February 14, 2006

Ubuntu takes on XP in the gadget arena

Author: Tina Gasperson

Many Linux users keep Windows around because they know Linux won't (easily) do some special "thing" they can't live without. But this is 2006, and Linux has come a long way toward being a true desktop alternative. I decided to compare Ubuntu 5.10 Breezy Badger with Windows XP SP2 to see how each performed with three late-model digital accessories -- a Polaroid izone 550 camera, a Panasonic PV-GS150 camcorder, and a Hewlett-Packard PSC 1510 printer/copier/scanner. Ubuntu did very well, but could it beat Windows?

My desktop computer is an eMachine with an AMD Athlon XP 3200+ 2.2GHz processor and 512MB RAM, running Windows XP Home Edition SP2 and Ubuntu 5.10 Breezy Badger. I purchased the cameras and the printer new, in the box, with all accompanying software and manuals. None of the items included any Linux drivers.

Driver installation

Polaroid izone 550

I ran the installation CD on XP, then plugged the camera into the computer with a USB connection and turned it on. The computer recognized the camera and downloaded and stored the images and videos on my hard drive without any problems.

Ubuntu was even easier. I simply plugged the camera in and turned it on. Ubuntu already had digital-camera drivers installed. It recognized the camera (though not specifically as a Polaroid izone) and asked me if I wanted to download the pictures.

Panasonic PV-GS150

For XP, Panasonic had me install drivers first and then attach the camera. The operating system recognized the FireWire connection and the USB connection for the still image facility and opened the appropriate software package for each.

Again, Ubuntu made the installation one step easier and faster because it already had the drivers and software installed for FireWire-based digital video cameras, as well as the USB still image facility.

HP PSC-1510

The HP PSC-1510 was built with Windows users in mind. Everything ran smoothly once HP got done installing the large application package. The sheer amount of software that went onto my hard drive was amazing. In typical Windows fashion, opening the application slows down the whole system.

Ubuntu performed flawlessly with this device. It recognized the printer and scanner with no action required from me. HP has also created some open source software, called HPLIP, for this and many other printers. HPLIP gives finer control over photo printing, scanning, and copying. I installed it and it worked perfectly. Though the GUI is much more primitive than that of the Windows version, the application is faster and not at all bloated or overdone.

Editing still pictures

My eMachine PC came with Microsoft's Picture It! digital image editor. It allowed me to perform basic editing and filtering on the still images from both the Polaroid and the Panasonic devices. Polaroid also installed its own basic photo editing software.

Ubuntu includes the ubiquitous and free GIMP photo editing software, which has almost all the features of Photoshop. It's a much richer application than Picture It!

Editing digital video

For XP, Panasonic provides its own basic video editing software, and Microsoft includes Windows Movie Maker with the operating system. Both of these are fine for beginning digital video hobbyists who want to cut frames and add simple effects and titles.

Ubuntu provided me with a challenge on this task. Breezy didn't come with digital video editing software installed, so I started from scratch. After doing research on the Ubuntu forums, I learned that I should install dvgrab and Kino. The install wasn't too difficult, but it took me about an hour and a half to find the information I needed. Once Kino was able to capture the digital video, I could edit and add effects just as I could in Windows.

Printing, scanning, and copying

The HP PSC 1510 is an "all-in-one" device that prints borderless photos, scans, and makes copies, either through a desktop interface or through commands entered directly on the printer. It also has a PictBridge connection for compatible digital cameras to print photos directly from the camera to the printer. The PictBridge functionality was the only feature that did not work in Windows XP, even though both the Polaroid and the Panasonic are PictBridge-compliant.

Ubuntu hit only a few snags running the PSC-1510. I was able to print from all programs and import scans in the GIMP. HPLIP had a problem detecting 4x6 photo paper in the printer, making it impossible to print photos of that size from images on the computer. Interestingly though, the PictBridge worked perfectly under Ubuntu and allowed me to print my borderless 4x6s directly from the camera. Entering commands directly into the printer, I was able to use the copier function but not the scanner function -- probably because scanning requires the printer to spur a related application into action, and there was no such connection for Linux.


Ubuntu starts out with brownie points because it is clean, fast, and powerful. Software opens and shuts down quickly, and the number of open applications seems to have no effect on the system's stability or speed. Ubuntu includes just about everything you need to simply plug in a device and see it work. Not only that, but Ubuntu also has a lot of good tutorials and friendly community help. Some problems still may require a time investment and some frustration on your part, but they are much fewer than in the past.

With Windows, it's easy to install all the devices, and with the exception of PictBridge, they just work. However, Windows gets demerits for the opposite reasons Ubuntu gets points -- it is bloated, slow, restrictive, and crashes frequently.

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