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Walt Mossberg Reviews Ubuntu 642

sciurus0 writes "Mainstream technology journalist Walt Mossberg recently reviewed an Inspiron 1420N with Ubuntu installed by Dell. Citing problems such as an oversensitive touchpad and poor multimedia support, he suggests that 'from the point of view of an average user, someone who wouldn't want to enter text commands, hunt the Web for drivers and enabling software, or learn a whole new user interface' Ubuntu isn't a good choice compared to Windows or OS X."
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Walt Mossberg Reviews Ubuntu

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  • Yes! (Score:1, Informative)

    by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Monday September 17, 2007 @12:58PM (#20638527)
    Ubuntu Linux offers so many more opportunities for users to actually get work done rather than fiddle with Vista's weird menus-nested-in-menus Start menu. Add to that the application support of the FSF and other OSS organizations, and the stability and usability of Debian, and the coolness factor of using Linux while all your friends are using Winblows, it's hard to see how you'd garner any benefit running Vista or XP even.

    I'd venture to say that if Ubuntu doesn't take over the desktop this year, that next year will definitely be the year of Ubuntu Linux. C'mon, have you even tried it? It's AWESOME.
  • by blowdart ( 31458 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @01:00PM (#20638599) Homepage

    He didn't even mention Automatix or Easy Ubuntu at all.

    Of course he didn't. Dell doesn't ship those. Read the article, he's reviewing as shipped by Dell.

  • by Knuckles ( 8964 ) <knuckles@danti a n .org> on Monday September 17, 2007 @01:05PM (#20638705)
    "First of all, Dell does not ship them"
  • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @01:08PM (#20638781)
    That's great, but it's 2007 now.

    Good point. We should be talking about Vista not XP.
    And I can assure you a whole HOST of stuff needs Vista drivers, many of which simply do not exist or are horridly buggy.

    From cdma/1x/evdo or gsm/edge cards to older printers, faxes, modems, scanners, to cutting edge graphics cards.
  • by ericrost ( 1049312 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @01:13PM (#20638867) Homepage Journal
    Theres a synaptic touchpad (the driver all touchpads use) driver gui to adjust the sensitivity of the mouse. Its availabe in the repos, and at that point is system-preferences-touchpad.

    For the google impaired:

    gsynaptics is the name of the package.

    Here's the search that turned it up.. some people can't be helped I guess:

    http://www.google.com/search?ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&sourceid=navclient&gfns=1&q=synaptic+touchpad+sensitivity+adjustment+ubuntu [google.com]

    http://ubuntuguide.org/wiki/Ubuntu:Feisty/Hardware#Touchpad [ubuntuguide.org]

  • by spxero ( 782496 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @01:20PM (#20639013) Journal
    I haven't seen one for the differences between Windows and Gnome, ubuntuguide.org [ubuntuguide.org] was a great place for me when I was starting out. In addition, Automatix [getautomatix.com] is a wonderful tool to install all of the proprietary formats, players, etc. Linux isn't for everybody, but I think that if more people gave it a chance, they would find out that it isn't as scary as a lot of reviewers make it. Walt's review was balanced, but it was also wrong on some accounts (e.g. not being able to adjust the mouse touchpad sensitivity). I cannot totally agree with his experiences, either, as I have had 100% success in dealing with external devices such as iPods. I have been able to rescue a few iPods that were Mac-formatted with Ubuntu, something that I wouldn't want to try on an XP machine.

    The review wasn't as comical as some reviews [informationweek.com] have been. (Who can put Window's Add/Remove programs on the same level as Ubuntu's Add/Install programs?!?), but there was very little content to go with the fluff. I don't think this article really tells us anything we don't know, or really helps sway new computer buyers one way or another.
  • by bfields ( 66644 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @01:22PM (#20639047) Homepage

    They're not configured to be sensitive enough for me. It's a preference and as long as you can configure it simply I don't see the problem if it's still useable enough to get to System / Preferences / Mouse.

