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Ubuntu Light: The web in 7 seconds
May 10, 2010 5:35 PM   Subscribe

In the wake of the release of Lucid Lynx, the latest version of Ubuntu ("Perfect", "Mactastic"), Canonical have unveiled Unity and Ubuntu Light, a new desktop environment and implementgation of Ubuntu aimed at the netbook and tablet market as well as offering an "instant web" experience that can either be stand-alone or on a dual booting device. Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth discusses the design process behind Unity. Ars Technica Hands on. (last two links via)
posted by Artw (267 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
What hardware specifically, though. I keep being sucked into the netbook release and then realizing it won't run on an n810.

As for Lucid Lynx....yeah, it's good. But in discussing Ubuntu vs Debian with a coworker, he managed to convince himself and at least half-convince me that we both should really be on Debian (for the kinds of things we do).

Then again, as I keep saying to him, being dissatisfied with Linux is a sign you haven't used Windows or OSX recently enough.
posted by DU at 5:44 PM on May 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


I keep being sucked into the netbook release and then realizing it won't run on an n810.

Crikey, that thing is tiny. and a little underpowered. Are you sure you don't want to put a phone OS on it?
posted by Artw at 5:49 PM on May 10, 2010


Yeah, it's a couple years old. I just really hate Maemo (or more specifically, the significantly-lacking Maemo software ecosystem). What is "a phone OS"? There's no phone on the n810...
posted by DU at 5:51 PM on May 10, 2010


Android, that sort of thing.
posted by Artw at 5:52 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I had no idea Android would run on the n810. I'm not sure I can morally support Android, though. Not that the full software stock already on the device is any more free, I'm sure.
posted by DU at 5:54 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Like so
posted by Artw at 5:55 PM on May 10, 2010


I wonder if Unity or Ubuntu Lite would work on an old Acer laptop with a Celeron M chip I bought back in 2004...
posted by KokuRyu at 5:58 PM on May 10, 2010


What a coincidence. Out of curosity, I decided to try booting the Windows 7 laptop I got a couple of months ago with Ubuntu Lucid Lynx off a flash drive. Rather a bit more responsive, and on boot used less than 300MB of RAM.

My old laptop runs Ubuntu exclusively now and had for over a year. So far I've kept Win7 on the laptop because of the effort to get stuff backed up off it and the possible trouble with putting it back on if I reformat. But yeah, there is little I do that requires Windows any more. Just a couple of legacy programs, and they'll run off XP running on VirtualBox if pressed.
posted by JHarris at 5:58 PM on May 10, 2010


I have a laptop which is targeted for Ubuntu. I want to wean myself off of Windows, or at least come to terms with it. Windows 7 isn't bad, but, honestly, while I would pay for an operating system, I would not pay that much for it. Back when I had strong Microsoft connections, I could get a copy of NT Workstation for ten bucks, with NT Server going for forty. That's a no-brainer for me. I think I might pay fifty dollars for Windows 7, maybe a hundred bucks for a bunch of home licenses.

Live CDs don't cut it, not because there's anything wrong with them, but that you're not committed to an installation the way you are when you blow away a Windows install and reformat. You've signed on to at least give it a shot.

I hope Ubuntu is worth it. Every so often, I'll play the "give Linux a shot" game and find myself wasting a lot of time trying to get some very basic things working. By the time I get home, I don't really have a strong urge to recompile the kernel because some instructions I found somewhere suggested I do so, just for some minor feature. Star Office put me off of it for another couple of years. Ubuntu sounds like it will do the trick. Finally.
posted by adipocere at 6:05 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ubuntu does absolutely everything I want it to do except run games. Which makes it virtually useless to me, unfortunately.

But it's good for reading Metafilter.
posted by Justinian at 6:07 PM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


KokuRyu: I wonder if Unity or Ubuntu Lite would work on an old Acer laptop with a Celeron M chip I bought back in 2004...

I'd almost be willing to bet it'd work great with stock Lucid Lynx.
posted by JHarris at 6:09 PM on May 10, 2010


Justinian - you might be in luck - Steam for Linux?
posted by Artw at 6:13 PM on May 10, 2010


Yeah, Ubuntu is perfect for grandparents. Get them up and running and then lock it down.

I played around with it for a couple of years, but was always put off that I couldn't do little things like sync my Garmin heart rate monitor/GPS thingy with a web app. But for 99% of what I use a computer for, it works.

But since Leopard came with the MacBook Pro, I use that. I'll install Ubuntu if it will do something I need to do that Leopard won't do already.

I'm sure there's something, I'm just saying I haven't found it yet. I really don't ever see myself paying for another Windows license again.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:14 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


By the time I get home, I don't really have a strong urge to recompile the kernel because some instructions I found somewhere suggested I do so, just for some minor feature.

Just how long ago was the last time you tried Linux?

Star Office put me off of it for another couple of years.

I was using OpenOffice a few weeks ago and cursing. However, as I mentioned to my boss, OpenOffice is terrible precisely to the extent to which is emulates MS Office accurately. It successfully reproduces the overly-complex GUIness of almost all Windows software.
posted by DU at 6:15 PM on May 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'm now dual booting Ubuntu and Mac OSX. Mac is around to run steam, which should be out in a few weeks. Yes, that's right, I'm keeping an Apple OS for games. Strange times...
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:16 PM on May 10, 2010


I used to run Debian, but I don't like compiling kernels or getting into the nitty-gritty details of making an OS work. I started noticing that most of the time I had to look up how to fix something, I'd get the answer at an Ubuntu forum. I finally switched to Ubuntu, and my systems just worked, almost no effort.

Most of the people around me use Windows, there are a few Mac people. While there are still some things that Windows or Mac do better, it's actually surprising how often Ubuntu works better. There are plenty of times I've seen someone trying to get something working on Windows (connect some hardware, get software working, etc) and realized, "Wow, for me that just works when I plug it in."

I've been running steam with wine for awhile now. It's okay. Wine still isn't quite there, but it's improving pretty rapidly. I haven't tried in a couple months (too busy) but last time I was able to play games, it was just a little frustrating.
posted by Humanzee at 6:18 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


However, as I mentioned to my boss, OpenOffice is terrible precisely to the extent to which is emulates MS Office accurately.

This. Well to be fair, they haven't introduced The Ribbon into Open Office yet, so it's actually ahead of MS Office in my opinion.
posted by Jimbob at 6:19 PM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I ran Ubuntu on an old gaming PC from 2004. Trust me, it'll work. Ubuntu is fairly light, as far as mainstream OSes go.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:20 PM on May 10, 2010


BTW, if Open Office sucks almost as bad as Microsoft Office does, what should we be writing our papers in? Other than iWork?
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:21 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've done the Linux experiment a couple times, myself. I love it in theory, but in practice I always found the interface clunky and ugly. It's been a few years since I tried Ubuntu (last version I ran was Hardy Heron)... looks like they've made some big steps forward since then.

But it wasn't just the UI that killed Linux for me in the past, it was the freaking way software was distributed. You had to pick the release for your chipset and download it in a tarball. Then you had to "make" it and "compile" it and a bunch of other arcane steps that were monstrously annoying. Never the same for two different apps. And something about X11 and GTK and KDE and GNOME. I don't know what all that crap is, I just want software that works, out of the box. I don't think I ever found a binary that did that, even when its web site claimed it was supposed to. I was probably doing it wrong, but its not like there was helpful documentation to clear the fog and steer me in the right direction.

My memory is hazy but I seem to remember something about a Synaptic Package Manager that was a front end for apt-get, or something. That was better but it felt very limiting. Maybe because I was a clueless n00b, again, with no adequate documentation. At least with that program I was able to figure out how to get some new applications, but the whole process left a bad taste in my mouth.

I want to download a compressed folder with the executable app in it. Or an installer that will put the app where it needs to go: no muss, no fuss. Does Lucid Lynx have that, or is it merely a prettier version of the same old software installation headache? For me, that's the clincher, the usability bottom line that's kept Linux from being a serious contender in the OS wars.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 6:22 PM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh, sweet. They have an auto-installer for windows now. I was just going to "burn" the ISO to a SD card since I don't even use CDs at all now unless I'm forced to (which requires going and borrowing an external CD) or unless I'm fixing someone's machine.

I've been wanting a dualboot on this netbook for a while now. Now that Inkscape and other apps relevant to my interests are maturing I might not even need to boot windows at all.

Hey, I might even be able to run Mixx instead of Traktor, but is there a linux version of Ableton Live yet? What about other DAW solutions? I doubt they'd work well in WINE or a VM, but I'll give it a shot.
posted by loquacious at 6:25 PM on May 10, 2010


what should we be writing our papers in?

TEX
posted by DU at 6:25 PM on May 10, 2010 [20 favorites]


I'll have to wait and see how reviews go on this one. I'm on 9.04 - 9.10 was a complete disaster for me, and I've been using Linux for a long time now.
posted by dilettante at 6:29 PM on May 10, 2010


or is it merely a prettier version of the same old software installation headache?

It sounds like you managed to somehow make a headache out of thin air. You don't have to compile anything to install software on Ubuntu. And why would you need to choose a chipset for *source code* that you then both make and compile?

Just click the little box in Synaptic and away you go. If that's still confusing, try a tutorial.
posted by DU at 6:29 PM on May 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


loquacious, you want LMMS

And I am led to believe that Lyx is the preferred word processor of neckbeards, though I myself have no problem with OpenOffice.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:30 PM on May 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well DU, I probably have the details wrong. It's been a few years and I was pretty lost in the jargon at the time. It just really bugged me that it seemed more difficult than it should've been to simply download a program from the internet, install it, and run it.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 6:33 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fuck you, Ubuntu! I refuse to take you seriously until you drop the infantile alliterations. And no, this is not a fucking joke.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:33 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


The latest changes in Ubuntu don't seem to be especially well thought-out. Shuttleworth has decreed that window close/minimize/maximize buttons will go in the upper left, and in a weird order, with the stated goal of 'putting something on the right', but without actually saying what it is.

Further, if I understand the LWN comments correctly, it appears that they've removed the responsibility for drawing those decorations from the window manager, and given it to the application. This is a terrible idea, for at least two reasons. First, that adds complexity and lack of uniformity to every app on the system, because suddenly they all have to understand theming and window decorations in a way they didn't before. Second, that also transfers control over closing and resizing to the app, instead of the window manager, so a frozen app is going to be harder to kill. And a poorly-threaded app will become very unresponsive under load; you'll likely be stuck with it in precisely the size and shape it's in until processing stops. When the window manager handles it, the state of the app doesn't matter very much.

From what I can see, Ubuntu is taking small, but significant steps backward, and doing it by decree, without involving upstream authors or other distributions in any way before rolling out these changes. This is pretty alien to the open source environment, and I think it may not play out well with many in that community. Shuttleworth seems to be forgetting that Ubuntu mostly repackages the work of others, and if he diverges his code base to that degree, he may end up out on a limb, forced to support multiple forks that nobody else is working with.

He has every right to do it, that's kind of the whole point of free software, but if he's not able to deliver a compellingly better experience to users, and drive new support/subscription money into his coffers, it's going to be a net loss for his outfit. And I don't presently see anything better about his changes, so I don't see them netting him any extra cash. Unless they come up with something just intoxicatingly awesome to be worth the user retraining and UI pain, I can't see these changes sticking over the long term. But that won't stop them from frittering away plenty of money on a low quality idea.
posted by Malor at 6:33 PM on May 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


Parker Lewis, the new Ubuntu has a "software store" where you don't pay money. Most software installation is now a "search, click, and enter your password" affair.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:34 PM on May 10, 2010


I use Ubuntu at work, we're a Unix/Linux software development shop so running Windows on my desktop would just get in the way. Sadly, I still run Windows at home on my laptop because of some problems with Hibernate/Restore on Ubuntu that I've never resolved.
posted by octothorpe at 6:34 PM on May 10, 2010


The Winsome Parker Lewis:

I was an Ubuntu user up until very recently when my previous laptop stopped working and I had to switch to something extremely light I could run on my ridiculously old, useless backup laptop. In my experience, almost anything you could need was available by issuing sudo apt-get install <NAME_OF_APPLICATION> from the terminal. I tend to think that it's actually a lot easier and more efficient that way, as one command will download and install the application for you automatically, but it is a change from how it's done in Windows. The only things I couldn't find in the Ubuntu repositories were really old or obscure applications.

YMMV, of course.
posted by nerdinexile at 6:36 PM on May 10, 2010


The Winsome Parker Lewis: I've done the Linux experiment a couple times, myself. I love it in theory, but in practice I always found the interface clunky and ugly. It's been a few years since I tried Ubuntu (last version I ran was Hardy Heron)... looks like they've made some big steps forward since then.

Honestly, this hasn't been the case since at least Ubuntu 8. It installs GNOME out of the box and is very clean and slick.

But it wasn't just the UI that killed Linux for me in the past, it was the freaking way software was distributed. You had to pick the release for your chipset and download it in a tarball. Then you had to "make" it and "compile" it and a bunch of other arcane steps that were monstrously annoying.

Unless you've been using some weird distribution apt-get/deb has been a standard for years now. And since 9.10 there's been the Ubuntu Software Store. With that and the automatic Update Manager you need never use Synaptic unless there's something extra geeky you need installed.
posted by JHarris at 6:37 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


it was the freaking way software was distributed. You had to pick the release for your chipset and download it in a tarball. Then you had to "make" it and "compile" it

Um, no. Unless you are installing some sort of really bleeding edge experimental software, you do not have to do this. Debian, on which Ubuntu is based, has had this nailed down for the better part (more than?) a decade.

On the command line you just type "sudo apt-get whatever" and then type your password. This is the hard way. The easy way involves using their graphical tool which lets you scroll through all the software available in the Ubuntu repository (sort of like an App Store, only without Steve Jobs, and free) and click on the stuff you want to install.

All software installed this way (not just the OS) is automatically tracked and can be updated automatically. This is a feature which is not really available in either MacOS or Windows and, although it's not as sexy as some of the eye candy junk, is freaking amazing.

Of course you can download and compile and install tarballs if you really want to, but most people don't anymore.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:38 PM on May 10, 2010 [11 favorites]


it appears that they've removed the responsibility for drawing those decorations from the window manager, and given it to the application.

I hated that change too and switched it back. I don't know much about GNOME, but it certainly didn't involve telling every app to switch to the right. It's a Metacity option, so I assume that means it's a window manager thing.

From what I can see, Ubuntu is taking small, but significant steps backward, and doing it by decree, without involving upstream authors or other distributions in any way before rolling out these changes.

This is what my Debian-using acquaintance also says. It sounds like Ubuntu is basically getting a big head and thinking they've done all this great work themselves when really it's Debian doing most of the heavy lifting of creating a solid, working system for Ubuntu to tweak with the latest versions of Firefox/Thunderbird/etc.
posted by DU at 6:38 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe I should give it another try. I'm not due for a new computer for another couple of years but there's no room for another OS on my current machine. When it comes time, I'll strongly consider dual- or triple-booting OS X, Ubuntu, and maybe Windows on the replacement machine, right out of the box. I bet Ubuntu will have matured even more by that point.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 6:39 PM on May 10, 2010


And it's clear from the comments that I didn't know what I was talking about. I'm kind of relieved to learn that getting software for Linux isn't supposed to be a pain. Guess I just had a major case of Doing It Wrong. :-(
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 6:42 PM on May 10, 2010


DU, I'm overdue. I think it's been about four years.

I go through cycles. Try Linux. Try OpenBSD. I like OpenBSD, partly due to the uncompromising cantankerousness of the project, which prompts me to buy their CDs. My second Linux attempt, which, if I recall correctly, was RedHat 3.2, was a clear disaster, between the hardware issues and everything else. I had thrown together a PC out of scraps I had laying around — said scraps including a weird old Mitsumi clamshell 1x CD ROM with a connector that had to run through a strange, triangular wedge of a soundcard. I think it was a VESA video card. Dire warnings about blowing the monitor, should I not know all of the variables like refresh rate, prompted me to splurge on a new monitor. It was a painful disaster.

I've had Linux simply refuse to install on some motherboards. RedHat, Debian, or SuSE, didn't matter. That board wasn't going to take it. Thanks to the open-source aspect, I actually found the assembler code (yeah, that far down) which was responsible for the problem, though I had no idea how to fix it. That was fun. It was in the late nineties. My Beta of Windows NT 5 (heh) worked, though.

Other attempts have followed. So far I have stuck with either RedHat or SuSE for Linux attempts. One time I did a fun experiment using two pieces of identical surplus equipment I had — Windows 95 (or was it 98?) with Office 97, versus whatever the year-matched Linux alternative might be. Which one ran faster when it came to doing word processing? The Windows box. I blame the Javaness. And my old CaseLogic filled with ancient distros gets another layer.

I've had better luck with CentOS, the RedHat Enterprise Linux ... tribute? clone? ... as a server, but so far, I haven't had a Linux box fulfill my basic "surf the web, screw around, watch some videos, check some email, write letters" needs. I know I ought to keep trying, but at some point I begin to feel like Charlie Brown with the football and grow despondent. And the Linux community? Ugh. The message has yet to hit home for most of the grunt-level types you find in various forums and chats: You May Not Simultaneously Be Elite and Own the Desktop; Pick One.

That's why I have such hopes for Ubuntu. They seem to get it. My unreasonable fear is that I will once again be disappointed and end up buying an Apple or go even weirder and dig out my old Plan 9 disks and decide, yeah, this is where I will stop in computing.
posted by adipocere at 6:43 PM on May 10, 2010


I wonder if Unity or Ubuntu Lite would work on an old Acer laptop with a Celeron M chip I bought back in 2004...

I've been running Xubuntu Lynx for 2 weeks on my EEE PC, which for the record only has a 900MHz Celeron and a 7" screen. It's awesome. Blazing fast, as far as what I ask of it.
posted by tybeet at 6:45 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Winsome Parker Lewis: When it comes time, I'll strongly consider dual- or triple-booting OS X, Ubuntu, and maybe Windows on the replacement machine, right out of the box. I bet Ubuntu will have matured even more by that point.

No need. Get yourself a 4 GB flash drive, install Ubuntu to that, then reboot and set your BIOS to boot from it. You're done. I used such a setup last year when my old laptop's hard drive failed, and other than boot time it was like before. I kept my files on an external hard drive which it could mount and use perfectly well. This was three versions ago.
posted by JHarris at 6:46 PM on May 10, 2010


Oh Jebus, RedHat. I used to use RedHat but they almost drove me to OSX, they were that bad. I installed one of their things recently (had to for work) and it was literally as bad, or worse, than installing Windows. All kinds of finding installation keys and syncing with online "accounts" and stupid junk.

Definitely try Ubuntu. And the Ubuntu forums (which I've read but never posted on) seem pretty friendly.
posted by DU at 6:47 PM on May 10, 2010


OpenOffice is terrible precisely to the extent to which is emulates MS Office accurately
Lord yes. And there's an extra layer of pain; if you're working with both between home and office the combination is almost guaranteed to comprehensively fuck all your files. I have quite a few very unspeakable explanations for what ".rtf" stands for.

In my own personal Hell the Devil tortures the souls of the damned with comments in Track Changes.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:47 PM on May 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Parker Lewis, it sounds like you Read The Wrong Manual. Compiling source code is in fact the standard way of installing software on Linux... in the sense that it works regardless of distribution or architecture... so when you go onto a Linux program's website and read the installation instructions, those are the ones you will probably see. It can be confusing if you're used to the Windows world where everyone has their own installer.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:48 PM on May 10, 2010


The easy way involves using their graphical tool which lets you scroll through all the software available in the Ubuntu repository.

And the even easier way is that there is now a URL handler for software packages, which means you can just go to a page like this, click a link (ie. the Install Codecs one), and enter your password.

The frustrations with Ubuntu, however, are now the small, obscure ones, rather than big things like "installing software". Ubuntu has, in theory, supported my 3G broadband dongle for several versions now. I click to add wireless connection, select my country (Australia), select my provider (Virgin), select my plan (Mobile Broadband)...the light on my dongle flickers, then it says connection failed. I don't understand how they could go to so much trouble to make something that just doesn't work, and never seems to get fixed, no matter how many people submit bugs on it.

And then there was the problem with the previous version of Ubuntu, where doing a system update screwed up GRUB for people with WUBI installations, leaving the system unbootable.

I like Ubuntu, but it still needs to get a bit better.
posted by Jimbob at 6:49 PM on May 10, 2010


Well, that was easy. I think that took about 15 minutes to download, partition and install and I didn't have to do squat or leave Windows to do it. I still haven't rebooted to check it out, but I will as soon as I clear these tabs out.

loquacious, you want LMMS

Hey, neat ARGH FRUITY LOOPS STUDIO OH GOD NO THE PAIN well, I'll give it a try but if it's anything like FL studio I'll probably be happier repeatedly punching myself in the junk with a large brick. Not that Live doesn't have it's own limitations and issues, but sweet jesus the interface for Live is a wonder to behold.
posted by loquacious at 6:56 PM on May 10, 2010


The Winsome Parker Lewis: “But it wasn't just the UI that killed Linux for me in the past, it was the freaking way software was distributed. You had to pick the release for your chipset and download it in a tarball. Then you had to "make" it and "compile" it and a bunch of other arcane steps that were monstrously annoying. Never the same for two different apps.”

This is just misunderstanding and lack of education, honestly. You're describing the standard install method circa 1998. Installing programs in Ubuntu is very, very easy – much easier (and more secure) than on Windows or even OS X. Now, if you want to install programs from the repository, all you have to do is open the Ubuntu Software Center, search for what you want, and click "install." If you want to get all fancy, you can open the Synaptic Package Manager and watch the dependancies, but you don't have to.

Seriously, I don't think I've actually compiled anything like that in a month or two – and that's just because I'm the type of person who installs stuff and plays around with it. Most people will never need to know how to run a make script or do anything like that to run Ubuntu

“I want to download a compressed folder with the executable app in it. Or an installer that will put the app where it needs to go: no muss, no fuss. Does Lucid Lynx have that, or is it merely a prettier version of the same old software installation headache? For me, that's the clincher, the usability bottom line that's kept Linux from being a serious contender in the OS wars.”

Again, I get the impression you were either using a very, very old Linux or installing some very arcane stuff. In Linux these days, there are two common package types ("installers" for Windows folks): .rpm and .deb. In Ubuntu, if you double-click on either of these types of files, the installer will automatically install the program, and it will appear in your menu.

Hell, I'll do you one better: if you go to that handy Ubuntu Software Center and install a handy thing called Wine, you can run most basic Windows programs. So: I can download an .exe, double-click it, and it will run on my Ubuntu system. If it's an installer, it will install the program and I can run it from the menu. Neat, eh?
posted by koeselitz at 6:56 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Winsome Parker Lewis: Ubuntu is probably the most popular of the end-user distros, and because of that, nearly everything is available for it. You should always look in the official repositories first, once you know the name of what you're looking for. I see 26,879 packages listed in my Ubuntu package manager at the moment. Many of those are libraries and support files; I think the actual number of applications is closer to 10,000. They come pre-tagged with all the dependencies they need, so choosing one will download and install everything necessary to make it work. Further, you'll then automatically get security and bugfixes without extra effort; they'll be patched in exactly the same way that the main OS files are.

