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View Full Version : A few thoughts on Ubuntu's usability



rozojc
October 25th, 2005, 05:08 AM
Well, I just read most of the thread titled "Was Breezy Rushed?" and I was surprised at many different comments. So, here's my 2 cents, I don't put on that thread as it is a different topic (although related).

The following are my impressions and thoughts about Ubuntu. Now, I am not a Linux guru, probably never will be, I have known Linux for a long time, but I didn't make a complete change to Linux until recently for several reasons. In other words, I'd like to give my opinion as a former Windows user who does not (totally) hate Microsoft, and who has seen Linux evolve trying to be a desktop system for a while (not that long, but I have seen its evolution for over 6 years).

Why didn't I change completely to Linux before this? Basically because whether we like it or not there are many things that Windows can offer that Linux can't. Let me explain this further before you flame me:

I first tried Mandrake linux when it was in version 7 or so. At that point I used my computer primarily for surfing the net, and writing documents. I was impressed by the screenshots of Mandrake and thought I might give it a try. I only used it for a month before I went back to Windows. Why? I don't think Windows is great, it's definitely far from that; but Linux advocates many times don't give it the credit it deserves.

Now, here I'd like to talk about an "argument" I read in another thread. Somebody said that if you don't like to tweak things and get your hands dirty you shouln't use Linux. I think that is definitely wrong, and it's precisely a thought that has slowed the arrival of Linux to the desktop. In order for Linux to arrive to the desktop it should try to make things A LOT easier for the common user. A common user (and by common I mean someone that just wants to use a computer without thinking on how it works, and that is a big percentage of users) is not interested in the command line. A common user wants things to be plug and play. A common user wants to be able to install things easily, and to have everything working fine.

Ubuntu has impressed me in that sense. The new update manager (although hiding the power of synaptic) is great in that sense. A lot of my colleges who didn't even know linux existed before I showed them my laptop saw it and thought it was easier than Windows Update. That's a very good thing!

Besides that, I installed it on my laptop and (almost) everything was working out of the box. Sound was recognized, as well as video, ethernet, etc.. Hot USB is great as it basically works as in Windows, so people used to plug their memory sticks will be glad about this.

Now the bad... I had to read a lot in order to get WIFI working by using ndiswrapper. I agree, it's not that difficult, but let's face it: my mom wouldn't be able to do it, he would have to call me to get the darn thing working. In window$ XP it worked out of the box and it automatically detects networks and asks you if you want to connect. Now, for the ones who are thinking "You can do that by installing the Wireless Connection Manager and adding it to the panel" well... that's my point, you have to first search the net to see that it exists, install it and add it to the panel. Whether we like it or not these are the kind of things that scare away many users, as people would really prefer it came pre-installed. Again, I'm not saying it's hard or anything, just that for Linux to really start gaining more "common users" it needs to work on these kind of things.

Regarding software: I'm very happy with the selection of software Ubuntu includes. For an average user it's very complete. Now, I understand that because of copyright stuff and proprietary licenses etc. it's not possible to include the w32 codecs, but that really takes points off as again it's one more thing people have to find out that they exist and how to install them. Again, it's not hard, but I know MANY people that would just switch back to Window$ at that thought.

Now, Windows does not work perfectly, I give you that, but we got to give it some credit. I mean, they have existed for a while, so yes, they haven't made a great system, but many things are easy for people. Linux does not have a standard way of installing applications... Debian uses apt, Red Hat (Fedora) and others use rpms, slackware uses what was it name? well, whatever, some applications you have to build them from source to work, that surely scares many users away. That, whether we like it or not, works in Windows simpler, double click on the installer and keep clicking "Next" until it's done...

Then there's the compatibility issue... I have a dual boot with windows, why? Because the school at which I work use an ACESS "program" for report cards. They give us a pre generated ACESS file with a simple GUI to fill in grades and they won't change it. I don't trust Wine for that (as if I can't afford it crashing, not even once), and there's no other way I could run it. Lately I tried installing a Windows ME over Qemu (I know, ME sucks but it's just lighter than installing the XP over Qemu) and it seems to work OK. But again, many colleges of mine would say "no way, Id rather use Windows and not have compatibility issues with the grading software". Of course, there's no transparent way of running those ACCESS files perfectly on Linux, but in practical terms, its just one example of how people sometimes depend on certain software that just can't be run over Linux.