    No, I have a 1420n myself, and the necessary preference isn't there. The sort of sensitivity he's talking about isn't configurable via the ordinary gnome mouse dialog--you need an extra synaptics-specific configuration utility that wasn't installed by default, and (if I remember correctly) a kernel patch to recognize the touchpad as something more than an ordinary ps/2 mouse.

    Whilst reviews are great, it would have been nice if he could've asked a simple question about this on the ubuntu forum - I guess Windows users aren't used to the option of doing that.

    He may well have done that, but the answer he would have gotten (upgrade your kernel, etc.) wouldn't have been interesting to the intended audience for this article, and he would have ended up saying the same thing anyway (that workarounds were available, but that most users would find them complex).

    And, by the way, I'm quite happy with my 1420n. Like him, I'd recommend it to people that are interested specifically in trying Linux, but wouldn't recommend it to the general computer user yet.

  • Re:Simple stuff (Score:3, Informative)

    by Knuckles ( 8964 ) <knuckles@danti a n .org> on Monday September 17, 2007 @01:29PM (#20639165)
    Well, they could include a proprietary one: http://www.oreillynet.com/linux/blog/2006/07/a_fully_licensed_dmca_complian.html [oreillynet.com]
  • by bfields ( 66644 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @01:30PM (#20639183) Homepage

    No, that doesn't work. What he wants to be able to do is control the sensitivity of the touchpad--how hard you have to press on it before it registers a touch--and the tap feature. I have this same notebook (the 1420n), it is quite easy to accidentally produce a "tap" which is effectively a left-click. The only way I know of to fix the problem is with a kernel upgrade (alowing it to recognize this particular hardware as a touchpad with something more than a minimal ps/2 mouse interface) and a touchpad-specific configuration utility.

    I'm very happy with the 1420n. It's a great machine for a Linux enthusiast (and it's an advance in terms of usability), but it's not yet a great machine for the average user who doesn't care what OS they get. This looks like a very well-done review to me, and accurate based on my experiences.

  • by Constantine XVI ( 880691 ) <`trash.eighty+slashdot' `at' `gmail.com'> on Monday September 17, 2007 @01:38PM (#20639337)
    By "religious beliefs", I'm sure you meant to say "legal restrictions", since you can't legally ship most of the codecs you mentioned without a license. And in the recent releases (Feisty and on) Ubuntu will offer to automatically install codecs for you when you try to play without the codecs. And there is a single package (ubuntu-restricted-extras) that will install Flash and Java support (PDF and Office formats are supported out of the box if you didn't bother to try).
  • by Un pobre guey ( 593801 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @01:39PM (#20639361) Homepage
    Let's stop the attack and look carefully at his points and address them if necessary.

    I agree 100%. Ubuntu is a great system, I use it daily and my teenage non-geek daughter replaced Vista on her laptop with it. The only big snag was that the speakers did not cut out when the earphones were plugged in, and the audio did not go to the earphones. This required the supremely geeky solution of hunting down a specific version of the ALSA driver, compiling it, and installing it, with the potential of having to do it again each time the drivers get updated in the repositories. My daughter was neither amused nor favorably impressed by this, and it marred an otherwise happy transition to Linux. Unlike Mossberg, she was perfectly at ease using the Synaptic Package Manager to install things once she was shown how. Also, there are several good, user-friendly books on using Ubuntu.

    Ubuntu is definitely most of the way there, but the remaining roughspots are serious and definitely discouraging to new users. It would be wisest to work towards GNU/Linux distros that are so polished and integrated that Mossberg can't find fault with them. Don't criticize the guy. To most educated people, he is a tech god whose word is law. If he is leveraged as the pass/fail criterion for Linux, there will be an avalanche of new users.

    I don't know if this was part of Shuttleworth's plan or not, but it may well be a brilliant strategy to quickly get Ubuntu ready for prime time. If Mossberg raves about it, everybody will rave about it.

  • by Mr. Picklesworth ( 931427 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @01:41PM (#20639409) Homepage
    I stopped caring about his opinion as soon as he started dissing codec support. The codecs are unavailable by default for a damn good reason, but you can actually get them really, really easily. In fact, it is much easier to get DivX codecs and that crap in Ubuntu than it is in Windows; no web browser required. How? Open a movie, click Install Codec in the dialog, type your password. Done! You don't get an ugly media player with it, either.

