You don’t need to convert them…

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.

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17 Responses to You don’t need to convert them…

  1. scott UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    you cant always convert but at least he will try it and you have educated him. You shouldve shown him compiz as well., that might have done it for him, at least on a more full fledged computer and not a mini netbook.

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  2. BPD UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    How did you run the live cd on his netbook if it didn’t have an optical drive?

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  3. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ scott:

    Actually the light touch paid off. He seems excited about linux all on his own. This exchange I described here took place last week. I saw this guy again few days ago and his first words to me were:

    “Dude, Ubuntu is awesome!”

    He said he will try installing it on his non-gaming rig at home next. He converted himself. :)

    @ BPD:

    Oh, I guess i wasn’t specific. We both had our work laptops with us. He was buying the Mini for his personal use – and when I showed him Ubuntu it didn’t even arrive yet.

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  4. GregE AUSTRALIA Google Chrome Linux says:

    @ BPD:

    It is easy to create a live CD on a USB stick and run it by booting from the USB Thumb drive and it can save changes you make when it is running. Ubuntu (and other distros) has a utility in the administration menus to create a USB stick from any live CD iso. You can carry it around with you and have your own system on any computer that can boot from USB, which is most newer computers.

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  5. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    My Dell Mini 9 has gone thru changes galore. It came with XP. After which I tried Jaunty UNR, and then Window 7. Both of which it handled very very nicely.

    Now it’s my cute little hackintosh running OSX 10.6.1. Which I think will remain that way until I get an actual living breathing Macbook.

    Thanks to it, I get to experience Windows, Ubuntu and OSX, the 3 major OS players. What else could I throw at it?

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  6. KenP UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux says:

    One of my good friend was having trouble with Vista on his Toshiba laptop (this Vista and trouble in the same sentence is getting too repetitive, isn’t it?) This had been going on a few times where he used the recovery disk to restore everything back to Factory settings etc.
    Each time it happened, I politely mentioned Linux to him. I also showed him my home laptop which is running Linux without any “trouble”, thank you very much, for the past 3 years at least. Well, the last time (a few days ago), he said he wanted to try Linux on his laptop and wanted to get rid of Vista altogether.
    I handed him CDs of two different flavours of Linux, Kubuntu and PCLinuxOS, both of which I believe are good enough for the newbie. I also advised him to start with the LiveCD and play around with it. Then, go on to dual-booting his machine and only then, decide to get rid of Vista. The last thing I want is for him to come back with “Oh, this linux thing is too hard and I now want my Vista back!!” That would be a *real* disaster, now wouldn’t it?

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  7. Jenn UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    Last semester in CMPT 109, I was talking about open source software, and a few of the students ended up converting to Linux! One of them, a mother of five from Colorado, said “Why am I paying hundreds of dollars for Windows, when all I need is to browse the web, email, and write papers?” I did explain that she can do much more, but you get the point.

    I wonder how the economy has affected people’s choices of software – I know a lot of folks that have opted to buy a $100 copy of Coda and $60 for Pixelmator (Mac) instead of shelling out hundreds for Dreamweaver and Photoshop.

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  8. chanux SRI LANKA Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    @ Jenn:
    Apparently Linux is not good enough to serve you ;)


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  9. lol after being on windows for a month or so now.. I can honestly say taht I still hate it and I keep clicking ctrl + -> to get to an available workspace… and :( nothing.

    Buuut I now can play games, which is kinda cool… its been a long time since I have played decent games. I hate dual booting because I leave my computer on all the time and rarely reboot it… and I like to multi-task, I don’t even play games in full screen because I am typically doing something else… and if I start opening 2 programs while I am playing a game.. then I will just keep using them after I shut the game down… and … well then I am back on windows?

    I don’t know… :( I don’t want to stop playing Pirates of the Burning Sea… but hate winshit… Yes I am an evangelist and in the end its all your fault anyway… :( I hate you for introducing me to Ubuntu.

    Happy birthday btw

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  10. freelancer SWEDEN Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Heh, I have a laptop without a CD drive myself (Toshoba Portege M200, love it). The magic acronym when you want to install Windows and don’t have a CD drive or a USB drive big enough is of course PXE :P

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  11. Robert UNITED STATES Mozilla Ubuntu Linux says:

    Brilliant! :D Always glad to see new members in the Linux community! It’s also great to see that your friend now knows that there exists a world without Windows. One of my all-time favorite quotes:
    “In a world without walls, who needs Windows?”
    A play off of Windows’ own advertising campaign
    “Windows: a world without walls.”
    Old joke, yes. But funny nonetheless.

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  12. dude CANADA Mozilla Linux says:

    @ Travis McCrea:

    Get a console and play games from the comfort of your living room couch!

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  13. you should send your friend to

    an awesome resource for Dell Mini users who want to run Ubuntu.

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  14. lachlan AUSTRALIA Internet Explorer Windows says:

    i have been using debian or ubuntu full time for 3 years at home and 90% of my work is with windows, i know i won’t be getting away from it and i don’t care.

    i don’t want it at home but i know i’m not about to change my entire workplace just because i’m in charge of desktop deployment

    earning a new OS will only help make a better pc user out of them,

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  15. cyberfux GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Good job!

    I’m in the same sitatioan as u (geek, developer, linuxer) and since te netbooks are on the run, more and more “non-geeks” are trying ubuntu, just because even on those with a harddisk xph umpc needs about 3 minutes to boot – jaunty needs around a minute ;-)

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  16. JuEeHa FINLAND Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    I actually made my friend OS agnostic this way. He asked me for a help because after he had updated his IBM aptiva with 128MB of RAM and 450MHz AMD K6 processor from Windows 98 to Windows XP(in 2007) it took almost 20 minutes to boot up. I offered his ubuntu, kubuntu, xubuntu, lubuntu and Knoppix HD install. He agreed but said he will probably switch back to windows after he got a new computer. He liked Knoppix(with KDE 3.6) the most and he used it until he bought a new (used) computer(in 2008. I don’t remember specs) and then after he had taken it home he called me there and told me to transfer his data from his Aptiva(which he had kept updated very well) to his new (for him) dell. I put old HD in it with the new one and he booted it up from the new HD and much for my surprise it was actually running kubuntu. He explained me that he had installed windows xp first but he liked linux more and he had repartioned his HD then reinstalled xp to smaller partion and then installed kubuntu to the space that was left. Now he has 3 computers which all run some sort of linux and some sort of windows(One actually runs my homemade distro and ReactOS) and he is thinking about buying a mac.

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