When you see outside applications for Ubuntu, it's most common to publish them in that same repository format; you typically add the repository in Synaptic, and then install the software from there. That gives you the same bugfix capability you get from the main repos.

It's not at all common to download and install software directly. You can DO that, but as you noticed, it's generally painful. One frequent approach is just to share source code, which you then have to compile and install yourself, and you have to manually hunt down the necessary libraries to do so. This is usually an iterative process, where you run 'configure' or 'make', and it complains about missing stuff, and you figure out what to install, add that, run it again, figure out more missing stuff, and so on. It can easily take a half-hour or longer to get a compile running, especially starting from a clean install, because you'll be missing many development libraries. (Later compiles of other packages get easier, because you'll have more and more of the dependencies already installed.) And you have to manually track those apps and compile new versions if bug or security fixes are issued.

If the author instead provides an all-in-one, like on Mac OS, they have to do what's called a 'static compile', which embeds all the necessary libraries into the main executable. This means that the application will have a heavy impact on your system, because it loads those libraries uniquely for that application, instead of sharing them system-wide. And it means that you don't get automatic bugfixes... if there's something wrong in, say, the really fundamental libc library, your static app will need to be entirely recompiled to benefit from the fixes. When you're running in shared library mode, just fixing libc fixes all the apps that use it.

Providing a repository is almost always the best solution, because you get all the advantages of shared libraries and automatic bugfixes, but avoid having to do any compiling yourself.

This is a major shift from how other OSes do it, and it's perfectly sensible to have no idea that any of this is going on -- the Achilles heel of free software is always the documentation. Nowadays, there's usually an easy way to accomplish things that were once very difficult (hell, just simple dialup PPP or, later, wireless-G both used to be really painful), but finding out what that way is can be a pain. Search the Ubuntu forums and their web help pages whenever you have a problem that's not straightforward; very frequently, you'll find a specific set of instructions on how to fix your issue. Most of the time, it's even easy, it's just a matter of knowing where to look.

That is, very frequently, the hardest part of Linux.... just knowing where to look.
posted by Malor at 6:57 PM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Ubuntu is light enough that you should be able to run it in a virtual machine (unless your current OS is truly taxing your system to its limit). So you can try it out and see if it pisses you off / is as incomprehensible as you remember linux being. I'll tell you, it isn't. I had the same experiences and gave up on many a linux distro. Ubuntu mostly just works. Plus, then you have a secret shitbox that you don't have to worry about malware on. Want to open up that attachment that grandma e-mailed to you? Go ahead, in the unlikely event that Skynet gets too rambunctious, you can just delete the whole damned virtual machine.

The buttons thing is really weird. Like, George Lucas weird. I dunno. Hopefully they'll outgrow that kind of shit. The experimental direction the new GNOME is going in is crazy weird too. And KDE 4 is stupid unstable. Hopefully this is just a sign that linux is in that awkward post-adolescent stage where it discovers its artistic integrity. Those buttons are Ubuntu's drunken tattoo. I only hope that ten years down the line, Ubuntu doesn't start to resent paying taxes and go Republican.
posted by Humanzee at 6:58 PM on May 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Also, we've come a long way from "That's too hard to install and manage" to "There are X number of apps I still need in Windows" (where X is an arbitrarily large number) to today, where the install and manage part is damn near done with, and X is a much smaller number.

I wonder if I can find a linux-native version of CorelDraw! these days? X4 or higher, hopefully.
posted by loquacious at 6:59 PM on May 10, 2010


This Windows program will install Ubuntu onto your computer. You don't need to burn a CD.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:59 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


adipocere: I've had better luck with CentOS, the RedHat Enterprise Linux ... tribute? clone? ... as a server, but so far, I haven't had a Linux box fulfill my basic "surf the web, screw around, watch some videos, check some email, write letters" needs.

Dear lord.

I'm sounding like a broken record here, but Ubuntu is there now, and has been for over a year. I mean you're using Firefox for web browsing, right? Even if not Chrome and Opera have perfectly fine Linux versions. Unless you're loyal to Internet Explorer (god help you if you are), all these programs are at least as good as their Windows counterparts. Firefox starts up faster on my 2005 Ubuntu machine with 1.25 GB of memory than on my Windows 7 machine with 2 GB.

And if you have a web browser, you're set. Email? Use Gmail. Write letters? Google Docs for 90% of features, OpenOffice for the other 10%. Weird program that only has a Windows version? VirtualBox muthafucka. Plus you can print to PDF without using a hacky 3rd party program that uses so much memory that half the time I try it on Windows 7 the system freezes up so bad I have to power cycle.

Looking at all the comments I've left I think I'm getting close to mania here. But I've used each of Windows 7, OS/X and Ubuntu Linux as my sole operating system at different times over the last year. None of them are bad, and OSX still does some things great that no other OS does (drag an application to the trash to uninstall it? Yes please) but Ubuntu was best.
posted by JHarris at 6:59 PM on May 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


This makes me smile just because it means there will be another build of Linux CNC real soon.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:04 PM on May 10, 2010


To find Linux programs to replace your Windows programs, search OSAlt.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:04 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


A lot of websites do offer .deb packages now as a download, as well (if you dont want to go through package manager). And those work on Ubuntu.

I use both Ubuntu and Windows, and am pretty happy with both. To me that's a huge win for Linux, which 5-10 years ago was not even close. Gaming is still an issue, but I don't really play PC games anymore. The only Windows software I truly can't live without is Excel. That being said, I still prefer to run Windows on most of my home machines, and Linux at work. But partially thats just because I want to stay on top of both worlds.
posted by wildcrdj at 7:05 PM on May 10, 2010


I refuse to take you seriously until you drop the infantile alliterations.

It seems twee until the first time you need to search for version-specific Ubuntu information. Adding +lucid or +koala or whatever to your search string is a fairly strong guarantee that the results will be relevant to your install. You can do the same with version numbers, and searching for +9.10 (for example) should usually work, but the results might contain more irrelevancies.

The alliteration just makes the identifiers easy to remember.

My own experience? Lucid's okay. It's not blowing my socks off, but it gets the job done without trying too hard and that's all I care about. I was pleased that the automated upgrade from Karmic didn't break as many things as past upgrades have (amarok 2 stopped working, but then amarok 2 often stops working). They also make including popular repositories like Medibuntu much more straightforward (seeing as adding Medibuntu is pretty much the first thing you'll do after installing).
posted by Ritchie at 7:05 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ubuntu ships without support for a number of popular multimedia file formats (or most video DVDs). To use them, add the Medibuntu repository.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:09 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I use Ubuntu on my primary workstation at grad school. I hadn't updated since 8.10 or so. I don't care much about the visual look or the music store or whatever. I do care about performance and I've noticed a huge huge improvement. Web browsing with firefox with a jillion tabs open used to leak memory or something, and performance would eventually degrade until I reset the application. No more; it's smooth.

The one critical flaw for me is still OpenOffice, since it sometimes doesn't quite get the formatting right on a document that's been imported and exported, which is a problem if you have co-authors who use MS Office. My solution is an amazing software tool called VirtualBox which lets you run an instance of another operating system inside Ubuntu, live in a window just like any other application. If you have a Windows and Office on CD you can just install them and run them for the rare cases when you need to.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:10 PM on May 10, 2010


loquacious: Some time ago Corel decided they'd be the first to jump ship and make Linux versions of all their programs, and even released a distribution. That lasted a few months. It is rather a shame; if they had stuck with it they'd be golden now.

Anyway, so I doubt there is a Linux native version of CorelDraw. VirtualBox will probably work for installing it to a simulated XP machine in a pinch. That's if Inkscape isn't enough, of course.
posted by JHarris at 7:11 PM on May 10, 2010


I get you, JHarris, it's just that I have heard this before. It's like deciding to take another foray into organized religion and you meet some nice people and they're all friendly and you go to services a few times and they invite you in and then it's "Oh, now we have to purge your naughty places with nettles" (the last time, they, a different they, wanted your earlobes) and although you were horrified the first few times and ran away screaming now you're kind of inured to the trauma but at the same time you're not exactly eager to jump in because 2010 being the Year of the Linux Desktop is like all of those years it was gonna be the End Times and after a while you just can't get any anticipation or fearful fervor worked up for the Tribulations and you say, "Yeah, right. Like I'm going to believe it this time."

And if all of that sounds terribly incoherent, that's about in line with how I feel about it.
posted by adipocere at 7:11 PM on May 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


Hello from Ubuntu (netbook edtion).

Lucid Lynx is pretty neat. Now if I can just figure out where the soft controls are for the screen brightness, because my hotkeys aren't working.

It's really amazing to me that I can drop a new OS on a boot partition from start to finish in under 25 minutes while sitting in a coffee shop with so little hassle. It's come a long way.

Jharris: Yeah, I was hoping they stuck with the linux-porting, but I guess not. I'd even settle for an older version like 10.0, since most of the stuff I do is just basic manual shape-building that I could do in any competent bezier-curve editor, including Illustrator. But for the kind of work I do I just have preferred the workflow and hotkeys of CorelDraw!
posted by loquacious at 7:22 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


If Ubuntu goes anywhere near your naughty places, remove the bootable thumbdrive from the USB slot and cycle the power. (that's what she said)
posted by DU at 7:23 PM on May 10, 2010


This makes me smile just because it means there will be another build of Linux CNC real soon.
I'm a CNC machinist and robotics operator. I usually don't like the idea of bringing work home with me, but I really like the looks of that thing. We use a ton of different systems to accomplish what that one package claims to do.
posted by TrialByMedia at 7:24 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


adipocere: I get you, JHarris, it's just that I have heard this before.

Well of course you have. Of course there would be some die hard geeks who, like a year after Torvalds announced his little hobby project, announced Linux is Ready For The Desktop. And of course, every year after that, a few less geeky people have announced the same thing. They're (we're) geeks: enthusiasts by nature.

Yes, I am a geek. But appearances to the contrary, I'm a lot less of one than I may seem. I really don't like compiling software and mucking around in .profiles either. I've never had to do that on Ubuntu; interestingly, I have had to do that on OSX, to get an unsupported but dead common USB wireless device working because damnable Apple didn't make the thing. The worrying thing is, Ubuntu Linux has actually been here for a little while now, and a lot of people seem not to have noticed.

If you don't believe me then install it to a thumb drive and try it out. It's not like you can't reformat the thing to store documents on if you don't like it. Try it again in six months, it's really not that hard.
posted by JHarris at 7:28 PM on May 10, 2010


loquacious: Don't know about brightness settings, I don't see anything like that on my 10.04 setup, but it's desktop edition.
posted by JHarris at 7:32 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


adipocere: As others are saying, give it a try on a USB stick -- if you've got a BIOS that can boot from USB, that's quite usable. The LiveCDs work fine, but they're very slow, because CD drives are horribly sluggish. USB isn't as fast as a hard drive, but it's quick enough to be comfortable.

About two years ago, I switched my Inspiron 9300 laptop over to it, on a lark, when my XP installation had gotten corrupted, as they always seem to eventually. Ubuntu had ongoing issues with the sound, where the 'subwoofer' (hah) was way overdriven, and I didn't find a final answer on that issue for almost a year. But everything else worked fine, and while I didn't like it quite as well as XP, it never bothered me enough to switch back. I stayed with Ubuntu out of sheer inertia; it was good enough to do what I needed it to do, and the sound issue wasn't enough to be worth the reinstall pain.

It's a weird way of saying that, for me at least, it had gotten sufficient to be quite usable as a laptop. It did everything I needed. Once upon a time, I kept Linux desktops out of some sense of Fighting The Man or possibly Supporting Free Software. This time, I kept Linux because I was too lazy to switch. And, once my sound problem was finally fixed, I had no reason to switch at all.

It's a backhanded form of high praise.
posted by Malor at 7:35 PM on May 10, 2010


Definitely try Ubuntu. And the Ubuntu forums (which I've read but never posted on) seem pretty friendly.

This is definitely the truth. I've asked some blatantly stupid Q's on there and have been amazed at how many people jump out of the woodwork to offer tips. If anything, your problems will lie in the other direction, as I've had some seemingly needy folks try to become my best friend through the messaging systems on the board.
posted by mannequito at 7:37 PM on May 10, 2010


I've always thought Ubuntu's best feature was its user base. If enough people use a product, finding solutions to your problems becomes much easier.

However, as to the OS itself I see nothing that recommends it over Mandriva.
posted by oddman at 7:43 PM on May 10, 2010


JHarris: I need a bios update for the NC10, apparently. Found it.
posted by loquacious at 7:44 PM on May 10, 2010


Fuck you, Ubuntu! I refuse to take you seriously until you drop the infantile alliterations. And no, this is not a fucking joke.

What, like "Vista" and "Snow Leopard" are good names for operating systems?
posted by twirlip at 7:46 PM on May 10, 2010 [11 favorites]


I refuse to take you seriously until you drop the infantile alliterations.

Does this mean you don't want my copy of Windows for Workgroups?
posted by zippy at 7:52 PM on May 10, 2010 [10 favorites]


Yeah, that fixed it. Ironically the BIOS update apparently still didn't fix the hotkey support for the screen brightness in XP, but works fine in Ubuntu. *shrug*
posted by loquacious at 7:52 PM on May 10, 2010


Does this mean you don't want my copy of Windows for Workgroups?

3.1 or 3.11? Winsock 1.0 or 1.1? Hell no to the former, sure to the latter.

Hell, I'd probably get all confused trying to navigate WFW now. It'd be like a strange, foreign land where everything I knew was terrible and wrong.
posted by loquacious at 7:55 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Malor: I hadn't heard any reason for moving the buttons, but I have read something about adding taskbar-like notifications to individual windows. These would have the same aesthetic as the existing volume/network/IM icons, but each app would have them. Which would lead to freeing up more screen space as you eliminate status bars, etc.
posted by mad bomber what bombs at midnight at 8:06 PM on May 10, 2010


I thought Lucid Lynx was a new release of the web browser.

/uses Gentoo
posted by kenko at 8:07 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that Lucid is the first major release of Ubuntu that has just nailed it, and I've been very, very happy with it so far. I have to say that, for all of Mark Shuttleworth's odd choices on the surface (the moving of the window buttons irked a lot of people, though I don't really care myself) there are some fantastic things going on here, mostly in areas that I think Ubuntu has to keep up if it's going to be an operating system that people in general use.

One of the things I like most in Lucid, something that seems like an actual leap forward as far as I'm concerned, is the fact that Linux sound finally works, and suddenly works much better than it does on Windows. This is actually shocking to me, because I'm used to having to spend the better part of a day patching together the sound frameworks on my computer every time there's a major upgrade. For the past few years, Ubuntu has had a whole bunch of competing and patchworked sound systems, and they've tended to get in the way of each other and fall all over the place whenever you do anything; if you want to use this program, you've got to use ALSA... which you've got to plug into OSS... which has to work with PulseAudio or PortAudio... and it's hard to know which one is doing what anyway. A whole mess, let me tell you.

Now? There's a volume button in the corner. Click it, and you get a volume bar and a "preferences" button. Click the "preferences" button and you get a complete sound preferences dialog, which recognizes anything connected (from your standard laptop speakers and internal microphone and plug to external sound cards and USB microphones) and promptly lets you switch things in and out. For example, every week at my house we plug my computer up to our big TV upstairs. It's trivially easy to switch from playing through the standard laptop speakers to playing through the HDMI cable – just a simple option in that Sound Preferences dialog. But I was really amazed when I decided to try plugging this silly little external sound card / USB microphone interface I got a while ago in and see how it would work. I wasn't expecting much, since I couldn't even get this stupid thing to work in Windows, and that was supposed to be the native operating system. But, lo and behold – I plugged it in, and it worked. Right away. No configuration, no wading through endless driver options – just literally plug... and play. Awesome.

Also, the wireless utility seems to be even more refined; at this point it seems like it's miles ahead of Windows, just considering the vastly larger set of hardware that Ubuntu's wireless capabilities will work on without downloading and installing extra drivers and crap. It's just so easy - select a network, and bam.

If anybody's been thinking about Ubuntu, and wondering if it's a good idea, I can tell you – try it now. It's better than it's ever been, and I guarantee you'll be surprised at how easy it is. You may even find that it's easier than Windows ever was.
posted by koeselitz at 8:10 PM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Total noob question: Where would I find /dev/hda1 if I wanted to mount my old Windows partition to pull some files over? The file structure in ubuntu is all kinds of weird.
posted by loquacious at 8:10 PM on May 10, 2010


I had been contemplating doing an Ubuntu 10.04 post. Two things in the post in my imagination was this mighty, mighty guide to some of the software available and noting that this was a Long Term Support (LTS) release -- for the desktop versions, security updates will be available for three years (instead of the usual Ubuntu release's year and a half), so it'd be a while before you'd need to do a major version upgrade.
posted by Zed at 8:12 PM on May 10, 2010


(Yeah, I consulted and searched help, too, there's nothing in there that I could find about mounting windows partitions. There's some stuff about migrating by going and making a second (third, technically) partition and using that as an intermediary, but I'm assuming Ubuntu can still mount FAT/NTFS given permission.)
posted by loquacious at 8:13 PM on May 10, 2010


I donno how I feel about this. I've been an Ubuntu user since the very start. I like the fact that Ubuntu tries to go after new users, and fix the problems, technical and social, that form barriers to this. Take a look at Debian's bug tracker robots.txt; if you don't use Google, you will NOT find your problem. And they only added that exception a few years ago. Before that, it was completely invisible. Is it any wonder then, why everyone's Google searches turn up Ubuntu forums? There are countless other subjects I could expand upon, but I'll simply list them for brevity and sanity's sake: packaging revision control, reliable and palatable release cycle, new maintainer process, the unfair but real overlap between Firefox's branding and it's usability, a repeatable build process, an effective social contract, and the isolation of DDs from their users. I'd spend more time brainstorming but I'm not sure it's productive or good for my health.

So I think Canonical's done a lot of good and done so demonstrably. Change has catalyzed in a number of places. But in the UI field, Canonical seems to be taking a poor solution to the problem presented by two facts
1) The Desktop UI doesn't scale down or up, and GNOME / KDE don't much care
2) Users hate change. A dramatically different UI will force adoption rates down faster than even hardware regressions.

Their solution appears to be the frog soup recipe. Rather than find some coherent vision of experience, we get incremental changes. User status indicators. Telepathy over Pidgin and unified desktop popups. Window decorations on the left because oops, those popups get in the way. Two system trays because only a portion of the ecosystem took to your idea. Maybe GNOME 3.0 will bless their enlightened ideas and we'll all be happier for it. But in the meantime it's a bit unsatisfactory.

My point is that past experience has soured me to where I had assumed Unity was yet another idea dump upon beta users, rather than them finally figuring out that forking the desktop again with the intent to retire when doing so would be uncontroversial. Cleverly, by dropping it into a PPA rather than 10.04, they also capture a less bug report savvy audience, require people to opt in, and gracefully allow users to opt right back out.
posted by pwnguin at 8:17 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


loquacious: If you mean in the GUI, look under the Places menu.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:19 PM on May 10, 2010


If anybody's been thinking about Ubuntu, and wondering if it's a good idea, I can tell you – try it now. It's better than it's ever been, and I guarantee you'll be surprised at how easy it is. You may even find that it's easier than Windows ever was.

I might take a look at this. Every time I try Linux out for a day-to-day OS, it reliably disappoints. Either a wireless driver takes a few hours of tweaking to work, or sound doesn't work, or some other piece of hardware isn't supported.

At some point, I just want to get shit done.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:21 PM on May 10, 2010


loquacious: “Total noob question: Where would I find /dev/hda1 if I wanted to mount my old Windows partition to pull some files over? The file structure in ubuntu is all kinds of weird.”

I don't know the netbook version, but: Ubuntu makes this easy. Find the menu called "Places" (probably under the main menu, which you get by clicking the icon in the upper left corner) and your other partition should be listed there.
posted by koeselitz at 8:22 PM on May 10, 2010


I'll switch from Debian to Ubuntu when Ubuntu stops breaking every time I software update. Seriously. I used it for a year, and every time I software updated as recommended something would stop working properly. This was around 7.10 to 8.10, so maybe they fixed the whole "updating your computer will make it stop working" but my faith in them has been permanently damaged.

I really do like what KDE4.x is up to, but I want stability first and for-fucking-most in my primary desktop environment, so when I've gone through two Ubuntu distros and every time I update it ruins my screen or my sound or something mysterious I'm not going to try again. I need my computer to be 100% operational at all times, I can't fuck around with a distro that is as hot as Ubuntu. I'll wait until Ubuntu users are done testing the new Debian. Thanks folks, but I prefer to keep it frosty.

Also, last I checked, KDE (probably 3.x) Debian will work on an n810 (a wonderful machine by the way, small yes, and that's how it is able to come with me everywhere), though I'm still running kinda-lame Maemo on account of it's highly decent Gameboy Advance emulation and my own laziness.

Yeah, Ubuntu is perfect for grandparents. Get them up and running and then lock it down.

Yeah, this! I rehabilitated several lower-low-end computers (pre-1999 bios!) with Xubuntu and It's the ice-cold jam. Xfce seems to work magic on Ubuntu, and of course the end-users never update and don't need anything but basic web access and games so it coasts like inertia until a child kicks the shit out of the motherboard.
posted by fuq at 8:22 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, found it. /host/.. is, duh, host, where all my Windows shit is.
posted by loquacious at 8:23 PM on May 10, 2010


Ubuntu makes this easy. Find the menu called "Places" (probably under the main menu, which you get by clicking the icon in the upper left corner) and your other partition should be listed there.

Nah, there's no widget for "Places" here, but I'm guessing the UI for netbook edition is a bit radically different. There's no Beryl or anything that resembles Gnome or KDE here, and the drive structure is a lot different than any of the linux variants I've tried over the years. There are block devices for the HDD listed by name or UUID in /dev/ but they're unmountable.

Anyway, I did find the root/host partition, so I'm good. I just wanted to pull my bookmarks/bookmarklets over and find my music directory so I could get back to work.
posted by loquacious at 8:29 PM on May 10, 2010


Now? There's a volume button in the corner.

What?! My volume button went away when I upgraded. I haven't figured out how to get it back.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:31 PM on May 10, 2010


I am a PC but Linux-curious. I wonder what would happen if I installed this OS on my old Thinkpad X41 tablet? Do some flavors of Linux support tablet functions?
posted by LarryC at 8:32 PM on May 10, 2010


Aaand now I fixed it. For the record, you need to add "Indicator Applet" to the panel. That took a whole two seconds of Googling to find out.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:35 PM on May 10, 2010


I have been using Ubuntu almost exclusively for months (after a hard drive crash that wiped my Windows 7 partition) and the only thing I can complain about is the lack of a video player that supports hardware acceleration for HD files (I compiled mplayer-vaapi while in Karmic but I haven't done it yet in Lucid) and this ATI-related bug.

