Computers Linux Ubuntu

Linux – stop holding kids back… so wrong

Recently, a school teacher named Karen in the Austin Independent School District confiscated what she thought were copies of illegal software but were actually Linux CDs. She then wrote an angry email to Ken Starks (aka, Helios), who then published the email and wrote back his own angry response. At least that’s what Ken Starks would have you believe happened.

I’m annoyed that the Linux community is getting on this guy’s side, and he’s trying to make off like a hero. I even question the authenticity of the email. I believe it’s either (depending on how cynical you want to get) a rewrite of an actual email for extra dramatic effect, a completely fabricated email referencing an actual event, or a completely fabricated email referencing an event that never even happened but one that Ken Starks considers realistic or plausible.

Let’s say—for argument’s sake, since I have no proof yet that this is a hoax—that the email is authentic and that the incident actually did happen. If that’s the case, Ken Starks’ blog post does not put the Linux community in a good light at all.

If the teacher’s email is authentic, it’s still not ethical for Starks to publish without the author’s consent what would otherwise be a private exchange, especially for the purpose of public ridicule.

More importantly, Starks does go on to ridicule the teacher in question and offer her personal insults as well. Here are some highlights:

You should be ashamed of yourself for putting into print such none sense [sic].

The fact that you seem to believe that Microsoft is the end all and be-all is actually funny in a sad sort of way. Then again, being a good NEA member, you would spout the Union line.

A dedicated School Teacher would recognize that fact and lobby for the change to Free Open Source Software and let the money formally spent on MS bindware be used on our kids.

A teacher who cared about her students would do that.

Now this teacher—if this incident really did happen, and if she wrote that actual email to Starks—is certainly extremely misinformed. Linux CDs are not illegal, and software can be free. It’s possible that “Aaron” was being disruptive but well-intentioned, and she was a bit harsh to the boy. However, if Starks really wanted to inform her and have her change and get educated, he should have written a kinder reply. His vitriol serves only to alienate her and tarnish the image of Linux communities.

To Karen, if this incident really did happen, and if your email did actually get published without your consent for the purposes of public ridicule, I apologize on behalf of the parts of the Linux community that will let me. You didn’t know that what that student was doing was perfectly legal, and you might have overreacted, but you probably thought at that time that what you were doing was right. If Starks hasn’t totally turned you off to open source software, I’d invite you to explore it yourself some time. It is perfectly legal and cost-free.

P.S. I find it disturbing that this is starting to appear not just on Digg and Slashdot but as actual news stories on tech websites when it’s clear that the only source remains Starks’ blog post. There is currently no outside verification whatsoever that the incident occurred or that this Karen (no last name) teacher actually sent that email to Starks.

Computers Linux Music I Like Ubuntu Windows

The Songbird has hatched

When Songbird first appeared on the scene (I think it was version 0.1 or something), I remember the Ubuntu Forums community getting really excited about it. It was supposed to be like the Firefox of music players, the iTunes-“killer.” It seems as if it’s been years, and people have been hyping it up all along the way.

At intervals, I’d try it out and see how I liked it. Meh. I was never that impressed.

Recently, though, I came back to it on my work computer. Ever since newer versions of iTunes have broken compatibility with third-party efforts to set up global hotkeys for iTunes in Windows, I’ve been on the search for something very simple: a music player that will keep track of how often I’ve played songs in my library and give me global hotkeys. It’s not as easy as you’d think. I’ve tried Foobar2000 and XMMS. No go. So for a while I was just sticking with iTunes without the global hotkeys, and I decided it was too annoying.

For any of you who wonder what global hotkeys are for, I have a job where I do a lot of office work (filing, processing mail, running reports) and also answer the phone and sometimes talk with people in person. While I’m doing office work, I like to listen to music. I have my own office (not a cubicle), so I’m not bothering anyone. But if the phone rings or if someone walks in, I want a quick way to pause my music so I can give that person my full attention. And if I’m doing office work, I’m too lazy to create playlists, so I want to often skip songs I don’t feel like listening to at the moment. Global hotkeys help me do this without constantly having to Alt-Tab back to my music application.

