Software freedom activist Richard Stallman, speaking at IIT-M, argued that non-free software created a system of “digital colonisation” and applauded the states that have introduced GNU/Linux operating systems in their schools. He declared, “More Indian states should open their windows to free software. It is safer and cheaper than available alternatives.”

I was impressed. When a Linux-lover offered to change the OS on my desktop to Ubuntu (Linux), I nodded. I was thrilled this would let me modify and personalise programmes on my PC. It was a 160-GB version of 12.04 LTS (long-term-support for five years) and free, free!

The installation was smooth. With the option box I could install codecs right then, instead of doing it later. I went to the Appearance section at System Settings and chose the lovely pangolin (this version is called Precise Pangolin!) on an earth-coloured background as my wallpaper. I adjusted the width of the Unity Bar on the left.

The sidebar holds your home folder, the Firefox browser, 3 LibreOffice programs (Writer, Calc, Impress), the Ubuntu Software Center, a link to the Ubuntu One cloud storage, System Settings, and the Update Manager. The Workspace Switcher icon below lets you move between the four default virtual workspaces. Thanks Ubuntu, for bringing this useful utility to the bar, ready to use!

Other features

Also included are the Rhythmbox music player, the Gnome movie player, Gwibber (social media client), several games, Thunderbird (the Mozilla mail client), and about 60 other programs. A large number of games are readily available through the Software Center. You can add most Debian-based Linux versions (Synaptic) by default. Emulators, DOSbox, and Wine can be installed as well.

At the bottom is the Trash icon. The icons are easy to pull off and move, and you can lock open applications with a single click. If you scroll your mouse, the bar moves up to let you access the last ones more easily. For customisation, install programs such as MyUnity or Gnome Tweak Tool (called Advanced Settings), both of which are available in the Software Center. Also around are an alarm clock, a weather app and stuff.

The Dash is my favourite. Click the top icon on the bar or punch your “super” key (the Windows symbol key) briefly, the Dash comes up. This lists recent applications/files/downloads, and has an area (Lens) to search for things you need. You can add Lenses for uses like Wikipedia, YouTube, Spotify, Flickr and Grooveshark. The HUD (Heads-Up-Display) is activated with the Alt key. HUD tries to match your search with menus on all open programs. Both HUD and Dash are mouse-free, and working with both hands on the keyboard is efficiency heaven!

Fewer disadvantages

Am I happy? A big yes, a small no. On Ubuntu you can't upload pirated software, not regularly. In open source, there's no place for viruses to hide. The security model is top-class. You are a standard user, so managing your own account will not compromise the system. Linux has one of the fastest boot times of any OS, with far fewer freezes or crashes. Recovering from suspend is quicker. There are no unresponsive programs. Lots of apps are available out of the box such as music-photo-management app, pic editor and office suite. Phew, you don't have to worry about digital rights management; it is built into the OS. It says, “The OS won't prevent you from doing things you want to do with your computer.”

I can press-and-hold Windows key and get all the short cuts for interacting with the desktop. Ubuntu easily detected my HP wireless printer and added it, using the HPLIP library rather than CUPS. I didn’t have to choose which HP printer from a list. Selling games/magazines via the Software Center is a great idea.

A few glitches, though. I have to click on the left for regular ops such as click-off and minimise. And I have to scroll from below for selection online. The reliance on Unity as the primary desktop means, if you ever move away from Ubuntu, you have to learn one of the others.

Hiccups, yes, but Ubuntu is a well put-together distribution. I'm going “wow” with its virtual desktops. Imagine the number of program windows you can have open at once. The grand-slam argument: On an open source platform, any developer/company can contribute to making the platform better.

Ubuntu facts

* A report found 61 per cent of the world's top 10,000 websites are served by open source projects.

* Universities prefer open source.

* The Ubuntu community is among the most helpful groups around. Log on to AskUbuntu.com.

* Live support is via IRC. Join the official Ubuntu support channel #ubuntu on Freenode.net.

* For blogs it's OMG Ubuntu.

* Get a live demo of the new Ubuntu on the web via Ubuntu Online Tour.

* At Ubuntu Software Center, download via the 'App Store'-style interface.

* Ubuntu has a one-line command for download & install for almost everything, instantly.

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