For the buttons thing, Ubuntu Tweak can fix it without having to dabble with gconf files.
posted by Memo at 8:39 PM on May 10, 2010


Now that Lucid's out (and as soon as I'm done burning a burning a bunch of Doctor Who eps to DVD to mail to my mom, so like, tomorrow, or so), I'm planning to radically revolutionize my computer. As a university employee, I recently snagged a copy of Windows 7 and MSWord 2007 for $7 each, which is just about all I'm willing to pay, even though I've really, really wanted to be able to stream netflix and use Word 2007 (I'm a traitor, I know) for a year or so now. Now that KDE4 is much more stable (have been running it from Karmic--it's beautiful, not at all like it was back when it was first released, when it totally borked my KDE computer), it's time for a Windows 7/Kubuntu Lucid dual boot. I'm excited and sort-of terrified. Do any of you have any words of advice for someone who's been running only Kubuntu/Ubuntu at home since Gutsy Gibbon?

Oh, and speaking of Kubuntu: highly recommend kubuntu netbook. It's, like, Mac pretty.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:42 PM on May 10, 2010


dirigibleman: “What?! My volume button went away when I upgraded. I haven't figured out how to get it back.”

Ah – yes, that was a shift. What happened is that the volume button stopped being its own button and shifted to become part of the indicator applet. In order to get your volume button back, just right-click on the menu panel, click "Add to Panel," and scroll down to select "Indicator Applet."

You may wonder why Ubuntu is gradually consolidating buttons like that together on the panel, and there's a good answer to that question: because a year from now, Ubuntu will be dropping the standard Notification Area / System Tray from their GUI. I think that's a good move to make, actually.
posted by koeselitz at 8:42 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am a PC but Linux-curious. I wonder what would happen if I installed this OS on my old Thinkpad X41 tablet? Do some flavors of Linux support tablet functions?

I just downloaded the "Windows Installer" from here and it was totally painless. Except for the brightness controls I was up and running in under 25 minutes. It partitions the drive, handles the GRUB bootloader and everything for you. I'm guessing that in the full version there's tablet/touchscreen support, at least as far as basic mouse emulation, but YMMV. WIFI worked out of the box, sound works, touchpad works, video works great.

And it's so fast and slick it's making me dizzy. Granted I'm using the netbook version, which probably turns off most of the fancy UI stuff. (That's my next exploration, is looking to see what I can turn back on without hitting it too hard.)
posted by loquacious at 8:47 PM on May 10, 2010


One of the things I like most in Lucid, something that seems like an actual leap forward as far as I'm concerned, is the fact that Linux sound finally works, and suddenly works much better than it does on Windows.

Either a wireless driver takes a few hours of tweaking to work, or sound doesn't work, or some other piece of hardware isn't supported.

In fact, this kind of stuff still happens, and has always happened, and always will still happen. It happens with Windows and, to some degree Mac OSX too, but those are "established" operating systems so people tend to blame the hardware folks instead of the OS. Manufacturers usually make a Windows driver, they may make an OSX driver, and rarely make one for Linux. If they do, you can bet it's going to be a proprietary thing that Ubuntu cannot include, and they'll supply a hacky shell script to install it instead of a deb, and will look at you funny if you mention to them anything as crazy as a "software repository."

My own problem was my wireless card on the old laptop. 8.10: I had to enable one of the "restricted" drivers to get it to work. 9.04: it stopped working, and couldn't find the drivers again. Started working unexpectedly some time later. 9.10: same problem. Then 10.04 came along and it was back to the old behavior. But the built-in ethernet, and the plug-in USB wireless (which I had to hack around in OSX to get working) both worked flawlessly.

Every time someone tries Linux and even ONE thing messes up, that person storms off in a huff and claims Linux isn't ready for the desktop. But there's hundreds, thousands even, of devices out there, and it's a vast effort to get them working because hardware manufacturers seldom care when the great majority of the market is still running Windows. Yet, if that person had had the luck (and increasingly it doesn't even require a lot) to not have any unrecognized hardware when he first tried Linux, he probably would have been a convert.

The situation is changing, and has been changing, but slowly. Linux support among driver manufacturers is better than it's ever been. But if you do have problems I suggest you be patient. Don't throw out the bathwater+baby immediately. Because of hardware chauvinism Linux has a lot harder time getting to a given point than Microsoft does, and Microsoft spends a lot of time and energy at it. The only company that really has an easy time with hardware support is Apple, and that's because they make most of their peripherals or at least least formally dictate what Is Supported. They also charge a great deal more for it and sometimes leave out little features like card readers.

I'll switch from Debian to Ubuntu when Ubuntu stops breaking every time I software update.

My suggestion is, don't upgrade between versions, reinstall.

Really! If your home directory is on its own partition you have very little danger of losing anything. Sure you'll have to reinstall stuff, but since we're talking about Synaptic its a matter of choosing all the software you need/want, giving your password once, then doing something else while your machine gets itself the way you want it. Upgrades seem to be a bit funny sometimes, but installs usually work great.

(The word you're looking for, by the way, is "upgrade." Updates happen all the time, as they should, and are essential.)
posted by JHarris at 8:48 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I run OpenOffice as the only office suite on my Windows machine, which is only running Windows because I use some software that is so old, it will not run under Linux.

Every other machine in this house (and there are many) runs Ubuntu. The beauty of this is that when you travel to Las Vegas for a conference and end up staying in a dreadful ground floor room at the Luxor, which has wired ethernet and NO FREAKING WIFI, you can decide this is totally unacceptable, type sudo apt-get instal firestarter into a command line and open up a public WiFi node piggybacked on the ethernet.

Naturally, you run this call this node, on which you entertain 103 Luxor guests over five days, The_Luxor_Sucks.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:48 PM on May 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


PhoBWanKenobi: “Word 2007...”

Office 07 works pretty much perfectly in Linux under Wine. I know, I've seen it. Just so you know. And it's damned easy to install – seriously, grab Wine with the software center, pop in the Office install disk and try it.

Netflix, though? I really, really wish I could help you there. That's my own biggest wish, too, and if I could do that I'd probably finally delete this obnoxious Vista partition I have lingering.
posted by koeselitz at 8:49 PM on May 10, 2010


Oh, and speaking of Kubuntu: highly recommend kubuntu netbook. It's, like, Mac pretty.

What's the difference between Ubuntu Netbook and Kubuntu Netbook, do you know offhand?
posted by loquacious at 8:49 PM on May 10, 2010


Having some "spare" hardware around, I decided to build a dedicated Ubuntu 10.04 box.
Asus server motherboard, Broadcom GigE, dual Opteron 270s (so, 4 2Ghz cores). 8G RAM, 500G SATA hard drive.

HOLY SMOKES.

I got one of those Insignia-brand USB-powered-and-fed speaker bars off eBay. Plugged it in, rebooted. It JUST WORKED.

I've been a UNIX/Linux systems administrator "for a living" for fifteen years now. I can remember installing Yggdrasil 0.99.13 off FLOPPIES. I maintain a mix of Red Hat and Solaris boxes for a living. and this is the first time that "Linux as a Desktop" has Just. Worked. Out. Of. The. Box.

I'm impressed.
posted by mrbill at 8:52 PM on May 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Wow, the trolls are out in force in this thread.
This must be what a Mac user feels like all of the time... heh.

I'm not quite sure I understand the idea of maximizing usable space by putting a big old dock/sidebar down one side of the screen.
Seems like the regular old 24px bottom bar uses less space.

But then Shuttleworth seems intent on reinventing tried and true GUI design lately, so who knows.
posted by madajb at 8:53 PM on May 10, 2010


What's the difference between Ubuntu Netbook and Kubuntu Netbook, do you know offhand?

Well, the usual Ubuntu/Kubuntu difference: Ubuntu netbook runs a modified version of GNOME; Kubuntu Netbook runs a modified version of KDE. I used Ubuntu netbook back when it was Ubuntu netbook remix on my netbook for about a year. I booted Kubuntu netbook once and haven't looked back--it's got a really, really useful screen of widgets called a "newspaper" that's just sensible and awesome for a netbook. And it's beautiful. Super beautiful. But then, I'm shallow about my computing requirements; prettiness of the UI and customizability are probably biggest for me.

Office 07 works pretty much perfectly in Linux under Wine. I know, I've seen it. Just so you know. And it's damned easy to install – seriously, grab Wine with the software center, pop in the Office install disk and try it.

Hmm. I haven't tried. Might be worth it. It looks right and everything? It's really mostly the aesthetics that converted me into a Word user (well, that and repeated losing my page numbers and formatting every time I ported my 200+ page MS to openoffice), but I spend so much time in my word processor that it's really super important to me.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:00 PM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


The one thing I hate about OpenOffice more than anything else: Calc still has the 64k rows/sheet limit that Excel got rid of in 2007 (or more accurately expanded to 1 million rows). This means dealing with Excel files with, say, huge telecom ratesheets is completely impossible in OO. It drives me up the wall.
posted by kmz at 9:03 PM on May 10, 2010


LarryC: "Thinkpad X41 tablet? Do some flavors of Linux support tablet functions?"

I run Ubuntu 10.04 on my Toshiba TabletPC. There's a very old guide that covers most of the details. AFAIK, multiple inputs from one device is still a hurdle with the current system, so getting erasor and right click requires you to edit xorg.conf. You might install from the desktop CD and see how much works out of the box in case that's changed (once you edit xorg.conf the system leaves it alone, so I've only had motivation to look into this once, years ago).

Apparently though someone figured out the ACPI events for swivel on your hardware, which makes me a bit jealous.
posted by pwnguin at 9:07 PM on May 10, 2010


JHarris: “My own problem was my wireless card on the old laptop. 8.10: I had to enable one of the "restricted" drivers to get it to work. 9.04: it stopped working, and couldn't find the drivers again. Started working unexpectedly some time later. 9.10: same problem. Then 10.04 came along and it was back to the old behavior. But the built-in ethernet, and the plug-in USB wireless (which I had to hack around in OSX to get working) both worked flawlessly.”

This is indeed an old problem – and part of the difficulty had less to do with Ubuntu and more to do with ridiculously proprietary ethernet card drivers. For what it's worth, it's a good idea in this situation to get your hands on a wireless card based on the Atheros chipset – Linksys' cards usually are, for example, and by the time people stopped using wireless cards most that I found were already Atheros anyway. The Atheros chipset is widespread enough and open enough that it got standardized before too long; unfortunately, however, Atheros Communications are really, really bad at releasing specifications and documentation, so it took a while for the geeks to reverse-engineer it. By 9.04, however, in my experience 90% of Atheros wireless cards would work just fine plug-and-play.

I really think, however, that Ubuntu has been able to put an amazing amount of drive into standardizing their support for a myriad of wireless options. And, not to harp on it, but the sound support in Lucid Lynx blew me away. I was most surprised because I honestly didn't expect anything fantastic; the sound support on the last release, Karmic Koala, was sort of all right, and it worked for most things, but it was broken in some key ways if you wanted to do anything complex. What's more, I know for a fact that there's been significant controversy about Ubuntu's chosen direction for handling sound – a lot of people really hate PulseAudio, which has its own very distinct problems, and were pretty miffed at the way that it was sort of shoved into Karmic without really fitting in well at all. For a while there I was running ALSA through JACK piped into PulseAudio, and it got so I banged my elbows on something every time I turned around.

Which is why it's so impressive that Shuttleworth & Co came together this time and worked it out. I guess I don't exactly have my finger on the pulse of Linux, but apparently disagreements were smoothed over and everything was fixed, because it works stunningly now. Mostly I'm just happy at how transparent it's all become – no command-line configuration unless I really want to, and then it's clear what I need to do to do what I'd like.

A real challenge with open-source software is producing enough consensus for a common standard to be implemented. The various Linux sound edifices were really emblematic of the worst things about open source: the apparent impossibility of finding an easy-to-install and easy-to-run system, and the necessity that every user must become an expert to get anything done. They've finally really and truly fixed that problem, I think, and I'm really glad about it.
posted by koeselitz at 9:09 PM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


The one thing I hate about OpenOffice more than anything else: Calc still has the 64k rows/sheet limit that Excel got rid of in 2007 (or more accurately expanded to 1 million rows). This means dealing with Excel files with, say, huge telecom ratesheets is completely impossible in OO. It drives me up the wall.

Not everyone is wildly happy about Open Office and Calc...

Open Source: OpenOffice.org We Have a Problem

To be fair, it's a problem with a spreadsheet - no one but Microsoft seems to put much effort into those, I guess because they are all boring and officey and not very fun - still, absolutely essential to the people that use them.

Me, I mostly use the Word Processor, and that works fine, the odd formatting glitch when saving out for Office asside (yeah, "does it look right in Word" is still the metric for success... that's just how the world is when you;re doing real practical things)
posted by Artw at 9:09 PM on May 10, 2010


Anecdotal datapoint: I'm actually sitting at a coffee house in Seattle right now and I could hear the people sitting behind me griping about Windows, so I turned around to show them my new Ubuntu install.

Turns out one guy was already running Lucid Lynx and he was already preparing to install it on his friend's Win7 laptop before I even said anything.

At this point a very loud and boisterous conversation ensued about how cool and fun it was to the point that a guy about 4 tables away came over and (annoyingly) asked us to pipe down so he could study.

We just kind of looked at him funny and kept on talking. He has headphones on now. (This coffee shop isn't known for being particularly quiet so I'm not going to feel bad about it. Deal with it, dudebro.)
posted by loquacious at 9:10 PM on May 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Bleh, late again. I think the biggest feature on Lucid is the social networking integration. Gwibber can do facebook/twitter/friendfeed/digg/identi.ca/flickr two-way updates, tie it into the growl-like indicator and MeMenu, and blast status updates to everything at once. The Empathy chat/IM client also supports most everything under the sun. That's pretty amazing for out-of-the-box functionality.

I just love ubuntu. I've grown as a user and as a person as a direct result of this OS choice. Hard to really say that about other consumer choices. I can't tie my cellphone into an emotional narrative or say how my breakfast cereal reflects my philosophy. But I can say about ubuntu: I am this, this is me. Sure, any other distro smells as sweet, but this one's my /home.

I'm totally on board with the patent-fuss/upstream/nontransparency critiques of Canonical, too, and they need folks to take the piss out. But compared to most other computer businesses they really do respect their users. Vastly sum-positive group of developers, there.

Anyway, some things that should probably go in the thread:

The Ubuntu Manual Project -- Plain language documentation/help for the grandmas.

The Canonical Design Blog -- Ubuntu's sponsor's design team's group blog. Lots of neat mockups and talk about interface design.

The Humble Indie Bundle -- Six GNU/Linux-compatible games, pay-what-you-want, some or all proceeds going to the EFF and Child's Play.
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:13 PM on May 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


I run Ubuntu 10.04 on my Toshiba TabletPC.

Oh god. The Portege?

/Shudder.

I got *issued* with one of those thinsg when I was out at Redmond. Worst computer I've ever had. Everything that failed in the Tablet PC concept. Heavy, underpowered, useless stylus input making the tablet modea a joke, pretty crappy as an actual laptop.

Unity/Ubuntu light make me wonder how much, combined with a multitouch screen and SSD, they could go towards rescuing that reversable screen concept. It seems like you could make a pretty neat iPad like device that folds around and serves as a PC, though weight would still be an issue. Also the whole H264 thing has me wondering a little hwo well these things are going to do as media players.
posted by Artw at 9:16 PM on May 10, 2010


Office 07 works pretty much perfectly in Linux under Wine. I know, I've seen it. Just so you know. And it's damned easy to install – seriously, grab Wine with the software center, pop in the Office install disk and try it.

Really? I can't even get it to open a file. Perhaps, you can come over to AskMe and help me out.
posted by bluefly at 9:22 PM on May 10, 2010


PhoBWanKenobi: “Hmm. I haven't tried. Might be worth it. It looks right and everything? It's really mostly the aesthetics that converted me into a Word user (well, that and repeated losing my page numbers and formatting every time I ported my 200+ page MS to openoffice), but I spend so much time in my word processor that it's really super important to me.”

Yep – looks fine. Here's a screenshot from WineHQ. It worked perfectly for me, too. I should mention that their review says that the guy couldn't get Clip Art or Charts to work, and the Equation Editor (which I've never actually seen in Word myself) seems to have troubles, but unless you use those things a lot (I never have, you might) it shouldn't be a problem. Overall, it was pretty damned smooth.

I only mention it because I get really, really tired of rebooting, and I figure you might want to try it all under Kubuntu.
posted by koeselitz at 9:26 PM on May 10, 2010


OH MY GOD SO MUCH FASTER WAIT WHAT IS THAT I THINK I HAVE A CHUBBY
posted by loquacious at 9:32 PM on May 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


We took our first small step towards getting rid of the notification area in Ubuntu 9.04, when we stopped trying to use it to notify people of software upates, and instead just opened the updates window.

Ugh, that was the first thing I changed back after I installed 9.04. I hope they find a better way to do notifications when they turn off the system tray. It's especially annoying on my laptop, because the software update window insists on pushing itself to the front every time it gets to the next step in the process.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:38 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fuck you, Ubuntu! I refuse to take you seriously until you drop the infantile alliterations. And no, this is not a fucking joke.

Man, that's gotta be the randomest anti-Ubuntu statement I've ever seen.
posted by spiderskull at 9:38 PM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Man, that's gotta be the randomest anti-Ubuntu statement I've ever seen.

Then there's the old joke: "Ubuntu is Swahili for 'can't install Debian'"
posted by mrbill at 9:40 PM on May 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


I hope their NIS client support is better. I love Ubuntu to death, but getting it to play nicely on a shared network in any business or academic setting is a PITA...
posted by spiderskull at 9:45 PM on May 10, 2010


the guy couldn't get Clip Art or Charts to work, and the Equation Editor (which I've never actually seen in Word myself) seems to have troubles

I wouldn't really call that "almost working perfectly."

Which is not to say I don't like Linux (although, I don't use Ubuntu that much -- mainly use Fedora). I just really hate Microsoft Word.
posted by bluefly at 9:47 PM on May 10, 2010


Yeah, I think this just bypassed my curiosity to hackintosh OS X on this NC10, which I've actually been wanting to try out since about a year ago on my MSI U100, which died when I let it get run over by a car in a terrible case of user error. I'm installing the Mixxx DJ software as we speak and pulling down some other apps to try out.

Seriously, so far this is a huge improvement over any of the "user friendly" linux desktops I've tried in the past including past versions of Ubuntu. I won't be surprised if this blows up as much as Firefox did. People are f'ing sick of Windows, especially after Vista.
posted by loquacious at 9:51 PM on May 10, 2010


For Mother's Day, I solved my mom's computing problems (the latest of which was getting the Torpig rootkit); I installed Ubuntu 10.04 on her system. Haven't heard any complaints yet, though it's still early days.

Now I'm thinking of installing it myself. I run 8.04 Xubuntu on my rather old system. 10.04 is very pretty, but it may just be a case of not fixing what isn't broken.
posted by jiawen at 9:52 PM on May 10, 2010


Hey, I might even be able to run Mixx instead of Traktor, but is there a linux version of Ableton Live yet? What about other DAW solutions? I doubt they'd work well in WINE or a VM, but I'll give it a shot.

I wouldn't even want to try. I have a firewire interface that I know is not supported in Linux, but it's the heart of my system, and I use Cubase and a lot of VST soft synths. I'd be adding a lot of overhead on a system I spent a lot trying to get the latency close to zero. It would be defeating the whole point. I don't have a problem using Windows for sound production, because it's very solid at this point for that purpose. Unfortunately, although Linux has some sound production software (though none of it is really up to par with most commercial DAWs), the driver support for hardware is really what matters, and nobody who is serious about this would want to add more work for their machine to do out of some misplaced sense of OS purity. And I just need something that works, and it does.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:54 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


For Mother's Day, I solved my mom's computing problems (the latest of which was getting the Torpig rootkit); I installed Ubuntu 10.04 on her system. Haven't heard any complaints yet, though it's still early days.

My mother just bought herself a new computer, so her Linux days (which I've talked about extensively here) are probably over for the time being. I was on the phone with her a few hours ago and she said, "My new computer is really fast--but I do miss Ubuntu. It just seemed easier."

Warmed my little heart, even if the experience wasn't always completely painless (she got very mad when a printer she bought from Big Lots didn't work, was mainly the thing.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:56 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


(The word you're looking for, by the way, is "upgrade." Updates happen all the time, as they should, and are essential.)

Most sadly, I do mean "updates." I "upgraded" once with Ubuntu and that taught me what a terrible idea it is and I haven't done it since. Maybe it's because I have an HP, but I've installed updates in Ubuntu that borked my audio. Once I updated and my wireless was gone. Gone gone gone gone. Unbelievable. I couldn't fix it and had to reinstall from scratch. Not even an upgrade, even though one-click upgrades are an advertised feature of Ubuntu and an encouraged option through the update/upgrade manager. Why include upgrades in the manager if they are very likely to bunx the whole system?

Updates do happen all the time and they are essential, that's why I don't want them to fuck everything up. Again, Canonical may have fixed this, I haven't touched an Ubuntu since 8.10 because I don't trust them anymore, and won't give them an opportunity in the future because I can't afford downtime right now. Sorry Canonical, but I'm not a hobbyist with a spare computer, I have only one computer, it's not very nice but it must always be fully functional. That is the bottom line.
posted by fuq at 9:59 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've had trouble with audio on my HP from the start. TBH I've never tried to fix it as it's not what I use it for. Wireless is fine though.
posted by Artw at 10:05 PM on May 10, 2010


fuq: “Updates do happen all the time and they are essential, that's why I don't want them to fuck everything up. Again, Canonical may have fixed this, I haven't touched an Ubuntu since 8.10 because I don't trust them anymore, and won't give them an opportunity in the future because I can't afford downtime right now. Sorry Canonical, but I'm not a hobbyist with a spare computer, I have only one computer, it's not very nice but it must always be fully functional. That is the bottom line.”

Ironically, this is exactly why I dropped Windows: that weird Vista update a few years ago that famously left the machine unbootable made me so angry that I flatly refused to go back to trying to boot Vista for a long, long time.
posted by koeselitz at 10:17 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I won't be surprised if this blows up as much as Firefox did.

Speaking of which... Mozilla shares tentative vision for Firefox 4
posted by Artw at 10:26 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Speaking of which... Mozilla shares tentative vision for Firefox 4

Is it "not be a bloated, memory-leaky, crashy mess"? Please say it is!
posted by vorfeed at 10:39 PM on May 10, 2010


*posted from Firefox, of course
posted by vorfeed at 10:40 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bryan Lunduke - Why Linux (Still) Sucks
posted by Artw at 10:56 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I had no idea Android would run on the n810. I'm not sure I can morally support Android, though. Not that the full software stock already on the device is any more free, I'm sure. -- DU
What are you talking about? The only parts of a default android install that aren't free are the google apps (like gmail and maps)
This. Well to be fair, they haven't introduced The Ribbon into Open Office yet, so it's actually ahead of MS Office in my opinion.-- jimbob
The ribbon is less annoying then people typing "This" to mean "I agree" or whatever. Seriously, what's the problem? Seems like a bunch of people who don't want to learn anything new.
But it wasn't just the UI that killed Linux for me in the past, it was the freaking way software was distributed. You had to pick the release for your chipset and download it in a tarball. Then you had to "make" it and "compile"
As everyone else pointed out, Linux software hasn't been distributed like that since the 90s. I mean, yeah you can usually still find tarballs but you can install just about anything using package managers like apt-get or yum on Redhat based systems or, I guess dpkg on ubuntu.

