The BBC takes on Ubuntu 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.

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32 thoughts on “The BBC takes on Ubuntu Linux

  1. I don’t think there is anything wrong with Ubuntu, or the applications in question. There is certainly room for improvement (as always), but the problem is that the journalist did a quick review on something he knows nothing about. People need to be educated! A smart Windows user is not a smart Ubuntu user. It’s not that it’s difficult to learn, it’s difficult because you *must* learn.

    If this reviewer had been trained on how things work in Ubuntu, his impression would have been much better. Without any introduction, it’s easy to see why his windows-trained mind became frustrated when things didn’t work the way he expected. Someone who is already interested in Ubuntu could manage these hurdles, but it’s no surprise to see someone with his attitude take the stance he did.

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  2. What a great approach to get the best of this situation. Most of the OS users are not techie guys using computers like us – the ones that know about the console existence.

    But the final goal of Ubuntu is to bring Linux to all. I hope you guys check carefully the abovementioned points and bring improvements to future versions.

    There are a lot things that has to be done on UX and online-world integration for Ubuntu Desktop for most of the users like native & decent clients for social-networks and other “lite” sites. Maybe get Flash Platform & Adobe AIR running from the beginning with the Ubuntu Desktop (or at least through package manager)

    It is not because I’m a Google Apps User but it will be nice to have also native support to Picasa and connectors to GMail, GCalendar and GDocs -could be a nice Ubuntu pack.

    Media players could by improved also by looking nice initiatives like Muziic and other nice players like MediaMonkey.

    About the “offensive brown”. I agree, Karmic boot and login screen are “too” dark for standard users, and all those options on the bottom could confuse – maybe use “advanced options” approach to display them.

    I’m a standard user that hates virus and spam issues of other OS on the market, that decided to move to Ubuntu, but it is not a simple transition like most of users will expect.

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  3. Good points raised but I’m sure he’d have some similar complaints if he tried OSX (with the exception of the “offensively brown” comment!) or another un-familiar operating system.

    Most points are part of the learning curve when using a new system and in all honesty there would probably be similar issues if he sat a complete computer Luddite down in front of a Windows system. An interesting test (which I think has been done elsewhere) is getting less computer savvy users to setup an OS from scratch and having to deal with the numerous drivers issues you’ll get on a fresh install of Windows versus the “practically works out of the box” Linux.

    I’m sure if he put some time in and learnt the Ubuntu/Linux way of doing things he would find that it would make his “computing life simpler and more pleasurable then it is now”

    I’m trying to be as un-biased as possible but having been a firm Ubuntu convert for the last 3 years and a computer engineer by trade I’ve always been fairly competent at resolving issues and tinkering with things to get them setup just how I like – one of the first things I do on a new Ubuntu installation is change the theme and wallpaper :-)

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  4. I agree with about half of what he says, and disagree with about half.

    Boot time – who cares? Try hibernation if you do.

    The default background is awful. They should try brown landscape shots. Here’s a nice brown African shot with giraffes:

    http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Giraffe_Ithala_KZN_South_Africa_Luca_Galuzzi_2004.JPG

    And for Karmic Koala, here’s a eucalyptus tree:

    http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eucalyptus_niphophila_-_Mount_Ginini_-_Namadgi_National_Park.jpg

    I haven’t actually figured out how to see other machines and devices on my network either! I can make other Windows machines see my Ubuntu, but not the other way around yet. And I haven’t even attempted printers yet. Ubuntu needs an *obvious*, preinstalled way to browse Samba shares and network printers.

    The author probably wanted something simpler than Audacity. It’s my preferred audio processing app in Windows, too, so that’s not a Linux problem.

    Wine needs tighter integration into Ubuntu. True, a Mac user wouldn’t be able to use Windows apps either, but since Ubuntu’s got it, they should flaunt it. Make Wine installed by default, and launch a graphical setup program that will either install all possible winetricks or load everything possible from a real Windows install. Install windows apps’ folders at the Applications menu level, not under Wine\Programs. Install icons properly. And finally, the default action for a .exe in Nautilus should be to run Wine, not Package Manager.

