We have Ubuntu installed on two of the machines at home and recently, after losing a Windows restore disc, I suggested installing Ubuntu 10.04 on her Dell 1545 after my suggestion.
As installations go, it was relatively painless – certainly better than reinstalling Windows. Don’t get me wrong, Dell is better than most in this respect as they gave us OEM install discs for Windows Vista, bundled software and the drivers. As strait forward as this is with Dell’s resource CD (it mostly tells you what you need), it doesn’t know any more than what model you own. This is problematic with the wireless card for example as there are two revision states and the drivers are incompatible with each other – one crashes Windows.
Ubuntu 10.04 runs fine with one exception, its Broadcom wireless card – I found that enabling the restricted driver on installation caused a crash and that I had to remove linux-backports-modules-wireless-lucid-* before I could re-enable it on the installed system. I must confess, I didn’t bother to snag a bug report as it was probably me being impatient and trying to do too much at once.
Lisa knows her way around the Gnome desktop, we have used it on several machines and several distributions (she used to prefer KDE in it’s 1.x incarnations). Predominantly, this laptop is used online – we use Firefox on Windows so there’s no issues there.
The next day I realised I had made the cardinal error of switching someone to OSS – I hadn’t really considered her needs. I forgot about that shiny new piece of Apple hardware that she carries everywhere – an iPhone. I don’t have an iPhone and have never really taken more than a passing interest in the latest Apple hardware so I had no idea that you needed to use iTunes to do everything – including syncing. I checked the net and found that the general consensus was not to bother with it in Linux. I saw several howtos , all discussing changing iPhone firmware. With a year left on the contract, the thought of my wife’s reaction, Apple’s somewhat draconian lock-in and the potential to brick her phone I preferred not to take that course.
Even if I did, I think she might be reluctant to use it. Apple seem to achieved marketing zenith – when people refer to a brand name rather than what it is (Playstation, iPod, Coke, etc.), perhaps not with iPhone but certainly iTunes. Lisa is not the only person I have heard mention iTunes – so I had a good look over it. I see the positives – I organises music, applications, videos and applications well, structuring them on the device and the laptop; there is only one way to do everything, so it’s simple and memorable; purchasing is easy (I suppose it was bound to be) and seems trustworthy. It’s good old encapsulation – the mechanics of syncing, purchasing, organising, backing up, charging and updating are obscured and centralised. There are negatives but I have to say they’re not obvious to the average user – I don’t care for the way it overrides other software for example but in truth most Windows software does that too.
As I said earlier, Lisa is familiar with Ubuntu’s desktop and applications. She knows that it is maintained mostly by volunteers (better than most – she’s seen me doing it for many years). She even acknowledges advantages – faster booting, better stability and security – in particular viruses, which seem to be on every geek stick she receives (cloud computing hasn’t caught on amongst the charity she works with). She is annoyed that Apple haven’t made iTunes available for Ubuntu too but it doesn’t change anything. As we speed evermore to living online, the platform supporting those applications becomes less relevant. While this means we can happily forgo Window’s failings, it unfortunately works both ways – if the hardware we use doesn’t work with our chosen platform then we can switch.
If there’s anything I can take away from this its that Linux is a tool, one which I might be blinded to it’s negatives because of my involvement. Sometimes it isn’t the best solution for everyone so recommending it when its not appropriate might be detrimental. In this case, she thinks Apple are to blame but she could have assumed it was our fault as a distribution. If someone has never tried Ubuntu, then the worst the can really say when someone asks is that they don’t know – if their only experience is negative then there is a risk their assessment will follow suit. Perhaps, in some circumstances the best advocacy is not to advocate.