    Repeat for every other codec available (within reason). I am able to view every video file that comes my way on both of my Ubuntu systems (even the 500 mHz one), and on neither of them have I needed to hunt for any more than five seconds within official repositories. ...And yes, the Universe repository is very much Ubuntu; they have to do it this way, because it would be very difficult to create localizations which appeal to each country's laws.

    Explain this, Walt: How is that a lack of codecs, and how is it difficult? Expecting his readers to be /that/ stupid should be considered insulting, even for a tech columnist. I, for one, would not appreciate being talked to like a toddler.

    More importantly: How is this any less trouble than in Mac OS, where we have to pay large sums of money to Apple for codecs that should exist by default? Tried any Mpeg 1 or 2s [apple.com], lately?
    Not only do they not play in Quicktime, but to find out /why/ they don't play, "the stupid, vision impaired user" has to hunt through the scary Interwebs in search of the very irritating answer: He must pay $20 US and perform numerous terrifying clicking operations to gain the ability to play a file format which is available out of the box in almost every other media player out there.
  • If you refuse to think, why even use a computer?

    Because computers are supposed to think FOR you, and not viceversa? What drives me nuts is that linux fanbois still think as computers as "electronic puzzles to tinker with" instead of "tools that make your life easier".

    The other day I saw a youtube video about Apple's intelligent agent (this video was made around 15 to 20 years ago). The agent, an AI "buttler" asked you questions about what you wanted to do, so you described the problem to him and he presented you the answers about finances, math, even making correlations on demand. You asked the agent to teleconference you with another person (and present graphs), etc.

    Windows is much closer to that goal, simply because (yes, yes, I know, it's been said a gazillion times) "it just works". The implementations are still in the stone age, but at least they got the idea right. Linux fanbois are still stuck in the "hacker" way of thinking.

    Let me remind you this: Users are NOT hackers!.

    As long as Linux is released from the chains that tie it to the commandline (and the ./configure-make-make install nightmare), it'll never become a mature desktop OS.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 17, 2007 @02:06PM (#20639853)

    If Windows or OSX is fed a video or audio file it doesn't support, it goes looking for a codec and often has it installed before you know anything it wrong.
    Bullshit. I am sorry, but,at least in windows, that is complete and utter untrue bullshit.
  • by Rimbo ( 139781 ) <rimbosity@sbc g l o b a l . n et> on Monday September 17, 2007 @02:23PM (#20640149) Homepage Journal
    There are a lot of dialogs for configuration that need to be there that Gnome doesn't have. What bothers me most about Gnome is that this seems to be a conscious decision on the part of Gnome: They don't want too many config options, because they're afraid of confusing people.

    I hit this every time I use Gnome, too. I can think of no other desktop environment so limited in its capabilities. Even OSX's conscious decisions to limit config (e.g. not allowing skins) is generally with things that aren't part of the core user experience; things like pointer sensitivity and desktop resolution that I can't find anywhere in Gnome are there as they should be.

    Either they aren't there, or they're buried so deep I can't find them after 10 minutes of looking.
  • by yoasif ( 969247 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @02:41PM (#20640499)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHmvkRoEowc [youtube.com] for reference.
  • by plague3106 ( 71849 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @03:08PM (#20640957)
    And then its no longer profitable to sell Linux; not only would they have to pay, they'd have to support it too. You don't call MS with problems regarding your OEM installation, you call Dell.
  • by kjkeefe ( 581605 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @03:28PM (#20641355)
    I purchased an XPS 410 box from Dell's Ubuntu page. I'm a pretty well versed Ubuntu user and I realized that if nothing else, I'd be buying a machine that I knew had linux compatible hardware. When I got the machine and started it up, I was very disappointed. Just like the parent said, there was NO configuration

    done by Dell. They just installed the basic Ubuntu and shipped it with the system at the step where it asks for a user name and all that. I had to spend significant time configuring the NVidia drivers, sound card, and audio/video codecs (probably a few hours altogether). I would bet that it would take days for someone new to linux to figure out how to do all that. For shame Dell... How hard would it have been to configure Ubuntu with the right drivers at least and then ghost that system onto every box you shipped.

