly and in about 20 minutes I had my basic system up and running. The installation didn’t automatically detect my second monitor and I ended up having to copy someone’s X configuration off the web to get the extended desktop working properly. Next I ran Automatix which automates the installation of a lot of commonly used applications.
I was impressed, there has been definite improvement over the years on the Linux desktop, everything seem to work with far less bugs and interfaces are more refined.
Now I needed to see about joining our Active Directory Domain. Following the ActiveDirectoryWinbindHowto, I joined my desktop to our domain. It wasn’t too painful but it definitely was not as seamless as the SLED 10 reviews make it seam with its graphical interface. Now I could login to the Ubuntu desktop with my (or any) domain account.
I did login with my domain account and find that the audio stopped working, turns out that when logging in with a domain account, Ubuntu does not automatically add the user to all the necessary local groups. I ended up adding myself to the following groups (the default groups on a non domain account):
adm dialout fax cdrom floppy tape audio dip video plugdev lpadmin scanner
Now everything was working properly for the domain account and looking positive, I setup Evolution to connect to our Exchange server and it is working pretty well. I was able to connect to all my file shares without a problem and OpenOffice is working great. I was able to import all my Firefox bookmarks and extensions just by dragging them into my profile. For some reason Sage, my RSS reader extension in Firefox didn’t pick up the feeds when everything was copied over, so I just exported the OPML file from Sage on Windows Firefox and imported it back to Sage on Linux Firefox.
I do quite a bit of web work so I was curious to see how difficult it would be to install Internet Explorer on Ubuntu. I knew it could be done with Wine, but last time I had checked it was quite complex. Turns out that their is a slick script, IEs4Linux that handles the installation (provided Wine is already installed, I had installed it with Automatix). I downloaded the script and ran it, a few seconds later I had Internet Explorer up and running.
I have had the system up and running for two days now and I am very happy with it, it is stable, functional and blazing fast. I have noticed a couple sites that won’t run well because of the older version of Flash, hopefully Adobe will release a new version soon.
I think we still have a long way to go before we are ready to deploy Linux on the desktop at St. Mark’s, but this is definitely a good start.