lostcarpark: (Lego Spaceman)
Let me nail my colours to the wall by telling you that I love Linux. I've experimented with several distros, and door the most part enjoyed the experience and learned a lot from it. I don't see myself going back to Windows any time soon.

However if you ask me would I recommend Linux to other people, unless they are the sort of techies who consider computing for its own sake an end rather than a means to an end, I would have to say no.

I find this a pity, as I would so love to be able to put Linux on my Mum's computer and leave her to get on with it, but I know there would be to many problems that I would have to fix, and they would invariably happen at a time when I wouldn't be able to remote access and I'd have to try to feed commands over the phone.

Let me give a few examples of things that are far to complex for mainstream users, and need to be sorted out before Linux can work for non-techies. These use Ubuntu, because in my experience it is the closest top being ready for wider use, mainly because it has had the most money thrown at it.

The first is upgrading Firefox. This is something Ubuntu completely ignores. New versions of Ubuntu only come around every six months, and the Firefox team aren't kind enough to follow the same schedule, so Ubuntu is often months behind the latest release. Sure, its possible to override that and shoehorn the latest version in, but it's much more complicated than just running an installer like in Windows. Of course the Windows version updates itself. It's not just Firefox. If you want Flash, that's another non trivial process. And of you want to talk to people with Skype, that's certainly not as easy it ought to be. Any program that that the Ubuntu overseers haven't seen fit to offer is a similar story, but the above are the real show-stoppers.

Another big issue surrounds graphics drivers. I've had several computers suddenly declaring they weren't happy with the state of their drivers, and dump you into "low graphics mode". From Googling, it's clear that this is far from uncommon, and virtually every solution requires command line gymnastics that would baffle most users. Another similar problem I've encountered is my window borders mysteriously disappearing. The command to fix this is simple enough, but it's not something most users want to be faced with.

The final issue that really doesn't work for novice users is support. Linux pundits are always keen to tell us how wonderful the community is, and it is, but I see the same questions over and over again on Linux forums. Linux experts get feed up of offering answers over and over again, will often provide the sort of terse answer that doesn't really give a novice user much of a clue of what to do.

I think that to properly broaden its appeal, Linux needs to be a lot more helpful. Major releases of main applications should be easily available in a timely fashion without the user having to do anything difficult. And when things go wrong, the system should take the user by the hand and guide them through the problem. I know there are many problems that really need community support, but if a concerted effort was made to identify the top 100 problems on forums and provide solutions that guide the user through the problem, this would make it an awful lot easier for Linux experts too, since they would only have deal with the more interesting, challenging problems.

I really hope that Linux reaches the point where I can offer it to my Mum wit confidence, but were certainly not there yet.


Oct. 29th, 2008 12:09 am
lostcarpark: (Lego Dude on Rail)
After many months of procrastination, and playing with numerous LiveCDs, I've finally nuked Windows off my main desktop PC. It's now running a shiny new Ubuntu Linux. I'm pretty happy with it so far. I've even managed to get it talking with my network connected external hard drive, which required a bit of command line fiddling, but nothing too scary.

I'm very pleased at how many things just worked. For example it detected my network connect all-in-one printer/scanner, without having to install 40MB of HP driver bloat.

One thing that's made the transition much easier is the amount of Open Source software I was already using under Windows, so that in many cases I'm just switching from the Windows version to the Linux version of the same program.

I'm looking forward to learning more about it.

What fun!
lostcarpark: (Lego Spaceman)
I note with interest that Dell have launched their answer to the Asus Eee PC, the Inspiron Mini 9. Big deal - so's everyone. The bit I find interesting is the fact they offer Ubuntu Linux as one of the default OS choices. Shame they give it less SSD storage than the XP version.
lostcarpark: (Lego Spaceman)
Mark Minasi asks Why exactly does everyone hate Vista?

He comes to the conclusion that it was the same with every new version, and that it will pass and we'll all be happy with Vista soon.

I have to say I beg to differ. I have used almost every previous release of Windows since 1.0 (I was 16 when that came out), and while there have been versions I have had reservations about, I've always been able to see the improvements. I might have waited for a service pack to fix the bugs, but I've generally migrated eventually.

But after a fair bit of experience of Vista on other people's computers, I can't see myself wanting it on my computer. Not now, not at the first service pack, not ever.

There isn't a single reason for this, but rather a multitude of things that contribute to a general feeling of unease.

First are the user interface changes. Microsoft have regularly introduced user interface changes in the past, but they've always made an effort to accommodate their old user base. I knew people who used the Windows 2 file management thingy for years on Windows 3 because it was what they were used to. And there were plenty of people running the Windows 3 file manager on Windows 95. And I still know lots of people who run the Win2K look and feel on XP.

But Vista has dumped the old menu/toolbar system and replaced it with a new "ribbon" system. How much contempt do Microsoft feel they can treat their existing users with? Lots of "power user" commands are just gone. There may be other ways of achieving the same thing, but they take time to figure out, when the old command wasn't doing anyone any harm. A small one I found quite useful was the "Help... About" command. You could open any Explorer Window and use it to find out how much memory the computer had. It's not the end of the world that it's gone, but I found it quite handy and there was no real need to just nuke it.

Office 2007 is, of course, where the real fun begins. It's not part of Vista, but the two are closely related, and shows what MS now think of their existing user base. There should be an option to turn off the new interface and switch back to the old one, but there isn't. Even an option to put the old menu above the new ribbons would give existing users a half-way house. There are some very pretty things in the new UI, but if you're an experienced user and know how to do something the "old way" it can be very frustrating. Where is the "Save As" command on the new interface? The irony is now that the free OpenOffice suite is now easier for an existing user to adapt to than the new version of Office.

But aside from all the user interface changes, there are the new security "enhancements". I can't help feeling that many of these create an illusion of security without actually making the computer any more secure. Take the constant stream of "Windows needs your permission to do this" requests. How long before users stop reading them and just click yes on auto. I know a thing or two about them and I still find myself doing it. I have on occasion clicked without thinking then realised that I shouldn't have, but for many users there is no understanding or realisation. When will Microsoft realise that running in administrator accounts will never really be secure. The only real solution is to use restricted user accounts. It may take a little user training for users, but I don't see how the result could be any worse than what users are put through now. It will also take some thorough beating around the heads of application vendors to get them to produce applications that can work, and preferably install, in user mode accounts.

Finally there's the new swooshy graphics effects that Vista does. They look cute (unless you happen to be one of the not inconsiderable number of people who hate them), until you realise your 3D graphics card is running at full tilt, your CPU is at 97% and your laptop's battery life has been cut to about 7 minutes...

Well, I say finally, but there's probably a few other things I haven't thought of. I hear rumour of some new DRM stuff that I haven't had a chance to check out properly, for example.

I hope never to have a computer with Vista installed. I'm somewhat relieved that the company I work for rolled out XP to desktops last year. Our previous desktop upgrade was to NT4 in about 1998, so I think we're safe from Vista for a while. I still use XP at home, but I'm finding Ubuntu increasingly usable, and if some of the big software vendors realise that there's money in releasing Linux versions of their apps, it could be bye-bye Windows.

Alternatively, maybe Microsoft will one day stop treating their users with contempt and I might like the next version of Windows.

Now all I have to do is wait for the replies telling me I should switch to a Mac.

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