    Another interesting note about comparing it to Windows and OS X... I installed Windows XP SP2 in a dual boot configuration so I could play some games. Good god almighty, setting up windows was painful. I must have visited a dozen different sites, downloading 200MB in drivers, before I got everything working. The damned network card didn't even work after the initial install. I had to boot into Ubuntu, save the network driver to a USB key and then boot back into Windows. Also, I've had the system set up for about 3 weeks now and I still can't get the sound to work in windows. I've looked all over the web for the right windows sound driver with 0 luck. As for OSX, I still haven't been able to even install it! Oh wait, OSX only runs on Apple hardware... My forgot. Seriously though, if anyone know how to get the sound working in windows on an XPS 410 box, please let me know!

    For those of you who are touting this story as a demonstration of linux's failure on the desktop, sod off. This wasn't a failure on the part of linux or ubuntu. This was a failure on the part of Dell in not providing a fully installed and configured system.

    As a review for the Dell XPS 410:

    After a Windows XP fresh install:
    • Network card: not working
    • Video card: working but at 1024x768 with no 3d acceleration
    • Sound card: not working (still not working, even after weeks of trying to find a driver)
    After a Ubuntu fresh install:
    • Network card: working
    • Video card: working, but at 1024x768 with no 3d acceleration
    • Sound card: working (although it was muted by default which may confuse some users)
  • Do you use windows? (Score:3, Informative)

    by kjkeefe ( 581605 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @03:37PM (#20641477)
    Have you used windows lately and run into the "missing codec" type of error? Windows does NOT seek out the codec and automagically install it for you. You have to go through the same damn rigamarole that you do with Linux.
  • by Warbothong ( 905464 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @04:41PM (#20642551) Homepage
    Since Dell are customising Ubuntu for their installations ( http://linux.dell.com/wiki/index.php/Ubuntu_7.04#Dell_Remastered_Ubuntu_7.04_ISO [dell.com] ) I wonder if they do, or plan to in the future, include for MP3 (via LAME, etc.), DVD decryption (via DeCSS) and other such things on their European models ( http://www.dell.co.uk/ubuntu [dell.co.uk] http://www.dell.fr/ubuntu [www.dell.fr] http://www.dell.de/ubuntu [www.dell.de] ), since the code is Free Software. Just because the US corporate-sponsored government makes such things illegal shouldn't make a difference to people who live in slightly more representative states, especially if things like that are major issues cited by reviewers.

    The suspend issue (volume applet crashing) is a bug which Dell shouldn't have let slip, whilst the Synaptics issue is easily solvable with third party tools and has a specification here https://wiki.ubuntu.com/GnomeTouchpadManager [ubuntu.com] .

    Yes those are problems, but seriously, the number of people who think that such things are what's holding back the fabled Linux Desktop are delusional. Firstly they should look into chaos theory, there's no way everything can be controlled and still end up with a useful system. Secondly, Windows has masses of problems, like, for instance, no DVD support. The side by side comparisons of Windows vs. Ubuntu vs. OSX are only useful as eyeball attractors for adverts, the real problem in the way of the Year of the Linux Desktop is that of positive feedback loops. People use Windows because people develop for Windows because people use Windows, people use Windows so they can use Microsoft Office because the people they know use Microsoft Office, etc. Free Software systems make a point of NOT locking their users in, thus users' choice is usually between either a Free Software system like Ubuntu which sacrifices some locked-down functionality of other systems, or using a non-free system (basically, Windows) which has some functionality Microsoft restricts from their competitors along with all of the Free Software functionality happily made available by the Free Software community (OpenDocument-compatible office suites, Ogg codecs, etc.).