It's actually even easier then on windows, I actually installed entire windowing environment on EC2 a couple weeks ago with the following two commands
yum install vnc-server
yum groupinstall "GNOME Desktop Environment"
that was it! Actually much easier then windows, where you have to find a download link, run an EXE, and go through a bunch of dialogs. On Linux, it's just one command to do everything. Of course, if an app isn't in the repository, it can be annoying.

However "setup" programs do exist for Linux, the sun JDK is installed that way. This was on a machine with no gui installed by default and in a few minutes I had an Install of GNOME, eclipse, and a working copy of a dev project I'd been working on in windows using subversion.
posted by delmoi at 11:01 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't be the only one who wishes Ubuntu would get itself a decent graphic designer already.

I mean, I'm pretty crafty with computers. I can delve into Terminal in OS X and feel pretty good about it. I don't have a problem with intensive customization; nearly all of my Mac is tweaked in some small way to make me happy. I've used Ubuntu in the past and I admire certain things they do a lot. But their system looks and feels like it was designed by a freshman graphic designer.

I mean, we're talking basic things. Ugly color juxtapositions. Strange spacing issues. Graphical inconsistencies. I can't take Ubuntu seriously because when I use it it feels like a classroom final I participated in last year that was obviously bullshitted together in the last week or two. It's a goddamn joke.

Say what you will about OS X and its reputed visual fluffery, they've got a team of professionals working over every detail. Their design is so anal-retentive that when the Safari 4 beta had a slight gradient change you had John Gruber writing an essay that compared the color deviations between the two. It's so anal-retentive that you get people arguing over slight inconsistencies in loading bars between applications. And I'd argue that's what graphic design needs to be. You've got to be designing at a level where the only things left to complain about are the nitpicky things.

Lucid Lynx's design is worse by far than the orange Ubuntu theme of yore. Its use of gradients is sickeningly bad. Like, I know high schoolers who use gradients more tastefully in their designs. And as a result the entire thing feels shoddy and poorly-made.

The psychology of design affects me personally. I know various people are affected by this to various degrees, and some can ignore it entirely; for me, a misplaced button in a design makes me squeamish. I need the things I use to indicate a certain ultracompetence, a certain level of anal consideration, so that I can trust them. I don't feel comfortable running a program that's physically ugly and awkward, just as I don't feel comfortable with a book that's been poorly typeset. I need design to be good enough that it vanishes and lets me focus on what I want to do. Ubuntu jars me.

(So does Android, for the record. I'm surprised that despite doing a lot of neat things the OS looks like something that would've been garish in the first half of the last decade. I don't know if it's open source, because there've been a few OSS apps for OS X that are simply beautiful; I think it's just that some developers never understand why graphic design matters, and when they don't they never even bother fixing things.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:40 PM on May 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


Artw: Bryan Lunduke - Why Linux (Still) Sucks

That's interesting - thanks.

He's absolutely right about sound not being there yet – and even more right about it when he states later that we really, really need a good audio editor. Audacity is... good enough, I guess, but it's limited, and it's clear that it's not really going beyond what it is: a simple recording application. I think he's absolutely correct that the best thing we've seen for Linux is Ardour, which is honestly quite fantastic. But what he says about the problem of these not being "weekend dev" applications is true, too – Ardour really only exists because Paul Davis is a monster when it comes to developing stuff and managed to create something awesome by powering through it and managing to find support here and there where he could. And sadly that shows, especially after some time; the dude actually created his own Linux sound server for Ardour, JACK, and there's a small but vocal minority of users who felt as though JACK ought to be the replacement for PulseAudio in the latest version of Ubuntu. (I have a feeling they've given up, since the "Until JACK is included in Main..." repository in my sources list died some time last week.)

Ardour is awesome. Seriously, it's incredible. It's a pro-level audio editor in Linux, as good (to my eye) as most of the myriad Windows- and OS X-based professional audio editors out there. And it's a testament to Paul Davis' dedication that it keeps surging forward.

The trouble is that it's still tied to JACK. And JACK is... well, it's its own sound server. Anybody who's ever tried it knows that running a separate sound server is messy enough. Then you combine that with the fact that JACK is designed not to drive devices directly but to plug into other sound servers that do. In fact, it's sort of patchworking everything together. Then, there's the fact that most devices out there only have working drivers within particular sound servers, so... you can see how painful this can become if you're trying to put it together, and the upshot is you basically have to be a hacker and an audio person to use Ardour.

Why does Ardour still use JACK, then? Because Ubuntu has been trying to sort out the sound shit for five years, and so they've decided to ignore quality (more technically, latency) and just make it work. That was probably the best thing to do over the long run, but the standard Ubuntu sound servers still aren't of the right quality for pro audio editing.

Bridging that gap is really, really important, I think. Maybe over the next year or two that might start happening – I've been sort of desperate for Ubuntu to get their shit together, no matter what they're planning to do, because once the dust settles and they're set on something it'll be a lot easier for somebody to come along and make it work. Hopefully that'll finally happen.
posted by koeselitz at 12:44 AM on May 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Artw: "Oh god. The Portege?"

No, a Tecra M7. Works great. Very much like the Thinkpads in design. HDAPS, fingerprint scanner, wacom, great color screen, and Intel Centrino Duo. Mine was pretty expensive because I custom ordered it with a high end video card tablets don't usually get.

The major problem this device had was weight, but that's true of all video game grade laptops and large screens. What made this one particularly onery was that extra battery doubled as the inclined ramp you need to write and read on the device comfortably. Without it, viewing angles get weak.

That reminds me to mention software. Microsoft has a very well trained handwriting recognition tool. It provides the same sort of intelligent keyboard interface people brag about on the iPhone / Safari combo for. Moreover, it works on fluid cursive writing, has word level correction and per user training. The closest open source equivalent is cellwriter, which skips the hard work of segmenting words into letters. This is fine for me because I'm not a habitual cursive user; after training it works okay once you fight the training font and write how you normally do not how the letter is shown. If you have a linux tabletPC and haven't tried cellwriter, you're missing out.
posted by pwnguin at 1:36 AM on May 11, 2010


So I know this isn't the insanelymac forum or anything, but I have spent a shitload of time there lately and come up empty handed. There are some smart folks there, for certain, but there is no real sense of community unless you are one of the total OSx86 demigods or one of the folks fawning over them (not that these folks aren't awesome individuals who put a lot of work into helping out the masses, but they aren't really down with one-on-one assistance). I figure this thread is my best bet for getting sold on Ubuntu or dual booting the mofo w/ OSX on a hacked box...

I was gonna buy a Mac mini a couple months back with the intention of using it to run big neuroimaging analyses remotely on our cluster. However, the dude what sysadmins said cluster has wired it up in such a bizarre way that it is difficult to tell whether the current setup is the product of willful incompetence or some bizarre combination of proprietary technofetishism and a ludditic urge to halt scientific progress. Regardless of the motivation, the situation calls to mind the word clusterfuck in a way so perfectly applicable that I can hardly stand it.

When I realized that I was going to need a machine that would do hyperthreaded MATLAB myself so that I didn't have to rely on someone else eventually getting around to making our cluster functional, a "knowledgable" buddy of mine convinced me that "if I was really that married to Apple, I should just do a hackintosh. Really, it's no sweat." In a stroke of time management brilliance, I endeavored to do so smack in the middle of my first year of grad school. I had never built a computer before, but was assured repeatedly that it would be a weekend's worth of work.

The boxes in our lab are all Macs (though not really bad ass enough to run huge analyses in any kind of reasonable time frame), and I thought it would be a lot more convenient to avoid the infrequent but soul crushing problems that occasionally occur when trying to use .mat files from Windows on OSX machines [I cannot begin to explain why this would be the case, but I have seen it, and it is a major kick in the balls]. I am also pretty dependent on a piece of software called Sente (which is the best reference manager anyone has ever conceived of).

So a month later, after learning more than I ever wanted to about hacking kexts and DSDT patching, I had a pretty damn solid hackintosh. Granted, no hack will ever be problem free, but this one was as stable as I can imagine getting it with my limited skill set, and it was working with no problems whatsoever. Until I tried to install my site licensed MATLAB...

For days, I went back and forth with a tech support dude. Oddly enough, the software installed and booted exactly once before giving me the same license error repeatedly. For some reason, the MATLAB copyright protection software will not recognize OSX without an appropriately named ethernet address. I messed with the box some more, changing the name of the address everywhere I could think of, but to no avail. The tech support dude (who seemed unphased when I insinuated to him early on that my hardware was, uh, nontraditional given the OS) eventually realized that the ethernet address would under no circumstances be recognized properly by the license, and tossed up his hands. He was awesome for stickin' it out so long when we both knew that he wasn't in any way obligated to.

The point of this long, boring story is that I had toyed initially with rockin' Ubuntu instead of OSX, but I ended up deciding I didn't have time to learn a new OS. Great decision that. Also, they're strippin' OS Server off of the cluster and "nukin' and pavin'" with KDE Linux. So now I've got a computer that will do all manner of Maccish things, but not the one thing I bought it for. I'd like to install Ubuntu, but I'm scared to fuck up the stability of the hackintosh by trying a dual boot setup. Is it feasible to boot Ubuntu off a flash drive consistently and use it primarily for MATLAB? Do I need to just throw in the towel and use Ubuntu exclusively? I could mostly swing it, but I really need Sente. I am ok with being dependent on this piece of software, but other than that, I suppose I could live without OSX (though like ole Bartleby, I'd prefer not to).

Is there a reasonable solution to this conundrum? It would be nice I could keep the OSX install and just boot Ubuntu for MATLABbin' purposes. However, if I could emulate Sente and MS Word (yeah, I know there are alternatives, but the mega hassle of trying to explain to everyone else I have to share word docs with is probably more than I want to deal with) somehow, I could see just switchin' to Linux.

Anybody got any ideas? I would be totally willing to egg the house of your enemy or take care of any neuroimaging needs you may have for the foreseeable future. My apologies for the long ass derail, but my life would be exponentially better if I could figure this out, and I know somebody here knows the wisest course of action...
posted by solipsophistocracy at 2:06 AM on May 11, 2010


... But their system looks and feels like it was designed by a freshman graphic designer.

Linux isn't for everyone, and I'm personally rather glad that releases aren't held up to satisfy the upper spectrum of design-consciousness. One of the things I like about the open-source development community is a willingness to have modest goals and accept 'good-enough' as being a reasonable metric for things which aren't intrinsic the software's function. Because otherwise there'd be nothing. I read somewhere once: "Any job worth doing is worth doing badly. It's worth more if it's done well, but it's worth something if it's done badly." I like that.

I mean, I like a nice interface but basically I've taught myself to look past less-than-stellar presentation. When someone's mind-blowing proof-of-concept consists of, say, a pixel moving against a gray background I'd feel it odd to fixate on the title bar buttons. At some point you just develop a filter that keeps you focused on the content and not the presentation or else you'd go be continually going nuts, I guess.
posted by Ritchie at 2:08 AM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Lucid Lynx's design is worse by far than the orange Ubuntu theme of yore.

Interesting. I'm a designer, too, and coming back to XP just looks hideously ugly now, especially when it keeps refusing to remember I set everything to "Classic" mode instead of XP mode with all the blues and greens.

I'm finding the graphic design in Ubuntu - at least in the Netbook variety - to be incredibly unobtrusive and delightfully legible, monochromatic, flat and just basically out of the way. There's some issues I have with the default window and app management but I'm already learning how to iron those out of the way.

As a raw UI it's brilliant and totally useable - but again I'm running the minimal netbook version. No Beryl, no compiz - just clean and basic stuff here.
posted by loquacious at 2:17 AM on May 11, 2010


Also, could you all get off the net for a while? I'm trying to apt-get me some apps over here. No, leave your torrent clients up, just stop downloading, ok?
posted by loquacious at 2:21 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Man, I'm suprised they haven't kicked you out of that coffee shop by now.
posted by Artw at 2:22 AM on May 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


LarryC: "I am a PC but Linux-curious. I wonder what would happen if I installed this OS on my old Thinkpad X41 tablet? Do some flavors of Linux support tablet functions?"

Just a tip for everyone who wants to try "it" out without getting into a commitment: the install CDs also work as Live CDs, meaning you can boot into Ubuntu from them without touching your current installation of whatever OS you are currently running. You put in the CD, select "Boot Live System" or whatever it's called, and when you have played around with it and turn your computer off it will be as if nothing ever happened to your system*.

Oh, and data point: I recently installed 10.4 on my old secondary PC (Shuttle XPC, Athlon 1800+, 256MB RAM) and it was horribly slow. My previous install (Dapper Drake) had been so much faster and responsive that I was seriously considering tossing the thing. Then I decided to try one last thing: I added a cheap 512MB RAM DIMM because I saw a lot of swapping going on, slowing the system down - and voilà, the system just flew. I'm now very happy with it, and it works great to watch movies and do all those additional tasks I don't want to do on my main machine.

And a small tip for everyone who likes eyecandy: get Webilder, add it to the Gnome-panel and configure it to your tastes. It's a great way to spice up your desktop with ever-changing great background images freshly downloaded from Flickr or other sources.


*Disclaimer: It might be possible to deliberately hose your system if you mount your Windows partitions and format them, but you wouldn't do that, would you?
posted by PontifexPrimus at 2:34 AM on May 11, 2010


Most sadly, I do mean "updates." I "upgraded" once with Ubuntu and that taught me what a terrible idea it is and I haven't done it since.

I've never had an update that hosed anything, is all I can say. I did have one update, a long while back, that enabled wireless in the proprietary hardware manager.

P.S.: Linux using guys, the Humble Indie Bundle has only 10 hours to go as of this writing. All its games, which includes Samarost 2 now and retroactively, work under Linux (although only World of Goo uses deb/rpm, sadly).
posted by JHarris at 2:49 AM on May 11, 2010


The ribbon is less annoying then people typing "This" to mean "I agree" or whatever. Seriously, what's the problem? Seems like a bunch of people who don't want to learn anything new.

Yeah yeah, I know, I should just "learn it", but I just want a fucking word processor, without all the features I frequently use hidden away in weird places, and without lots of features I never use suddenly promoted to massive icons.

Derail, I know. But my complaints about Word would be mostly gone if, on first-run, it gave you a dialogue box:

Welcome to Microsoft Word!
Are you an expereinced user who knows how to use a word processor to compose professional documents [ ] , or are you going to use this to type your grade 8 homework with lots of pretty colours and clip art [ ]?

If the former, all automatic formatting and correction is turned off, it defaults to encouraging you to use styles, hides away the drop-down font controls, and gives you the standard menu system that has been a staple of WIMP interfaces since 1765. If the later, it presents you with the default Word 2007 interface.

And that's just Word. Don't get me started on trying to use Excel or Access with the ribbon interface.
posted by Jimbob at 3:07 AM on May 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


The OpenOffice stuff resonates with me. I downloaded AbiWord last weekend because OO kept losing the hanging indent on my references. AbiWord is much, much obedient. Although, it always feels a few seconds away from crashing. But it usually doesn't.

I gave up trying to do anything vaguely complex in OO's spreadsheet.

It's kind of a big deal, though. I would totally pay for a decent office suite, should anyone develop one for Linux. And I can't believe I'm the only one who would pay. There must be a decent size market for a project like that.
posted by puckupdate at 3:31 AM on May 11, 2010


From what I can see, Ubuntu is taking small, but significant steps backward, and doing it by decree, without involving upstream authors or other distributions in any way before rolling out these changes.

This is Canonical's entire approach to all sorts of things. IIRC, their move to PulseAudio, which caused massive headaches for users, was decided by one guy at a Ubuntu developer meeting.

But they wouldn't bother to involve upstream projects in any decision in the first place, judging by how little (virtually nothing) they contribute back up the Linux stack.
posted by cmonkey at 3:34 AM on May 11, 2010


Why are the icons in the launcher on the left on fucking square buttons? It looks like a 1996 Geocities page with borders around all the image elements.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:38 AM on May 11, 2010


I'm currently at the Ubuntu Developer Summit where these things were announced, and the developers behind Unity seem pretty happy with the reaction so far. Lots of people here are trying it out, too. My favourite comment: "You should add a rock pattern for the background, and call it GNOME 1.0."
posted by plant at 3:55 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


What are you talking about? The only parts of a default android install that aren't free are the google apps (like gmail and maps)

According to what I've heard, the hardware drivers aren't free either. And if both the top and the bottom of the stack are non-free, I'm kind of stuck aren't I?
posted by DU at 4:33 AM on May 11, 2010


I installed Karmic on my mac. I had a dual-boot with Windows, and then used the Windows/Ubuntu installer (WUBI). It worked fine, but it started to get a little too hot (it's a MacBook Pro). I'm curious if others have done anything similar?

Just another data point though - I use WinXP/Win7/OSX/Ubuntu and my favourite is ubuntu. Really looking forward to playing with Lucid.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 4:43 AM on May 11, 2010


I mean, we're talking basic things. Ugly color juxtapositions. Strange spacing issues. Graphical inconsistencies. I can't take Ubuntu seriously because when I use it it feels like a classroom final I participated in last year that was obviously bullshitted together in the last week or two. It's a goddamn joke.

Rory, seriously, give KDE/Kubuntu a try. I've never been entirely convinced by Shuttleworth's arguments for using GNOME, and I'm certainly not now that KDE4 is stable and usable. It's beautiful, unified, and streamlined--it's got a graphical polish that not only rivals Windows, but easily surpasses it.

Of course, one thing you gotta remember is that even GNOME is pretty endlessly customizable (and KDE is even moreso). You can really make it look however you like, so bitching about "ugly color juxtapositions" is super weird. I understand that the average user doesn't want that--they just something that looks polished by default. And Kubuntu does.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:08 AM on May 11, 2010


koeselitz: On the JACK vs pulseaudio front. JACK is simply not appropriate for desktop PCs. It's focus is low latency audio mixing & it does that extremely well (once it's set up correctly). However, low latency is the enemy of battery life and power saving. Meanwhile, pulseaudio can do things (per app volume controls, networked audio transmission) that Jack can't & which meet real end user needs. Ubuntu is an end-user focused Linux distribution: it's inevitable that they're going to choose Pulseaudio over JACK.

In an ideal world, pulseaudio would be able to shift into a low latency mode when an app that requires low latency sound handling is running, but I'm not entirely sure that the two worlds (professional grade audio mixing & end-user sound management) are entirely reconcilable. (Although OSX's CoreAudio may be an argument in favour: anyone have any comments on that front?)
posted by pharm at 5:11 AM on May 11, 2010


I just tried out the latest live CD on my macbook and was impressed. I am having some issues dealing with windows networking at my office and am optimistic that Ubuntu may be able to win where Mac has not (difficulties with windows shares). But I'm never sure how to actually make the leap and install it properly - am thinking I will try it on a USB stick this time around.
posted by wingless_angel at 5:13 AM on May 11, 2010


I mean, we're talking basic things. Ugly color juxtapositions. Strange spacing issues. Graphical inconsistencies.

Guess what: Colors, spacing and graphical consistency is not "basic things" in an operating system. You are refusing to use an excellent drill press because the manual has a misspelling in the table of contents.
posted by DU at 5:19 AM on May 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Heck, the SO just had to return a wireless adapter to the store because the 64-Bit Win7 driver just didn't work and there was apparently no way to make it work.

But, for another way to kick the tires on an OS without dual-booting or a live flash drive, there's VirtualBox.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:29 AM on May 11, 2010


Well, after a hard day at work doing some kernel profiling and fiddling with board support packages on a Linux install we rolled ourselves to run on an ARM9 derived chip, it's an absolute pleasure to come home and use a Linux distro where all the hard work has already been done for you!

Just this evening I installed Ubuntu Netbook Edition on my EEEPC 701 and it is much quicker than the stock OS, and all the hardware works out of the box.
posted by Joe Chip at 5:45 AM on May 11, 2010


So I love linux as a server Os, since Apache 1.0, but every time I try to make my prime machine run linux it stumbles on some key issue. And if it doesn't work, it is awesomely difficult to get stuff running. Today's example is support for an Option GTM378 3G card.
Here is what Ubuntu has to say about 3G cards:
https://wiki.ubuntu.com/NetworkManager/Hardware/3G
It seems their might be a source driver, but I don't look forward to wrangling it to work with Ubuntu:
http://www.pharscape.org/gtm378.html
I'm pretty comfortable with windows, and can use a linux machine from a command line, but when making sense of those pages is something I need to do on the first day of install, its pretty unacceptable to mainstream users.
Add to that the flaky support for Word docs which is key to my job, and there is another reason to hesitate.
I *want* linux desktop to succeed, but it is still a long way from being suitable for serious users of desktop systems.
I don't doubt it is ok for grandma to web browse, but I need it to work for the tasks I need.
And since I am the de facto tech support for those around me, until it works for me I'm not going to be installing it for them.
posted by bystander at 5:46 AM on May 11, 2010


Interesting. I'm a designer, too, and coming back to XP just looks hideously ugly now, especially when it keeps refusing to remember I set everything to "Classic" mode instead of XP mode with all the blues and greens.

XP had a lot of issues. While now I look back at the greens and blues fondly, I still think it was a really odd direction for Microsoft to take. But it still took care of all the basics. The big one for me is button crispness. In LL there're a lot of gradients that just... terminate. No borders. So they feel less like buttons and more like weird I-don't-know-whats. Again, odd, because the old orange design had buttons with edges. Not everywhere — those drop-down menus are consistently hideous — but in a lot of places they did a much better job than this new design, which feels lazy.

Rory, seriously, give KDE/Kubuntu a try. I've never been entirely convinced by Shuttleworth's arguments for using GNOME, and I'm certainly not now that KDE4 is stable and usable. It's beautiful, unified, and streamlined--it's got a graphical polish that not only rivals Windows, but easily surpasses it.

That's what KDE 4 was promising when I gave it a try. (I have VMWare Fusion and so tend to give new OSes a few days' try, just so that I know how they look and feel.) But KDE's graphical polish, while nominally better than Gnome's, falls short of Vista and way short of Windows 7 (which I dual boot and am fond of). They've got that atrocious center-circle gradient. Their buttons are designed in a way that makes them look like they're not actually attached to their respective windows. Really basic things — shadows on certain parts of the user interface to give them respective depths to match gradients — are missing. There's no sense of perspective in the design, so that parts of the window look really strange next to other parts.

