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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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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 17, 2007 @12:47PM (#20638325)
    There are going to be some problems with the OS. The question that I have, are these things that a user can overcome? In the long run, will Ubuntu (or any linux) become more stable then some M$ OS?

  • Simple stuff (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Knuckles ( 8964 ) <> on Monday September 17, 2007 @12:58PM (#20638531)

    There is no control panel for adjusting the way the touch pad works
    So, Dell does not install gsynaptics for touchpad control? Bad move, but this issue will go away soon, since it's default in Gutsy (Ubuntu 7.10).

    When I tried to play common audio and video files, such as MP3 songs, I was told I had to first download special files called codecs that are built into Windows and Mac computers. I was warned that some of these codecs might be "bad" or "ugly."
    I dunno about the installation dialog in Feisty (which must be what Dell uses), and I agree that the wording here can use polish. But hey, at least it asks me whether it shall install the codecs it needs. The last time I tried to play an avi file in Windows, Media Player popped up a message that it should download the codec, then it said error, then I couldn't watch it. (I am also using the same POV as in the article).

    To get the computer to recognize my Kodak camera and Apple iPod, I had to reboot it several times. When it did find the iPod, it wasn't able to synchronize with it.
    I don't have an iPod, but all cameras I attached to Ubuntu since Dapper just worked, even those that wanted me to install crapy software for Windows.

    Playing videos was a bad experience, with lots of flickering and freezing. Oh, and there's no built-in software for playing commercial DVDs.
    Huh? Did Dell forget to enable XVideo? I haven't had such a problem for amny years, my AMD K6 450 played videos w/o a problem. DVD: why the hell does Dell not install a player and pay the license?

    That's all the complaints the author has. Not bad, I have seen Windows users with a lot more.

  • Re:To be fair ... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by liquidpele ( 663430 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @01:11PM (#20638831) Journal
    The problem with the review is that in his mind, he's comparing it to his normal windows PC which is already configured and working. To have a fair comparison, you have to install a new Ubuntu and a new Windows (or buy them) and then get them both working from that point.

    The main thing is the codecs in my opinion. Ubuntu needs to have a $10 version that includes non-free codecs that they can then sell to Dell for installation in pre-installed computers, because spending hundreds on a computer and not being able to play an mp3 is just retarded.
  • by oliderid ( 710055 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @01:14PM (#20638899) Journal
    He wrote that he is an average joe with strictly no technical skills...It probably means that he has used only pre-installed OSes.

    How many people around you know what a CODEC is? How would they react if the operating system warns them that the program about to be installed may dammage their installation? What would they say if they can't sync their Ipod with their PC? Why would they say if the volume controller crashes each time the screen saver appears?

    We all know the reality...The weak support Linux enjoys amongst manufacturers but consumers simply don't care, don't understand, don't want to know. It has to work period.

    The Ubuntu founder recognizes that his product isn't ready for the mass-market yet (see the article).

    I'm using OpenSUSE on my desktop for 10 months now. I don't have enough words to thank of all of us who have contributed to free software. Such a beautiful development environment (Eclispe, MonoDevelop, to name few) but...If you ask me If it is ready for my nephew and his Ipod, my sister in law and her pictures, or my brother fond of DVDs, I'd probably say no. I don't want to spend hours/days/weeks doing technical support for the whole family for such dumb things like syncing a Ipod, transferring pictures or print them.

  • Re:You can't deny it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @01:44PM (#20639457) Journal

    The hardcore Linux proponents can deny it all they want, the simple fact of the matter is that when the average user sits down with a Linux box, there are still numerous shortcomings that may make it unacceptable.
    really? because my technoilliterate mother can use it just fine, all she has to do to install things is click on the synaptic icon on her desktop, type the password and take a look at hwat she wants. hopefully that's not too technical... [it's easy for anyone, especially Dell, to make the desktop shortcut, just right click the menu entry and send it to desktop.] if it isnt in synaptic, there are tons of deb packages that with gdebi all you need to do to install is click on them, the manager does pretty much everything. damn that's hard, better stick with windows on that one!

