Feel the Freedom

I’ve just stumbled across Scott Carpenter’s site Moving to Freedom site and it reminded me something I meant to write about.

Some time ago, my little sister entered Further Education and needed her own computer. So I tarted up my desktop, reinstalled it, and dumped it in her bedroom with a wireless connection to the broadband. It wasn’t a new machine (bits were 8 years old!) and that was 18 months ago.

At Christmas I had to take the thing apart, dust some parts, drop other parts and coax it back into working… but it seemed OK. Last week it just died completely. So I went to my parents’ last weekend to try to breathe more life into it. But the hard drive was dead … I have another spare machine but I couldn’t lay my hands on a Windows license (not because I’m disorganised, I’ve been living out of boxes for a year).

Installing Linux

So I installed Linux. I downloaded a Kubuntu Live CD image and after half an hour of swearing at Windows managed to burn the image onto the CD correctly. I should point out at this stage that although I’m a very content Linux user, I don’t install or administrate it. So I put the live CD in, showed off a few odds and ends and asked my sister what she needed her PC to be able to do. Her wishlist is:

  1. Edit Office Documents. She knows about Open Office and says she will be able to work it
  2. Surf the internet.
  3. Use her ipod nano in an iTunes-a-like way
  4. Use Windows Messenger Live or equivalent

I had a quick google on the ipod front, I have an alternative gadget specifically because I use Linux, but apparently it can be done so I toddled off to install Kubuntu for the first time. I have no idea what I did on the first attempt but it froze part way through (possibly from the effort of reformatting the hard disk). The second time though it was quite successful and then the fun began.

Getting software

My Linux experience is quite patchy and also I’m a very command-line-happy user so I’ll get new stuff with an “apt-get” command and not worry about it. This isn’t going to work for my perfectly computer-literate but not geeky sister! After some grappling with the Adept Installer and realising I had to uncomment a config file to get the universe and multiverse repositories added, we were flying. She’s now got Firefox and a handful of games in addition to Kopete and the Open Office that Kubuntu installs with by default.

The wireless card

I had no idea (because I’ve never done it) that there was such contention with drivers for wireless cards. It took me two attempts and a couple of late-night phone calls to my sysadmin (thanks, Kevin!) to get it working. Apparently the key thing is to use pcils to see the card listed and grab its model number, then feed that into google along with the word ndiswrapper and hope you find some instructions on what to do next.

Moving forward.

Now its up and working I have to say I really hope she takes to the new set up. At the moment she’s without an iTunes-a-like (as she’s waiting for me to research it for her) unless she surprises me and sorts it out herself, and the monitor won’t go for a better resolution than 800 × 600 which is annoying. I’ve got The Linux Equivalent Project bookmarked and am trying to figure out which of the chat clients will give her the closest experience to what she is used to (the main requirement seems to be the emoticons!) and also what is going to be the easiest for her to use with the ipod nano.

I am enchanted with the idea that a normal person could just sit at a Linux machine and perform their usual functions without too much hassle. If she rises to the occasion then not only will she have saved a fortune in software costs, now and for the future, but I hope she’ll also embrace the idea that she is rewarding the community that worked so hard to create these products, rather than the corporate giants who would bring evil on the world.

Has anyone had any similar experiences of bringing their own software and beliefs to others? (Cait, do post and let us know how you are getting on!)

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