My Ubuntu Experience By Ania

Everywhere around the Web you can read that Linux-based operating systems are safe, brilliant, and rich in applications, but somehow limited to the more computer-savvy part of the community. And most of the visual artists are not considered computer-savvy at all... Ubuntu is one of them.

Why I chose Ubuntu?

First, out of curiosity. I had all kinds of different projects, many of which inspired me to tweak my computer and try a lot of software, not always using them for what they were originally created. But in general I was limited to a handful of the most important applications, and couldn’t experiment with the other ones, especially with the niche apps that nobody knows about. This was mostly due to compatibility issues. But I still wanted to see how is it to work in systems other than Windows or Mac, and how different they are. Soon a new netbook arrived; my first computer that didn’t have Windows pre-installed.

It was exciting to see that there are so many systems that not only look different, but they are also adjusted to different computers and purposes. My first try was Joli OS, a very simple system designed for netbooks that are used only for browsing the Web (which, of course, should be the only purpose of most netbooks, including mine… but I was going to find it out later).

Ubuntu

Joli OS was fast, looked excitingly different than my Windows desktop, and it really allowed for speedy browsing of the Web, creating shortcuts to the most popular pages. But it was not meant to do anything else; and I wanted some office stuff too. And some graphic software. And a few more things that allow to use the computer offline.

Next time I tried the new Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal, which was available from a CD sold together with a magazine about it. Ubuntu in this version didn’t have anything to offer exclusively for netbooks or small computers, but the authors claimed that it will work on them just fine, and it will also be comfortable to use if installed on a big computer. So have a look at one of my Ubuntu desktops, the one that’s still clean and not messy…

My experience with Ubuntu

It always amazes me how beautiful and professionally designed are these systems. Of course there is a myriad of other Linux distributions, and however I’m not planning to try them all, it feels great that it’s so simple to do this if I ever wanted.

First impression

As I wrote above, my first impression was that these systems are beautiful, clean and professional. It took me just a few minutes to learn what is what before I could start using it. Ubuntu is also impressively fast on my netbook, although minimally slower than Joli; but then, it allows for so much more. Actually, it allowed for even more than my computer would handle when I recently volunteered in a project that involved travelling and creating a multimedia video. It happened that my small netbook had to be used for editing the movie, which caused it to overheat a few times… but we made it!

The differences

The other operating system that I regularly use is Windows, as I stumbled upon Macs just a few times and never did any important work with them. So I was expecting huge differences and I was a little bit worried if I can figure them out (and if I will be able to do any graphic artwork with it at all). But it really wasn’t so different than Windows.

Ubuntu has two menus; one on the top where the system button is located, as well as the clock, account info, switch button and so on. There is also an icon for email and chat accounts, that are supposed to be integrated with Ubuntu, but they never worked for me. Maybe a bug?

Anyway, to the left there is a menu with shortcuts to all applications that you want to keep there, it’s animated and has some 3D effects that are not only a pretty ornament, but they help to navigate faster between applications. It’s really capacious this way!

Applications

Of course you will not find such a powerful multimedia combo like the most recent Adobe Photoshop among the free applications, but with a little search you can find an app for almost everything. And it’s really not painful to do something with three or four apps instead of one, if searching for them and installing/uninstalling is comfortably integrated within the Ubuntu system.

The first thing to use is the “Applications” menu in the bottom left corner, where you can search within your computer with the use of keywords. It will display the icons of all applications that are relevant, in three groups: installed, available to install, and most used. Then, when you choose to install something, you open the “Ubuntu Software Center”, which has not only a more detailed description of the software, but also user comments and ratings. Here is where the community comes into play…

You can also easily find related forums, the “official” ones or the local, in your language if it’s not English. The local forums also tend to be more helpful with problem solving.

Before using any Linux distribution, I already started using Blender, a very powerful program for 3D animations and modelling. It was relatively small comparing to other programs of this kind (like 3D Max) and quite easy to use if you memorized all the keyboard shortcuts (Blender has really many of them).

I also had my first experience with Gimp, but as I was so used to Photoshop, Gimp seemed too limited and irritating at times… however, only until I learned how to “outsource” certain tasks to other applications. Here is the really good thing about Ubuntu and apps written for Linux: there is plenty of them, and instead of a handful of really big (and power consuming) programs, you can find a small app to do just one thing and then find another one, if necessary.

At the end, everything I needed to edit and finish my multimedia project were: Gimp, Open Shot video editor, and Thunar File Manager, that allows to easily rename multiple files. Oh, and one more… the Terminal!

Going deeper – the Terminal

Yes, it’s the small black window that scares away anyone who is used to graphical interfaces. It looks like an ancient remaining of the old computer structure, that’s not going to be useful anymore. But it seems, that there are some operations which really don’t need to be seen even if you’re manipulating photos. I needed to resize really, really many of them, to create something like an animation. The only thing that needed to be installed was Image Magick, that works through the Terminal command line.

ubuntu

Then I only needed to rename the files and there it was – hundreds of hours saved and no big software used. Also, this is where you can see the Linux file structure and better understand how this stuff works.

For whom?

In my opinion, all Linux operating systems are great for students and beginners, freelancing artists included. For students, because they learn “how stuff works”, instead of learning “which button to press”(really, in my 3D classes, the teacher would say “press the big button in the corner to do this-and-this”, so we would get lost immediately if the button was moved or renamed). Learning different systems and programs is like learning languages; exercise your mind.

For beginners the main reason is obvious; this is free (or very cheap even to use commercially). But not only that. It gives the freedom of choice and experimentation, and makes us so much more powerful; even if our hardware is not as powerful as we would wish for.

Conclusion

Don’t be afraid of Linux systems and free software, even if you are not passionate about digging under the hood of your computer. Many of these systems are really powerful and good looking, as well as secure and supported by multiple communities. And it’s chic!

Ania Juchnowicz

Ania Juchnowicz, a freelancer writer on web design, illustration, multimedia, photography, etc. contributes distinct blog posts and articles on Webgranth. She has earned Master Degree in Ethnology & Cultural Anthropology after Bachelor’s degree in Media Art.