Guess what: Colors, spacing and graphical consistency is not "basic things" in an operating system. You are refusing to use an excellent drill press because the manual has a misspelling in the table of contents.

Of course it's "basic things". I have to look at my operating system constantly, get visual feedback from its design. Form is just as important as function.I go back to my book metaphor. The heart of a book is the writing inside it. But typesetting is a basic part of book design, and if you know nothing about it but insist on making books, the result is ugly tripe that's hard to read. I've downloaded ebooks with awful margins, terrible fonts, shitty linespacing, and the result is that I can't even begin to take the words therein seriously. Design and content are fused.

Hell, even reading the Comic Sans thread on MetaFilter where the design's the same except for the font is really a pain, because Comic Sans hinders reading so thoroughly. On Linux it's even worse, because not only are the fonts bad, the colors are bad, the layout is bad and every application presents me with a new excursion into bad. (Amarok is bad enough to be a veritable movie villain.)

Of course, one thing you gotta remember is that even GNOME is pretty endlessly customizable (and KDE is even moreso). You can really make it look however you like, so bitching about "ugly color juxtapositions" is super weird. I understand that the average user doesn't want that--they just something that looks polished by default. And Kubuntu does.

I have looked at hundreds of designs for Linux. Every time I hear the "look how customizable we are!" trope being dragged out and hammered to a door I go looking through galleries. It does a damned great job of showing off just how incompetent the people who design Linux themes are. They all have the same childish look, or the same so-sleek-you-can't-actually-read-anything look. It's a damn shame that Linux isn't a good OS for modern graphic designers, because it really, really shows in the custom designs.

Asking me to fix what really ought not to be problems in the first place is not the answer. Particularly not when fixing a design no doubt involves a lot of specialized learning and knowledge of tools I don't know. That's like when MySpace asks users to make up for its horrible design goof-ups rather than fixing the design itself. Yes, a few really obsessive people ended up with nice-looking pages. But the rest of the site looked like trash. And even those obsessive people had to deal with the fact that while they spent hours and hours tweaking their own page, they still had to deal with a lot of ugly when messing with any other part of the site, including the dashboard which nobody could tweak.

I like bashing Windows's design. Don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of Apple's minimalist cravings and so every time I use Windows I feel like it's a shame that Microsoft is still going for big and gaudy rather than something really lean and stripped-down. But at the same time Microsoft has a team of graphic designers that are much more than competent. They make products that look and feel appealing. They're not perfect; they design things with bugs and goofs and things that look plain weird. But their final products nail certain really basic graphic design requirements that apparently Linux graphic designers have never heard about.

Remember that I'm not saying this as a typical end user entering with no expectations. I can skip over a lot of Linux's ugly bits just like I can skip those bits over in Windows and OS X. But the one thing that really gets to me is shoddy design, which Linux has. It drives me bazonkers. And I think it's a shame that the people driving Linux forward aren't people with any real interest in design, because it means that for me — possibly for other people, but primarily for me — Linux is a dead end that I can't begin to appreciate.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:01 AM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


To be fair Bystander, that's a fairly niche bit of hardware. Support for a specific 3G datacard is not going to be a sticking point for most users. If it's really a sticking point for you, then the cost of a new card is probably greater than the value of the Linux desktop in your case!

To give you an example from the other side, I picked up some random usb 3G thing from a UK mobile phone operator a while back, plugged it in, up popped a dialog box which asked which operator I was using and then it just worked. Now that's seamless: no drivers to install, no complicated dialog boxes, no hassle.

It's got to the point now where if a piece of hardware works, then the end-user experience under Linux is probably better than any other OS in many cases.
posted by pharm at 6:02 AM on May 11, 2010


Um Rory, I'm looking at a default Lucid Lynx install right now, and all the buttons I can see on the dialogs I've brought up have borders. Would you like to post an image somewhere, because I'm really not seeing what the problem is.
posted by pharm at 6:06 AM on May 11, 2010


Form is just as important as function.

You have two choices. One, a 100% beautiful UI on a program that does not work. Or an ass-ugly UI on a program that works perfectly. Which do you choose?

Unless you are are going to claim that it's impossible to choose between them, then form is not "just as important as" function.

All your listed criteria are regarding form, which is a really odd perspective to take on a tool. The first question is: does it work? That's not the only question, but it's the most important one. You don't appear to have even asked it.
posted by DU at 6:12 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


For those who liked Lunduke's talk on "Why the Linux Desktop (Still) Sucks," he's also got a great review of 10.04 as part of a podcast/vidcast he co-hosts (The Linux Action Show). And their discussion of the new btrfs (butter fs) on another show is also really, really cool.
posted by cowbellemoo at 6:36 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Right now I'm looking at Ars's posted images rather than booting myself, because my laptop's running short on space at the moment.

But just looking at the sample widgets the defined spaces of a lot of these are pretty hazy. The sliders, for instance — the smaller one with the red on one side and the brown on the other are nice (though I don't know if that two-line texture is still necessary and it takes up space), but those top sliders, the bigger ones, are simply terrible. It looks like a single gradient rounded off and placed on top of another single gradient. That lower one is especially atrocious. The black and the white on either side seem to simply terminate. It feels so ill-contained.

The column headers feel the same way. Never mind how harsh that gradient is to begin with, how it could be a third the power without losing anything: Upon first glance it doesn't look like it's particularly attached to the space below it. It doesn't feel button-y enough to be pushed.

This isn't helped along, by the way, by that truly terribly type treatment that Ubuntu insists on. Just displaying text without any kind of adjustment to make it look inlaid? When you attempt to emulate textures — and that's the only reason you'd use gradients in design, because gradients on their own have been hideous since time immemorial, particularly compared to solid-state equivalents — you also have to emulate the way that other items would appear on the surface. To be honest I'd rather a solid brown to Lynx's semi-emulation, but if they're sticking to gradients then the type has to somehow be modified to fit in as well. Look at how Windows styles their font so that it looks contained within the smoky glass of Aero (though when they deal with buttons they also use a slight inset).

The tabs have the border definition problem. They also have a really questionable black-on-brown going on with inactive tabs. It's a shame that their default state is red-tinted also, because usually a good fix is to shift colors to neutral when they're active. It lets you have readable tabs that still look inactive.

I have no idea what's happening with those two bottom right tabs, but I really hope they're not supposed to leak like that.

The lack of borders present a real problem on the desktop Ars shows also: Witness the way the Firefox and the (?) buttons up top seem to spill off the top of the screen. Which again is an odd choice, because the buttons on the right all seem perfectly contained within that bar. The font's kind of thin and reedy, but it's contained within the bar.

The bottom makes me cringe. The selected desktop seems actively bigger than the three unselected desktops; because there's only a 1px border and the pixels blend so that that border's color changes to match the color right next to it, the result is that it seems to spill out onto the desktop. The trash can seems also to bump off the edge. That left violet icon — what is that, by the way? What purpose does it serve? Is that a window icon? — is poorly-placed in that bar's visual dichotomy, it feels like it's just resting on a layer of its own, but at least it's small enough that it doesn't seem to be flowing over.

Within the file browser, the border problem almost inverts. Within that main window they're using a 3px gradient around whitespace that already pretty much defines itself. When you've already got that contrast you only need a pixel, to establish the separation; again, it feels like excess and incompetence, because that's a problem you need to actively create rather than one that exists and which requires a fix. Somebody had to sit down and say "I want a 3px border with three different colors" for that to happen. And then that border has absolutely no gap between the end of the window on the right, so you get that inconsistent brown border right before the window ends naturally. Match that with the 1px border that already exists around the window and you get something that feels almost glued together. It has that science-fair vibe where the edges don't all match up.

Then the selected content on the left ("segphault" in that window) has that bizarre top border but no bottom border. It took me a minute to realize that was supposed to be a border. And the visual effect is to create an extra cream border between the top of that capsule and the content therein that looks kind of like a sugar wafer. But it's only on the top, not on the left or right or bottom, so it's not a consistent sugar wafer.

That capsule uses the same 3px gradient border. Only for it the gradient spills outward, onto the window chrome that's that same cream color. So it doesn't look particularly distinguishing, and it further is really weird that there it's popping the window out whereas in the main part of the window it's... I don't know what it's doing. It doesn't make the window feel lowered. It just feels sloppy.

And always that Ubuntu issue with font where the text pushes right up to the edge of the button, no padding. There're different fixes to that, which feels sloppy. Apple makes the text a little smaller so that it fits the same-size button but looks better. If you eliminate gradients you can get away with larger text, because visually it feels more whole, but when you have a 12px font with only 3px of spacing on the top and bottom it feels really cramped.

You have two choices. One, a 100% beautiful UI on a program that does not work. Or an ass-ugly UI on a program that works perfectly. Which do you choose?

Funny. Windows 7 programs seem to work really well. So do OS X programs. I use Chrome on all three; I have iWork on OS X, which is one of my favorite suites ever; Steam on Windows isn't looking too shabby. What Linux programs exist for which there is no Mac or Windows alternative?

All your listed criteria are regarding form, which is a really odd perspective to take on a tool. The first question is: does it work? That's not the only question, but it's the most important one. You don't appear to have even asked it.

Well, yeah, because I'm not a fucking barbarian. I expect software to work. If it doesn't work then I don't even harbor a discussion about one program vs. another program. (I still have difficulties making sound work when I install-for-a-day through VMWare, which is why I'm not explicitly talking about sound. It's broken and everybody knows it's broken. But there's a legitimate conversation to be had about design.

Luckily this is 2010, and none of the major OSes have a reputation for nonstop crashes. So I don't have to ask if the operating systems work. They work.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:42 AM on May 11, 2010 [14 favorites]


My friend told me I screwed up by installing Ubuntu instead of OpenSuse. Fight amoungst yourselves to see if I should back up my home folder and move.

Or should I just use plain-jane Debian?
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:42 AM on May 11, 2010


i'm tempted to throw this on my fiancee's netbook. i got her a win7 netbook because that's an OS that she's familiar with, but it was sluggish from the start. she might like this.
posted by TrialByMedia at 7:04 AM on May 11, 2010


The appearance of software is no more necessary to it's function than the appearance of your clothes to your ability to walk around outside*. Fashions come and go. Some people can't bear to be seen in last season's shoes. If you really are that particular about what's on your screen then yeah, Linux just isn't your baby.

* Be kind to this metaphor.
posted by Ritchie at 7:11 AM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Form is just as important as function

Huh? Bad form, in the case of user interfaces, is at worst a distraction. Bad function at it's worst is a road-block to working. We have lots of home-grown web-based tools at work that are horribly ugly and badly laid-out and very quirky to use. But they get the job done and no one is going to get paid to fix them. We're used to them and after a little adjustment, can do our jobs without any delay.

This cult of the perfect user interface really drives me nuts. Humans are very adaptable and much smarter than any pretty but dumbed down interface gives them credit for.
posted by octothorpe at 7:30 AM on May 11, 2010


mccarty.tim, depends on if you plan on reinstalling every few months or just using an operating system like it is just an operating system and not a hobby.

Use plain--jane Debian is my recommendation. There is a little bit more of a learning curve since Debian is a bit crusty, but it is like XP to Ubuntu's Vista.
posted by fuq at 7:31 AM on May 11, 2010


That's what KDE 4 was promising when I gave it a try. (I have VMWare Fusion and so tend to give new OSes a few days' try, just so that I know how they look and feel.) But KDE's graphical polish, while nominally better than Gnome's, falls short of Vista and way short of Windows 7 (which I dual boot and am fond of). They've got that atrocious center-circle gradient. Their buttons are designed in a way that makes them look like they're not actually attached to their respective windows. Really basic things — shadows on certain parts of the user interface to give them respective depths to match gradients — are missing. There's no sense of perspective in the design, so that parts of the window look really strange next to other parts.

Can you get me a screen shot of what you're talking about? Because I really, really don't know what you mean by "atrocious center-circle gradient" and I use KDE4 daily. If you mean some aspect of plasma's design, plasma itself is themable, comes with a ton of themes installed by default--and the vast majority of them are extremely polished looking and, frankly, pretty (well, except for maybe this one; there's no defending that).

I understand that you want a UI to be streamlined and polished. I do, too. And you know what? KDE 4 is probably one of the most intuitive feeling UIs for me. It's responsive and has a quality I think of as "notchy"--aspects of the UI respond to the user in a way that makes it clear what's going on.

I think what you're missing is that there's no central authority on design for Linux. Don't like the way your menu bars look in GNOME? Get rid of them and install one of the many docks, most of which are very nicely designed. Want scalable icons? There are plenty of those. Don't like the use of gradients with your default plasma theme on KDE4? Use something like solid or silicon or atelier. Don't like the way the buttons look? Of course you can change that. Want inactive windows, say, to gradually become transparent? You're covered. Want to change the way your application switcher operates? That, too.

Also, I highly suspect that, if you were running KDE on VMWare, you were probably not getting peak graphic performance and may have therefore had compositing disabled. Windows 7 looks like crap without Aero, too (and VMWare wouldn't let me run it with it!). If you really want to evaluate a UI for its intuitiveness and interface, what with how graphics-intensive these things are nowadays, you really have to install them to your computer to give them a fair shot.

I understand that you care about the appearance of your desktop. I do, too. That's why I use KDE.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:56 AM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


This release has solved my Skype sound problems. Update to 10.04 from 9.10 via software update.
posted by juiceCake at 8:09 AM on May 11, 2010


I have looked at hundreds of designs for Linux. Every time I hear the "look how customizable we are!" trope being dragged out and hammered to a door I go looking through galleries. It does a damned great job of showing off just how incompetent the people who design Linux themes are. They all have the same childish look, or the same so-sleek-you-can't-actually-read-anything look. It's a damn shame that Linux isn't a good OS for modern graphic designers, because it really, really shows in the custom designs.

Sure, plenty of Linux users have bad taste (many of them the ones who show off their screen shots!). See: the bunny plasma theme, above. Sure, there's some tacky matrixy shit. But there's plenty of tastefully nifty stuff, much of it installed by default. Ugly custom designs aren't unique to linux, of course--but I'm really having trouble figuring out what you find offensive or difficult to read about the above decent designs, or Air, or Oxygen.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:16 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


OK. Just following up to Rory's post with a few points.

1) The sliders you criticise are indicators, not things you grab and manipulate. I don't know whether this changes your opinion of them or not though :)

2) The column headers (in this particular widget) are not active. Unsurprisingly they therefore don't look like buttons.

3) I'm not seeing any of this 'text inlay' effect on the OSX desktop in front of me right now; why exactly is this so important?

4) The tabs definitely have a border definition problem I agree.

5) The window is too small for the contained widgets: there are actually 3 vertical tabs there, as you'd know if you ran the widgetfactory app on a live desktop.

6) Can't say this bothers me personally, but OK.

7) Yep, the pop-out effect on the pager is not unfortunate.

8) I think your file browser points are fair.

All in all, this design stuff is down at the 'mild irritant if I can be bothered to focus on it' level. But then every OS (including OSX, which probably has the most design work put into it of all of them) is at this level (oh how I hate the Dock, let me count the ways...) for me these days.

If there's a Linux GUI issue which really, really bugs the hell out of me it's that fully-maximised windows that take up the whole screen so the menubar is right at the top don't make the top line of pixels activate the menu entries. This means you can't flick the mouse up and hit a menu entry: How stupid is that? The one lesson that MacOS should have drummed into every developer ever and they still manage to mess it up completely.
posted by pharm at 8:21 AM on May 11, 2010


NB, for all those people claiming that themability is an excuse for poor default design: Just stop it already, you're not fooling anyone.

Themability is an excuse for programmers to punt design decisions and then disclaim all responsibility for the results.
posted by pharm at 8:23 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


This cult of the perfect user interface really drives me nuts. Humans are very adaptable and much smarter than any pretty but dumbed down interface gives them credit for.

Yes, they're smart. But I shouldn't have to have my attention taken by these small irritating things. I'd rather focus my intelligence on something else. I used Ubuntu for half a year back in 2007 and I handled it marvelously, and I loved parts of it very much. But in the end, those small irritations got to be too much for me to just casually put aside, so I switched to Mac.

Which is completely cool! This affects me a lot, and it affects you not much at all. But I do wish there was a small fanatical sect of Linux devoted to user interface so that I could take part in the revelries. Yes? Because until then, I'll always see this Linux distro as lazy and slovenly, because they're lazy and slovenly regarding one of the things I really care about.

You're driven nuts by the perfect user interface crowd; I'm driven nuts by people who'll make any excuse to tolerate unnecessarily shitty design. I've tested Linux for my grandparents; I've tried to introduce various open-source alternatives to bad software that worked nicely but was simply too ugly to easily mesh with people's minds. While I've spent enough time with computers that small UI discrepancies fly past me unless I'm looking for them, I've seen enough people who're confused by these small losses of detail to think that user interface design is simply a matter of appeasing my own inner asshole.

Unless you want to tell my grandfather how adaptable and smart he ought to be. Because I'm taking an all-day trip this week to teach him how to send an email but I'm sure it's his fault and not the software's.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:24 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


NB, for all those people claiming that themability is an excuse for poor default design: Just stop it already, you're not fooling anyone.

I'm actually not; I think it's an additional bonus for people who care deeply about what their desktops look like.

But I think the default KDE4.x themes are pretty much gorgeous, and am having a hell of a hard time figuring out what Rory's talking about.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:24 AM on May 11, 2010


Speaking of themes Rory, I suspect you'd be much happier with the default (I think) Gtk theme ClearLooks, which I believe is the one RedHat selects by default.

Apart from the gradiant on the tabs, it's a cleaner design than the Ubuntu theme. The file browser still has those wasted pixels, and if there's a UI wart it's that active checkbox text isn't highlighted on mouseover: only the checkbox itself is which isn't enough IMO (The ubuntu theme highlights the entire active text on mouseover).

Also I'd add in passing that the precise way in which the interface interacts and changes in response to user actions is just as important, if not more so than the purely visual details of the design. The Linux GUI has come a long way in this area I think, although I'm sure there's still room for improvement.
posted by pharm at 8:36 AM on May 11, 2010


DU: You have two choices. One, a 100% beautiful UI on a program that does not work. Or an ass-ugly UI on a program that works perfectly. Which do you choose?

Actually, its both a false dichotomy and doesn't reflect the current state of things. Linux often does not work as advertised. A few weeks ago, I ran into problems getting WiNE working on a fresh Karmic Koala install. First, I had to manually synchronize with repositories. Second, an unmarked dependency on libjack (which wouldn't install from synaptic) kept crashing winecfg. Third, it just didn't work with World of Warcraft, and the previous obvious way of updating NVidia drivers seemed impossible to find.

At that point, I gave up and went back to figuring out what was wrong with Windows 7. (Which eventually required buying two different Wireless adapters and returning one because the driver failed to work on Win7-64.)

About six months before that, it was a few hours figuring out why sound on Ubuntu had stopped working (the update process didn't fully update grub to use the new kernel). And what prompted me to make the switch to OS X was having a good chunk of work lost because OpenOffice couldn't handle the complex formatting sent by a client.

In contrast, OS X has been relatively painless except for some fringe cases. Opera crashes on certain web sites, but with a half-dozen other browsers it's not a big deal. Maintaining the complex LaTeX dependencies required for my thesis is a pain in the ass regardless of operating system. Changing the HDD was a pain, but I'll upgrade before I need to do it again. Individual programs sometimes crash and are restarted in less than a minute, but I'm not convinced individual application stability is better on a free Unix.

Of course, you and Rory are both wrong on the form/function debate. The big problems with computers hasn't been either software stability, or software usability, but with the messy human processes that treat computers as an opportunity to make the same task require more work. (That doesn't mean we should abandon designing more stable, more humane, and more usable systems. Just that we should drop the bullshit that doing so is likely to offer a measurable ROI.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:38 AM on May 11, 2010


PhoB: That actually looks quite a bit different from the KDE 4 that I used. I suppose I must've been running an earlier version of that interface. You're completely right: That looks quite nice. Still the lack of font engraving, and I don't know what that Ubuntu font is but it's generally just unpleasant, but font/font rendering aside that looks really nice. Lemme install Kubuntu for a bit to mess with it. Thanks for the heads-up!

Pharm:

3) I'm not seeing any of this 'text inlay' effect on the OSX desktop in front of me right now; why exactly is this so important?

Answering this more to be a font-obsessive than because this was the most important thing you said. If you look at the fonts atop any OS X window, you'll notice there's a very slight white outline around the letters. They're not a flat black; that outline is there to make the letters appear slightly pressed-in. If you put solid black on top of a gradient, it breaks the illusion of texture that those gradients are there for. This repeats itself in other aspects of OS X's design. You know how windows have a 1px color deviation at their edges? It creates the same "popping" effect that makes the window look 3D. If you don't have that but still have a drop shadow, then the result is very messy; that slight edge might be really small and almost unnoticeable but it totally screws with how text displays.

Apple's unified design introduced in Leopard has a pretty strict visual dichotomy. The chrome is all a single gradient; everything inside that top chrome is completely flat. The only exceptions are scrollbars and highlighted navigation options. So if I highlight a file, the highlighting is a flat user-defined color; but if I highlight something that's affecting what I actually look at, then you get a slight gradient. Notice how in that menu the blacks are all totally solid: They're allowed to be, because they're printed on a flat-colored surface. But once you add the gradient, then you need that slight drop-shadow, because otherwise the font design is contrasting the gradient design.

(That's also why buttons on menus all look like buttons rather than icons. It creates that illusion of a physical item that's there to press. If Apple used flat dock-style icons rather than buttons, then you'd have something that didn't quite feel physical. They had that in Tiger and earlier, and as a result when you go back to older versions of OS X it's noticeably weird.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:38 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, its both a false dichotomy and doesn't reflect the current state of things.

It was meant to have both those properties. It's a thought experiment intended to destroy the completely ridiculous idea that form is "just as important as" function. Function is the top priority. Within the space of functionality, you can optimize for form.

It's like some old story about a guy who comes up with a new sorting algoritm. "It runs in O(N) time, but the output isn't quite right." If there's no requirement that the output be right, I can make it run in O(1).

Note that I'm not arguing that form is irrelevant or doesn't matter. Form matters a great deal. But functionality matters even more.
posted by DU at 8:42 AM on May 11, 2010


I think what you're missing is that there's no central authority on design for Linux.

I don't think Rory Marinich missed that. But if good design is part of your definition of a usable desktop environment then it doesn't really matter why it's not there.

Decentralization is why Linux has gotten as far as it has; an OS of that magnitude wouldn't be available for free on commodity hardware without the dedication of so many people. However, design is one of those "too many cooks" things, and so the theming/skinning/customization culture is part of the problem -- and I say this as someone who used to rewrite and recompile parts of AfterStep to get it to behave exactly the way I wanted it to.

The job of a desktop interface is to get out of the user's way. Recognizing interface elements should not just be intuitive, it should be effortless. Intuition can get you past the "minor" complaints in Rory Marinich's excellent breakdown, but even a nitpick about a misused three-pixel gradient is something that jars you just a little every time you use it.