    I've said it elsewhere, I've said it here; licensing MP3 would be a good start for Ubuntu. They can certainly afford it, and the US MP3 patents are only valid until 2012, so it'd cost at most $250,000 to essentially get permanent MP3 support.
    if you need to do that sort of thing and don't have Mp3 playing set up, it even offers to install it for you. there isn't any reason that the average person can't use linux [especially ubuntu]. now as for hardware, if Dell couldn't find a way for their own hardware to work and didn't install it, that's plain laziness on their part.
  • by bockelboy ( 824282 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @01:56PM (#20639661)
    Indeed. If you want people to take your consumer-level technology seriously, one of the ways to do this is get a positive review from Walt. From his wikipedia article:

    Mossberg is widely regarded as one of the most influential writers on information technology. In 2004, in a lengthy profile, Wired called him "The Kingmaker", saying "[f]ew reviewers have held so much power to shape an industry's successes and failures."[1] He is also the highest paid journalist at the Journal.[2]
    In other words, despite people here calling him a "fossil", this is possible the most important person in the consumer tech industry. His concerns ought to be addressed carefully.
  • by beefpants ( 985575 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @02:26PM (#20640223)
    Sure, there were codecs and programs he wished were available by default, but notice that he _didn't_ spend any time uninstalling the adware or bonusware that Dell and other OEM outfits typically bundle with new laptops. I presume from the article that such annoying software is not bundled into their Ubuntu offerings, and that's a win, in my book.

    Dell may be well-served by pre-installing common codecs and a decent DVD player by default, but the two minutes it takes to install such things under Ubuntu strike me as far preferable to the time I typically spend 'cleaning' a default XP machine from Dell (read: formating the drive and starting the XP install from scratch).

  • by hobo sapiens ( 893427 ) <ELIOT minus poet> on Monday September 17, 2007 @02:41PM (#20640509) Journal
    "No media codecs"
    Well, yes, this is a pain, but what is Dell supposed to do? Ship it with all the "bad" and "ugly" codecs? If I were a PC manufacturer in the US, I sure wouldn't want to do that. You're just asking for the mafiaa to come after you.

    Actually, with feisty, I just opened up RhythmBox and it prompted me to install the other codecs. IIRC, I didn't have to anything in the CLI.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 17, 2007 @03:02PM (#20640869)
    He should have reviewed PCLinuxOS - has all codecs pre-installed, as well as Flash and Java in the browser. You can do all this stuff in Ubuntu of course, but it's a big hassle for the novice user.

    PCLinuxOS is great for people who have never used a computer before. I've set it up on old junked computers many times in under 20 minutes a pop and no one has complained - they think it's Windows.

