Linux for Desktop, finally?

I love linux for servers, and I like the idea of using an open source desktop, but it’s never worked out between us. Once a year or so, I go grab the friendliest desktop distro and play with it until it breaks or I find out that some key piece of software is missing or too many versions behind.

I have an aggressive, but reasonable time limit for tinkering before I have to give up. If I cannot get up and running in 4 hours or so, it’s back to Windows. I just don’t have the patience for this type of work to be hacking undocumented config files to do stuff that “just works” in a commercial OS.

I’ve tried various combinations of red hat, suse, debian with gnome, kde, even regular X back in the day. They all failed, usually miserably, often long before the 4 hour time limit.

I should state that this is not because it is bad software, the people writing are doing good work. It’s just been a little too hot rod/DIY for my taste.

This year, the attempt had a bit of a wrinkle, in favor of the candidate. As I’ve recently gone freelance, I’m trying to use a virtual machine per client. This has a number of benefits that I will get into in a future blog post when I’ve had more time to use it. This means that I’m not looking at a linux desktop as a full-on OS replacement, but as a guest OS for my development work.

So I don’t have to complain about how bad Gimp is, or even bother setting up IM or email clients or play music or connect my phone. I will run all of those in the host OS, which in this case is Win 7 Pro.

So last night, I set up Ubuntu 10.10 in VMWare player. The “easy install” was, in fact, easy. It just booted up, at the right resolution, without any warnings. JDK 6 was already installed. I found eclipse (3.5, not 3.6, but doable) through the “Ubuntu Software Center”, as well as MyQL Query Browser and Chromium. apt-get mysql-server and … everything still works. Install subclipse and m2eclipse and we’re basically done.

So I’ve got a complete dev environment up and running and I haven’t had to edit a single config file*, or even reboot the VM. So kudos to the Ubuntu team!

Of course, in true open source fashion, now that all the major bugs have apparently been ironed out they’re dropping Gnome as the default window manager in favor of shiny new Unity, so who knows what the future holds…

*I did have to edit a VMWare config file to enable the back/forward button on my mouse, but I don’t think this has anything to do with Ubuntu. Seriously, it’s 2011 and this isn’t the default or even a checkbox in the settings screen? For those who need it, put:

mouse.vusb.enable = “TRUE”

into your .vmx file and bounce the VM.