Imagine running three miles. Now imagine running it with a pebble in your shoe. The latter may burn the same amount of calories but it feels like more effort so it is more effort. Little design problems are the pebbles in our shoes.

The Linux desktop has come a long way, but it's a free shoe with a pebble in the lining whereas Nike and Reebok sell shoes for $50 to $100 that are much more comfortable. If you run all the time and have $100 to spend, your decision is made for you.
posted by Riki tiki at 8:47 AM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Rory: Ah OK, it's more subtle than I was thinking from your description. Interesting stuff, thanks for pointing it out.
posted by pharm at 8:50 AM on May 11, 2010


DU: It was meant to have both those properties. It's a thought experiment intended to destroy the completely ridiculous idea that form is "just as important as" function. Function is the top priority. Within the space of functionality, you can optimize for form.

It's only a ridiculous idea for software that's intended to work without any direct human interaction at all. If those functions require any kind of direct human interaction, then yes, taking into account the cognitive and perceptual constraints of the Human-Computer Interface is critically important.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:52 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Riki tiki: Are you sure Windows and OSX aren't the expensive shoes that cause more joint damage in the longer term, whereas Linux is the flat sneaker that feels more uncomfortable but is actually better for you? :)

(Maybe there's the odd bit of sand in the sneaker, but at this point the pebbles have definitely been removed for the majority of people.)

There, I think I've pushed that metaphor about as far the other way as it can go!
posted by pharm at 8:53 AM on May 11, 2010


If those functions require any kind of direct human interaction, then yes, taking into account the cognitive and perceptual constraints of the Human-Computer Interface is critically important.

Agreed. But it is still MORE critical that the functionality is correct. No amount of HCI is going to fix a wrong answer.
posted by DU at 8:54 AM on May 11, 2010


Incidentally, do you know when that menubar bug was reported to the Gtk people? It was in 2004.

Grrrrrr.
posted by pharm at 8:54 AM on May 11, 2010


I tried following JHarris's suggestion of running a LiveUSB version of Lucid Lynx. But as far as I can tell, there's no way to boot off USB on Mac hardware, since it uses EFI instead of BIOS. I already have Boot Camp configured nicely for dual-booting Windows and I don't want to mess with rEFIt. Is there any way I can run Ubuntu in persistent mode without changing anything on my system?

I've found some talk of something called "casper" that allows for running a hybrid CD/USB portable system... boot off the CD but write changes to a flash drive so it's not a clean slate every time I boot up. This is ideal for me, since I have a spare flash drive and blank CDs my MacBook can boot from. Unfortunately I can't find any instructions for doing this on a Mac, or for Lucid Lynx (everything I've found is for older versions of Ubuntu).

I also found something about a "boot CD" that contains nothing but instructions to use the system that's installed on the flash drive, thus circumventing the EFI bootloader. This would probably provide better performance than reading the OS off optical media, though it could wear out my flash drive a lot quicker with so much rapid access.

I don't have a preference for one method over the other, but I can't find usable instructions for either. I'm tech-savvy, just inexperienced with this sort of stuff... If anybody can help me out I'd appreciate a MeMail. Thanks!
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 8:55 AM on May 11, 2010


The Winsome: is this any help? I think you need to do something funky with the partitions to get an EFI mac to recognise a USB device as being bootable.
posted by pharm at 9:00 AM on May 11, 2010


Are you sure Windows and OSX aren't the expensive shoes that cause more joint damage in the longer term, whereas Linux is the flat sneaker that feels more uncomfortable but is actually better for you? :)

This entire metaphor is hilarious and I think it should keep going.

I think that for me, Windows was the generic-brand footwear I wore as a kid. It wasn't brilliant footwear but then I wasn't spending any time thinking about the shoes I wore. Sometimes irritating but rarely to the point where I felt I needed anything more comfortable.

At some point I decided I didn't want to keep wearing the same mildly unpleasant crap. So I started figuring out how to make my own shoes. Maybe not always the best but I could always teach myself how to make a slightly better shoe. Took a lot of effort, but it didn't matter, because it was fun! Tinkering is always fun. Might not get you anywhere fast, but it's fun.

At some point, though, I started caring less about the sneaker and more about running. The pebbles were fine when I was taking leisurely strolls but when speed mattered I wanted shoes that wouldn't constantly be inured with pebbles. At the same time I started caring more about how my shoes looked. Not that looks matter as much as simply having shoes that fit and work, but still they matter. Because shoes aren't just there for walking in. They complete outfits. I wear shoes that'll go well with my pants and socks and shirts and sometimes belts.

Making shoes that are really pretty, though, is really hard work. I don't want to pretend like it's at all a simple task. It requires a lot of specialist knowledge that I'll admit I don't have. You need to know a lot about textures and colors and fits (or, in the computer world, languages and graphic editors) in order to even begin trying to make something good. Doesn't mean you don't notice when things aren't pretty, but you can't make those pretty things on your own.

So at some point it becomes necessary to buy shoes from somebody who specializes in making pretty, usable shoes. And maybe those shoes are worn by a bunch of insecure snobs, and maybe people get a little too worked up over every new release of those shoes, and maybe the guy in charge of making the shoes is sometimes a little too excited about how awesome his shoes are... but the shoes are really good, and that's what matters.

Maybe now thanks to the Internet we'll finally get crowdsourcing that's so intelligent and well-informed that the DIY shoe community will be able to produce haute couture. It's far from impossible. It'll take a lot of effort from people who're experienced shoesmiths, and it'll take lots of time, but certainly in theory there's nothing to stop an enormous mass of people from all making brilliant shoes for free. The barriers are lowered. But right now I don't see a conscious effort to get to that level of quality, and so while I love the movement and wish it was seriously giving professional designers a run for their money, I don't think it's heading that way any time soon.

Agreed. But it is still MORE critical that the functionality is correct. No amount of HCI is going to fix a wrong answer.

Out of curiosity, are there things in Windows and OS X where you feel the functionality isn't there? I agree that functionality is important. But I don't know if I've ever been in a situation where I think my computer's functioning incorrectly.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:08 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


pharm: That might be helpful. I'm not at my computer right now to test it but I'll try later. Instructions specifically for creating a Lucid Lynx bootable LiveUSB for a MacBook would be really cool but probably overly specific.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 9:14 AM on May 11, 2010


Why Ubuntu excites me more than Windows or Macintosh
posted by Artw at 9:21 AM on May 11, 2010


The Linux desktop has come a long way, but it's a free shoe with a pebble in the lining whereas Nike and Reebok sell shoes for $50 to $100 that are much more comfortable. If you run all the time and have $100 to spend, your decision is made for you.

See, the thing is, I don't wear running shoes. I don't run. But I walk, everywhere, and comfortable and affordable walking sandals are important to me. And because I'm a girl, they have to be pretty, too. Sometimes I get bored, and walk to change the way my feet look. So I put a splash of toenail polish on. I don't like being told that I shouldn't wear a certain color of toenail polish, just because the maker of some overpriced sandals doesn't trust my judgment.

And sure, sometimes I get a pebble in my sandal, but that's true for any sandals. It's not unique to Kubuntu brand sandals at all, and the solution is simple--you kick the pebble out, and move on with your life.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:22 AM on May 11, 2010


DU: Agreed. But it is still MORE critical that the functionality is correct. No amount of HCI is going to fix a wrong answer.

Well, that depends. It's not a statement you can universally make without understanding the larger process involved. If the process involves clearly communicating something to a human being, then that takes priority.

Software design makes these kinds of decisions all the time. We use rounded floating-point numbers rather than more correct fractional mathematics. We use lossy compression when real-time communication and perception is more important than accuracy. We adjust warning systems based on human tolerances for false-positives vs. false negatives.

If the process cannot proceed or fails without clear communication to or input from a human being, then HCI is both critical and essential. It's a functional requirement of the system, and not an option.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:24 AM on May 11, 2010


I don't think Rory Marinich missed that. But if good design is part of your definition of a usable desktop environment then it doesn't really matter why it's not there.

Right, well I still think this definition is based off a limited and outdated view of what even default desktops look like in Linux. Because, again, those that use the latest versions of KDE4 are both well-designed and usable.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:25 AM on May 11, 2010


TheWinsome: Take it to AskMefi?
posted by pharm at 9:31 AM on May 11, 2010


It's a functional requirement of the system, and not an option.

I never called it an option. Also, all your examples are a little more critical than the "omg i hate/am-missing drop shadows on my buttons this OS *doesn't work right*" nonsense
posted by DU at 9:38 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


If one of your requirements is that your OS should look exactly like Mac OS then you probably aren;t going to be happy with anything that is not Mac OS.
posted by Artw at 9:41 AM on May 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


pharm: Definitely. I will if I'm still stuck when my current waiting period's over (just asked a question on Monday). In the meantime figured I'd post here since it was a relevant thread. *shrug*
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 9:52 AM on May 11, 2010


I don't want to mess with rEFIt

Any reason why? It's completely painless and transparent if you want it to be. At least, it is for me on two different machines.
posted by yerfatma at 9:56 AM on May 11, 2010


I'm just trying to avoid changing anything on my computer. I've used rEFIt before and it's a great solution, but since I've currently got Boot Camp running fine and all my partitions set up the way I want them, I'd rather not mess with that stuff again until I'm ready to set up dual- or triple- booting on another computer.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 10:18 AM on May 11, 2010


What's funny is that I really hate doing things the "mac" way. And yeah, if you're that anal-retentive about the tiniest little position of a pixel placement or small border that it bothers you that much that you just can't "do the job" then...

I hear you can get therapy for OCD these days.
posted by symbioid at 10:25 AM on May 11, 2010


The Winsome Parker Lewis: I was struggling with that the other day, trying to get a regular USB key booted on my Macbook Pro. The problem is that the EFI won't boot from it, so you need to get to the BIOS emulation, which will. IIRC, holding down the 'C' key on boot will eventually boot a standard USB key, but it takes awhile.
posted by Malor at 10:25 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


(note: i'm not saying there shouldn't be healthy criticism, and I think both KDE and Gnome have flaws in how they're approaching the UI issue)

I also love when this issue comes up, it's always not the designers faults for refusing to make things better (which is precisely the point of open source). In fact, I think designers have a bug up their ass and are kind of elitists about how great they are, so only the systems that they get paid to work on for a handsomely sum are worthy of their magnificent honor.

They would never deign to contribute their time to work towards better systems. The DESERVE to be paid, unlike those lowly code-monkeys.

And the argument about "well it's just that I don't like the tools you guys have".

You can use any fucking tools you want to make graphic widgets... Is there some magical Ubuntu icon/image format that you can't use photoshop to make them with? I highly doubt it.

I'm betting you can create all these skins and designs in photoshop (or whatever your tool of choice is).

So that excuse is pretty much ignorant. No, it comes down to the elitist attitudes of designers who think their work is so much more valuable than programmers. And then ya gotta love when they gripe about how open source sucks cuz it ain't pretty. Well whose fault is that ya greedy pricks?
posted by symbioid at 10:30 AM on May 11, 2010


Rory Marinich: “Out of curiosity, are there things in Windows and OS X where you feel the functionality isn't there? I agree that functionality is important. But I don't know if I've ever been in a situation where I think my computer's functioning incorrectly.”

On Windows? Hell yeah. The most prominent being sound architecture; I complained above about the painful movement forward within Ubuntu of the various sound servers, and it's still pretty annoying to me that PulseAudio has pretty much decided to completely ignore latency and high-quality sound, but they're not alone in this. Windows doesn't even touch that stuff – the result is that every single professional audio workstation on Windows has its own bundled sound server built in that has to take control of the system when it's running. This means that running pro audio tools on Windows is ridiculously top-heavy, requiring monstrous amounts of memory and sacrificing a lot of interoperability between devices. And I've heard horror stories about how truly painful it is to try to develop quality audio tools on Windows; it's the same story as it is on Ubuntu, probably worse (since honestly Microsoft cares a whole lot less than Canonical about an individual developer). You spend a long time trying desperately to draw a low-latency straight line between devices and workstation. The only reason there are more pro audio workstations on Windows is because there's more market share – and more money. And if anybody ever wonders why there don't seem to be any relatively high-quality, but moderately-priced, audio workstations on Windows to sweep up the huge chunk of audio newbies wanting to try out recording... well, that's why. Developing these things is an uphill climb in a snowstorm.

And on the user level, this means that all but the elite of audio interfaces and workstations tend to fail miserably. Seriously, I've spent more time trying to configure audio interfaces in Windows than I'd like to describe, and it hasn't been fun.

Another one: wireless networks, which Windows still doesn't seem interested in making direct and intuitive. It works pretty well for most people, but this is where the Windows model really fails, I think: they've spent a quarter of a century dictating standards and then expecting hardware vendors to follow them, and now Microsoft seems utterly unwilling or unable to code around existing architectures. Plug in this wireless card, and you've got that company's proprietary driver; download it, install it, get it running, and then it's not integrated – you've got to run some program external to the Windows system to get it working. Then when the foolish user tries to adjust options using Control Panel, they just don't work, or they break something, et cetera.

Ubuntu really shines here, I think, because for them the focus has always been the same: make it work for existing hardware, make it work for all existing hardware, and reverse-engineer working drivers if we don't have them. I'm largely delighted by the wireless system on Ubuntu because it's so incredibly intuitive and functional, and because it's very, very good at working on lots of different kinds of hardware. As the great Brian Lunduke lecture Artw linked above points out, we're at about 90% plug-and-play hardware compatibility now. Some people will complain "oh, but that's leaving 10% of people in the cold!" – well, that's not really fair. I'd say that that's probably about the same ratio as the one that the Windows world sees, at least insofar as at least 10% of Windows users need to call someone to help them set their wireless up. And given the fact that Ubuntu is rising to meet the architecture, rather than requiring the architecture to meet them where they are – that 90% figure is impressive.

I can't speak to functionality in OS X on these things, although I remember having some pain a few versions of OS X ago setting up a friend's wireless. I have a feeling those issues have been resolved by now, however.
posted by koeselitz at 10:34 AM on May 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


I've got to qualify that wireless support can be hit or miss, depending on the hardware. Things with native open source drivers can be expected to work perfectly out of the box. Things without can be a real pain, and you may be in for a rude surprise. Check your hardware in advance or test it with a LiveCD. I've done many fun things with my Linux boxes. Getting a Linksys WMP54GS running and using WPA2 was not one of them.
posted by Zed at 11:10 AM on May 11, 2010


It's funny. My old-ass (talking "shipped in 1999" old) server just finished upgrading. I run it as a hardware firewall + backup device, and now that I finally added some more drive space (the original 12 GB SCSI drive was getting a bit cramped - so I threw in an additional 40 GB IDE and added it to my LVM root volume) it works even better. So I finish the install, reboot, and the first MeFi thread I see? This one.

I assume that the GUI improvements would be neat, but I'm running XFCE usually through X11 forwarding, have disabled GDM startup commands to save on resources, and only fire up the GUI on those rare occasions when I need it (as in, my laptop is not working and I need to check the web to find out why). Some day I need to put Ubuntu on modern hardware and see what it can do.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:19 AM on May 11, 2010


symbioid, designers at Apple and Microsoft aren't just paid to design, they're paid to work with programmers and vice versa. A designer in those companies can say "the scrollbar viewport widget becomes too small for very large documents, it should have a minimum size of 20 pixels" without knowing how to implement that in code. A programmer will be assigned the issue and it'll be prioritized and fixed. There may be some back-and-forth but it's everyone's job to play nice.

In the Linux world, that same designer has to file a bug report or feature request without there necessarily being an accountability chain for prioritizing it. She may then have to debate that design decision with a programmer who prefers "realistic" viewport widgets even if they get to be two pixels tall.

Even if the programmer can eventually be convinced, he may leave the existing behavior as the default and bury the requested behavior as a configurable option in "~/.gnoproductivity/config/ifwidg", all you have to do is find the "ViewportWidgetSizeConstraints" option and set it to "1" and add a line after it setting "ViewportWidgetMinimumSize" to 20 and this is all documented in the man page and what do you mean you didn't want to code it, this isn't code it's configuration!

I remember a big religious mailing list debate about whether Gimp should use SDI (individual windows) or MDI (Photoshop-style, one big "canvas" window with each open document as a subwindow). There was one guy, I wish I could remember his name because it would help me find the discussion, but he would not and could not be convinced that MDI might ever be preferable. He was a mucky-muck of some regard on the team, I gathered, and requests for an MDI interface withered and died within his gaze.

Now maybe he was right and maybe he was wrong, or more than likely that feature is something that comes down to individual user preference. Here was a guy with no design chops making design decisions based only on his own say-so, though. But hey, function is king and Gimp is fully functional, right? And it's not like you can complain, since it's free!

Perhaps the Linux desktop will never catch up to the proprietary world, and that's fine. But there's a reason "20__ is the year of the Linux desktop" is a running gag. People love to say it who think noticing minor design issues is a mental illness, and they must also love being proven wrong year after year as people continue to use expensive proprietary software over free, Free software.
posted by Riki tiki at 11:37 AM on May 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm not saying that open source doesn't have design flaws. Please don't take me to say that at all. I think every system has flaws.

And I will agree whole-heartedly that the open source method of doing things doesn't make it easy (and programmers are a hardheaded bunch -- I've had my run-in with quite a few).

It seems to me, though, that with something like Ubuntu, which is organized more than most other projects, and from some of the comments, even has a bit of a benevolent dictator with Shuttlesworth (or not so benevolent -- I'm keeping my eye on him) has an opportunity to remedy this.

I can understand some complaints, don't get me wrong. And I think there's plenty to go around. But I really don't like this nitpicking that happened earlier, was my case.

(PS I never said "this is the year of linux on the desktop!")
(PPS I hate the GIMP, and wish there WERE a good usable alternative. Gimpshop ain't it.)

I did, in fact, post in my LJ about this thread and did admit that some of the blame is on coder's own elitism. So maybe, I shouldn't just blame UI/Design people -- fault lies both ways.

So what can we do to correct it? Let's be constructive in this then... What will it take to make UI people feel comfortable working in the open source framework? What incentive can we give them. They already have OSX, and love it, apparently, why should they waste time improving something they think sucks? They don't care about freedom much if they're so stuck on OSX, so what incentive can be offered? We can't offer the same going rates for professional work, though Ubuntu could offer rewards for some things... Could they hire a full-time designer?

I dunno.
posted by symbioid at 11:49 AM on May 11, 2010


symbioid, I didn't mean to single you out that much and I know you didn't say it was the year of the Linux desktop. It stuck in my craw a bit to see attention to design details characterized as "OCD" so I probably jumped on you more than I should've. Sorry.

You ask a good question, which is what this all comes down to: what can be done? Well, what do the successful open-source projects do?

I'd assume the Mozilla Foundation does most of the central planning for the Firefox user experience (for example on the Mozilla Wiki), and very few of the volunteer contributors have a controlling voice in that process. That's just a guess, but if I'm right then they depend on a traditional proprietary software development structure to ensure UI quality and consistency. And they pay for it... thanks to Google, which represents most of their income. Chromium is also thanks to Google. OpenOffice.org probably has a similar situation with their funding from Sun and Oracle. Eclipse has the same thing from IBM. Webkit has Apple.

Can you name a F/OSS application of significant UI scope that doesn't enjoy major financial support from a for-profit company?

It'll be The Year of the Linux Desktop (again acknowledging that you didn't say that, symbioid) when a for-profit company finds a reason to invest in making it The Year of the Linux Desktop. My bet is we won't see it until ChromeOS... which is scary. It's a little frustrating to think about how much effort has gone into gnome and kde only to realize it may be deprecated by a third contender with a bare-bones approach.
posted by Riki tiki at 12:31 PM on May 11, 2010


Riki tiki: “symbioid, designers at Apple and Microsoft aren't just paid to design, they're paid to work with programmers and vice versa. A designer in those companies can say "the scrollbar viewport widget becomes too small for very large documents, it should have a minimum size of 20 pixels" without knowing how to implement that in code. A programmer will be assigned the issue and it'll be prioritized and fixed. There may be some back-and-forth but it's everyone's job to play nice. ¶ In the Linux world, that same designer has to file a bug report or feature request without there necessarily being an accountability chain for prioritizing it. She may then have to debate that design decision with a programmer who prefers "realistic" viewport widgets even if they get to be two pixels tall.”

I appreciate the common distinction, and I know that's how open source projects generally work, but this isn't true for Ubuntu at all. Canonical employs a design team; they are paid to design the Ubuntu desktop. They make decisions about how it should look, considering things like usability and visual appeal and other important design criteria, and they work with the programmers at Canonical and elsewhere who create and maintain Ubuntu to put those ideals into practice. And they tend to be pretty responsive to the community at large, too.
posted by koeselitz at 12:34 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


symboid: It occurred to me that a competition for most usable/"best" design with a decent prize might attract people.

Also, I'm using 10.04 Netbook edition right now, I use it every day, my computer needs to work every day, and I don't spend a long time working for the computer, on principle. I used to, and one way I measure the improvement in Ubuntu is how much it allows me to have the luxury of ignorance. Right now, I don't know my IP address, processor, kernel version, what drivers X is using, what brand my touchpad is, what drivers my soundcard uses, what drivers my USB headset uses, what kind of wireless card I have. At times, I have had to know all of that. Now I can treat my computer as a magical information sandwich.

I still have 1 pain point which for the average human being (someone who doesn't know what "operating system" is, doesn't read computer magazines, blogs, journals, or metafilter posts) would be a "this piece of crap doesn't work, get what you pay for" moment. I use lovely 4G WiMax Internet, and I had to set that up - the guy in the shop showed me how, and it's not as well-integrated as I'd like.

There's all kinds of subtle good design in Ubuntu - the pulsing of windows that want attention, when XP was flashing blue and orange, the way that the messaging indicator doesn't flash when I have a new message, just changes from black to green, and the power on/off button changes from black to red when I ought to reboot. Just tested that the top two corner pixels on the screen each do something when clicked. None of those show up in screenshots, of course :-)

To continue the footwear metaphor, a great deal of people have a 6th toe, and people have that 6th toe in different places. My 6th toe is a WiMax adaptor, someone else's is low-latency audio, or a sewing machine, or genealogy software, or high-end video editing, or running Matlab. If you're lucky, your 6th toe is an extra little toe, and Ubuntu will fit it without much trouble. If you're unlucky, your toe is a big toe, growing out of the sole of your foot, and you have to stick with the custom footwear that you can only order from special catalogues.

Which is really just to say that "Ubuntu is bad for me, and people like me", is a separate complaint from "Ubuntu is bad" (both may be valid). It's ready for my desktop, the desktop can wait.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 12:42 PM on May 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Riki tiki: “Can you name a F/OSS application of significant UI scope that doesn't enjoy major financial support from a for-profit company? ¶ It'll be The Year of the Linux Desktop (again acknowledging that you didn't say that, symbioid) when a for-profit company finds a reason to invest in making it The Year of the Linux Desktop.”

