I have the common computer geek dream of turning my family into people who speak casually about “distros” but that will never happen (nor should it). Sometimes I think about how virtually everything my Mom does on her computer could be done faster and safer with a Linux box. I am my family's technical support, so before I can even begin to speculate about thinking about the possibility of suggesting a switch to Linux, I'd better be a knowledgeable user myself.

Linux is getting easier all the time. I recently read an article that mentioned some of the old distros and I remembered installing early versions of Red Hat and Mandrake. Ubuntu installation is a relative cake walk compared to even the “user friendly” distros of the early years. Even so, Ubuntu is far from easy. Every time I have to configure something I ask myself “could my Mom do this?” My Mom is no nerd, but she is relatively computer savvy. She knows what her computer's file structure looks like and only needs help with some of the more esoteric stuff like how to open a port on the router. What I'm saying is that it doesn't have to be “one-button simple” (I'm looking at you, Mac) but it helps if there's a GUI.

I have a computer hooked up to my TV using HDMI. I use it for videos and 42” google earth browsing. That was my test for resizing a Windows partition to dual boot with Ubuntu which gave me enough confidence in it to do it to my primary desktop. Naturally, this machine is hooked up to my stereo using optical audio. Naturally, this did not work. The front headphones jack worked, and for a couple days I just plugged in an old set of computer speakers just to get some sound, but that was tremendously unsatisfying. Some basic research revealed what chipset my motherboard was using. The motherboard manufacturer's website recommended going to the chipset manufacturer's site for Linux drivers.

Alright, at this point I think my Mom could keep up. Motherboard, check. Audio driver, check. “Why isn't the device detected and installed for me?” check.

The next part would lose a vast number of laypeople: the source code. You can download it in a nice, bzip2 compressed tarball. “What did you call that?” “Never mind, Ubuntu knows how to open it.” “I just googled it. What do 'tape archives' have do with this?” “Mom! Focus!”

Included with the source is an excellent README file that specifically mentions that for Ubuntu you must use the manual install process. There are many, many flavors of Linux so no one builds the binaries for all of them. I chose Ubuntu because it is one of the most popular distros and it is used by a lot of n00bs so manufacturers keep it simple. This package came with a makefile, several makefiles in fact. There were several steps that involved finding the proper configuration file in some directory, or using sudo (a command that means "super user do"), or both. Some of the steps simply made no sense and seemed to be relevant only to older versions of Ubuntu so I skipped them. It wasn't long before the optical audio output was working!  Even the multi-channel digital part is configuredand working properly.

Mom certainly could have typed in all the commands, but would she have known (or guessed correctly, which is all I can claim) which steps could be skipped? You only have to install the audio drivers once so this wouldn't be a problem once things were set up, but... You never know when things might be reconfigured. I had quite a time trying to get my dual monitor setup working. It's fantastic now, but it was several headaches in a row before it all came together. I have also plugged my USB mouse into the ports I have on my desk because it keeps freezing up and removing it and plugging it back in is the easiest way to keep it working. That's only a minor annoyance and I'll devote some time to figuring it out later. I haven't come across anything that was a show-stopper, but I find a lot of bumps.

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