Using Ubuntu

by Jason Deraleau

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This morning, a strange package made its way into my mailbox from Zurich. I opened it up to discover the distribution discs for Ubuntu Linux. I'd read about Ubuntu on K5 a little while back and had signed up to receive some free discs. Since then, I'd pretty much forgotten about it entirely. But, they didn't forget about me and with the discs in hand, I went off to give it a try.

My first impression of Ubuntu came from its packaging. The two disc distribution comes in a sleek cardboard booklet. On the cover are three individuals of mixed heritage in a group hug, perhaps reinforcing the project's philosophy: the back of the package tells us that "Ubuntu is an ancient African word that means 'humanity toward others'." Inside are the two CDs. One is an installation disc. The other, a live CD, allowed me to easily boot up a spare machine and see what all the fuss is about.

After a few minutes of hardware detection and loading softwar, I was presented with an X environment. Ubuntu uses GNOME for its desktop environment and several other best of breed apps are along for the ride. OpenOffice, FireFox, The GIMP, and Evolution all make an appearance. I found them easily enough in the Applications menu. Overall, the menus are very concise; a nice contrast from the clutter I feel plagues Fedora. An interesting thing to note about the live CD: it also includes Windows builds of those same popular OSS applications.

Impressed with the live CD, I shut the box down and booted the install disc. While the desktop environment and live CD have a very polished feel, the Ubuntu install process leaves much to be desired. The ncurses installer offers little in the way of progress toward a "user-friendly Linux". For example, while I admit that the option to wipe out my entire drive and create a simple root/swap scheme is certainly viable, end users would be greatly benefited if there were more detailed descriptions involved. Unfortunately, my mother doesn't know what a partition is, nor much care how much swap her system has.

After working my way through the installation, the system started up and, upon entering my login credentials, Ubuntu offered me the same sleek environment found on the live CD. Overall, the experience was pretty painless and, for the most part, user-friendly. I don't know if I'd be comfortable sending a less savvy computer user out with any Linux distribution just yet, but Ubuntu is certainly taking steps in the right direction with its no-nonsense live CD environment, its inclusion of Windows builds of OSS apps, and its predictable six month release cycle. While some of its ideas and technologies may not be new, I feel Ubuntu offers a degree of refinment that's just not present in similar projects.

What's your take on Ubuntu? Recommend a different user-friendly distribution?


2004-11-29 09:27:55
Making any OS easy to install for the end user
I honestly feel that saying that linux is more difficult to install for the end user than windows. Both have partitions to deal with for instance. I think of it this way, if I give my mother a Windows XP disk and a linux distro disk I'd end up with the same results, a broken PC and an afternoon chatting with mom while I fix her system.

The thing is, Windows installs are perceived as being easier because practically no end user really does it. 90+ percent of the worlds PC come with Windows pre-installed. If that many PC's came with Linux pre-installed we'd be saying how hard it is go convert them to Windows ourselves.

Just my opinion. ;) I'll be trying out Ubuntu when I have time.

2004-11-29 09:38:57
Re: Making any OS easy to install for the end user
I agree with you on the part about Windows being pre-installed. The Windows installer isn't much friendlier than most ncurses installers. To be honest, I find the Mac OS X install process to be the most user-friendly. In my opinion, partitions are just something that no end user should have to deal with. Many Windows users go through life without even knowing what C: is and why it matters. It would be amazing if we could have Linux users in the same position.

Applying this concept to Ubuntu could take the form of simply offering options like "I only want to use Ubuntu Linux", "I want to use both Ubuntu Linux and Windows", or "Advanced". Option 1 does the wipe and install. Option 2 could resize the NTFS partition, make partitions for Linux, and configure GRUB. The last option would let you do the usual cfdisk/grub/whatnot you'd perform by hand.

2004-11-30 00:49:08
you can't have it both ways
The Ubuntu installer shields users from most decisions they won't want to make (like harddisk partitions).
It also doesn't give tons of explanations of technical terms which is good. People that know what's happening will know those terms, others won't care one way or the other.