    The review wasn't fair in my opinion. By comparison, I tried and failed to install Windows XP on some of these same machines as I could not get its ethernet to work without a long lost driver disk from Dell. I've been on computers for 20 years now and I could not figure it out - a novice user cannot possibly install Windows these days. It must come pre-installed or they are screwed.
  • I don't get it... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ( 1125909 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @03:41PM (#20641537)
    If you look at the Dell website it tells you it is for more advanced users and probably won't work for mom and pop. Everyone else in the world also states that you need to be a little bit more savvy to run it, but you can understand it if you want to. Now my question... If everyone in the world that is involved with this has already stated that it is not ready for mainstream use, including the company selling the laptops. Why do we need a review saying that it is not ready for mainstream use? Seems redundant to me and more like a fluff article. Also if someone is not ready to try a new GUI interface and has used windows why would you buy a unbuntu laptop? I only bring this up because of the absurd comment the author made about people who aren't ready for a new interface shouldn't get it. I'm betting if they aren't ready for a new interface they've not even begun to look this direction for their OS. In any case the article is just fluff that has no real point. Bravo to the mainstream media for taking what Dell stated so eloquently in two lines and making into a thousand word dissertation. Oh BTW last time I checked you still had to manually update codecs for media player also.
  • by Glowing Fish ( 155236 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @04:49PM (#20642693) Homepage
    You are right about many things, but
    I have to admit that your post reminds me yet again of the gap between myself and many computer users.
    Especially when you say "Just call Microsoft and for 200 dollars they will fix it", I know that for a business, 200 dollars is nothing, but I think for me, and many other people, that is a lot of money. Two hundred dollars is about how much I have spent on computers, totally, in the past two years.
    Which is another thing about GIMP and OpenOffice, they are free. And if you are just using them for their basic functionality, (which is what most people do), I don't know of any major flaws they have. A copy of MS Office goes for 500 dollars, which is about one month's rent for me. What functionality can I get out of Office that I can't get out of OpenOffice, that is worth one month's rent?
    Of course, (and I've said this many times) for most people, when I get into a discussion of Windows vs. Linux, or closed vs. free software, it is illegal use of Windows vs. legal use of Linux. If people had to pay the 1300 dollars for a commercial copy of Windows, Office and Photoshop, instead of getting the disks from their brother-in-law, how many of them would pay it?
    And, I believe I might have drifted away from your points a bit...but it is something to consider.
  • by Columcille ( 88542 ) * on Monday September 17, 2007 @06:59PM (#20644571) Homepage
    Dell resells PowerDVD, making a profit. Linux though has nothing to resell...

    There is a problem here somewhere... Dell buys PowerDVD, resells it, and makes a profit in so doing. Dell uses Open Source products for free, sells them with Dell hardware and... Makes even more profit. If Dell does have to pay licensing fees for certain codecs, those fees could easily be reflected in the price of the computer. I don't know how codecs typically price, but it can't be much. Looking at some links posted above, an individual could purchase most of what they want for about $35. Bulk agreements are usually less. That kind of price increase would not be considered daunting.
  • Re:Yes! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by The Spoonman ( 634311 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @10:09PM (#20646487) Homepage
    C'mon, have you even tried it? It's AWESOME

    As someone who's worked with Linux both professionally and personally over the last 14 years, I often give Linux a try on the desktop. Each year or so, I'll switch to the current predominant "desktop" Linux. I tried Ubuntu, and for the first time in those 14 years, this was actually a Linux I could use. Unfortunately, though, "use" was it. I'd say it was "ok" as a desktop experience. Ready for the average user? Not without a Linux geek to help them out. I ran into problems with almost every update that I'd have to dig around to find a fix for, and few were issues that the average user could fix. When I bought my new laptop, I had actually planned on using Ubuntu on it, but I started playing around with Vista, which the laptop came with, and I decided not to even bother. Ubuntu offered me nothing that I couldn't do on Windows. Add to that Ubuntu didn't support a bunch of the hardware on my new laptop (fingerprint reader, webcam or the digitizer. Since it's a tablet, the last was key.) It's been a month and a half with Vista, and I've decided to give up on Linux as a desktop OS. Ubuntu brings Linux closer to the desktop, but it's still years behind Windows in terms of features, performance and stability.
  • by Lord Flipper ( 627481 ) on Monday September 17, 2007 @11:37PM (#20647175)

    It drives me up a wall that copy and paste is so inconsistant [sic] . I have to think, is it control-v, right click and use menu, middle click, shift-insert, and its common for me to get it wrong. Oh, to do page up/down, should I use page up or down keys, or shift and page up/down, or will page up and down even work? What about drag and drop? Will it work? Will it work between apps? What about a consistant [sic] Widget look and feel?

    These are common GUI things from the mid 80s, but as a rank ordering from best to worst, you have OS X, Windows, and others. Windows is not that great either. The look and feel has become about as segmented as *NIX. And OS X is not perfect, but it seems clear that they have spent more time and effort with attention to these design features than anybody else.

    The first thing I want to say is that I have mod points, but I'll drop them elsewhere tonight, because all of the messages/posts on this topic, tonight, are really good reading, and seem very thoughtful. So, I would mod everybody in the article up +1.

