Monday, April 15, 2013

Another nice open source moment

As I have mentioned numerous times in the past, I am a huge fan of Ubuntu, the free open source Linux software that keeps old machines running efficiently and provides a user friendly introduction to tinkering with hardware and software in what is close to a totally safe (risk free) environment.

I have never understood why schools don't make more use of Ubuntu. Well, *any* use at all. In the course of my work I go into schools with 5-8 year old computers in their libraries and labs, limping along on XP, and I wonder to myself "Sure, XP was a good, stable, reliable OS but it is still clunky in that Windows way. I reckon these machines would go *much* better on Ubuntu, and the school staff would get some really neat tacit professional development working out how to set it up and maintained".

Anyway, that is somewhat beside the immediate point. Because I enjoy bluetooth sound and wireless printing we got a nice new bluetooth 3 transmitter for one of my machines. That left the vexing question of what to do with the old Kensington bluetooth dongle -- one of the long ones that looks like a thumb drive. It had always worked really well and I just hate throwing stuff out that works.

So I thought it might be time to see if I could get bluetooth running in Ubuntu on my old Asus netbook. I booted the machine up and dropped the Kensington into a usb port. I ran a search in apps on Ubtuntu for "bluetooth" and it threw up a generic looking driver. I wasn't hopeful, being accustomed to the Windows way of things where every bit of hardware seems to need its own drivers. The software downloaded in an eye blink, and I dragged the icon over to the menu sidebar and opened the program. Made a few clicks to see if I could find how to pair my Creative bluetooth speakers (I can't follow instructions so *have* to click around). In no time the speakers were paired, and my music was playing beautifully on Ubuntu's Banshee player.

In a word, I have 10 year old machines running Ubuntu like a new laptop on Windows 7 -- except that Ubuntu costs at most a donation to a worthy project. Ubuntu is not just the OS. It comes with Office apps, free and intuitive, and with a movie Player and Audio player that work like charms. I didn't expect to have success with the bluetooth, but it was all over in 5 minutes, and I am *not* a tech savvy type. As in other areas of my life I plod along enthusiastically.

If you have an old machine, and spare couple of hours, an available thumbdrive, and haven't done it before, I really recommend having a crack at putting Ubuntu on that old machine. It will let you partition the hard drive so you can keep the existing OS and then run Ubuntu on a second partitioned drive. Like they used to say about the White technology -- you know, the self-style "i-" stuff -- "it just works". Unlike the White stuff, however, it is not pretentiously over-priced.

Rather, it's free (as in open source free).

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