    Adobe needs to make Flash easier. Too bad there’s nothing Canonical can do about it.

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  5. This guy was supposed to be a technical journalist
    and it was his first trial of Ubuntu pretty poor show, nevertheless he only had it for 24hours which means he played with it for even less I bet his windows seven review will be after a lot longer spent with that and he is familiar already with windows. I call it an Unfair/biased review.

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  6. I converted my 2 home laptops to Ubuntu a couple months ago. Mostly because they were old and I wanted to learn more about Linux.

    My experience has been great and I found the learning curve to be pretty simple. But I am a power user from the PC world and that means that I’m unafraid to experiment and research. Sometimes, with all the configuring and need to go to term, I get the feeling that I’m working with Windows 3.11 (albeit, shinier and more stable).

    The average user doesn’t want to deal with that.

    Also, why doesn’t shockwave come installed as standard? That seems to be the first thing everyone wants to do.

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  7. This journalist and the first comment here indicate some of the issues that linux faces.

    I support a office full of users that would cry if you sat them down in front of anything other than a windows machine( or something that looked like windows) They are completely incapable of using the help files or in fact even attempting to figure out a problem themselves. Something goes wrong the first thing they do is call me, no matter if I’ve showed them multiple times they never listen. The reason is that they have zero interest in learning about computers, to them its just a magic box that does stuff.

    Microsoft have done a very good job of grafting themselves into majority of computer user’s mind as being the only usable operating system and Mac’s being the machine of choice for graphics designers and photographers( this is what i get from the user’s i support)

    The main problem is that most of the real Linux users are all either very technical or interested in learning. where as the average computer user isn’t at all interested in how the computer works or anything about it apart from it does stuff to enable them to work/play games/surf the internet. This is no different to office workers in the 1960’s having no interest in how the typewriter worked, all they needed it to do was type stuff.

    don’t get me wrong Canonical and the Ubuntu community are doing a fantastic job in both making Linux usable by your average office worker and are making serious inroads into the elitist attitude that crops up from time to time.

    Basically what I’m saying is that there is no real difference to the average user between OS X , LINUX and Windows they don’t consciously make the choice between them because they don’t really care they just go with what they know and thats windows 99% of the time and they’re afraid of new ways of doing things

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  8. I agree with the other three comments listed here. If someone unfamiliar with Windows began using it out of the blue I’m sure they would find themselves as frustrated. It takes an unbiased interest to actually learn an operating system regardless if it is Ubuntu or Windows.

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  9. It doesn’t matter if he is a first time user of ubuntu who’s too used to windows, the point of a well designed and thought out interface is that people are able to use it straight away.

    The comments raised by the journalist are all valid (except the boot times, which doesnt really affect usability). These are points that have been raised by 3-4 of my friends who started using ubuntu for the first time.

    Us linux users should’nt just brush these comments aside and say “oh they’ve been brainwashed by Microsoft”. If we don’t take these comments seriously, then the year of the Linux desktop will never come.

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  10. It’s unclear to me why a “year of the Linux desktop” is desirable. If this BBC journalist prefers Windows, then that’s fine regardless of what he’s been trained on. Linux is just another option for people, along with the systems written by Microsoft and Apple and whatever else people use. It doesn’t have very much effect on me if 3% of users use Linux or 30%. It’s a big, wide world, and I’m not part of the cult of Linux.

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  11. well Im afraid a first time user on windows would probably complain as well , who would click start to finish, why wont media player play DVD’s unless a codec is installed, why do I have to go to many different sites to download software.

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  12. I think for the average computer user Ubuntu is very friendly. The average computer user being someone that mostly just surfs the net, maybe does some light office work, and listens to music. But yes, I think there is a learning curve, as with anything. But once you get it, Ubuntu is easy to use.

