Ubuntu is a desktop and server Linux installation that focuses on providing an engaging and enjoyable graphical user experience.

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Converting My Business to Linux, Part 3: Adobe Acrobat

(Back to Converting My Business to Linux, Part 2: Installation)

If tonight’s experience is any indication, my goal of 100% transformation from Windows to Linux is probably not going to happen.

Tonight I was asked my one of my clients to change a single page of a PDF document hosted on their website. No problem in the pay-to-play land of Windows, right?  You fire up your ridiculously-priced copy of Adobe Acrobat Professional and use the Replace Page menu option.  Dead simple.  On Linux? Not so much.

Editing PDFs on Linux

If all you need to do with PDF on Linux is view and print, your options are numerous and quite stable.  If you don’t like Ubuntu’s built-in PDF viewing support you can opt to download and install Adobe Reader from the Canonical Software Repository. Of course, that’s only if you miss all of the bloated and unnecessary features that make Adobe Reader what it is today.

If you have to create or edit existing PDF documents, you’re options are few and finicky.  I tried two methods: the first was to install PDF Edit from the Ubuntu Software Center.  PDF Edit has lots of features, but it couldn’t open the document that I needed to modify.  Upon further research I found that OpenOffice.org has a PDF Import extension.  I installed the extension, and it too had problems opening my document. Perhaps something was wrong with my docuement?

The Problem

I installed Adobe Reader as described above so I could verify that my PDF file would open using an Adobe product and so I could view it’s metadata.  Reader opened the document without any problems, but within the document metadata I noticed that the document had been created using the HP scanning software at my client’s office.  I tried opening other documents created with that software and verified that they opened in Adobe Reader, but not in PDF Edit or in OpenOffice.

The Solution

This isn’t so much a solution considering I still had to have Windows and Acrobat Professional available to solve the problem.  I opened the documents in Acrobat Professional and performed a “Save As.”  The new documents were now editable under both PDF Edit and OpenOffice.org’s PDF Import extension.

PDF Edit was able to quickly and easily replace the page that had changed within the document.  If it is able to open my documents in the future, this is what I’ll use to make changes to PDF documents on Linux.  The OpenOffice.org plug-in still has a long way to go.  It does exactly what I expected and what Microsoft Word import utilities have done for years: butchers your document.  But at least it opened!

Summary

I may find myself updating this post in the future as I have more experience editing PDF’s on Linux.  My initial impression is that “it’s close, but no cigar. PDF Edit almost worked, and if it is able to open and edit my PDF’s in the future I’ll consider this a success.  OpenOffice.org’s plug-in works just as good as other PDF Conversion utilities:  it will import your document and keep most of your text intact, but any graphics or stray marks in your PDF document will make your converted document almost completely unusable.

(Continue to Converting my Business to Linux, Part 4: Updating my IPhone)

Converting My Business to Linux, Part 2: Installation

(Back to Converting My Business to Linux, Part 1)

The first step in converting my office to Free Software was to install Linux on my desktop computer.  My PC is a pretty beefy machine; the only part of my configuration that is the least bit out of the ordinary is the fact that I have two 420 GB drives configured for mirroring via Intel’s Matrix Storage software RAID.

My PC has two network connections: one a gigabit ethernet connection and the other an old 802.11g wireless Linksys Adapter.  Though I can run a cable directly to my PC from my DSL modem I prefer not to, as my house is in the beginnings of a decades-long renovation. Enough talk, time for action.

Pre-Installation

Installing Ubuntu Linux is generally dead simple.  These days Linux has enough hardware support that you should be able to get Linux successfully installed in a couple of clicks, and something should eventually boot up.  I downloaded the x64-bit edition of Ubuntu Desktop and burnt it to a DVD in Windows 7 using my laptop.  With any luck, this should be one of the last personal things I do on that company-issued machine!

After booting to the disk and getting through the Language/Keyboard configuration installation screens, I arrived at the screen I knew was bound to give me trouble: the drive partitioning screen.  Of course Ubuntu couldn’t see my Intel software RAID, so no disks were available to install to.  I did some quick research and found the FakeRaidHowto in the Ubuntu Community Documentation.  It is possible, but frankly? I didn’t feel like spending my time tinkering to make this mediocre feature work. (To make it work, download an Alternative Installation CD with the dmraid drive built-in.  But I’m too lazy).  I rebooted my computer and switched my drive configuration back to standard SATA instead of RAID, then restarted the installation. From here on out I had no issues with the installation.

Post-Installation

Twenty minutes later, I was at a login prompt.  Let me tell you what: Ubuntu 10.04 boots FAST.  From the time my BIOS passed control to Ubuntu to the point in which I could type in my password, I bet I waited about eight seconds. Amazing!

My first step after any new OS installation is to install updates.  But lo’ and behold, Ubuntu was not seeing my wireless network, or any wireless network for that matter. At the top of the screen I saw a flashing icon that looking curiously like it might have something to do with my hardware so I clicked it and found myself face-to-face with the Hardware Drivers window.  Listed were an available Nvidea driver for my graphics card and the Broadcom B43legacy wireless driver. Neither of these drivers are actually included with Ubuntu because they are closed-source software, so you have to download them after the installation.

Problem: In order to get my wireless drivers downloaded I had to have an Internet connection. This is the sort of chicken-or-the-egg situation that really gets under my skin. I grabbed a spool of CAT 5E and some RJ45 connectors, and a few minutes later I had the 40 foot cable required to connect my PC to my router.  Moments later, I was connected to the Internet, the Hardware Drivers window allowed me to install my wireless driver, and I was able to configure my wireless network.

At this point I opened the Update Manager and installed a few hundred megabytes of available updated.

Summary

I’ll say this: my experience with this installation was light years ahead of what I’ve experienced in the past.  Though I’m not thrilled with the fact that there was no out-of-the-box support for my software RAID the wireless configuration was a snap.  I’ve installed Ubuntu dozens of times over the past few years and I’ve always left because of wireless support.  They’ve finally found that happy medium between hardware support and their commitment to open source code and software.

In my next few posts I will be dealing with software issues and alternatives to popular software packages.

(Continue to Converting My Business to Linux, Part 3: Adobe Acrobat)

Converting My Business to Linux, Part 1

Call it frugality.  Call it insanity.  Call it what you will, but I’m converting my computers that I use for my consulting business to Linux.  That’s right, I’m a Microsoft Certified computer consultant whose going to switch to Linux.  Actually, I’ll go one step further: I’m going to try to switch completely to Free Software. This means:

  1. I will install and use Ubuntu Linux as my operating system.
  2. I will use OpenOffice.org as my office suite.
  3. I will use Evolution for email, calendars, and contact management.
  4. I will try to find and use a Free Software alternative to QuickBooks to manage my business accounts.
  5. I will try to find and use Free Software alternatives to Adobe Creative Suite.
  6. I will try to find and use a Free Software alternative to Virtual PC, so I can install Windows 7 and Server 2008 into virtual machines for my Microsoft training.

I’m pretty darn goods with computers, but this will be a daunting, quite possibly annoying, and maybe even futile task even for me.  So I invite you to come along and gawk at the train wreck I’m about to embark upon…

Proceed to Converting My Business to Linux, Part 2: Installation.