Revisiting Linux

It’s been a long time since I’ve used Linux on a daily basis. Back in those days, my development tools were vim, make, and CVS. I ran an early free version of Red Hat with the best windowing manager there was at the time: FVWM. My browser was Netscape, my multi-protocol IM client was the text-based CenterICQ, and my mail client was Pine running inside of Screen. (My cell phone was a big plastic Nextel clamshell which the IT guys called the construction worker phone.)

But like many Linux users at the time, I was trying to exist in a Windows world. I used VMWare for testing web sites on IE, and various command line tools for converting Word documents that people insisted on emailing me into watered-down PDFs. So when OS X came out, I rejoiced and immediately jumped ship (before it even supported CD burning), and I’ve never looked back.

But when builds of AIR for Linux started appearing, I decided it was time to revisit Linux (specifically Ubuntu) to see what had changed. I made the mistake of installing it under VMWare on my MacBook initially which didn’t impress me all that much since it wasn’t able to access the graphics card directly, so yesterday I decided to set aside some time and install Ubuntu natively on my Mac.

From the time I got it in my head to give it a try to the time I was running AIR apps was probably about an hour. That included downloading Ubuntu 8.10, burning the ISO, using Boot Camp to make my Mac think I wanted to install Windows, and more or less following these instructions for installing Ubuntu on a new partition. Although I used an internal build of AIR for Linux, a public beta build is available here.

The experience of running Ubuntu natively really blew me away. The windowing effects are beautiful, and after using the OS for a few hours, I began to realize that Ubuntu even does a few things better than OS X. All my AIR apps ran beautifully (here’s a screenshot of three of them running), and I began to realize that with Flex Builder for Linux, AIR for Linux, a few strategic AIR apps (Apprise Reader, TweetDeck, etc), Firefox, and with the amount of data that’s moving to "the cloud," I could very easily start using Linux again day-to-day. I did encounter a few incompatibilities running Ubuntu on Mac hardware, but if I could get my hands on a decent ThinkPad, I think I just might be able to make the switch. Of course, I’ll have to keep my Mac around for synching my iPhone since I did finally give up that Nextel i1000.