    My wife, who not a computer techie person at all says that she prefers Ubuntu and finds it much more user friendly than Windows. Granted I had to show her a few things at first to get around, but once she got a few things down it has been smooth sailing for her.

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  13. Makurosu, I agree that whether others use it or not doesnt really have a direct impact on us, but it actually does have an important indirect benefit. If linux becomes more mainstream, we are more likely to recieve drivers and software/games that would otherwise be unavailable for us. At the moment I’m stuck dual booting or running games through wine because linux is too small a market share for developers to care about. In addition, with more people using linux, there will likely be more casual programmers around to program amazing applications and software for linux.

    Jim C: I’m a huge fan of linux and its my main OS, but I would disagree on the points you make. First of all almost no-one is a first time windows user (i.e moving from linux to windows) so its not a problem that Microsoft needs to worry about.
    Second, windows no longers says ‘start’, it uses the windows logo for the main menu.
    Third, I have to install codecs to play DVDs on ubuntu aswell, so there is no difference. Infact believe win7 can play DVDs from install (correct me if I’m wrong).

    We should’nt focus on putting down and criticising windows, rather we should focus on improving ubuntu so that it cannot be criticised.

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  14. Edward, I agree with your reasoning generally, however Linux is reaching a critical mass where I don’t think we have to worry about not being able to find most drivers in the future. In fact, I find installing most hardware to be more effortless than in Windows (which isn’t saying much). It’s pretty much plug and play with Ubuntu.

    I just hate to see us becoming a bunch of drooling fanboy Linux evangelistas planning the revolution from our parents’ basement. Okay, that’s laying it on thick, but Linux enthusiasts remind me of the cult of Apple sometimes. I don’t see why we need to educate this BBC journalist. If he wanted to be educated about Linux, he would be. Clearly, he prefers Windows and that’s fine, though I think that his attitude isn’t very appropriate for a journalist covering a story, but that’s his problem.

    It’s a big enough world for all the major OS’s to have everything they need. However, I agree with you that the journalist makes some valid criticism that we should not dismiss if we want to make our product better.

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  15. @Edward yes my points where trivial , but so were theirs.I refer you to my post further up which gives my opinion of his “test”

    @Makurosu I mostly agree with you, however if you read the original post on the BBC web site the comments offered by Linux users were supporting sane and helpful with venomous comments interspersed by windows “fanboys”

    why cant we all just get along

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  16. This is an opportunity. Show him the power of open-source software by fixing his issues in Ubuntu 10.04. If we can do that, it would attract more newbies, we’d get more feedback and it would make Ubuntu an even better product with a less steep learning curve.

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  17. It’s interesting to see the way kids and adults act when presented with something new. I work in a school district that is predominantly Mac, with some windows machines and several labs running Ubuntu 9.04.

    In my own non-scientific observations, I noted that the kids didn’t have any problems and there were few complaints. The kids sat down and began doing what they do, (mainly watching videos and trying to find ways around my firewall to get to myspace and facebook…) BUT the teachers nearly rioted. In my case, I was lucky and had support of the administration and suggested a 30 minute training on Linux for the teachers. Since then the lab has been bomb proof.

    I think the article is telling. Linux still has a ways to go and as a community we need to figure out how to make it a) easier for normal people to use and provide out of the box support for things like managing pictures, connecting to mp3 players etc. while b) keeping linux lean, stable and secure.

    Remember, everyone is not like “us”. People fear change and don’t like it when change is forced upon them.

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  18. You may want to borrow from Pres. Obama’s book. This is a teaching moment. Certainly this wont be the last mainstream tech writer/broadcaster who will try Linux. Sending an advisor to download flash and some codecs isn’t the solution.

    Grown ups who will try Linux for the first time should take some time to learn it. Read the manual.

    If somebody is happy with whatever operating system they’re using, great, we should leave them alone.

