Tag Archives: Eee

Why Ubuntu / Linux isn’t Really Ready for Consumers… Yet.

Update: Hey Reddit! This post has much nastier things to say about Ubuntu than the one below, so I think you’ll like it more. No, I’m not a Microsoft astroturfer. Wish I was though, I wouldn’t mind the money. Honestly, I want to like Ubuntu / Linux in general. This is why I tried Ubuntu again after it sucking the first time, and why I bought an Eee PC running a Xandros variant without even considering putting XP on it. But you guys don’t make it easy.

As anyone who follows my Twitter feed will know, I’ve recently been trying to install Ubuntu on my desktop.

On the whole it’s not that painful, the LiveCD lets you get a feel for the system, the installation is mostly painless even if you want to dual-boot etc, the interface is clean and easy to use, almost everything you’d ever want is already installed and almost anything else is available from the package manager. It’s great when it works. Really great.

The trouble is, often it doesn’t. For example the wireless card on this machine seems to have issues. Sometimes it won’t connect to a wireless network, sometimes it totally hangs the machine. The solution to this seems to be to dive in head-first into config files and the command-line, rip out the provided open source driver, and whack in a layer that will let me use a Windows driver.

My first attempt to do this just disabled wireless on the machine entirely, which wasn’t a forward step. I was honestly quite lucky to get it back to where I started from.

Software support can also sometimes be iffy. Stuff that should be simple like Adobe Air seemingly requires a trip through the terminal to convince to work. Another rather significant downside is that a lot of applications you’re used to using don’t have versions for Linux. You can use WINE to get Windows applications working, mostly, but it’s not an ideal state of affairs. And you can forget about playing games; support is even more dire than Mac gaming. That is unless you once again want to press WINE into service; frankly though it feels slightly iffy running Spotify, let alone TF2.

So my point here is three-fold:

  1. Hardware support is patchy.
  2. Proprietary software can be hard to get working / unavailable.
  3. If something goes wrong, it requires a lot of scary stuff (command-line, etc.) to fix.

See, I’m sure that if I had a working machine and a few months I’d start to learn the Linux-fu necessary to deal with this, but it’s just a pain if something as essential as Wi-Fi doesn’t just work, or if you can’t play your favourite games.

They’ve got a long way to go with hardware support, and it’s going to be an uphill battle every step of the way. There’s a lot of hardware manufacturers who aren’t going to provide Linux drivers, and there’s a dogmatic craziness in the Linux world that THOU SHALT NOT distribute non-free drivers with your distribution, which means that nobody just provides Windows drivers, or makes it easy to get Windows drivers. It’s totally daft, and it’s not helped by nutjobs like Richard Stallman. I guess you can put me into the camp who doesn’t like the GPL. Give me the BSD license any day.

The software difficulties are as equally hard to overcome; you’d have to deal with the horrible Balkanisation of the Linux distros for one thing so that people would have something simple to compile binaries against. Idealism isn’t going to get people to give away the source code to everything.

However, there’s certainly a market for Ubuntu / Linux systems where you can be sure of the hardware configuration and fix all the problems in advance. This means that something like eeebuntu works really rather well, and is supported rather better than Asus managed to support the Eee themselves. It’s a pleasure to use, and makes me see myself using my Eee a lot more in the future.

Similarly, if all the software you could ever want, literally, is encompassed by the repositories of your chosen distro, then it’s also a very comfortable experience where you can be reasonably sure that everything will just work, which is literally the ideal consumer experience.

So, if you lie within some narrow definition of “consumer” then Ubuntu is going to be perfect for you. If you lie just a little to the edges, it’s going to suck. There’s really no middle ground between “idealised consumer” and “pretty hardcore techie”. I guess that’s why they’re going to carry on working with it. If they can expand that consumer window, this could be heading somewhere.

The Asus Eee, a few days on

So the Asus Eee is a pretty wonderful machine, all in all. In fact, I’m using it right now to type this, and apart from the occasional mistype it works pretty damn well.  The interface is easy and intuitive, it comes installed with more or less everything you need, and it plays well out of the box. It’s great.

So the other day (Friday) I took it to college as a shakedown run, I guess you could call it.

This threw up one rather major difficulty – WPA-Enterprise isn’t supported by default, and that’s what the Imperial wireless network uses. Bugger.

So support for WPA-E has to be rather hackily hacked back in. One ham-handed attempt by me has already cost me the use of the network monitor in the tray. No great loss, but kinda irritating.

Anyways, I’m right now running a specially customised version of Ubuntu Linux, which should fix the network issue, but the list of post-install tweaks on the wiki is frankly just frightening, and some of it is pretty important stuff, like fixing SD cards not mounting.

I’m starting to get the impression that Linux is an operating system designed for people who, a priori, know what the fuck they’re doing, and in the hands of these people it is an incredibly powerful tool. You can do anything you like, assuming you know how to do it.

In some ways it feels like the direct manifestation of the principle that the last 10% of the work takes 90% of the time, so they’ve only done 5% of that last 10%. Most everything works, and you can fix or disable anything that doesn’t, right? Because worst case scenario, you have to delve in to the command prompt, type in some arcane commands and poof, it works.

Thing is, I really don’t want to install Windows on here. I want to get to a point where I can use Linux, but not being able to get onto the Imperial Wireless network might really be a dealbreaker.

We’ll see.