Reinstalling Ubuntu, Repeatedly: A Field Guide

Senior Contributor
02.14.11 13 Comments

Linux users can dream...

So, you’re sick of commercial operating systems.  It could be you’ve realized that Steve Jobs is evil, or that Steve Ballmer is insane, or maybe you’ve just decided you need something to feel self-righteous about.  Well, fortunately, Ubuntu is there for you.  And, despite the best efforts of open-source nerds to alienate everybody but themselves, Ubuntu is actually a usable alternative for the common man.  There’s just some stuff you’re going to have to deal with first, that you thought you were done with when adventure games died and the ’90s ended.

Its two kids/in C+/tell it that it's uncool...

Part The First: Going Back In Time

To best understand the Ubuntu experience, you need to close your eyes. Imagine a time when grunge was just starting to take off, irony wasn’t a cultural condiment sprayed all over everything, and CGI was still terrible.  Yes, I am asking you to remember 1994.  Because when you install Ubuntu, you will suddenly, in a few important respects, be computing as if Ace of Base were still hitmakers and anybody cared about Jerry Seinfeld.

The most basic difference is that Ubuntu is a lot like Windows 3.1; it’s a command-line interface with a cuddly graphical interface fitted over it, kind of like those little finger condoms the doctor uses fitted over a gnarled, hideous finger.  Granted, Ubuntu is a lot more stable than Windows 3.1, which isn’t saying much since your grandma after a fifth of scotch is more stable than your average ’90s Microsoft product, but the principle still applies.

You’ll also have to get used to knowing exactly what you have on your computer and attached to it, right down to the serial numbers, and making sure there’s a driver for it.  This is way less of a problem ever since both Windows and Mac OS just became different flavors of Unix, and enough people joined the Ubuntu cause to write drivers for all the popular devices out there, but you still occasionally slam into this problem like it’s a Jersey barrier.  For example, I can’t use OpenBSD because, for some reason, there’s no driver in it supporting my wireless card.  Sure, some hippie will write the damn thing, eventually, but until then, I’m screwed.

We take it back, it’s less like computing in 1994 and more like buying a printer at any point in human history.

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Dan Seitz is a grad student and freelance writer. He currently lives in Boston.

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