State of Affairs: The Linux Girlfriend Project – Two Months In The Trenches

About 2 months ago, I convinced my girlfriend to try out Linux for a month after a really nasty bit of spyware infected her computer. This isn’t a bash on Microsoft, but it happened twice in about a month.

Unfortunately, a roommate who pays a portion of the internet bill (and thus welcome to use the computer, which is located in the living room) likes to browse nefarious websites, I’ll let you speculate what type of websites he visits. Browsing those kind of sites by itself is completely fine by me, as long as it doesn’t fsck up the computer. The spyware/adware/etcware attracting behaviors of the roommate got some nasty sh!t on the computer – TWICE in a month. I tried to get everyone in the house to use Firefox, and that went over well.

Even if the shady websites are surfed upon using Firefox, if you install software from said websites, it’s all over anyways. I can’t help stupid user syndrome. Quite simply, I had enough at that point, I’m sure as hell not going to backup, fdisk, format and reinstall Windows every two weeks. Plus, I really don’t want to have that uncomfortable conversation with the roommate about his online behaviors, to be honest.

Push came to shove, and my girlfriend let me install the operating system of my choosing, since I would be the one supporting it.

We tried out Puppy Linux because it has good performance on older computers. That didn’t go so well. Getting wireless to work with ndiswrapper was a real pain in the neck in Puppy.

Eventually, I ended up settling on Linux Mint, and a few customizations later, the computer had an uncanny resemblance of the Windows XP operating system it replaced – “Start Menu,” Bliss background and everything. It was good enough to fool both roommates… they’ve NEVER mentioned a peep about any problems at all. As a test, I asked one of them (who were unaware of the switch) if they noticed any problems with the computer since I had been working on it.

“No problems at all, it’s been great. Ever since you changed it to Firefox it runs faster once it’s loaded up.”

I don’t even think they know they’re using Linux, to be honest.

There have been a few issues that presented themselves over the past two months after the switch, but they were minor cases of vendor lock in – both Blackberry and the iPhone don’t happily sync or upgrade firmware easily on Linux. Technically, it is possible to get them working. Are those righteous hacks usable by a mere mortal? No way in hell! So we ended up settling on a dual-boot scenario.

There have been a few issues other than the phone synchronizing, such as an Adobe Flash or “IE Only Website” render problem here and there, but other than those, nothing notable has come up in quite some time.

Overall, I’d say it’s been a success. These .exe files keep popping up on the desktop every once in awhile… but as the saying goes… No harm, no foul.

Addendum: She loves The GIMP, and has spent many hours playing klickety, which is an addictive bejeweled-ish color matching to clear the board game. Also, there seems to be a graphical driver issue where the computer seems a little bit sluggish. I think a video card change would fix that up nicely.

  • http://adamdodson.org Adam Dodson

    I was wondering how that went for ya :)
    I’ve just converted my gf to linux mint as well, and besides a minor stumble trying to get her webcam working she’s over the moon with it!

  • Colin

    Impressive. As for the IE Only website troubles, I find the IE Tab addon (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1419) solves an awful lot of problems in that field.

    Cracking blog, keep up the good work!

  • PredatoryFern

    Aye, I’d like to second Colin’s statement. I frequently use IE tab for IE required sites.

  • http://www.hackosis.com Shane

    Nice going Wayne.

    I have completely converted my wife to Linux Mint also on her laptop. No dual boot. :p

    There was an initial problem with playing mp3s and watching flash videos, but other than that I, and also she is very pleased with the experience. :)

  • Mike

    My wife uses Linux exclusively and could care less. This proves to me that Linux is making real headway in the desktop market.

  • warner

    are you commentors talking about using IE Tab on _linux_ in conjuncture with “ies4linux” maybe, or wine proper? what’s the scoop?

    also a shout out for Virtualbox.org GPL virtualization, far more convenient than dual booting, though if you ware trying puppy your system might not have the horsepower (1.8 or up proc and a1 Gig RAM for comfort).

    good luck, I have moved most of my family to various ‘buntu flavors as well, happy as clams, even the ones that think the browser _is_ the interweb :)

  • http://abadtooths.com/ abadtooth

    I have tried to install both ie and Firefox in wine to see if ie tab would work but it doesn’t, it will just crash Firefox.

    At least that is how it went for me..

    Nice post Wayne!

  • English

    Addicting isn’t a real word. Why don’t you just use the word addictive, it exists for this purpose, so use it instead of a made up Americanism.

    Nice article

  • http://www.indievolume.com Andriy Gerasika

    My wife is using Ubuntu. The only thing she did not liked was GIMP, however after installing Photoshop CS 1 under WINE, everything is fine now :)

  • http://www.chriscotter.net Chris

    My wife uses Linux 100% and loves it. She says it just works. Congrats on the difficult challenge of getting them to try a little change, thats the hardest part.
    Chris

  • Clown Soup

    English is an ever changing language, unlike other languages like um, Latin, for example. So embrace change or die like a dinosaur.

