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Ubuntu: Pretending to be Microsoft


For the non-technical… Linux is an operating system (like Windows) which is open-source. That means, in essence, it can be edited and modified by anyone. The license of Linux requires that all “distributions” (or builds) are free. The result is that there are several free Linux builds out there. Ubuntu is one of them (along with Red Hat, Debian, and others).

Ubuntu, however, has made my list of bad things because it messed my system royally.

The whole idea behind Ubuntu is trying to make a Linux that’s user-friendly, and not all geekified. In fact, their tagline is “Ubuntu: Linux for human beings”. Being only a semi-geek, Ubuntu appealed to both sides of my computing personality.

I went to their website, downloaded a CD image, burned the CD, threw it in, and installed it on a separate hard drive. (Note to non-geeks: ALWAYS install big things on a separate drive.) I booted, and instead of the crappy Windows XP loading screen, I got a crappier text screen, with a list of possible OS options. Ubuntu was default. XP was there, too, but wasn’t the default.

Try as I might, I couldn’t change the default. I also couldn’t get Ubuntu to recgnize my video card (an extremely common one), no matter how many different directions I followed. It was, in a word, Linux-y: geek-friendly, human-unfriendly. But here’s the kicker – it changed my master boot record. The master boot record is a spot in the main hard drive of any computer, and it tells you where to go to find the operating system(s). Every computer has one.

Ubuntu NEVER warned me that it was going to change anything. It just did it. Not very friendly. In fact, there was no simple way to undo it. I had to trawl the web searching for a way to restore the Windows booter. There was some board which said I need to put the Windows XP disc into the CD drive, boot into it, and go into the repair console… etc etc.

Side note: Getting to that answer wasn’t easy because an annoying personality trait of anyone who is religious about anything, be it food, software, or God. Several Linux people are religious about Linux. On this board (I have to trawl to find it again), someone (appropriately) asked, “How do I go back to the Windows booter?” there were approximately ten “Why would you want to replace Ubuntu with crappy Windows?” answers before the actual useful answer. Here’s the thing, evangelists: if Ubuntu told me what it was going to do to my computer, I would not be nearly as pissed. It didn’t. It went and pulled “a Microsoft” – it changed everything around and expected me to be content with it. The fix is even harder, and completely user-unfriendly. Moreover, if this is Linux for human beings, shouldn’t it be more user-friendly than Windows?

Tally: Windows XP 1, Ubuntu 0

I can’t wait to be able to afford an Apple… One day.

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Filed under: Tech

6 Responses

  1. Sieg's Daddy says:

    Hi there Vijtable,

    I’m sorry that your Ubuntu experience was unsatisfactory, but I felt that I should make a few comments.

    First off, to boot an operating system, a small program called a boot-loader is installed on the system. The “Master Boot Record” is essentially a pointer to the boot-loader.

    When you installed Windows XP it also installed its own (very simple) boot-loader that essentially lets you choose between booting Windows in “normal” or “safe” mode. The Windows boot loader does not allow you to boot into any other operating systems (as far as I am aware).

    Now, if you would like to be able to boot into two or more operating systems, you must install a new boot-loader that supports selecting between operating systems and have the Master Boot Record point to it. The most common boot-loaders used in the Linux world are “Grub” and “LILO”. In addition to providing you a list of operating systems to boot from, Grub and LILO support a number of commands that allow you to boot each operating system with various parameters.

    By default, Grub and LILO are quite “texty” to be able to support ancient or embedded computers with slow processors and no graphics card, but some distribution packagers (Red Hat, Xandros, et. al.) choose to customize them to look a little prettier, but the function in much the same way.

    Changing the default OS or the order of the items in the list involves editing the configuration [text] file that is stored with the boot-loader. You may be able to do this from within the LILO or Grub screen, or you may need to boot into Ubuntu and edit the file from there. The configuration file is probably somewhere in the /boot/ directory.

    It is quite unfortunate that the Ubuntu installer was confusing/unhelpful/etc. to the point where you have had this bad and angry experience. It shouldn’t be this way. That said, what Ubuntu ‘did to your computer’ is what was required to boot a second operating system. If you were to install yet another Linux operating system on a third drive, it would most likely just add its configuration line to your existing [Grub or LILO] boot-loader rather than installing another one. For example, a tall baron that we know at one time had 6 different operating systems installed on his PC.