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  19. I must say that the guy brings up valid arguments.
    I think the difference is the product cycle -MS are normally on a 5ish year cycle (unless they release a dog), apple a 2-3 year cycle, ubuntu on a 6 month cycle so issues become non issues quite fast.
    Some of the problems are hard to fix and blaming the DMCA is not going to cut it.
    Maybe ubuntu and Linux in general should stop aiming for the lowest common denominator and just continue refining the linux experience for enlightenend user.
    Oh and before I get the elitist tag – who are the people that someone comes to when the are looking for a new PC – this problem sorts itself out over the longer term in my view as we get to a stage where all OS,s provide the same basic functionality and then the cheapest wins.

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  20. This guy was slightly biassed, using what he did and the way he did it.
    But there are more serious matters than his complaints to attend.
    Have a newby install something simple as Frostwire or play a mp3 and that’s it. He or she probably never wants to use Linux again.
    The required java6-jre , java-common, encoders, decoders, ffmpef, libdvdcss etc makes the average Joe to startup Synaptic and how does he gets past the authentication.(wtf was the password Jane !@!)
    Well, for starters Ubuntu needs to include a extra startup script by which users can agree to several agreements before they add medibutuu, google.dl etc to their repos and have the according launchpads installed WITH a key
    I’m in the process of making my living with support for Linux, and I know service to converted Win users will eat up a part of my income!
    Oh well…

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  21. Hi,
    I think this problem comes when we try something new. I had similar experience with windows vista, although I can use XP very well.
    My shift to ubuntu was much better experience than shifting to vista :) .

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  22. Do any those morons really know why they have the brown offensive background in Ubuntu? It is a test to weed out the dummies. Either you want to change it and are willing to do it right away or you are lazy and stupid and will give up. Nobody wants a bunch of lazy cretins using Linux, they have high standards.

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  23. I (almost) fully agree with the BBC journalist.

    I’ve been using Ubuntu since 7.10 or 8.04, and I still am completely confused as to most of its workings.

    Wine is absolutely sh*t. I’ve tried about everything, including installing PlayOnLinux to install my (legal) copy of Office 2003 and Age of Empires II. Both installed, but neither worked! I’ve tried many other Windows programs as well, but until now I’ve never had any luck in getting something to work.

    The colour scheme indeed is extremely drab, and it seems getting worse with 9.10. Not that I care much, but it’s definitely Web 0.0 instead of Web 2.0 or 3.0.

    I don’t care about load time: my Windows Vista laptop takes a lot longer to load than my Ubuntu 9.10 PC.

    Getting printers and scanners to work is an ordeal. It’s so bad that when buying my last printer, I first checked which printers might work before going to a shop. And even then I needed Avasys ImageScan! to get the scanner working.

    Although the printer driver seems to be able to address all functions of my Epson RX585, the GUI definitely needs a mayor overhaul to make it something that comes near “user friendly”.

    I hate it that Ubuntu doesn’t install “complete”, i.e. including Flash, Java, all video codecs etc. I can understand that there may be licensing problems, but there is a simple solution for that. During installation a screen pops up that explains why you would need Flash, offers “Accept” or “Decline”, and then continues the installation.

    Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE UBUNTU ever since I bought this PC with Ubuntu pre-installed. But I also think that a lot of things could be simplified. For me a computer is like a car: I love to drive, but I am not interested to look under the hood. It’s all about the programs.

    I was mightyly annoyed that after the upgrade to 9.10 I had to wait for several weeks before some “bugs” were ironed out by some of the upgrades. I had to find a solution to speed up Firefox 3.5 because its responsiveness degraded rapidly. And I also had to look myself for a solution to get sound in YouTube videos. All of this takes a lot of time that I really don’t want to spend on this kind of tinkering.

    Another annoyance is that (writing on a regular basis in Dutch, Spanish and French) I have to search for a solution to get accents on my letters in OOo Writer: it should come pre-configured with this. Really, there ARE other users than just Americans and English.

    Again, I don’t think I’ll ever change to Windows on this PC. But at the same time, I will never-ever install Ubuntu in my Vista-laptop: as things stand now an average user CANNOT live without Windows.

