Ubuntu: Linux for lusers?


Tue 08 March 2005 By nuxeo

I have never liked Linux. Or, I should say, I have never liked
Unix in general, and Linux in particular. Most open software
people will at this statement open their eyes widely and look
at me as if I'm E.T. In short, it is my opinion that Unix is a
capable application server, at least if you use OpenBSD, but a
rather crappy file server, especially if you try to use NFS,
and a complete and utter unusable disaster as a desktop
client.



Of course, here at Nuxeo we use open software, and I got a
Debian installation to use for development, as a consistent
development environment would help me be more efficient, and
the experience did nothing to change my opinion. I found Gnome
confusing, and GNUstep completely incomprehensible, and so
settled on KDE. It still felt "clunky", just like Novells
UnixWare felt ten years ago (I think they used CDE), but I
could live with that.



KDE is nice because it has such a huge set of nice
applications, like Kate, a text editor that is perfectly
usable as a development editor, and so on. And the K-people
churn out more and more applications all the time. Pretty
amazing, I'd say.

Unkool Desktop environment


But, of course, few things "just worked", which is what you
expect from a modern OS. Installing an application means going
to debians website to search for packages, and then run
apt-get as root. Not exactly end-user friendly. Sometimes the
newly installed apps would end up on the application menu, but
often not. And when they did, they end up under "debian", not
under where you would expect them, as "internet" or
"development".



Mounting a floppy or a flash drive was a major task, while in
windows fo course, you just plunk it in. Printers in the
printing manager came and went randomly. We also have set up
four different printer queues to our color printer, for
choosing between black and white, color and single side or
double side printing. Of course, I could print to any of
those, and I would get color output. Often I could not print
at all. Debians idea of "stable" means "we haven't fixed any
bugs for a long time", a concept of stability I don't wholly
understand. Kate, being good in general, crashes if you paste
something into the end of the file. After one debian upgrade,
the menus suddenly were in french. The next update, they were
back to english. Suddenly, setting a break point in python
would have no effect. After trying to figure out why for a
week, I did another debian upgrade, and then it worked again.
Applications (especially Mozilla) would crash left and
right.



I was not impressed. In fact, the only difference in
usability between Unixware ten years ago, and Debian today, is
that Debian doesn't skin you of any money.


Ubuntu: Not quite as bad


However, things get better. Not quickly, but slowly and surely
even the Linux desktop gets better. The last attempt is
Ubuntu. Seeing a good reason to reinstall my computer from
scratch, I'm now trying out Ubuntu. And it's an
improvement.



The installation was very simple, most things works out of
the box, and as expected. There are a couple of quirks:



To get mp3 support for the default music player, you need to
add the so called "universe repositories" to the list of
repositories used for packages. Luckily, Ubuntu comes default
with Synaptic. I nice graphical package manager with search.
No more going to debiasn web page and searching for packages,
I just start Synaptic. Much nicer. And in the settings, the
universe repositories are there, and you select them and
refresh. Not too difficult.



Again, installing products does not add them to the
Applications menu. In fact, it's almost impossible to figure
out how to add things to the applications menu. This I think
is the biggest drawback of Ubuntu, from a user-point of view.
It again makes it impossible for an end-user to use the
computer without having an expert nearby. Sure, it's easy to
install the products, but what is the use of that if you can't
find them? I hope this will be better soon. Ubuntu uses Gnome
2.8.1, and Gnome 2.9 have moved to freedesktop.org's new
standard for menus, so that KDE and Gnome will be able to
share menus, making it easier for packages to create the menu
items. That this happens in Unix some 13-14 years after you
got a standard for how applications install themselves in a
program manager on Windows should give everybody a good idea
of why Linux is such a complete disaster as a
desktop,



Also, I can not for my life understand why the default
settings for Nautilus are so useless. The default settings
have no directory tree, and opens each new folder in a new
window. After ten seconds, your desktop is full of folder
windows! And that you solve this by clicking the "Always open
in browser Windows" setting is not particularily obvious
either.



And yeah, it crashes. It's the gnome-applets that go kaput
from time to time. Gnome recognizes this and restarts them, so
that's good. And you get this little neat crash-manager that
sends a bug report to the Ubuntu developers.



But this time I didn't find Gnome confusing, and I'll
continue with it. The gedit editor is useless for development,
but I'm trying out some Python-IDEs instead, something I also
have wanted to do for some time now. I'll probably write
something on that soon as well. Also, when I put in my
Flash-drive, it actually gets mounted and opened
automatically! And the printing works. OK, I had to edit the
CUPS configuration manually, but then, this is only something
you do in a network, where you expect to have a network
manager that knows these things.



All in all, things are moving forward. Compared to Windows,
the wierdness and quirks still make Ubuntu less useful for an
end-user. No, lets be honest, it still makes it useless. I
would not ask any relative that do not live within five
minutes of me (and nobody do) to run Ubuntu. On the other hand
then, my Windows problems have been increasing too. So, I have
to agree with a close friend of mine, that says "When people
ask me what computer they should buy, I always recommend a
Macintosh. I haven't used one for years, but it can't be worse
than the alternatives". Only problem is of course that you
can't play Grant Theft Auto on it.

(Post originally written by Lennart Regebro on the old Nuxeo blogs.)


Category: Product & Development