    As for the video card, nVidia for one* does not release their drivers in such a way that they can be included in a Linux distribution. If you have an nVidia card you will need to download and install drivers for it from nVidia’s website. It is a pretty straight-forward process. I imagine the situation with ATI cards is similar.

    I hope this at least clears up some of the confusion surrounding your attempt to run Ubuntu. Email me if you need more particular assistance.

    – S’sD

    * I believe that this is due to their drivers relying on 3rd-party software code and hardware specifications that they are contractually bound to keep proprietary.

  2. vijtable says:

    S’sD, thanks for all this info. As a semi-geek, I already was aware of all of that.

    Video card: I had tried installing my (nVidia) graphics card drivers three different times using three different methods explained by three different Ubuntu forums. Never once did any of them work. One time, it broke the GUI altogether.

    Boot-Loader: When trying to edit the GRUB boot loader to make Windows the default, it wouldn’t work. I tried what several Ubuntu forums told me to do. I killed and re-installed Ubuntu, and tried again, but no dice. Seriously. I know that it can be edited, but the OS simply wouldn’t let me. I felt like I was dealing with Internet Explorer.

    MBR: As for MBR, I understand, I know that Windows has its own MBR (as evidenced by being able to restore it). I remember Red Hat was kind enough to tell me I had different options for booting. With it, all I had to do was hold down a key (“Alt”, I think) for it to load Red Hat instead of following the standard MBR process. Windows still was the default, and would automatically load.

    My post was to demonstrate that Ubuntu is not for human beings, but is still very much for geeks and by geeks, and it ignores some glaring issues. Clearly I’m not afraid to break my computer, but I want something to do what it says it’ll do… No matter who makes it. This is where Apple is better than most, and Microsoft is better than we think.

  3. Hendy Irawan says:

    About the default, the way is just to:

    sudo vim /boot/grub/menu.lst

    Edit the “default” line to the number of Windows in the list of operating systems. You may also want to run: sudo update-grub (or grub-update?)
    And it works.

    I have the opposite case. I can’t boot to Ubuntu because Windows install messes it up. And hey, did Windows tell me “your MBR is going to be overwritten?” I guess it didn’t! And yet nobody complains.

    At least in Ubuntu/GRUB I can still boot other operating systems when I want to.

  4. Hendy Irawan says:

    About restoring Windows MBR though, if you can boot Windows then it’s actually pretty straightforward.

    You need to have Recovery Console. Yes you need the “CD”, actually Windows XP files in your hard disk can do, it’s much more convenient than booting Recovery Console from CD. First you need to go to i386 directory then:
    winnt32 /cmdcons

    That’ll install it, after that you reboot and you get Recovery Console as an option. Do:
    fixmbr

    That’s it and you’re done.

    PS: BTW, I think installing Recovery Console should be the first thing anyone would want to do after installing Windows [XP].

  5. vijtable says:

    Hendy – As I note in my post and the comments, I was able to correct the problem. To your arguments, I never claimed that Microsoft is perfect, nor did I claim they do things right. However, Ubuntu, by claiming to be “for people”, should be uninstallable. The product positions itself as a Windows alternative. Not being easily uninstallable makes it equivalent to RealPlayer. Not being able to get grub to default Windows, despite repeated attempts using Ubuntu forums techniques, makes it as bad as IE.

    Honestly, all these fixes you mention are NOT “for people”. That is the point. The goal of any operating system for real people is that the user never needs to go into a console/command line interface. GUI is key. Apple figured this out ages ago. Microsoft, slow on the uptake, also figured this out. The type of person installing it should never need to learn “sudo”. That’s the point.

    Finally, if Red Hat can work with Windows bootloader, why can’t Ubuntu? Seriously, is this a licensing thing?

  6. sindhu s says:

    i wiped out my 160gb hdd, in the excitement of ubuntu ;/
    here’s my experience. > http://www.sindhu-s.com

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Idealink by vijtable is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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