Linux Passes the Friend Test
koppie Sat, 07/25/2009 - 13:52
The "Friend Test" is similar to the "Girlfriend Test" or the "Mother Test." In this case, my buddy Rob had a very old Dell that ran horribly. I installed Ubuntu Linux and he's thrilled. The computer is fast and responsive again. He was a little worried about running the software he needs, but he's very happy with Firefox and OpenOffice; he can even read his .docx files from work.
(I should note that I've previously had failures with my friends Aaron & Paul. Aaron no longer uses Linux, and while Paul does, he hates it. That doesn't count as a victory. But I learned from my past mistakes, and Rob seems very pleased.)
The big challenge was iTunes. Rob (legal-minded guy that he is) has purchased a large library of music from iTunes, and a good portion of that is in Apple's proprietary, encrypted .m4p format. I spent all morning on Rob's laptop trying to get it to work, and finally stumbled upon a solution that is easy and elegant: PlayOnLinux.
The problem is there is no iTunes for Linux, and there probably never will be (boo, Steve Jobs! Boo!). So there's Wine, a "compatibility layer" that lets you run Windows programs on Linux. Of course, it's clunky, and the instructions to get iTunes to run with Wine were intimidating. (I have to compile my own version? Really? Gah!)
Of course, there's a commercial solution called Crossover. If you're willing to pay a little money, there's a company that has figured out how to make everything run on Wine, and it works very very well. And Rob is not above paying for legal software. But I like free. If only there were another option!
That's where PlayOnLinux comes in. POL takes the same philosophy as Crossover--let's make it easy to run programs in Wine--but does it for free. I don't know how long this program has been going, it looks like it's only being maintained by a group of seven very dedicated individuals, but it's awesome. In five minutes, we had downloaded and installed their software (they have a repository for Ubuntu, of course), and they automated the process of installing iTunes. One trick: they used an older version of iTunes that is known for being more compatible with Wine; I don't know where they found this older version (it's no longer available from the Apple website). I also don't know what went on under the hood; I watched the progress bar go by and when it was done, iTunes just worked. It's a little slow, but Rob is happy.
More important, this is another requirement for easing the
transition of people from Windows to Linux. Rob is thrilled with Linux
because he can do EVERYTHING in it, and better than he could in
Windows. That's the mark of a truly superior OS. I've gotten in the habit of finding free/open source versions of Windows software to run on Linux for philosophical reasons. But for people like Rob who crave the comfort of familiar software, PlayOnLinux is the way to go. If I had money, I'd give them some of it.