Ubuntu Linux Vs. Windows Vista: The Battle For Your Desktop
Is Linux finally ready to take on Windows as a desktop OS? We tried out both Vista and Ubuntu on individual PCs to see which works better. Here's who won.
The widely-touted OpenOffice.org suite is installed with Ubuntu by default. OpenOffice's strongest points are that it provides many of the features of Office ( if not the latest-and-greatest features) without the price tag. Most of the problems that people have reported with OpenOffice involve translating existing Office documents that have a lot of complex elements in them.
To that end, if you're considering moving to OpenOffice from Office and working with existing files, make sure the documents you want to work with can be read first. I tried a variety of documents exported from Word 2003 and had no trouble opening and re-saving them in OpenOffice's native formats, although admittedly they weren't very complex.
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The free (and highly touted) Microsoft Office contender OpenOffice.org is included with Ubuntu as a standard feature.
One other thing that Office migrants might need to be aware of is some slight behavioral differences in OpenOffice. For instance, in Word, the default action for the Ctrl+Up Arrow / Down Arrow key is to move the cursor up or down a paragraph. In OpenOffice, it moves the current paragraph up or down. Granted, this can be changed, but it means that much more retraining. I also toggled off some of OpenOffice's other default features, like the function that attempts to automatically guess what word you're typing and suggest a possible completion for it -- it's more annoying than handy for someone like me.
On the Vista side, it's not hard to add OpenOffice manually -- especially since the only word-processing program that comes with Vista is the relatively feeble WordPad, which hasn't been updated in any significant way for years. It's suitable for only the most basic of word processing tasks. I've wondered for a while why Microsoft doesn't just include Word 97 or one of the other out-of-support-lifetime versions of Word as an installable freebie with Windows. I also hardly need to mention that the full version of Word (or Office) is a major expense.
Ubuntu, because it comes with OpenOffice -- although that can be added to Windows easily enough.
Indexing / Search
A criticism that's been leveled at Vista is that the indexed search system is not really exclusive to Vista, and that it's been possible to do the same thing in XP by adding easily-available third-party software. True, but with Vista you don't have to do that; it's shipped with the OS; and the search function is integrated with the OS in many useful ways.
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Ubuntu's indexed search function compares favorably to Vista's search in that it returns results for many file types (including metadata in images).
I can't count the number of times I've used Vista's integrated search to look for something I knew was somewhere in my mess of mail or documents, and I usually had what I was looking for in seconds. The other great thing about this feature is that it's a framework onto which other applications can build: Adobe Acrobat, for instance, can register PDFs as a searchable document type with the system. Searches can be saved and reused, and files synchronized for offline storage can be added to the index.
Ubuntu's indexed search system, called Desktop Search (it actually uses the Beagle search engine), is not installed by default but can be easily added through the program manager. Once installed, it augments the Ubuntu's default search function, and indexes and searches a fairly broad range of document types. The indexing includes metadata (i.e., ID3 tags or image tags) and the results come up quite fast.
Unfortunately, it's very difficult to find out how far along the indexer is (i.e., whether or not the search you're conducting is incomplete) without dropping to a command line. Also, one thing I missed in Ubuntu -- and which was in Vista from the git-go -- was the ability to edit or examine a file's extended metadata directly in the shell, and that metadata is a big part of how I find things with the file system.
I'm willing to concede that not everyone will use or get the most out of Vista's native search system, but those who do (me included) will find it hard to live without once they've gotten used to it. Ubuntu's version of this is also quite impressive and useable, though.
Vista, for having its search function integrated from the ground up through the shell and the OS.