Again, Ubuntu is run by a for-profit company: Canonical. And this isn't the first time that for-profit companies have been working to build this stuff; Ubuntu's based on Debian, whose found Ian Murdock went on to start Progeny, one of the first for-profit Linux OS/distribution companies. It didn't do great, but we've seen more and more development in this area.

I think the Brian Lunduke lecture linked above deals with this issue pretty well. The OS seems to be monetized pretty well, I think, and there are a lot of things that could be better, but the model is pretty much exactly as it should be. What needs to happen is the development of software for that platform has to see money, too; it's far too hard to make money writing programs for Linux right now. And I think Lunduke is right that the Ubuntu Software Store has the potential to do this.
posted by koeselitz at 12:43 PM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh cool, koeselitz, thanks for pointing that out. I honestly wasn't aware. So here's the follow-up: does Ubuntu's design team have a lot of influence or input in the gnome/kde scope? It seems like a lot of the nitpicks are about things that are probably outside Ubuntu's exclusive codebase and more in the third-party F/OSS frameworks Ubuntu depends on. Would that be a fair assessment?
posted by Riki tiki at 12:49 PM on May 11, 2010


Could they hire a full-time designer?

They've hired several!

Somewhat unfortunately, I think alot of their effort goes into big-picture usability testing and application flowcharting and such instead of nitty gritty pixel-by-pixel cleanup of icons and borders and such.

GIMP is pretty icky, but has anyone opinions on Inkscape? I only recently started using it in earnest and I find that it's more usable to me than Illustrator. I've been trying to use photoshop and illustrator's vector tools for months and months, but could never quite grok the okay-this-node-is-a-corner, pull on this to get this, and so on with the bezier manipulations. I've looked at video tutorials, etc. and I just couldn't get the hang of it. This feels ultra-discouraging when I've got years of (non-path) photoshop and InDesign work under my belt. But after maybe an hour in Inkscape, I had all the basics down and could start making simple illustrations. Then just last week, I made a coat of arms thingie (self link! ..the horse/rider is stock art but the rest is me) that I'm really proud of. I'm sure Illustrator's a better tool, but at least in my case, Inkscape was a better teacher. The icons and UI hints just made more intuitive sense.
posted by cowbellemoo at 12:58 PM on May 11, 2010


I think alot of their effort goes into big-picture usability testing and application flowcharting and such instead of nitty gritty pixel-by-pixel cleanup of icons and borders

That's what Ubuntu's One Hundred Paper Cuts initiative is about.
posted by bonehead at 1:09 PM on May 11, 2010


That's what Ubuntu's One Hundred Paper Cuts initiative is about.

Yes! I meant to mention that but forgot to. (really!) :P
posted by cowbellemoo at 1:52 PM on May 11, 2010


Riki tiki: “Oh cool, koeselitz, thanks for pointing that out. I honestly wasn't aware. So here's the follow-up: does Ubuntu's design team have a lot of influence or input in the gnome/kde scope? It seems like a lot of the nitpicks are about things that are probably outside Ubuntu's exclusive codebase and more in the third-party F/OSS frameworks Ubuntu depends on. Would that be a fair assessment?”

That's generally true, yes: the Gnome project has all the reins, when it comes down to it, for any hard-wired GUI stuff. From what I've heard the Ubuntu team has a pretty good relationship with them; the big leap coming up, of course, is going to be Gnome 3, which I like the look of, and I'm sure the Ubuntu team is thinking about what that'll mean for their desktop and what they'll have to do to transition. Gnome has always been their choice primarily because it's so modular and easy for them to adapt to their purposes, so we'll see what they do with a more feature-rich sort of GUI thing.

Otherwise, though, Ubuntu has been flexing its muscles lately a lot on GUI stuff. There was some grumbling at the most obvious change to the GUI in this release – the fact that the window buttons have moved to the top left corner – but I can see why they made that decision, and I respect it. And I mentioned above how they'll be getting rid of the System Tray in the next LTS release; the post from Canonical that I linked is a really great discussion of why they're making the change, and I think it's a great move. More than the move itself, though, I like the dynamic it represents; here's one of the devs at Canonical saying this is what we're gonna do, and while there's a consensus around the decision the essential bit is somebody had the balls to force a standard.

I honestly think this is Mark Shuttleworth's initiative. He stepped down in the middle of last year as head of Canonical in order to move back into the trenches of Ubuntu development, taking charge of a lot of stuff and trying to motivate the desktop forward in general. And despite the fact that this has earned him the ominous title amongst some geeks as "the Steve Jobs of Linux," it's what we need. The biggest problem with open source has always been our apparent inability to standardize; a billion different people are doing a billion different things, and none of it comes together in a really cohesive whole. What we've been waiting for, I think, is the momentum that Ubuntu has; like Brian Lunduke says, there are just as many people using Ubuntu now as used OS X four years ago. Suddenly, the Ubuntu devs and designers have the power to say "we're moving the window buttons to the left," or "we're getting rid of the system tray" – and the user base complies. And the desktop moves forward with the chance for a unified vision.

However you look at it, Mark Shuttleworth is dedicated to making the design of Ubuntu awesome. And he's been pretty straightforward about this. At LinuxCon last year, in fact, he went so far as to say that, as they approach the design of the desktop, developers who might not understand the importance of design and elegance should follow "the shut the fuck up protocol."
posted by koeselitz at 2:00 PM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wrinkled Stumpskin: It's ready for my desktop, the desktop can wait.

Wow, that's really weird. I was going to post the same idea, that there will be no single year of the Linux desktop. I would even have phrased it very similarly... that there will be no the year, but rather millions of individual my years.

My year at work was 2000; at that point, I was more functional on a Linux desktop than I was on Windows. At home, it reached sufficient parity in around 2007 or 2008. I'm perfectly comfortable, now, switching around between Windows and Mac OS and Linux. I barely even notice what OS I'm running anymore. I run an OS X laptop (I'm typing on it right now), a Windows desktop, and a Linux server, because each is stronger in that respective niche, but any of them will work okay for any of the major things I do. And Windows is only a better desktop because it runs games; if it didn't, I wouldn't care about it at all.

It also struck me that it's pretty interesting, seeing this much Linux expertise on MeFi. My first install, similar to mrbill upthread, was installing SLS on my 386-20 from floppies, and then being pretty mystified about what the hell I was supposed to do next. :) (Coming from DOS to Unix was pretty painful... the Net hadn't even reached my area yet, so there was nobody to talk to.)

I'm very pleased to see that regular people are actually starting to use it, and in some cases, to find it preferable to the other offerings. I find it very difficult to communicate just how enormous a jump that is. Once upon a time, you had to build X modelines from scratch, and that was just about the most painful thing I ever remembering doing with a computer. I damaged my monitor doing it, and suffered along with a failing unit for months because I had no money to replace it. Stupid modelines.

There's a fundamental sea change going on right now. For many many years, in most places I read regularly on the Net, I always knew the most about Linux, and that's much less frequently the case, these days. There is a lot of new expertise coming online now, and I'm being taught about new things at least as often as I'm teaching, sometimes more. Open source software is spreading like wildfire, and even very Microsoft-centric sites, like Ars Technica, will have very solid knowledge of Linux and the various free programming languages.

In short: free software is no longer weird. It's not a strange niche that only beard-stroking nerds inhabit, making pronouncements from the Temple In The Server Room. It's becoming common and routine for just regular smart folks to know and use the stuff.

It's happening right here, in this very thread, and I gotta say, it is nice to see. Free software is becoming popular not because it's free, but because it's better.... it just happens to be better because it's free.

From what I can see, the MeFi Year of the Linux Desktop is 2010.
posted by Malor at 2:02 PM on May 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Mandriva for sale
posted by Artw at 2:10 PM on May 11, 2010


It's not a strange niche that only beard-stroking nerds inhabit, making pronouncements from the Temple In The Server Room.

"Thank god there's still Minix, Haiku, and the BSDs," I pronounced, stroking my beard.
posted by Zed at 2:13 PM on May 11, 2010


Holy shit, Minix still exists?!
posted by koeselitz at 2:15 PM on May 11, 2010


Rory Marinich wrote: "But I don't know if I've ever been in a situation where I think my computer's functioning incorrectly."

I find that very difficult to believe. I have never had a PC (in the broad sense, not the Mac vs. PC sense) that functioned entirely correctly with every feature it claimed to support. Ever.

koeselitz wrote: "and it's still pretty annoying to me that PulseAudio has pretty much decided to completely ignore latency and high-quality sound"

That's what jack is for, isn't it? (I don't know, PA doesn't produce enough latency to be an issue for what I do with my computer, and its features are more than worth it for me)

Regarding wireless networking, aside from the brokenness that is ath5k on certain chips (including the one in my laptop), it works great. Better than Windows, anyway. Through no particular fault of my own I now have to go through some ridiculous procedure to get my wireless working in XP. Every. Time. I. Boot. I'd rather deal with the occasional 2 second dropout than the ordeal it takes to get wifi working for me in Windows.

I guess I could just reinstall Windows.

Riki tiki wrote: "And it's not like you can complain, since it's free!"

Or you could find a like-minded programmer and fork. That's the wonder of open source.

And since we're talking about our first Linux experiences, mine was with Slackware 2.3 on my brand spankin' new Pentium 75 with all of 8MB of RAM (or maybe it was 16). First thing I did? I got minicom working and dialed into my ISP, which at the time offered shell accounts. Shortly after that I made pppd work. (compared to today, that was a nightmare, but it really only took around half an hour to write the configuration file and chat script)

I recall being unable to find a decent X window manager, so I used the command line almost exclusively (aside from occasional uses of mosaic or netscape) until 1999 or so. My command-line exclusivity was helped along by my P75 breaking and having to use my 486 for a long while. It was nice that a 486 could be useful again.
posted by wierdo at 2:26 PM on May 11, 2010


I'm really not sure the "If you don't like it go write your own one!" attitude really cuts it in this day and age.
posted by Artw at 2:35 PM on May 11, 2010


I love the way compiz (fancy pants eye candy) is currently mostly integrated with Ubuntu, but my ONLY papercut with Ubuntu is that using compiz breaks the workspaces. This means you can't name the individual workspaces and have to guess or hunt around for the workspace I'm looking for. It's a huge pain to have to check each one instead of going straight to the 'DB monitor' or 'Public Site' or 'Transcoding' workspaces. Spaces (zooming out to see all viewports) doesn't help too much because all my workspaces tend to be mostly five or six terminal windows open to various processes and even if I can tell them apart it's much slower that reading a title.

I hope this will get fixed, but don't have huge hopes because developers seem to think compiz developers should just switch over from their viewports to Ubuntu's standard workspaces. Who know when that will happen? I suppose I could just go to the basic display settings, but then I couldn't wiggle my windows around when I need a distraction.
posted by xorry at 2:46 PM on May 11, 2010


Artw wrote: "I'm really not sure the "If you don't like it go write your own one!" attitude really cuts it in this day and age."

It's not an attitude, it's a recognition of reality. Unlike with closed source software, you can build upon the work of the GIMP developers and re-implement the UI, presuming you have the necessary GTK skills. You don't need the obstinate developer to make it happen if you have programming skill, the skill of persuasion, or money.

Obviously, I would prefer it if everyone would just write their programs to look like I think they should look and work like I think they should work.

Barring any of those possibilities, there's always WINE and Photoshop.
posted by wierdo at 2:52 PM on May 11, 2010


wierdo: “That's what jack is for, isn't it? (I don't know, PA doesn't produce enough latency to be an issue for what I do with my computer, and its features are more than worth it for me)”

Yes, but no. Have you tried running JACK? Not easy, let me tell you. I finally gave up, sadly. And this annoys me no end, because Ardour is fantastic, and I'd really like to use it for recording.

It's not a huge priority for Ubuntu right now, but I hope at some point in the next few years it becomes one.
posted by koeselitz at 3:04 PM on May 11, 2010


I have a friend that uses it, but it's not something I'm interested in. I thought Ubuntu Studio came with it already installed.
posted by wierdo at 3:36 PM on May 11, 2010


It's not an attitude, it's a recognition of reality. Unlike with closed source software, you can build upon the work of the GIMP developers and re-implement the UI, presuming you have the necessary GTK skills. You don't need the obstinate developer to make it happen if you have programming skill, the skill of persuasion, or money.

Well, theoretically if OpenOffice screws up the indenting on headings when exporting to RTF I could learn to be a Java coder, download the source, track down what the problem is, fix it, and engage with the OpenOffice bureaucracy to get the fix into the codebase, I guess that's a kind of reality. Here's an actual reality: I'm not going to do that. I'm going to find a workaround and bitch about it a bit, and if the number of things I have to work around get unmanageable I'll stop using it and bitch about it a lot, telling all and sundry that the thing is a peice of junk and not to use it. Multiply that by a significant number of end users and suddenly theres a pretty real problem.
posted by Artw at 3:51 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Heh. Ubuntu Studio comes with JACK already downloaded. And, yeah, it's sort of halfway configured... I haven't tried Studio in about four months, but the last time I saw it the problems were still endemic.

Thing is, JACK is garage software. Ardour is an incredible thing for the product of basically one man's development, and I think it's actually pro level, but one person can only do so much, and JACK suffers because I think Paul's focus is elsewhere. One guy can't resolve the thousands upon thousands of driver issues and connectivity issues that are possible, and while JACK tries to get around this by being sort of a go-between and connecting services together, it's not always successful. Actually setting up a fully working JACK environment within Gnome was beyond my capabilities, or at least beyond what I wanted to spend a lot of time doing.

Studio seemed like a such a good idea, so it was frustrating to me to discover that it didn't work out of the box. But I guess that's probably too much to hope for in a little distro whose sole raison d'etre is pretty much to offer support for a sound server that doesn't exist in Main.
posted by koeselitz at 3:54 PM on May 11, 2010


Artw, you have the exact same problem when using proprietary software. Even if you can't fix it yourself, you can ask someone nicely to do it or pay them to do so, if it bugs you enough. You don't have that option at all with proprietary software.

Now, there certainly are cases where proprietary software is demonstrably less buggy (or at least more complete) than open source software, but comparing OpenOffice to MS Office, the bug factor is pretty similar, in my experience. I'm no Java programmer and I'm a cheap bastard, so I also just sit and complain about the bugs rather than putting up a bounty.

koeselitz, that's sad. As I mentioned, I haven't really used Studio, aside from when I use my friend's computer to browse the web or whatever. I don't recall him complaining loudly about it, so I figured it was a possibility. I don't even understand why one would need lower latency and less jitter in the audio stream.
posted by wierdo at 4:47 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you really gotta have it, commercial software that takes care of all of your critical needs and most of your wants tends to trump waiting for your critical feature to bubble through development. Professionally, I just gave up and got MSWord, personally, my writing is split between Scrivener which is great, and Google Docs which fits the category of "good enough."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:48 PM on May 11, 2010


I was having an interesting discussion the other day with a coworker about MS Word.

Just about anyone who has ever developed any piece of custom software that involves text input or editing despises Word. This is because, inevitably, once you give users the ability to enter text into a box, they will start requesting that you make that box more and more Word-like. E.g., "we want formatted text," followed by "we want automatic spell check," and then "how about Track Changes?" It goes on and on.

When you try to tell people that these things are Really Hard, and will cost thousands of dollars and eat up tons of developer time to implement properly, they tend to get upset — after all, Word does it and Word only costs a hundred bucks!

The problem, of course, is that Word isn't a hundred-dollar program. It's a ... well, nobody really knows, at least not outside of Microsoft. It's at least a billion-dollar program, certainly. I think you can make an argument that it may in fact be, after Windows itself, the most expensive single piece of software ever written. (Office brings in about $20bn in revenue for Microsoft every year; how much of that is reinvested in its development is, as far as I know, not public, but I'm sure it's a healthy sum.)

The fact that Ubuntu+OpenOffice even come close to giving you the functionality of Windows+Word is, or should be, mind-blowingly amazing, given the staggering amount of time, money, and talent that Microsoft has devoted to those products over the past two decades. They're the software equivalent of the Apollo program, and OpenOffice is like a Saturn V that a bunch of guys built in their garage after studying some photos of the exterior. It's damn impressive that it works at all.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:21 PM on May 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, that didn't last long. Ubuntu partition has mysteriously died. It tried booting and then it just hanged on startup.

On reboot, get dropped to GRUB. No info, no prompt. I think it flickers something about DMA not found before dropping me to a grub prompt.

Heh. I'll wipe the partition and try again, but that's exactly the sort of thing that'll keep me from pushing it to the windows users who need it most.
posted by loquacious at 6:33 PM on May 11, 2010


Thankfully I already have knoppix on my keychain so I can fsck it and then fdisk it away if needed.
posted by loquacious at 6:35 PM on May 11, 2010


Kadin2048: “The problem, of course, is that Word isn't a hundred-dollar program. It's a ... well, nobody really knows, at least not outside of Microsoft. It's at least a billion-dollar program, certainly. I think you can make an argument that it may in fact be, after Windows itself, the most expensive single piece of software ever written. (Office brings in about $20bn in revenue for Microsoft every year; how much of that is reinvested in its development is, as far as I know, not public, but I'm sure it's a healthy sum.)”

This isn't strictly true, actually. And it's really not about how much money Microsoft puts into development of Word – although I guarantee you that it's much, much less than you think.

Look, I'm sorry, but I'm going to give you the lecture:

Microsoft Word is a heaping, steaming pile of rancid shit. It is a stinking morass of useless and overcomplicated 'features' and pointless add-ons that are impossible for any sane person to duplicate. You may think I'm insulting Microsoft, saying they misdesigned Word to make it so unuseful and overcomplicated. I'm doing no such thing – Word is intentionally overcomplicated, intentionally confused and backwards, and intentionally impossible to replicate. If you don't believe me, listen to Marlin Eller, lead graphics developer at Microsoft from 1982 to 1995:
Microsoft didn't want a lot of other companies writing code that could compete. It wanted to keep the barriers to entry very high. The idea, in fact, was to keep raising the bar, putting in more layers of software and APIs, which developers would then have to support. Microsoft wanted to make it so gnarly that anybody who couldn't devote a team of one hundred programmers to every Windows application would be out of the game.
The summary formula of this philosophy that Bill Gates has apparently always been fond of is "extend, embrace, extinguish."

In a way, it's a brilliant idea – and it's working fantastically. Look at Word: it's a word processor. It's designed for producing text documents. So yes, fine – you can format text, and that's a good thing; it's a necessary feature. Trackback? Er... not really necessary, since this is sort of something that's inherent in text anyway, and there are intuitive solutions for that that don't require Word's convoluted interface for that. But then there's the insane Tables interface. And, to take another example, up above somebody was disappointed because Word in Linux can't use the Microsoft Word equation editor. That's right, there's an equation editor in the Microsoft Word word processor. Why? Who the fuck knows? Does it serve any real purpose that wouldn't be better-served by something else? No.

All of this cruft (that's the software word for "excess crap") has a very real purpose: it makes it impossible for any program to be truly compatible with Word. Well, any program designed by a sane human being. There's a very simple situation that Microsoft is hoping for here: businessperson x is sent a document. They try to open it in OpenOffice. But, lo: OpenOffice doesn't support insane feature y, so they can't open it! It doesn't matter that the file was produced by a ludicrously stupid piece of software that no one in their right mind should use – businessperson x doesn't know that. All that businessperson x knows is that the person who sent them this document was using Word, so businessperson x has to get Word, too. You can see this all over Word, chiefly in the fact that Word documents won't open the same way in OpenOffice or other programs. Hell, Word documents often won't open the same way twice in Word itself, they've honed this so well. So businessperson x, who doesn't know any better, gets angry at whatever program can't replicate Microsoft insanity, and just goes out and buys Word.

In recent years, as Microsoft has suddenly started to feel threatened by OpenOffice, they've gotten into the business of using as much of their money as possible to ram their formats down the throats of international standards bodies. (You want to know where the Word development money went? That's where.) That's why you'll see all these ".docx" and ".xlsx" files that cause everybody so many headaches, and require special converters, and aren't even actually supported in the current version of Office that Microsoft is selling – in order to complexify the situation to bamboozle the competitors.

When your company has majority market share, this strategy makes perfect sense. The average user actually wouldn't mind if text editors looked exactly the same as they did in 1982 – the average user just wants to be able to open the file from their boss and have it look sort of the same as it did for him. That's what Microsoft is banking on.

And that's the sad part about OpenOffice – they're losing the battle, because they're actually playing Microsoft's game. Microsoft says: "oh yeah? Well, check this out: we'll make it so you can have a pdf inside a spreadsheet inside a text document inside a presentation slide!" And OpenOffice, being the obliging gents they are, actually tries to replicate that behavior.

It's like a child taking up an ever-escalating series of schoolyard dares. You know it's got to end somewhere bad for the kid.
posted by koeselitz at 6:50 PM on May 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


LULZ - neither fdisk nor windows disk manager is reporting that the partition even exists. Which means I have about 20gb lost on my drive to a phantom partition that doesn't exist.
posted by loquacious at 6:55 PM on May 11, 2010


And, for what it's worth: there is no part of Word that would "eat up thousands of developer hours" or cost lots and lots of money to develop. It's just that Word makes absolutely no sense – and that's the trick. You can't compete with a ridiculous document editor so long as they have market share. If you make a beautiful, functional, worthwhile word processor – there have been at least a dozen over the last two decades better than Word – then nobody will ever know or care, because all they care about is being able to open documents that people send them in a program that's equally insane as the program they were created in. If you make a ridiculous, silly, bloated word processor like Word, you can't compete for precisely the same reason, because it's very, very hard to make the ridiculousness of the program match up.
posted by koeselitz at 6:58 PM on May 11, 2010


loquacious - that 20gb is now property of Canonical. What, you thought Ubuntu was free? Please leave your netbook connected to the internet: I need a place to put my media files.
posted by Ritchie at 7:08 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


loquacious -- if you fdisk the partition exactly as before, you might be able to access the partition again.
posted by mad bomber what bombs at midnight at 7:31 PM on May 11, 2010


koeselitz: And, to take another example, up above somebody was disappointed because Word in Linux can't use the Microsoft Word equation editor. That's right, there's an equation editor in the Microsoft Word word processor. Why? Who the fuck knows? Does it serve any real purpose that wouldn't be better-served by something else? No.

Formatting mathematical copy was the key necessary feature that led to the creation of TeX (and later LaTeX.)

Which, I understand and agree with all the criticisms of MSWord. I'll add another one. Attempting to combine 100 years of business logic when it comes to professional communications with the 500 years of page design and typsetting results in a program that is half-assed at both.

But, here is the bottom line. I cannot afford to lose data from clients and collaborators due to OO.org's imperfect import, I cannot afford lost production time trying to get people to convert to a more sensible format, and I don't have the ability to redesign the processes I have to work with to eliminate Word and similar programs. It's ugly and horrible. I cried bitter tears when I saw half of a document vanish when OO.org saved a file with arcane formatting involving nested tables. Then I went out and bought a copy of Word.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:31 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Look, I'm sorry, but I'm going to give you the lecture: Microsoft Word is a heaping, steaming pile of rancid shit.

