My Digital OE

When we visit a new country, we can whinge that it’s not like home, or immerse ourselves in the culture and enjoy it for what it is, no matter how strange it appears. It’s all part of the overseas experience. Having lived with the HP Mini running the Ubuntu Netbook Remix for about 6 months now, I feel as if I grew up in Minnesota and moved to Italy. Without a phrase book. Things are different here.

The “killer app” is the Ubuntu Software Centre. The ability to find and install free software is the ultimate in high-end user empowerment. I installed Lyx and the LaTeX typesetting system, plus AbiWord to make it easy to convert documents from ODF to LaTeX. As far as I can tell, there is no direct converter from OOXML to LaTeX, so ODF once again proves its worth. Add Inkscape to produce graphics in SVG and PDF and you have a complete publishing system. There is even a plug-in for gedit which lets you see the LaTeX source and PDF output side by side in separate windows. This is barely usable on the Netbook’s tiny screen, but Lyx in full-screen mode is fine.

As usual, Google told me what to do. The only problem I encountered was that LaTeX had to be installed with a –fix-missing option.

There continues to be an ongoing niggle with the wireless networking (like the Italian telephone system, it works in mysterious ways which only the locals understand). I usually have to enter the wireless password at least 3 times, even though it is stored on the key-ring. As far as I can tell, this is an HP Mini issue, as I have no problem connecting to the wireless router when I boot my MacBook from a Ubuntu Live CD. But it’s an irritant, not a show-stopper. It does not bother me enough that I feel compelled to track down a solution, although it would be nice if it worked better.

If we visit Italy wanting it to be like Minnesota, we will not have a happy time. Similarly, to get the most out of switching to a free software desktop, treat it as a digital OE and leave preconceived ideas at the border. Take the time to watch the locals and refrain from pointing out how quaint they are or how much better it is at home. Celebrate cultural diversity!

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