The Ubuntu-Girlfriend Experiment
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.