Regarding support: the best there is. You ask something and somebody helps you! I hadn't seen that in MANY places.

Regarding speed: I don't know why people complain about this. Maybe by some reason in my laptop it's okay, but it takes about the same time to load as my XP... And I have the same services running in both: mySQL, Apache, etc...

Overall:
I think Ubuntu is a great distro. It's easy to use, and many common users can find things that will make them think they're at home. Again, I don't use the update manager but it's definitely a good thing for common users. I feel there's room for improvement in making things easier, and yes, in hiding things from users. My personal opinion: if you're into Linux to get your hands dirty and do things yourself, I don't know, use Slackware or something, but if Ubuntu is trying to reach desktop users, then yes, you have to hide how things work and just make a damn good looking system that works on as much hardware as possible. Ubuntu is good looking, but again, there's room for improvement... I don't know if I'm wrong here, but if for example desklets were included by default, better splashscreens and wall paper, more nice-looking boot up process (again, if this distro is desktop oriented, does a common user really need see how all services start up?), etc., probably it would get more users.

Anyway, just wanted to share some of my opinions and I would definitely like to hear what people have to say about them :)

Lod
October 25th, 2005, 11:00 AM
Anyway, just wanted to share some of my opinions and I would definitely like to hear what people have to say about them



Now the bad... I had to read a lot in order to get WIFI working by using ndiswrapper. I agree, it's not that difficult, but let's face it: my mom wouldn't be able to do it, he would have to call me to get the darn thing working.
My first opinion is that you have a strange mom ;)


In window$ XP it worked out of the box and it automatically detects networks and asks you if you want to connect. Now, for the ones who are thinking "You can do that by installing the Wireless Connection Manager and adding it to the panel" well... that's my point, you have to first search the net to see that it exists, install it and add it to the panel. Whether we like it or not these are the kind of things that scare away many users, as people would really prefer it came pre-installed. Again, I'm not saying it's hard or anything, just that for Linux to really start gaining more "common users" it needs to work on these kind of things.In my case I had more troubles installing my wifi in Windows. In Ubuntu warty it took me about 15 minutes and it was working like a charm. In windows it took me hours and Microsofts drivers were interfering with the linksys drivers.



Regarding software: I'm very happy with the selection of software Ubuntu includes. For an average user it's very complete. Now, I understand that because of copyright stuff and proprietary licenses etc. it's not possible to include the w32 codecs, but that really takes points off as again it's one more thing people have to find out that they exist and how to install them. Again, it's not hard, but I know MANY people that would just switch back to Window$ at that thought.

I've been trying to switch to Linux for many years now, I like windows in many ways but am not pleased about the fact that Windows is making more and more decisions for me. I'm not particulary interested in how it's being done, but I'm the one deciding what's being done. Also I'm a bit worried about the whole DRM thing that's going on. I'm not sure where that is leading to.
I tried a lot of distros but kept switching back to Windows. Just because it wasn't usable for me at that time. And because distros like Redhat/Fedora, Suse and others installed a whole bunch of programs I don't know, need or care about :) . Although I learned a lot about Linux. When I installed Ubuntu in february it got the other way around. I sometimes re-install Windows but switch back to linux in a fortnight.

I don't mind installing some extra codecs, in fact you have to install some of them in Windows as well (divx, quicktime etc.) so no big difference in my opinion.

The only thing I really miss is the game "Civilization II". It's the only game I've played in years. I don't like freeciv, Civ III and others. And it is not working in wine and I'm not willing to pay for cedega for such an old game.

raublekick
October 25th, 2005, 03:04 PM
Now, here I'd like to talk about an "argument" I read in another thread. Somebody said that if you don't like to tweak things and get your hands dirty you shouln't use Linux. I think that is definitely wrong, and it's precisely a thought that has slowed the arrival of Linux to the desktop. In order for Linux to arrive to the desktop it should try to make things A LOT easier for the common user. A common user (and by common I mean someone that just wants to use a computer without thinking on how it works, and that is a big percentage of users) is not interested in the command line. A common user wants things to be plug and play. A common user wants to be able to install things easily, and to have everything working fine.

