Why Linux is not yet ready for the mainstream

Why Linux is not yet ready for the mainstream

My fiance Kate got a new laptop for Christmas from yours truly, and I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to install Ubunutu on her new Vista equipped laptop. I promptly downloaded the Ubuntu install disk and got to work. My first intention was to leave Vista on the laptop, as a dual boot option, in case things didn’t pan out. That didn’t happen. I booted the live cd, and clicked the install icon on the desktop. Shortly, a drive partition menu popped up, offering the choice to manually partition the drive, or to let the partition manager handle it. I clicked on the partition manager because I didn’t trust myself to edit the partition manually. I figured it would observe the partition was already filled with the Vista install, and offer to resize it. It did not. Rather than spend the time trying to figure out how to resize the partition, which I have a sense would have been easy, I just chose to delete the partition and install linux over it, because I was excited to show all that linux offered.

Next up, Wireless setup. This has historically been a bit of a sticking point in linux. Ubuntu 7.10 has a new network manager that I believe does NOT work correctly. I installed the broadcom chipset driver, which is a restricted driver, which should have made the wireless system work. It did. At that point, since wireless was working, I checked to see if there were any updates. None.. cool. Time to hand over the system to Kate to see what she thinks. She immediatly finds a flash site that isn’t working. She calls me to see what she needs to do. I tell her to follow the prompts and install the adobe application for flash. She does that, reloads firefox, and again the system prompts for a flash install. So I try the process myself and reload firefox, and it doesn’t work. I try one more time, this time rebooting the system all together, and it still prompts. All along, there were 2 choices to install a flash plugin. I kept choosing the adobe version, while a second option, which I assume is a more open source friendly option existed in the list. After 45 minutes of trying to get the adobe plugin to work, I installed the second option in the list, because the first option never went away, and it finally worked.

By this time, I got the vibe from Kate that she was not too impressed so far with the new system. I gave her back the computer to keep surfing and go back to helping my computer savy friend with his complicated ubuntu issues. After about 5 more minutes, Kate calls me in to the room again, this time asking why movies aren’t playing. She found a site that had embedded WMV movies, and couldn’t get them to play. At this point, I was starting to get frustrated because I wanted her new laptop to “Just Work®” and it wasn’t. So I spent another hour trying to get the mplayer plugin to work with firefox. The farthest I got was to get the plugin to show up in the web browser, but it wouldn’t actually play anything. It would act like it was loading, and then sit and do nothing. So, I changed the file association in firefox for wmv to the built in Ubuntu movie player, and after installing the restricted codec pack for the player, it would at least pop out a new window from the browser and play the video. Not pretty, but functional. At this point, its pretty late, so I shut down the computer and we call it a night.

The next morning Kate gets up to check email and surf around, and guess what.. wireless isn’t working again. She calls me to take a look and I immediatly notice the wireless light isn’t on on the laptop. I hit the key sequence to turn it on, thinking its like the num-lock “feature”. It doesnt turn on. I check the list of AP’s to see if it is populated. It is. Weird. I try to connect to my AP, and it spins for a while and then freezes. Great. I uninstall the chipset driver, reboot, reinstall it, and try again. No dice. I contemplate installing the ndiswrapper and going from there, but I start to think about whether or not it is worth it for ME to be spending so much time with HER new christmas laptop. I figure that I would need a solid week to get everything working seamlessly without issue.. I sit and think for a moment. Next I have to deal with the Ipod I got her for Valentines day, and then there is quicktime which a quick check shows loads mplayer but summarily doesnt play anything. Hey. atleast it is consistent, unlike the wireless system.

It has now been about a solid week since Kate got her new laptop, and she has used it for about 35 minutes in between issues that I fight the rest of the time. It just isn’t worth it, I decide. I don’t want to deal with the same thing with Vista, so I started the Win XP install, so that Kate can use something familiar, and her wireless will work. It is a major blow to my ego to be re-installing windows, but for the number of problems a non-computer savvy person may encounter trying to use Ubuntu, I think it is the best course of action for now.

For what it is worth, I have been reading that a lot of people have been having issues with the new wireless manager in Ubuntu. I believe that they are correct in that it seems to not handle large numbers of available AP’s, and it doesn’t seem to integrate nicely with the proprietary chipset drivers. It seems that for now, ndiswrapper is still the way to go, but is not exactly a user freindly install at this point. I think the developers of the system have done a great job, and the overall install was SOO close to working well, but it is still pretty rough around the edges, mainly because of proprietary hardware, more so than software issues with Ubuntu itself. I hope the next computer I buy Kate can be free of the influence of Microsoft, but for now, it is the most logical choice for her new laptop.