I LOL'd.
posted by cowbellemoo at 7:53 PM on May 11, 2010


loquacious -- if you fdisk the partition exactly as before, you might be able to access the partition again.

Yeah, no. I know just enough about fdisk to be really dangerous. I don't even know what type of file system ubuntu used, much less the start and end blocks. Plus it seems to be using some kind of virtual partition magic for the windows installer, so I'm not going to futz around and burn my main partition considering I can't even see the partition at all in most common partition tools.

I did manage to uninstall it, but some of the files were corrupted, so I had to run the XP chkdsk standalone for the first time that I can remember in... oh, almost a decade. Then it seemed to uninstall cleanly with the uninstaller.

I have no idea what happened. It was working fine last night. I shut down normally. Nothing notable happened. When I went to boot back into it it threw some errors on startup that flashed for a split second, loaded the ubuntu splash screen and then locked up. After a hard reboot it was like it never existed, but the partition was obviously there because the drive space was still missing and the C:\ubuntu folder was still there.

Way to make me feel like a noob, ubuntu!

I wanted to try a couple of the other varieties anyway, so no big deal, I'm just glad it didn't hose my MBR or main XP partition or anything.
posted by loquacious at 8:31 PM on May 11, 2010


I cannot afford to lose data from clients and collaborators due to OO.org's imperfect import

This is the reason I was disappointed by the fact that you can't use the equation editor in Word under Wine. I'm pretty sure most people can learn Lyx or LaTex itself (I think xeTex might be the more modern thing now). But, they won't. If there's this thing they already know how to use, and it has features built in to handle pictures and tables and things, then why not use that? Why waste time learning something else, even it's way better? At least that's the opposition I'm up against with my occasional collaborators.
posted by bluefly at 8:34 PM on May 11, 2010


Also, I just installed the new Ubuntu on my home computer, and it's super fast -- leaps and bounds faster! And a little less ugly than previous versions -- baby steps here. Fiddled with the wireless as usual, and I'm pretty sure the battery meter thing isn't working, but everything else is great. So, thanks to this post for convincing me to go back and try it out.
posted by bluefly at 8:53 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's too bad that that didn't work out, loquacious. For whatever it's worth, I've found the main distribution to be incredibly stable, and while I'm sure it'll be a bit heavy on a netbook, there are other stabler netbook varieties, too, as I'm sure you know.

Zed mentioned Minix above; and I was shocked to know that it's still around. Heh. For those who might have wondered why, you might be interested in this little bit of history: "Linux is obsolete" - Andy Tanenbaum, creator of Minix, January 29, 1992. "Don't get me wrong, I am not unhappy with LINUX," Tanenbaum says without even faintly comprehending how ironic his words will later prove – "It will get all the people who want [me] to turn MINIX in[to] BSD UNIX off my back." And Linus is a fiery newsgroup commenter, for his part: "... your job is being a professor and researcher: That's one hell of a good excuse for some of the brain-damages of minix. I can only hope (and assume) that [your other project] Amoeba doesn't suck like minix does."

All this is most interesting because both Andy Tanenbaum and Linus Torvalds are known for being particularly nice people personally. And it's quite lively, too, with some witty repartee flying back and forth. I've always loved this exchange, though. Tanenbaum: “As an aside, for those folks who don't read news headers, Linus is in Finland and I am in The Netherlands. Are we reaching a situation where another critical industry, free software, that had been totally dominated by the U.S. is being taken over by the foreign competition? Will we soon see President Bush coming to Europe with Richard Stallman and Rick Rashid in tow, demanding that Europe import more American free software?” Heh.

More importantly for history, that very interesting conversation sees the inception of some of the essential ideals of the free software movement, at least in practice. Says Linus: “... here's my standing on ‘keeping control’... I won't.”

Now that I think of it, a microkernel OS like MINIX might be a very good idea for mobile devices. Hmm...
posted by koeselitz at 8:58 PM on May 11, 2010


*shrug* I'm no huge fan of Word; I'm an emacs guy myself.

But I disagree with the assessment about Word overall; to any given person, it may seem to be a bloated pile of shit. But it's not designed for any one person, or even for any particular task. I'm not even sure you can call it a "word processor" anymore. To some people it's a word processor, to other people it's an outliner, to other people it's a page layout program... I've seen people use it as a source code editor, for the love of god. What to one person is useless cruft is to somebody else a critical feature, because they view the program in an entirely different way.

average user actually wouldn't mind if text editors looked exactly the same as they did in 1982

I disagree; I think the average user wouldn't mind if their text editor looked exactly the same as it did in 1982 with the addition of just one feature here or there. To someone, that critical feature might be underlining spell check. To someone else, maybe it's change tracking. Or the Equation Editor. Or an editing view that looks like print preview all the time. Whatever. (If they didn't, if there weren't any compelling features at all, then the world would never have moved on from the word processors of 1982.) The point is that everyone has their one little niggling feature that they like, and Microsoft just throws them all in there and a few more besides. It's the kitchen sink theory of software development. That's what makes it so difficult to compete with — coming back to my original point — every tiny little feature that you don't implement is going to alienate someone, somewhere, eventually, which is why you should never allow "be like Word" to creep into your users' expectations.

there is no part of Word that would "eat up thousands of developer hours" or cost lots and lots of money to develop

There is perhaps no single feature within Word that would take up thousands of developer hours, but providing Word as a whole, or even a significant chunk of Word's functionality, certainly would. Once you start going down that path of being "like Word," there's no end.

Which is why I agree with you about OpenOffice; by attempting to replicate Word (all of Office, actually) they've set themselves up for failure: they can never be better than Word, but every bizarre little feature that they don't implement is going to be a deal-breaker for someone. It's an inherently flawed approach — however, I still think the amount of progress they've made is impressive, and I have a lot of respect for the project for producing what they have. But I'm a sucker for doomed efforts.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:27 PM on May 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


You have two choices. One, a 100% beautiful UI on a program that does not work. Or an ass-ugly UI on a program that works perfectly. Which do you choose?

Option 3 - my Mac?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:35 AM on May 12, 2010


Responding late to Wierdo: Part of it might be that I really don't mess around much with installing things in Windows, and never really have. Right now I have maybe three things I ever plug into my laptop: I have a keyboard controller, an Xbox 360 controller for emulation, and a hard drive that I only ever plug into my Mac.

Part of what gives varying users varying perspectives on this is that we all have vastly different use cases. When you don't experiment much with Windows, things rarely break. If there're things Windows 7 sucks at, they're well beyond how I use my computer. So in my mind Windows is stable.

I found koeselitz's post about Microsoft Word fascinating, despite the fact that I've never had that issue: I dislike many things about Word's interface, but Pages and I think even TextEdit open up .docx files at this point, so I've never thought about how Microsoft was trying to enforce restrictive file formats. When I argue for iWork in favor of Office, the argument always has to do with ease-of-use rather than file restrictions. This is funny because I suspect iWork has even more restrictive file formats than Office does. Do other programs support the .pages format at all?

by attempting to replicate Word (all of Office, actually) they've set themselves up for failure

Yeah. This really saddens and confuses me. Why would you actively try to emulate somebody else? For all I dislike a lot about Firefox, I've always liked that they're making an effort to differentiate themselves from their competitors' featurelists. And I wish Ubuntu would be more drastic in its UI changes. I know enough about alternative user interfaces on OS X alone to know that there're probably much sleeker, sexier ways to handle files.

I look at FileBrowse and wonder why the heads of the pop open source community aren't taking advantage of their freedoms to promote real alternatives to an ugly, broken system. Make a sexy file browser and you'll win people over; that's one of those things that everybody notices instantly. When you look exactly like Windows/Mac you're not selling anything. If you're doing something crazy cool then suddenly you have a unique selling proposition.

(I also want to say: I really like the back-and-forth in this discussion, and all the places this has ended up branching while remaining civil. Hooray everybody!)
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:42 AM on May 12, 2010


Windows 7, Mac OS X, and Ubuntu 10.04 meet up for an OpenGL benchmarking session
posted by Artw at 7:22 AM on May 12, 2010


so... kadin2048, what you're saying is that Word is the emacs of windows?

(and if you must know, i prefer emacs over vi, but that's not saying much, heh)

nano over all! :P
posted by symbioid at 8:29 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Keep your eye on Ubuntu then, Rory. It's about to get/is in the middle of getting a major facelift.
posted by bonehead at 8:48 AM on May 12, 2010


The year of the Linux desktop will arrive only when manufacturers can be shamed into providing correctly working drivers for basic pieces of hardware like network, video, and sound cards—and not before.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:04 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm still trying to get a non-Xandros version of Linux installed on my old eee 2G Surf (which only has 2gb of hard drive space). I'm surprised at the minimum hard drive space requirements for the latest and greatest Ubuntu netbook releases... My hazy memory of running linux (which, granted, goes back to 1996-2001 running Slackware) is that it didn't take up THAT much hard drive space. But perhaps my fond memories are skewed.
posted by antifuse at 10:32 AM on May 12, 2010


To be fair, Open Office is half a gig just by itself.
posted by Artw at 10:48 AM on May 12, 2010


correctly working drivers for basic pieces of hardware like network, video, and sound cards

While I noted the problem with some wireless hardware above, wired networking is pretty much a solved problem. I wasn't happy with the proprietary Radeon driver last time I tried it, but the proprietary Nvidia and open source Intel drivers are very good (though there was a really unfortunate train wreck with the version of the Intel drivers that shipped with Ubuntu 9.04.) So far as I understand it, the sound mess isn't at the level of drivers, which are usually available, but the lack of a standardized API for sound management. Instead there are multiple competing standards that don't necessarily play nicely with each other. That's definitely one of the frontiers that needs to be tamed. (Personally, I haven't had a problem with sound, but my needs there are simple.)
posted by Zed at 12:29 PM on May 12, 2010


Can't help thinking that this should be a bit of a holy shit moment for Linux folks:

Those enthusiasts within the Phoronix community even managed to get the unreleased Steam Linux client running up to a partially drawn UI and other modifications, but now that work can stop as Valve is preparing to officially release the Steam Linux client from where they will start to offer Linux native games available for sale. For all those doubting our reports that Source/Steam would be coming to Linux, you can find confirmation in the UK's Telegraph and other news sites. An announcement from Valve itself is imminent.

Found already within the Steam store are Linux-native games like Unreal Tournament 2004, World of Goo, and titles from id Software such as Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and Doom 3. Now that the Source Engine is officially supported on Linux, some Source-based games will be coming over too.


SHIT JUST GOT REAL!

(Oh, and anyone on Mac or PC whose not played Portal should wander over to Steam and get their FREE COPY)
posted by Artw at 12:31 PM on May 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm kicking the tires on it now under virtualbox. It feels surprisingly sluggish, even allowing for the fact that I'm running it in an emulator.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:00 PM on May 12, 2010


Peppermint OS One - a web-centric Ubuntu remaster that passes up common desktop applications like OpenOffice.org in favor of web-based alternatives such as Google Docs.
posted by Artw at 5:42 PM on May 12, 2010


It feels surprisingly sluggish, even allowing for the fact that I'm running it in an emulator

I put it on a couple of days ago and have been playing with it, and my experience is the same. On the other hand, there's enough UI features that I'm enjoying that I'm going to look at some of the lighter builds and try those on for size.
posted by yeloson at 6:56 PM on May 12, 2010


loquacious: It sounds like you might have run into a bug with WUBI, which is the 'emulate a hard drive with a file in the Windows filesystem' thing. I've never trusted it, because there are too many layers involved. Linux is running off a hard disk image, so when you write to it, it has to do all the normal Linux filesystem stuff, and then write the changed sectors to the file. To do that, it calls the NTFS driver, which then has to map those sectors to the actual physical sectors on the disk, and then call the code to talk to the hardware. All those extra layers have big flashing letters for me, "HERE BE DRAGONS". The NTFS driver in particular is something I distrust very much, and I never use it for writing files.

If you really liked it, and you're in a position to do this, you might want to try backing up all your files (just in case), using "parted" to shrink the Windows partition, and then making a real honest-to-goodness Linux partition on the drive. This is higher impact on your system, and if you get something wrong during the install, you can potentially wipe out the whole drive. That's why you need a good solid backup. If you get the OS successfully installed, the code that talks directly to the hardware is extraordinarily unlikely to break.

I've been running on that code for more than fifteen years, and the only significant problem I've ever had was spurious drive errors on my home server. (The drive wasn't actually failing, but Linux told me it was, so I replaced the drive when I didn't need to.) This did piss me off when I finally figured it out, but I couldn't entirely blame the kernel guys -- it was a semi-known motherboard fault that was never fixed by ASUS. (It was something wrong with either APIC or ACPI support on the board, but I don't remember which.) One problem in fifteen years, across hundreds of machines, isn't a bad track record. And I've lost a few files on XFS partitions, because XFS really doesn't like power failures. But you'll probably be using ext4, which AFAIK is very solid.

Using a real partition is damn near bulletproof. As long as your hardware is good, it will work until the drive fails, in my experience. Now you know what Ubuntu offers, so you might find it worth the time to try again, the old-fashioned way... with a real partition, directly on the disk.

WUBI is a hack, and I've always thought it was a fundamentally bad idea. Sure enough, here's a user that got bitten badly. Grrr.
posted by Malor at 10:47 PM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


KirkJobSluder: I've never really used VirtualBox, but it has the reputation of being very slow.

In my experience, VMWare is pretty much the only Windows desktop software that truly gets it right. It knows about most common Linux distros (although it probably won't know about 10.04 yet), and will install custom X drivers that make the screen display quite snappy. It won't give you any 3D acceleration for Linux guests, so you don't get any of the cool Compiz stuff, but basic display is fine, and you can even play low-resolution video. Video emulation is normally really slow, so getting any video working at all is a lot more impressive than it sounds at first.

I believe you can try VMWare Workstation out for 30 days for free, but after that you have to pay for it. I think it's like $100, so it's not cheap. VMWare Player is free, and it may also work well, but I think you have to download images: you can't create your own.

One tip for speed: don't use growable disks. Use fixed-size emulated disks, and pre-allocate all the space. If you do that, disk access is actually pretty snappy. It's quite slow on a growable volume, and it can be a bit irritating.

Just for general reference: on the PC, at present, about the only things that actually virtualize are the CPU and the memory. Because of that, CPU and memory-intensive things will usually run at 95% plus of native hardware speed. Everything else has to be emulated. That is, the guest machine writes to its fake hardware, the host program sees the attempt, figures out what it was trying to do, runs all the code necessary to fake the result (like writing or reading data from the virtual hard drive), and then returns the results. This is very slow, and it's why video, disk, and network I/O are slow in virtualization.

VMWare has put a huge amount of engineering effort into making that run faster, and when I fullscreen a Ubuntu image, I can barely tell I'm not on real hardware, except that I don't have Compiz, and usually can't play video or 3D games well.
posted by Malor at 11:03 PM on May 12, 2010


Oops...I thought Wubi was an all-caps project, not normal case. Apologies.
posted by Malor at 1:25 AM on May 13, 2010


Malor: Actually, the problem seemed to be a grindingly-slow LaTeX install and a quick VirtualBox reload. For my needs, VirtualBox does pretty well.

Hits: AbiWord (although I don't have anything that really demands it right now) and Epiphany (WebKit web browser).

Didn't Work: Gnome-Do (QuickSilver clone, couldn't summon or reconfigure), Zim (note-taking app, crashed when notes are deleted.)

Need Time to Think About: yWriter, a fiction-writing "ide" similar to Scrivener has many of the features I want, and seems to run under mono. However, it's ugly as sin. Scrivener is where I think word processors should go, but that's a rant I don't have time for. FOSS needs a simple, beautiful and lean writing system that combines features of a free-form database with a word processor.

Tomboy runs but I can't find a way to link to existing documents.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:27 AM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Need Time to Think About: yWriter, a fiction-writing "ide" similar to Scrivener has many of the features I want, and seems to run under mono. However, it's ugly as sin. Scrivener is where I think word processors should go, but that's a rant I don't have time for. FOSS needs a simple, beautiful and lean writing system that combines features of a free-form database with a word processor.

I really, really want to try Scrivener. I've used Writer's Cafe, which works all right in both Windows and Linux--but it's ugly as sin, too. Embarrassingly ugly.

I did the dual-boot set-up last night. I started with Windows, wiping my hard drive clean (not like I had any choice--it didn't recognize the format of my hard drive, of course). The Windows 7 install took about 4 hours, and at the end of it, I was able to play a very pretty game of mahjhong, but had no sound or network drivers (Windows tells me the solution is to find them on the internet. Hmm).

Then I went ahead and installed Kubuntu Lucid. Even with repartitioning the remaining hard drive space, it only took about twenty minutes. It boots in about thirty seconds, and so far everything Just Works--I haven't tried printing yet, but here I am, online, with sound!

And my desktop is pretty, and not just because I put David Tennant on the wallpaper.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:39 AM on May 13, 2010


FOSS needs a simple, beautiful and lean writing system that combines features of a free-form database with a word processor.

Seconded.
posted by JHarris at 2:39 PM on May 13, 2010


(And Malor, VirtualBox has always been snappy and great for me, nearly as fast as running on the metal.)
posted by JHarris at 2:40 PM on May 13, 2010


Acer to "launch Chrome netbook next month"
posted by Artw at 11:06 AM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


While I noted the problem with some wireless hardware above, wired networking is pretty much a solved problem.

And how many people use their notebooks (or their netbooks, especially) with a wired connection? I just bought a netbook that came with Ubuntu (8.04) pre-installed. Just now, a week after upgrading to 10.04, installing wireless drivers, and having wireless networking work perfectly, it started exhibiting this problem in the middle of a session without any config files changing or software being added or removed—it just broke. The only solutions appear to involve mucking about with config files and/or compiling things to replace the software that worked just fine an hour ago.

I've decided to stop telling people who ask that Linux is ready for the desktop, because I don't like lying.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 2:05 PM on May 16, 2010


one more dead town's last parade: I've decided to stop telling people who ask that Linux is ready for the desktop, because I don't like lying.”

Yeah, let 'em go back to spending hours upon hours trying to get Windows 7 netbook wireless drivers to work. That's a fantastic idea.
posted by koeselitz at 2:35 PM on May 16, 2010


Also: netbooks aren't desktops. Big difference. Netbooks are an entirely different architecture that sprung up in the last three years, and so they're a lot less stable.

The fact remains that Ubuntu wireless drivers work more frequently than Windows wireless drivers. If that's what you're going to base a decision on, that's all you need to know.
posted by koeselitz at 2:40 PM on May 16, 2010


netbooks aren't desktops

I'm talking about desktops as opposed to servers—you run end-user applications on netbooks (unless you're looking for a low-power server with its own battery backup), so they absolutely are desktops in that sense.

The fact remains that Ubuntu wireless drivers work more frequently than Windows wireless drivers.

Citation?
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 2:56 PM on May 16, 2010


The year of the Linux desktop will arrive only when manufacturers can be shamed into providing correctly working drivers for basic pieces of hardware like network, video, and sound cards—and not before.

Just to reiterate what my experience this week was above, ondtlp (because I think it bears repeating), the following worked out of the box on my wired desktop Kubuntu Lynx setup (a four-year-old HP tower): networking, sound, compositing. The same night, I installed Windows 7 on the exact same computer. The installation took several hours as opposed to twenty minutes, and when I finally got to my desktop, I had no sound card drivers and, from what I can tell, no network drivers at all. Using the latest builds of respective windows and ubuntu systems, it's ubuntu, not windows 7, that seems far readier for prime time, out-of-the-box use, with the least amount of tinkering. I still haven't bothered searching for my network drivers for windows, because why the hell bother when ubuntu is working just fine?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:23 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


one more dead town's last parade: “I'm talking about desktops as opposed to servers—you run end-user applications on netbooks (unless you're looking for a low-power server with its own battery backup), so they absolutely are desktops in that sense.”

Why would you have wireless drivers on a server? The Ubuntu Netbook kernel is different from the Main kernel; it's an entirely different operating system, one that hasn't had six years of development behind it. Yes, I know – it's disappointing that your netbook driver didn't work – but it's a netbook, with entirely different sets of drivers and architecture from other computers. You may not realize this, but the Ubuntu I'm typing from is a wholly different beast from Ubuntu Netbook; it even has a different version of Linux at its heart.

It's just a fact: netbooks aren't like most computers. They have odd wireless cards and strange processors. Things like this happen with every operating system; I described above the update to Windows Vista (which affected millions of people worldwide) which made it impossible to boot into Windows. Ubuntu has never had such a problem.

“Citation?”

I've done about a dozen installs in the past year, and assisted with as many more. About two thirds of them have been Windows 7. The rest were Ubuntu. Believe me, I've seen it. And I know it doesn't necessarily help you with your problem, but keep in mind: the Ubuntu people are doing this natively. Even when it does work on Windows, it works because you go to the trouble of either (a) finding the driver somewhere online, or (b) using a disk you got with the computer or wireless card, and running some installation program. In Ubuntu, everything's designed so that you can plug it in and use it. There are ways to deal with it if it doesn't, yes, but Ubuntu sets its sights higher.

I know this seems sour to you, and I'm sorry for that. Honestly, I'd like to help you. I'm pretty certain that, within a few weeks, they'll patch this problem; but yes, it's still a problem now. Please try to appreciate that it's not a problem for most people on netbooks using Ubuntu.
posted by koeselitz at 6:55 PM on May 16, 2010


koeselitz: "Ubuntu has never had such a problem."

While I love Ubuntu, and think it's damn fine, I, in fact, *did* have just this problem after updating to 9.10... Something about a corrupted GRUB file?

After upgrading to 10.04, I've had no problem (thankfully), but that was the first time I had an unbootable Ubuntu install.

All systems are open to potential failure. I do believe that Ubuntu is more secure, easy to use/install software, etc... than Windows. But let's not pretend it doesn't have its own flaws/potential downfalls.
posted by symbioid at 7:04 PM on May 16, 2010


The Ubuntu Netbook kernel is different from the Main kernel

And it's not what we're talking about here.

Please try to appreciate that it's not a problem for most people on netbooks using Ubuntu.

The thread I linked to above had complaints from users of seven different types of computers (some of which were full-size laptops and not netbooks) from four different manufacturers. Some of these people have stated explicitly that they're using the regular kernel. I'm using the regular kernel. The problem cannot be blamed on the netbook kernel because it's not unique to the netbook kernel.

the Ubuntu people are doing this natively

Except when you have to use ndiswrapper.

Anyway, removing and reinserting the kernel module for that wireless card has worked for me almost all the time, but you can't expect a typical end user to know or care (or want to know or care) about modprobe. They just want it to work—transparently—and it isn't quite there yet.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 5:25 PM on May 21, 2010


I installed 10.04 Netbook Remix on a Lenovo Z61m last night. Windows XP was workable but sluggish -- the Remix distro flies and it looks snazzy to boot. I might toy with a Xubuntu installation if I encounter any real shortcomings in the Remix distro, but I know that that laptop's never going back to Windows.
posted by cog_nate at 4:55 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


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