The BBC takes on Linux
A few days ago, a BBC journalist was on air saying that Ubuntu was "a whole sort of little community of enthusiasts building operating systems for absolutely nothing." Since then, as you can imagine, he's had some angry emails from Linux users, so Canonical sent him over a laptop with Karmic Koala Netbook Remix installed.
The result, sadly, isn't great for Linux, but there's a lot we can learn from the results of the test.
The bad news:
- Linux took 40 seconds to boot. Yes, that's faster than the 55 seconds Windows 7 took to boot (and on a faster laptop, too), but, still, 40 seconds is pathetic.
- The background was "offensively brown" - something people have been telling Canonical for years.
- The writer "struggled to see other machines and devices on my network."
- Audacity was "more complex to get hold of"
- He gave up trying to use Spotify, because it required Wine.
- It wasn't immediately apparent that clicking on the Ubuntu logo took him back to the desktop.
- A Canonical advisor had to come over and install a few extra things for him, including Flash, but still he "struggled to work out how I would organise photos, music and video."
- Ubuntu "would not make my computing life any simpler and more pleasurable than it is now."
He brings up some really important points. And part of our problem is that many users will say, "he's wrong; he's a newbie; it doesn't matter what he thinks." But we'd like to respectfully disagree: if the mainstream press are trying Linux and simply can't get along with it, then we've got a serious problem.
UNR itself is pretty esay to use, but it should come as no surprise that he didn't find it immediately obvious that clicking on the Ubuntu logo takes you back to the desktop. If you've ever used UNR, you'll know that Ubuntu logo is pretty small and gets lost when other apps are running. Given the market this distro is being aimed at - users who get Linux with a new netbook, and are almost certainly new to UNR - surely Canonical really needs some sort of start up "Welcome to UNR" wizard to point out a few things to help get people going?
Again, given the target market, why doesn't UNR bundle all sorts of extra codecs and plug-ins as standard? We don't know of any reason why Ubuntu couldn't have pre-installed Flash on this netbook. Adobe's licensing certainly allows it, and the free equivalent of Flash - Gnash - just isn't up to the job yet. The BBC journalist - Rory Cellan-Jones - is an experienced computer user who, as his job, tries all sorts of interesting new hardware and software all the time. Far from being a computer first-timer, he's actually not far off being a power user.
As for Audacity being hard to get hold of, this doesn't seem too surprising. Yes, we know and love Synaptic, but it must be a terrifying experience for folks who just want to install some software. Sadly, Ubuntu is taking a huge step backwards in Karmic with Software Centre, so we really don't see this getting any better in the near future.
However, there is one thing we strongly disagree with: we don't think it's difficult to organise photos, music and videos with Linux. First, please remember that Windows 7 drops several key programs from Windows, including Mail, Messenger, Movie Maker and Photo Gallery. These are some pretty fundamental tools that don't come installed as standard: you need to download and install Windows Live Essentials to get them, which is several hundred megabytes.
Out of the box, Ubuntu Netbook Remix comes with F-Spot for organising photos, Brasero for writing DVDs, Rhythmbox for playing music, Empathy for internet chat, and more. You get all this out of the box. No special internet downloads required. No hoops to jump through. And yet these are apparently harder than the Windows equivalents? Perhaps so, but, we'd argue, only because they are different - any Windows user has spent years figuring out how to get Windows just how they like it, so no matter what Linux does (short of cloning Windows byte-by-byte) it will be different and thus "harder."
Keep in mind, folks, that MS actually puts adverts into Windows Live Messenger, but even with that kind of clutter we're still apparently falling behind in usability. What do you think? Are these apps genuinely hard to use, or is there just a learning curve? Are packages still too hard to install? Should common plugins be installed as standard when we're targeting Linux newbies? Send in your thoughts below.