Thursday, July 3, 2008

Ubuntu still isn't ready

I've been playing with Ubuntu for the last several months, on several different machines, using versions ranging from Feisty Fawn to Gutsy Gibbon. On the whole, I'm pleasantly surprised: Ubuntu is a reasonable OS, and as a Linux neophyte I've been able to get more done than I would have expected.

That said, despite all the hoopla about Ubuntu finally being a Linux desktop for the masses, I have to say that it's still not there. I don't blame the many people paid and unpaid who've worked hard on making Ubuntu a good OS: they've set themselves a very difficult task. But there are half a dozen areas where I've run into problems with Ubuntu that simply would never show up with, say, Vista or XP (or OS/X). Some examples:

  • Some months ago, on my Ubuntu desktop, I walked through some instructions I found somewhere (I can't remember where), and managed to install FireFox 3.0 Beta 2. Now that 3.0 has been released, whatever version I try to install, I can only get Beta 2 to launch. I'm sure there's a workaround: but of course, that's not the point. This doesn't happen with Vista.
  • On my laptop (an older Dell Precision M60), the Broadcom 4309 wireless card worked seemlessly with Gutsy Gibbon, but when I upgraded to Hardy Heron, it suddenly stopped working. I've been trying to troubleshoot the issue on and off for several weeks now, and I've gotten closer to fixing it, but it's still not working: after many hours of troubleshooting, the laptop now recognizes my home wireless network, but won't pick up an IP address from it or connect to the Internet. I'm sure there's a workaround, but of course, that's not the point.
  • In the process of troubleshooting my wireless networking problems, several times my wired networking just stopped working. I have no idea why. Rebooting has (so far) managed to reconnect me.
  • In Vista or XP, there are typically at most two utilities for any given task: one for command-line, and one for the GUI. With Linux, there are so many utilities, written by various third-parties, which do almost the same thing, that it's difficult and confusing for a newbie to know which one to use, and to understand how they interact.
  • Astonishingly (to someone like myself), Ubuntu doesn't come with the ability to play DVD's. If you try, you get a completely useless error message. Several hours of troubleshooting later, I was able to figure out what I needed to install, but it was by no means straightforward.

I could go on, but I'll let this suffice for now. I do think that Ubuntu constitutes an important milestone for the Linux community: it's a promising release. But it's still hasn't met even Microsoft's "ease of use" milestones, let alone Apple's.

I should add one last comment. Many experienced Linux users will read this and think, "Well of course he's having problems. It's clear he doesn't know what he's doing." And they will have a very good point: but will have missed mine entirely.

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