The Ubuntu-Girlfriend Experiment

September 9, 2006 at 12:37 pm 12 comments




I should start this blog off with a confession. I haven’t really used Linux too much. But I am sort-of fimilar and Ubuntu has been my favorite flavor of Linux in the brief periods I’ve used it, for the Bohemic spirit it embodies if nothing. The reason I haven’t had the opportunity to explore Linux is because I have way too many gadgets, the drivers/software for which is usually unavailable for Linux (examples being my Bluetooth mouse, Canon Printer, etc.)

Enter Rubab. Her computer fritzed out again under the load of assorted malware. Again. This happening for the 3rd time this year, I thought she might be open to coersio.. er, accepting Linux on her desktop. I also wanted to test out whether Ubuntu could walk the walk (it can certainly talk the talk, with countless amateur evangelists preaching its gospel of ease of use everyday on Digg and other tech sites). But could a general computer user with absolutely no knowledge (or interest) in things technical be comfortable with Ubuntu right out of the box? Could it be a suitable replacement to Windows in the long run?

All of that happened a week ago. I started Rubab off by installing the latest Ubuntu version (6.06) for her. I left her Windows installation intact, just in case. I also installed multimedia support, updated her kernel and did all the messy crap you need to do with Linux to make it work well after installation (the reason being, Linux is free and mostly doesn’t come with support for patented file formats, like MP3 or DVD, which cost money. Support for these has to be obtained from other, more murky, means. Shhhhhhh.) Now we were set.

The first problem she faced was with her Printer. Predicable. Her Canon laser printer, LBP3200, was not really compatible with Linux. I solved this by checking out the Ubuntu Forums for a solution. Luckily someone had written a script that . Unluckily, it took 30 minutes and much muddling with the terminal and kernel to install. But I finally got it to work. But goes to show, if you are just a regular user, it might not be worth your time using Linux just to save a few $$ on Windows. On a side note, the Ubuntu Forums is really the reason why, I believe, Ubuntu is the best free Linux distro out there (well, that and the fact that they send you free CD’s with their software). The community is very responsive to newbies and almost every question someone might face when starting out, from the obvious to the obscure, is answered in detail, with comprehensive steps, when required.

Her actual experience with Linux has been quite sweet. Its fast. Looks nice (especially because I changed the annoying, depressing default brown color scheme to a much nicer Suse green). And it doesn’t crash. Music organization is much better, with Amarok running rings around Windows Media Player and even iTunes (IMO, Apple fanboys, please take a seat).

Meanwhile, her printer is giving her problems. While it prints at 18 ppm on Windows, Ubuntu barely gives out 4 pages per minute. That’s unacceptable, but it’s where that stands for now. Everything else, Wifi, LAN, power management, support for USB storage devices, etc. is working just dandy.

Some software related hiccups: streaming video doesn’t seem to work as well as it should. Some software, especially stuff she uses for her Engineering course at NUS, doesn’t have Linux replacements. But this is understandable and even excusable in my opinion. Good thing I left the Windows intact 🙂

End result: Linux is a great product on its own. Much superior to Windows. But no piece of software is an island today. Work needs to be done on making devices work out of the box and on device drivers. Device makers will not add linux support until it’s more widespread and it wont really become widespread until such support is available. Chicken and Egg.

Sadly, the anti-MS flame does not burn strongly enough for most people to endure the pain of switching to Linux. Until Linux requires a smaller time investment to get up and running properly, it can hardly challenge MS as a viable option for most people. But anyways, kudo’s to the Linux developer community for creating a great piece of software.

A note on adopting Linux for the general user: There are many companies out there, including Mandriva, Linspire and Xandros (really boys, if you’re going to hit end customers, get a better name), which sell Linux versions which can take out much of the pain from installing and configuring Linux. While this might be a good option for some, its not really in keeping with the free (as in beer water) software philosophy completely. But pragmatically, if I had to advice a total newbie to install and use Linux, it would be one of these options. If you have a geek knowledgeable person who has your back, then stick with OpenSuse or Ubuntu.


Entry filed under: Linux, Tech.

The Holy Grail

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. leTwist  |  September 24, 2006 at 3:51 am

    my girlfriend is using an openSUSE 10.0 box with absolutely no problems. she has never touched a computer before, and it works with no help from me.

    (btw: how much time do you have to invest in a windows system to make it a) secure and b) productive ? )

  • 2. laTwist  |  September 24, 2006 at 5:30 am

    “(btw: how much time do you have to invest in a windows system to make it a) secure and b) productive ? )”

    Not nearly as long as the opensource fanatics would like everyone to believe.

  • 3. alizaki  |  September 24, 2006 at 1:43 pm

    Its not a question of time investment, its also a question of skill in my opinion. My Windows system is quite stable and usually stays that way. An annual reinstall is usually all I need to do (software updates are mostly automated now). Her system though, with the same software, is barely usable

  • 4. Iain  |  September 25, 2006 at 2:21 am

    My non-technical wife uses Xubuntu without problems. I just bought us an HP Deskjet 5940 to get over the printing problem. Ubuntu is not hassle-free, but neither is Windows.

  • 5. Paul  |  September 25, 2006 at 10:11 pm

    My wife and i both have used Ubuntu, Slackware, Zenwalk and Suse without a problem. When it comes to linux she is not very ‘technically adept”…on the install and setup process…but she knows how to get the job done using it and knows her way around it.

    Currently we are using Zenwalk, but i am a man who constantly changes distros every week.

    I will probably install Ubuntu again soon. I believe Ubuntu has it right…Synaptic and the decent Ubuntu repository choices are a step in the right direction for anyone new to linux.

    I doubt we will use XP again, but then again i cannot “knock” XP either…because a properly configured XP system can be made quite secure and productive.
    Probably when it comes to Windows…it is more user error that causes problems…such as surfing for porn and downloading a virus or spyware because of it…

  • 6. theOneneO  |  September 27, 2006 at 4:12 am

    I posted to your digg article about this. You can use Turboprint for linux. It works for my Canon printer and nothing else did. One main problem though, it’s not free, cost around $40.

  • 7. Iain  |  September 27, 2006 at 4:49 pm

    Turboprint was poor on my Canon i350. I should have just forked out for a new printer in the first place.

  • 8. Laranis  |  September 30, 2006 at 3:35 am

    I have to weigh in on the time relevance thing. I took the leap last week to Ubuntu with every intention of giving up XP for good. This latest IE hole generated hours of work for me cleaning off spy/ad/mal-ware. I do spend as much time repairing XP as I do actually using it. Enter Ubuntu.

    The Ubuntu install is amazing. Amazing. The last linux distro I tried was RH5.0 which nearly landed me in a straight jacket before I relented. It took me all of an evening to get Ubuntu running to satisfaction with all of the settings I wanted, media players, codecs, e-mail, web surfing, file sharing, NTFS partition access, running windows games in wine… the list goes on.

    I’m sold, however, I am not the only party that uses the computer. My wife needs convincing as well. How do I convince her to live with the few tiny inconveniences so that I don’t have to fix Windows three times a week? She loves WeatherBug. She has a special program for her direct sales business (which she can run on her XP laptop just as well). She is used to her e-mail client and is reluctant to try another. What’s a geek to do?

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