I definitely agree with that bit. The goal of Linux as a whole isn't to provide a 1337er-than-thou operating system that scares away n00bs. As far as I know it's to provide a free OS, and a good one at that. Just in the past year Linux has evolved (with the help of some keen distros like Ubuntu and SUSE) into a powerful desktop OS, but it's still not quite at the level of Windows functionality.

But I'm somewhat a minimalist when it comes to functionality. I don't use mp3 players that read your library, because a lot of my mp3s are untagged. Instead I arrange all of my mp3s in directories according to artist/album and I just drag the files into XMMS or Winamp. The extra functionality is good for some, but I'm used to my archaic habits.

Another important point to remember though, is that Linux is not striving to be a free version of Windows. Windows does things its way and Linux has its methods as well. I don't forsee packages ever being distributed as .exe style installers like in Windows. And if that did happen the concept of distros would be hurt.

What I'm getting at is that Linux isn't really "harder" to use than Windows, it's just a lot different. Lots of people can do stuff on their Windows PC's even if they aren't tech-saavy. But most people these days have been using Windows since at least Windows 95. You get used to things after a while. Sure, compiling from source was strange at first, and getting used to Linux filesystems is weird, but it's only because it's not what the normal user is used to. I don't know any Windows user who could install the OS and get their system running with full functionality at the beginning of their Windows experience. It takes time, and Linux users should not feel discouraged to ask for expert help. Unfortunately that expert help often has to be found on the Internet instead of a friend. That's just a matter of user numbers, though, not the fault of Linux.

Brunellus
October 25th, 2005, 03:10 PM
(General statement: read the links in the .sig)

I like linux and Ubuntu particularly because it makes my life easy enough without insulting my intelligence.

Do I really need to see those services and how they start up, as a non-1337, "ordinary" user? no. But in Linux, it is trivial for me to figure out what's going on...at nearly every level of my system. I really like that. I appreciate the fact that I'm not being taken as an idiot by default--and I also appreciate the fact that the distribution's community does not regard me an idiot by default when I ask questions.

As to usability--well, it satisfies me and my needs now. What more do I want? It also satisifies my (hopelessly technophobic, computer-illiterate) mother's needs, as well as my precocious younger brother's needs. And the best part: if better solutions are developed--well, I can go to them.

poofyhairguy
October 25th, 2005, 09:29 PM
Now, here I'd like to talk about an "argument" I read in another thread. Somebody said that if you don't like to tweak things and get your hands dirty you shouln't use Linux. I think that is definitely wrong, and it's precisely a thought that has slowed the arrival of Linux to the desktop. In order for Linux to arrive to the desktop it should try to make things A LOT easier for the common user. A common user (and by common I mean someone that just wants to use a computer without thinking on how it works, and that is a big percentage of users) is not interested in the command line. A common user wants things to be plug and play. A common user wants to be able to install things easily, and to have everything working fine.


You are kinda confusing terms. I say that a "common user" can be very happy with Ubuntu right now. I have proof in my friends and family. But just like Windows they need a nerd to set it up for them (for many that nerd is called "Dell" on the Windows side) and so that takes away problems with installing software and getting wireless to work and codecs and what not. The nerd in their life should do that. Should it be easier? Sure if only to make the nerd's life easier. But often its things out of Ubuntu's hands (lack of driver support, legal restrictions on codecs) so we have to be realistic.

Who you are mostly talking about is middle of the road windows users. Those that have moderate (or great thay think) Windows skills and has learned to do a bunch of specific tasks in Windows beyond your basic chat/office doc/surf web. I maintain that these users can NEVER be happy with a Desktop Linux unless they really want a desktop Linux and are willing to deal with some facts desktop Linux can't control- like the fact that you just can't go get a new piece of hardware from the store and have it just work after installing some drivers. Medium Windows users like to have new toys, like to try the newest tech and that often does not always work with Linux.

http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=58862