  • CruxOp

    Addicitng is a real word: http://www.answers.com/addicting&r=67

  • james

    Instead of using ietab… try something more interesting, and on Linux actually usable. Install UserAgent Switcher. This allows you to make FF lie and say “I’m IE on XP” or other combo’s. So far it has worked on every site except ones like Windows Update and any site that wants to install an executable to run.

    Also note. IEtab won’t work on Linux. Unless you are running IE under wine + Fx under wine as well.

  • http://www.parag0n.org Kevin

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/addicting

    Addicting is a real word. Great article.

  • eric

    These stories of “converting” grandma to linux are really just stories of linux geeks becoming on-the-call tech support for said grandma. I’d rather my friends and family use Macs so that I don’t have to do any tech support at all.

  • elyk

    Did you know that adobe has a linux version of flash player? Linux mint should have it pre-installed, but if not you should be able to be it by installing the flashplugin-nonfree package. Or visit a flash site and firefox should offer to download the plugin automatically.

  • Phixion

    I really don’t see how you could have fooled them into thinking they were using Windows.

    I mean, the menu’s are completely different in GNOME, KDE and Windows.

  • whoi

    The video is sluggish most likely because Mint by default does not have the driver for your video card installed. nVIDIA drivers are easy to come by and last time I checked ATI has their drivers closed.

    I hope this gives you a lead at least!

  • methodic

    I’ve tried Linux Mint and as far as It Just Works(tm) goes, it has all distros beat, hands down — including the one it’s based off of.

  • Grotburger

    So lets summarise the issues you had:

    Puppy Linux – no good at all

    Completely new OS-

    Blackberry doesn’t work
    iPhone wont work
    Adobe Flash doesn’t work
    IE only website issues
    Gets sluggish due to graphical driver issue so you have to get a whole new video card

    You now have to dual-boot to fix these issues and you fanboys happily sit there and call that a success?????

    I am no Windows fanboy (they both have their place) but seriously how fracking blind are you people?

    It would have taken 10 minutes to sit this housemate down and tell him to stop being a tool with a shared computer – or if he still didn’t comply – only give him access to a completely locked down account with zero user priviledges.

  • ilex

    I hope that the owners of the Blackberry and the iPhone are not the users of the computer in that house. If they are, they should not be using SMART DEVICES! Just pointing out the obvious.

  • richard

    Yes, but since you went back to dual
    boot, what will you do if her roommate
    trashes windows again?

  • http://www.fsckin.com/ Wayne

    Grot:

    The TWO cases of a Adobe Flash rendering issue and an IE only website that have happened are one in ten thousand. Otherwise, Flash Player for Linux works perfectly.

    As someone else noted above (thanks Whoi), Linux Mint probably has the computer running in a video compatability mode, so that’s probably an easy fix anyways.

    Dual booting ONLY to sync the iPhone is not a failure, that’s vendor lock in.

  • http://whylinuxisbetter.net prakash

    yeah;i had tried my sister and bro-in-lawaw
    to convert to ubuntu and installed ubun
    tu and mint in their laptops.they hardly booot into the laptops :x a failure for me!

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  • Kye Lewis

    @Grotburger:

    Blackberry- RIM’s fault, no apps for Linux.
    iPhone – Apple’s fault, no apps for Linux.

    Flash does work generally, any issues are Adobe’s.
    Websites work generally, any issues are the Website Developer’s fault.

    The driver issue is the only point I agree with you on- and windows has too many downsides to consider that a balance.

  • http://www.fsckin.com/ Wayne

    sorry, the problems (iPhone, BB, etc) are ones that my girlfriend had. The two roomates (a married couple) haven’t noticed any change at all.

  • Hellscream

    I converted my family to…

    The same thing they’ve been running – Windows…

    Funny, when you have a clue, and have a good firewall in place, you don’t ever have the problems.

    Funny how that works.

    Just be glad your girlfriend doesn’t play REAL games or you’d be f’ked

  • http://nudepenguin.net nudepenguin

    WHOI you should check again, ATI has opened the
    code. Since AMD is very Open Source friendly
    they have opened ATI source code.

    I’ve switched my wife to Linux Mint 4.0 Daryna
    a couple months ago and she loves it. I did
    have to use virtualbox to install xp only because
    Our employer (hertz) requires it for to VPN
    from home.

  • Grotburger


    Kye Lewis | January 11th, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    @Grotburger:

    Blackberry- RIM’s fault, no apps for Linux.
    iPhone – Apple’s fault, no apps for Linux.
    Flash does work generally, any issues are Adobe’s.

    Do you know why they don’t have apps for Linux? Because there is 4 million different versions only about 2 million users and they can’t agree on some simple standards to make things easier for developers.

  • http://bitmeta.org/ Draicone

    For a roommate’s casual browsing, I find a live CD is fantastic. The roommate can just load up the PC with the live CD; they’ll probably be using FF the whole time so performance isn’t too much of a problem; and when they shut down the PC is back to a clean slate again.

    I’ve tried this once and often they just forget to take the CD out and always use the live CD; they’ve all got USB drives so it works for them. Web browsing is all they really ever do, plus a bit of AIM here and there, and with Pidgin and FF the live CD does everything they need.

