After four months of using a corporate laptop running Windows XP 64 bit edition, I finally made the jump to desktop Linux on my corporate laptop (Ubuntu 10.4 aka Lucid Lynx). In the past, working in various IT roles, it was easy for me to run whatever OS I wanted, and take the time to configure it to my liking. However; in a software pre-sales role you cannot afford to have any downtime, especially when you role is 100% dependent on having a functioning laptop. Something that was once a nuisance, such as external display issues with a projector, is now a mission critical bug.
Using Linux on the desktop in some form for over a decade, I’m simply shocked at the major strides Ubuntu has made on device compatibility. After the OS installation, every device on my Dell e6500 worked out of the box. The wireless networking and bluetooth worked right out of the box. The screen was at the optimal resolution. The power functionality of sleeping and hibernate worked with no issues going in and out of the dock. Some of these items may appear to be trivial, but 5 years ago Linux laptop users generally had to use custom kernel modules and various hacks to get things working right. Even on the Windows side, you generally have to spend a lot of time hunting down correct device drivers. With Lucid, I was 100% functional after the base OS install.
From a third party device perspective I was also blown away by Lucid. I have a wireless aircard from Verizon. Getting it to work on Windows and OSX requires me install third party software from Verizon. With Ubuntu, I simply plugged the device in, and a wizard came up asking me my country, and my wireless carrier. That’s it, it simply worked like any other integrated networking device. Printer configuration was a similar experience, I simply picked the device from a menu and it just worked. No bloated drivers from HP.
Because I’m running enterprise software demos inside VMware VM’s, naturally I have VM workstation installed. I also used the VMware converter to convert my previous laptop Windows installation to a VM so I can run my old corporate desktop image as needed. Having used VMware for quite some time, the biggest advantage for desktop use in the last few years has been “unity mode.” Unity mode displays virtualized applications as native applications, so in Ubuntu I run Outlook and Visio without having to move back and forth from the virtualized operating system.
Areas for Improvement
There are still some areas where corporate Ubuntu users still face major challenges. Exchange compatibility is still my number one issue. Evolution works great if you have direct MAPI access, but for road warriors we usually only have access to Exchange’s web interface. Outlook can connect to Exchange directly through OWA (Outlook Web Access), and Evolution supports OWA integration too, but only with Exchange 2003. Most corporations are running Exchange 2007. Corporate VPN connectivity still requires some manual configuration and hacking to get it working. Web presentation tools such as Webex have very limited support for Linux. If your forced to use Microsoft’s Netmeeting, then you must use Windows.