    This makes standards adoption the most important issue to tackle, in my opinion. If files are made available in open formats via standard protocols then the locked-down functionality of systems is minimised, and thus the choice becomes more level. Hopefully a feedback loop can be established for standards, but the whole idea of standardisation means that such a loop can be sabotaged, basically since Microsoft can easily support Ogg formats in Windows Media Player and OpenDocument in Microsoft Office, but by keeping Windows Media and proprietary Office formats (including OOXML) around they once again have the upper hand, everything that Free Software supports can be matched, but Windows Media and Office formats by their very nature can't be competed with.

  • by RickRussellTX ( 755670 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @06:11PM (#20643921)

    Windows plays DVD's out of the box.

    No, it does not. Vista Home Premium and Vista Ultimate are the very first versions of Windows to include DVD playback capability -- all other versions of Windows (including other Vista versions) do not have the ability to play DVD videos.

    If your computer play DVDs out of the box, it means that the system integrator installed DVD player software and codecs for you. You paid for it, separate from Windows.

  • by thebear05 ( 916315 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @09:21PM (#20646131)
    on a dell precision m20 laptop Windows after replacing the hard drive i had to download all the drivers even my on board networking would not work(cabled) not wireless. video cd/dvd drive drivers and countless others Ubuntu straight off the cd loaded easily networking/wireless/video card/cd burning modem etc worked right after the install.
  • by talmai ( 986678 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @10:55PM (#20646825)
    Automatix is BAD [livejournal.com]!
  • by Allador ( 537449 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2007 @02:10AM (#20648163)
    Linux, or at least Ubuntu, has bigger problems.

    It should not be possible for a fresh install of an OS to not have any video whatsoever.

    But try installing the current version of Kubuntu on a Dell Latitude D630. This is possibly the most commonly purchased corporate laptop in the universe at the moment.

    But do an install and just nothing ... black screen. Cant even open a terminal. I'm not sure how this is possible. Even windows has a software framebuffer driver that will do 640x480 on anything.

    To get past this initial problem, I had to (after consulting with the local linux expert) actually go into the grub boot editor, and remove the /splash from the boot options. Otherwise, no video whatsoever, ever.

    At that point, I could get a terminal, but still no X.

    So right out of the bat, a standard nvidia video card, and the Intel a/b/g 3945, dont work out of the box. These are the two most common video cards and wifi cards in existence.

    The broadcom 43xx gigabit nic was wonky as well, and it would cause error messages to flash across the terminal every 30 seconds or so. Even inside Vim, right across my content! I had to blacklist the drivers there.

    And look at the insanity that has to be done to get it working:

    http://www.control.aau.dk/~jdn/linux/d630/index.php?id=startside [control.aau.dk]

    http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=481651&page=12 [ubuntuforums.org]

    Video should always work, always, under every circumstance. There is no excuse not to have a generic framebuffer driver to fallback to. There is no excuse for an obscure grub startup setting to stop you from having command line access.

    I'm not expecting everything to work out of the box, but there has to be generic fallback drivers.

    I will say that the experience once I got the nvidia drivers downloaded and started was outstanding. NVidia makes a really nice script/program to build and install drivers, and fully configure X. That was really nice.

    But why do I need the windows driver for my wifi card to use it under linux? Doesnt Intel open source their linux drivers?

    Then after all that, everything was flaky and buggy. Gaim/Pidgin would randomly duplicate its own windows. Thunderbird crashes alot. Evolution would just 'disappear' after like the 3rd install wizard screen. No crash message, no warning, no complaint, just 'poof' and its gone.

    And its not like I'm doing anything tweaky to install these apps, just apt-get install whatever. Not sure how I could be doing that wrong.

    And dont even get me started on standby/hibernate. And how LVM will sometimes decide that it cannot install itself ... because it just cant. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

    Now ... all that being said, apt-get is wonderful. But honestly ... thats the only really compelling thing I could find with Kubuntu on that 630. Everything else was just a time sink and a royal pain in the ass. I'm sure it'd be better if I had a machine with certified drivers on a disc for everything.

Don't get suckered in by the comments -- they can be terribly misleading. Debug only code. -- Dave Storer