    That being said, I run two Apple laptops at home. One is a garden variety OS X, and the one I'm on now is running OS X, Windows 2000 Pro (aka NT 5 heheh, in VPC), and dual-boots into Ubuntu (Feisty). I love playing around in Ubuntu Linux. No kidding. It's just a stone blast, and I get a real genuine kick out of it, and it plays well into the my mindset regarding the possibility of a better future for people, machines, information sharing and availability, freedom, etc. hats off to everyone involved.

    But I agree, 100%, with the poster I quoted here. Further to that, I don't care if Linux is 'ready for the Desktop', and I won't debate, or be judgmental about, whether or not this is the "Year of Linux on the Desktop." In my opinion it is far from 'ready' and i think its best years are ahead of it, still.

    I haven't used the numerous GUIs that this poster mentioned. But KDE and Gnome are obviously based on NT, and maybe Gnome has a little OS X feel to it. But so what? Greater minds than mine have come up with the statement that 'All ideas are based on other ideas' and who am I to argue. The beautiful thing about Linux, as it stands, is that the fragmentation of the desktop metaphors is also its saving grace. Anyone is free to get out there and innovate. what more could you ask for?

    But the average desktop user is going to freak the first time they want to do something simple, like, say, get rid of those annoying tool tips on the Desktop, and then, not seeing anything relevant in the System admin menu or the Applications menu, going into Ubuntu/Gnome "help" and finding out that they have to dust off their non-existent 1966-era text input skills (launch VIM, in other words) and drill down into the correct gconf file and fiddle about. [Oh, and if Uncle Fred or Aunt Millie is reading, for God's sake, if you even find the gconf file, instead of the xml 'tree' that opens in your browser, for Christ's sake don't forget to launch VIM as 'root'... they forgot that part in "Help"... {laughs}]

    Do you see where I'm going with this? It's not ready. Not yet. Part of me says, "Big deal" and the other part of me hopes that somebody, somewhere, comes up with a GUI that even the ''average' user can comfortably navigate, alter, and use. Because we need this. Windows has destroyed the enjoyment of personal computing and information sharing (via the Internet) for a good part of millions of people's lives. It would be illegal if sanity was any consideration. And Apple is slowly destroying their 'fork' of Unix, so it's going to be up to you folks, to come up with a Linux for the 'other', for the 'masses', and we'll still be able to do make installs of the kernel, and hobbyist-away our time on the Planet, if we so desire.

    I didn't mean to go on and on like this, but I go back quite a ways; I've used SGIs, SPARCStations, a boatload of Apple gear, and I still love NT 4.0, so, I guess I grant myself the freedom to take liberties when I say that Linux is way good enough for me, already, a couple years ago in fact, but for 'them'... Out There? Uh, no. Not yet.

  • by Burz ( 138833 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2007 @12:48AM (#20647663) Homepage Journal []

    You should be recommending Easybuntu or preferably Medibuntu. [] With Medibuntu, you just switch on universe and mulitverse and restricted, copy/paste the Medibuntu source lines into the package manager, then install w32codecs and libdvdcss. Upgrades then won't cause your system to self destruct.

    The system will work with multimedia at this point.

    That leaves one remaining hurdle, the video driver for 3D games. I agree that Dell could have taken care of this detail, but what are they going to do when the kernel gets upgraded and the video goes *poof* ? Sounds like a tech support nightmare. Forgetting about games support seems acceptable for the time being.
  • by armb ( 5151 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2007 @06:33AM (#20649375) Homepage
    It says "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'" right there in the post, you didn't even have to RTFA.

    Though one point he does miss is that even non-tech users sometimes have friends or family who are techies, and in that situation Linux might be a better fit. Windows is still generally easier to use out of the box, but when it doesn't work and the help just says "consult your system administrator", Linux can be easier to find fixes for.

"I'm not afraid of dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens." -- Woody Allen