  • Kevin

    Why don’t you move in with your girlfriend and ditch the roommate and all the trouble?

  • http://www.informednetworker.com/ David Mackey

    What about installing Windows Defender and Spybot on the Windows side?

  • King Cotton

    I <3 Linux Mint. I’m running it on both my laptop and desktop. So smooth, clean, and elegant! I love it! I’ve had several friends switch from M$ Windows to Linux Mint just from being so fascinated with watching me use it and having me explain a few things to them.

  • Alex

    I too have someone I share the internet bill with, except they have their own system. Nevertheless, the spyware infestation used to be so nasty, it would bring the connection speed down to a crawl, at which point I’d fdisk, format and install Windows in their machine.

    Of course at one point I just got fed up and had to do something about it. Since GNU/Linux was not an option, I just did the regular reinstall, except this time around I backed up the whole system to a separate partition with Driveimage XML (non-commercial software), and now everytime things go awry, I just boot from BartPE with DI XML installed and restore the system to “mint” (pun intended) condition in less than five minutes, and just walk away. Far less hassle than having to contend with the “issues” that would surely arise had I went with GNU/Linux.

  • http://www.mylro.org Cypress

    My girlfriend has been running Ubuntu on her PC for 2 and a half years now. She loves it. Needless to say I don’t have to go over to her house every 3 weeks to clean up spyware.

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  • http://farbeyondtheedgeofreason.blogspot.com Matthew

    Linux Mint is a great beginner’s distro. A colleague of mine recently started using Linux and he asked me how he’d go about getting it. I explained about the different distros and in particular recommended Linux Mint. He’s now dual booting and really likes it.

  • http://www.fsckin.com/ Wayne

    Alex: great solution!
    Burger: Dude, you sound really ignorant, and that’s ok. I’m the last person to say I’m always right. However, I must disagree- it is not difficult to develop closed source programs for Linux. Adobe, nVidia, id Software, Skype, and many, many other companies have no problems targeting the Linux platform. Its like writing software for windows, except the IDEs and compilers are free.

  • Loic

    Burger; you’re ignorant.

    as far as i know every linux distro have mostly the same directory tree for bin lib and user folder.

    And unless proprietary apps arent using nightly build of a library there shouldn’t be a problem.

    and in exemple, if adobe see that metacity or kde window manager doesn’t handle there apps same if they used standard way to do things. it’s there job to make a notice to gnome/kde/xfce/fluxbox developper that there is something wrong. If they don’t want to send a clear message to every developper they should write it on a blog. And thats what adobe did.

  • nimzo

    switched my GF to Ubuntu almost a year ago. What a difference. First, her older laptop now just flies – at least twice as fast as XP. Second, I have not had to clean up any viruses or spyware. Finally, every thing has just worked.

  • iamlovinit

    @Grotburger: Do you know what they call people like you? A _troll_. If you feel like flamin’, go jump into a pool.

  • Lorenzo

    Quickest and easiest fix ever: don’t browse the internet with an admin/root account!
    No Administrator = Nothing can harm you. + disable the
    “server” service for extra safety!
    Windows XP SP2 NO antivirus, NO spyware, 5 users and running smoothly after a year.
    Seriuosly, Windows can be rock solid.

  • El Diablo

    My girlfriend uses Linux all the time. In the two years together she’s got so used to it, she can even work in a shell.

    By no means is she a geek, but as all our computers in the house run Linux, and only one dual boots to XP for (her) to game on, it’s all just come natural to her.

    As I work as a Linux sys admin, when friends or people we meet say ‘oh, linux is difficult’ it’s great when she pipes up and says ‘not at all’

  • http://www.spiff.be geek

    It was a very pleasant surprise to see that the Rhythmbox player from my Ubuntu installation let me sync effortlessly with my iPod.
    Check it out:
    http://www.gnome.org/projects/rhythmbox/

  • clyde d fred

    For Adobe (and many other programs) try Crossover Linux or Mac. It’s WINE on steroids, and only $40.00 (codeweavers.com).

    Have you tried Opera for a browser? I just installed it a few days ago and am having NO problems.

  • ubuntu-user

    Nice installer for a few windoze apps (e.g. Internet Exploder [ies4linux based]):
    http://www.wine-doors.org/wordpress/?page_id=3

    Virtualization (better than dual-boot):
    http://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Downloads

    Media problem solution:
    https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Medibuntu

  • Sara

    Speaking as a “converted gf”, I went to linux so I could participate in even more geek conversations, not because I was having machine issues. Converting has actually made more work for my fiance, as he gets frustrated teaching me basics when I want to tweak the system. I could manage windows fine and still frequently help others with their windows problems. The issue is not windows (with spyware and the like). It is the users. Educate the computer users, and you won’t have problems.

  • virtualguy

    Either I missed something, or no one is is using virtual. Make the XP image, copy it, let the mate go wild inside a private world (may I suggest an easy wipe keyboard). When that install is fubar, delete, copy, and start over

  • http://www.tenaciouscreations.com/ Ben

    It is interesting how no one noticed the switch. If it wasn’t for some of the high end CAD and design programs I use on a daily basis I would go to a *nix OS again.