Recently a friend of mine approached me with a weird question: how to install Windows on a machine without a CD or Floppy drive. I was intrigued. The obvious question here was “why?” It turned out that he just ordered himself one of those Dell Mini notebooks. Naturally, like every living being on planet Earth my friend hates Windows Vista with a passion and as a result he didn’t really feel like paying a Vista tax. So he opted for the Ubuntu version with the intention of installing his copy of Windows XP on the machine. But while he was in the cost saving mode, he also decided not to purchase the optional external CD drive.
Oops… That CD drive was sort of there for a reason. He realized that after it was too late to do anything. So now he basically wanted to know if it’s possible to install XP from a USB thumb drive. Can it be done? Apparently, yes it can. All you need to do, is google for it.
But at the time we were having this conversation I gave him a benefit of the doubt and assumed he already did search it online, and came up empty. And since I didn’t know the solution of the top of my head, I got a crazy idea.
“Why don’t you just keep Ubuntu?” I asked him.
I mean, it’s a Dell Mini with a 16GB solid state drive and a tiny ass screen – he is definitely not going to use that machine for gaming, photoshop or other Windows centric stuff like that. The machine will likely be used as a hardware extension of a web browser. The OS is mostly an overhead on a machine like that.
Now, I’m not a linux evangelist. I don’t go around telling people to switch to Linux. I honestly can’t do that anymore because I know that my experience with the OS is irrelevant. I am a computer geek a software developer and linux enthusiast. This makes so far removed from the general population, that I can hardly relate to your average Windows user.
Nevertheless I did my best to give him a quick pitch on how the OS will be mostly irrelevant on that machine. And it will run most of his favorite apps – like firefox for example.
“Will it run Chrome?” he demanded.
Of course it will run chrome. Then again last time I used Linux version of Chrome Flash didn’t work yet, but they fucking update it daily. I quickly launched my copy of the browser to check, and lo – it was running flash quite flawlessly now.
My friend was not fully convinced yet. He started asking me about opening Word documents so I pulled up Open Office and illustrated how it works. Then I quickly downloaded and burned him a copy of the Gnome based Jaunty to show him what the OS that ships with his Mini will look like (I’m running Kubuntu on my laptop, and it looks quite different).
I booted it on his laptop, and he was blown away when he realized you can actually run a fully functional OS from the CD like that.
“But how can it do that?”
Well, because it’s really not that impressive. I mean, it doesn’t really matter whether your OS binaries are on the HD or on some other media. You have to load them into memory before they get executed anyway – so where they are originally is irrelevant. There is really no reason why Windows couldn’t have a Live CD version. In fact, you can easily make one with BartPE.
He was also enamored with virtual desktops. “It’s like tabs for your desktop” he said. I never thought about them like that, but yes – that’s a valid analogy. That’s technically how these things work.
He was also amazed on how many “features” were included in the OS itself. I had to explain that most of the applications he saw there were really stand alone open source projects – but by virtue of being free software they could be included in the free OS.
To make this long story short, my friend decided to keep Ubuntu on that machine – at least for now. In fact, he said he might replace it with the Notebook Remix version he found online so he can be running Jaunty (the Dell ships with Intrepid if I’m not mistaken). I told him that if he tries Ubuntu can’t deal with it, I’ll be happy to help him with the XP installation hack. He nodded, but I’ve seen that gleam in his eye that told me it won’t be needed. I think our little community might have a brand new member.
Now, I’m fairly sure my friend will continue using Windows. I didn’t “convert” him and made him into an exclusive Linux user. But he will give Ubuntu a try, and hopefully will like it becoming an OS agnostic nut bag like me. And that’s more than I could ever ask for.
We really don’t need to convert people, or try to ween them off of Windows. All we need to do is to show them the alternatives and find places in which they work well – like mini notebooks for example. This will have far reaching effects. For one, they will no longer automatically assume that OS == Windows. They will see that there are different operating systems that can be used for different purposes. Secondly, they will be now able to call MS on their bullshit as they will see that things can be done differently in the open source world. Thirdly… Well, they will be using linux. The more of us are there, the better. I don’t care if he still uses Windows on the other machine – he still counts as one of us.