    And by the way… maybe, just maybe, in a few years time I will buy a Google Chrome OS netbook and throw away the rest. If there’s ONE thing that I like, it’s to turn the key and start driving. And that’s just what Google seems to be promising.

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  24. I have tried Ubuntu and as a long time window user it is hard to navigate but the most irritating thing is installing software.

    On windows if I want to install some software I download and install it – job done. On Ubuntu I have to download the software the Ubuntu developers have decided I should use which could be a year or more out of date or not very useful e.g. the default media encoder. Otherwise I have to download a tar.gz file make it? ( hopefuly I have permission to install it ) and other operations to try and get it to work. I am not interested in this; the purest say you should learn how a computer works to apreciate it properly but why make more work for your self ?

    I tried to get php installed and running but had problems. I was told Linux has a lot of help forums but after a long time searching I could not find one that told me where to save files and run them. I found loads telling me how to download and install php and loads of technical crap but nothing telling me something simple. In the end I have XAMPP installed on my windows PC and guessed what to do on the Linux machine.

    I think Linux in general still has a long way to go in this respect and no matter what is said windows introduces more people to the PC than Linux even if some move on to Linux later.

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    John Reply:

    The Windows way of installing software is so easy a script can do it.

    In fact scripts do it so well an entire industry had to be created just to prevent maliciously written scripts from spreading from one Windows box to another.

    I hate the hassle of downloading tar.gz files. (Which I’ve only done a 3 or 4 times over the past 10 years on Linux.) But it’s better than worrying about whether some malware somehow slipped past my antivirus program and is currently reporting my bank and credit card information to a crime syndicate in Russia.
    But the alternative is to

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  25. The problem with Linux distributions, is that there are so intuitive to people as it is at this time windows when a new user, a child, elderly, turn on a computer, “the culture windows” make sense that the controls, bars, menus, icons are familiar to most people. But everything changes when you turn on linux, maybe not ubuntu and other distros can look “more or less windows” for ease of use? When I boot into linux with ubuntu, suffered a lot at first, and I think not being the only ….
    I think too many people deserve quality open source software but, versatility, usability and graphical appearance of high standards and leave behind the troll, intellectually linux that does not have to provide those benefits, we are supposedly so powerful and wise not we need the ease of Windows user, but children, old and new if needed … linux for humanity? perhaps we want people not entitled to a free software, easy to use and versatile? if we all need linux to have a system that is as versatile as Windows users to lso, it is so easy to learn and use.
    and that when installed as efficient as windows, not to forget that not necessarily all our software is to pay, or free, if not, we also need to promote and require that companies like Adobe to develop payment software for linux, that admittedly a lot of free software does not equate to payments and someone complains of ubuntu is normal and understandable bajemonos of our ivory towers and have more humility until you convince a person with little or no computing experience will not be linux for humanity …

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  26. with all due respect, I coulden’t careless what the mainstreams press has to say about linux.

    linux being somewhat “underground” is what makes it so cool, without any unnecessary pressure for it’s existence.

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  27. I care less what this journalist say for the following reasons
    1.he says linux boot 40 seconds better than windows non the less pathetic, In comparison with what? if he wa for real he could have recognized the difference and said what he was supposed to say .. GOOD

    2.Background was offensivily brown: well its not offensive to brown people like me since we are used to see brown (in my part of the word brown is the default color). if he is used to blue why not just change it.

    3. “struggled to see other machines and devices on my network.” well i can see all the machine on my network without changing any settings, but of course the machine says windows network, may be that why they don’t see my machine

    4 Ahh any way this is pointless, i fell in love with linux the moment my lecturer introduced it to me as another OS. and the moment i set my eyes on ubuntu, i use it or its descendants for fun and work….. and to think i started using a computer in second year in college…

    the thing is i think the reporter is not “open minded” … “linux is open source, people who want to enjoy it must also be open minded”

    you know people from America think American cars are the best and people from britain think british cars are the best so do people from Japan .. if you disagree with me check the BBC program “Top Speed”

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