Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Switching over to Ubuntu 12.04

Ubuntu has certainly come a long way since the days of the Warthog, and Precise Pangolin (commonly known as 12.04, to appease the suits) seems to be the slickest out-of-the-box experience of the lot. Unity seems mature and quite snappy on my 2.5 year old laptop, and the most common bugbears, audio and wifi, got set up in perfect working condition during the install itself!

Personally, what I liked the most was that GParted will happily re-partition your drives without data loss during the installation. This was the biggest sticking point earlier - having to 'source' shitty bloated tools from Acronis or PowerQuest, or struggling with boot disks and FIPS. And of course, the murky middle ground of Ranish and the Windows Disk Management tool. Bleurgh.

Not any more.

Not only do you not need to burn a CD any more (I think my CD/DVD drive has lapsed back into virginity...), you don't even need to hunt up a USB flash drive!

A combination of the Universal USB Installer and EasyBCD means you can install Ubuntu in a dual-boot configuration without needing to use Wubi at all. Simply use the Universal USB Installer to pick up your downloaded ISO and 'install' to an existing (non C: drive) partition on your hard drive. Then create a bootloader entry via EasyBCD that points to the newly set up Ubuntu 'live USB' location. Reboot, et voila. You can boot into the 'live USB' Ubuntu setup that resides on your hard disk.

Some people might want to leave this in place (dual-boot setup without re-partitioning! Hooray!), but I went ahead and installed Precise anyway. For one, I'm not entirely comfortable with having Windows manage my bootloader, given its tendencies to gobble up the MBR occasionally. Also, there was a nagging need to rid oneself of the Microsoft-centred ecosystem. And a desire to use a real terminal and solid command-line tools without resorting to nice-try-but-no-cigar solutions like Cygwin, Gow and Console2.

After a friction-less install process, all that remained was to mount the old D: partition into the current /home directory to retain access to old files and the media libraries.

Unity + Compiz is pretty sweet, and once you paper over some of the lesser annoyances with ClassicMenu Indicator (for a real applications menu) and Ubuntu Tweak (to smooth out some fiddly bits of the Unity interface), Precise Pangolin completely shines through in day-to-day computing. A few hours of sudo apt-get update/upgrade for Flash/Java/MS fonts (ugh), and an Aurora Firefox sync later, it was bye-bye Windows 7. Except for when iTunes is required. Ah well, one can't have it all.