Personally I like the curses-based installer. At least it allowed me to install it, in contrast to the graphical installers of so many distributions which on my laptop won't even launch because they don't have the hardware preconfigured...
Ubuntu was in fact the first ever Linux distribution that installed with only minor glitched on this machine which is hardly bleeding edge hardware being by now over 5 years old.

2004-11-30 01:10:43
Not simple/user-friendly enough?

A confusing article.

You think that Ubuntu is better than RedHat/Fedora but still you find that the install isn't "user-friendly" enough.

Here are some comments for you:

Unfortunately, my mother doesn't know what a partition is, nor much care how much swap her system has.

Usually, mothers don't suddenly decide "Oh, I want to install a new OS". If they do, they likely have someone to help out, or (unlike men ;-), are knowledgeable to have read something about the installation procedure.

For a "clean" install, where there are no other OSes &/ data to worry about, the default partitioning scheme will work quite nicely. Obviously, if there are other OSes on the drive, then the partitioning is going to be a little more complex and will require a more careful setup regardless if you are installing Windows XP or OpenBSD. This is an Ubuntu-specific problem, nor is it a GNU/Linux problem.

The ncurses installer offers little in the way of progress toward a "user-friendly Linux".

&ellip;Just how "user-friendly" are we trying to get?

From the sound of things some people won't be happy untill people on lifesupport are able to do an install. Please be realistic and leave the sarcasm aside.

2004-11-30 01:11:33
Re: Making any OS easy to install for the end user
Yesterday evening I was forced to reinstall Windows because somehow it had last all knowledge of my modem, which used by my banking application, which in turn is the only reason I still use Windows.

It was a disaster. It turns out that after installing Windows, I need to take Dell's driver CD, and install, one by one, all the drivers -- for the chipset, for the graphics card, for the modem, for the network card, for the touchpad. And they all wanted me to reboot in-between, and it was somehow important to first install the modem and then install the network card. Only... Windows found a non-existing network card that it had drivers for itself and put that in first.

And, of course, Service Pack 2 needed to be installed before any of the drivers, apparently.

I've also installed Ubuntu, and while not perfect (, it was a lot easier. No need for driver cd's, no need for rebooting, just install in its own partition, and go. It even recognized my main partition with SuSE, and the Windows partition and tried to put them in the boot menu. (Pity it failed at that.)

2004-11-30 01:42:08
Not easy enough...Linspire?
God, if anyone is not capable of using Linspire then we have a problem on our hands, the world is heading into the information revolution full speed and here we are stuck with people that can't operate the easiest OS ever. Give em Linspire and they will be fine. Plus, they don't need to know how to clean virusus off of their computer.
2004-12-24 02:11:28
What's a computer for again?
I just downloaded and installed Ubuntu a few hours ago so I thought, after liking the dist so much, that I'd see what others thought (like this guy).

What some of you fail to realize is that a computer should do all the work, because it is just that. A computer. A thinkin' machine. We build them to do things we don't want to do (Walk to Turkey to give a message? Calculate and sort through millions of bank accounts?)

For now, we gotta do the thinking as to how we partition a hard drive. Can you believe it? Some pretty advanced programs out there, we can put a man on the moon! But we can't get an installer to say "Buddy, ya got Windows on this sucker. Delete it 'r be with it?"

Ok. So maybe you just want to have a fun time programming, and having control on a molecular level. Heck, I do too sometimes. But people in the real world don't give a rat. They say, "Linux , you do what I say without any lip or I'll find something else." Of course that something else hasn't come yet.

And then again, who wants the world so easy anyway. If we have a central computer in each of our houses that you can say, "'Puter, I wanna go to the Great Wall." There'd be no point in living. I guess it's one of those "some people think this and some people think that" things.

2004-12-26 15:23:17
ncurses is not user friendly? errrrrrr..... what does windows 2000 pro use to install...... errrr... something very similar to ncurses perhaps? hmmmm.... partitioning to complicated??? errrr... Windows also likes you to set this up.... and its default is also wiping the hd of data....

so ubuntu isnt worse than the worst.... therefore... i think you should give credit where credit is due. Ubuntu have done a darn good job