Well, my return to Songbird has been a good one. I’ve now completely remove iTunes from my work computer, and I’m sticking with the bird. I’m very impressed that Songbird not only gives me global hotkeys and keeps play counts per song but it also has so many nifty little plugins. There’s an on-screen display when I change songs. There’s a plugin for looking up concert info for artists. There’s a lyrics plugin. There’s a play queue plugin. All great stuff that iTunes doesn’t have.

I feel as if there’s now a little bit of Linux functionality on my Windows work computer, and it’s great. Go, Songbird!

Apple and Mac OS X Asus Eee PC Computers Linux Ubuntu Windows

Would Apple’s netbook be the next iPod?

I remember back in 2003 when only a handful of early adopters in America were buying portable audio players. If I’m recalling correctly, some of the big players at the time were RCA and Creative, among others. Once 2004 rolled around and the 3rd-generation iPods came out, suddenly “everyone” I knew had an iPod. Soon, even armed with my Sandisk player, I had unknowing friends call my portable audio player an iPod. The iPod took over a growing trend and made itself a virtual monopoly in portable media devices.

In recent years, phones have been getting more internet-connected. Blackberries have been the standard for business travellers, but most everyday folks have had crappy no-name web browsers in their phones that can do only some very basic tasks. Suddenly, the iPhone came along, and now… well, not nearly “everyone” but it’s getting close to half of the people I know are getting iPhones or planning to get an iPhone when they can afford it. I had high hopes for the Google phone or the Blackberry Storm; however, all the reviews I’ve read of them have been mixed and make it sound as if the iPhone, despite its own flaws, cannot be beat for sex appeal to the masses.

Now we have these netbooks that are “popular” in the sense that early adopters are excited about them, but really very few people I know have netbooks let alone know of their existence. I bought an Eee PC 701, and I still love it but, like many netbook owners, know that the netbook has not reached its full potential. Some Linux users are optimistic, since most netbooks come with a Linux-preinstalled option, that netbooks could be the key to a Linux-for-home-user revolution of sorts. If that’s to happen, OEMs have to wake up and start making a netbook that is unreservedly the best. I’ve read literally hundreds of reviews of various netbooks, and with every review, there’s something seriously wrong. Some key is placed in the wrong place. The keyboard is too small. The sound is tinny. The processor is too slow. The battery life is too short. The Linux distribution it comes with is crippled.

Why is it so difficult? Really. If an OEM (Dell, HP, Acer, Asus, etc.) came out with a netbook that had these characteristics, I guarantee it’d blow the sales of the other netbooks out of the water:

  • 92%-sized keyboard with important keys in the right places
  • No weird side buttons for the touchpad
  • Nice aluminum casing, no cheap plastic
  • Sleeps when you close the lid, wakes when you open the lid
  • Ubuntu-based Linux that takes advantage of the full Ubuntu repositories
  • “Easy” interface that can easily (meaning a box that checked or unchecked, ticked or unticked) be changed to a more typical “advanced” interface
  • 2- or 3-second boot time
  • Definitely cheaper than the corresponding Windows option
  • Battery life of longer than 4 hours
  • Kernel supports 2 GB of RAM without user modification
  • Ships quickly, no extended delays

Why is that so hard to find? Why does Dell’s Mini come with some weird architecture that isn’t compatible with the regular x86 .deb packages? Why does HP’s Mini-Note use a Via processor? Why does any netbook run with a crippled version of Xandros or with Linpus Linux? Trust me, OEMs, for your own financial good, fix these problems quickly and come up with an all-around great product, not just a sufficiently-good-for-early-adopters product.

If the rumors I’m reading are true and Apple may enter the netbook market soon, this could be another iPod coup. I don’t agree with all the design decisions Apple makes. In fact, I actually am opposed to Apple’s whole approach to user interfaces. I cannot deny, however, that Apple thinks out its decisions and tries to create what they consider a good user experience. And they know how to make their products sexy. See, I don’t mind having an ugly MP3 player that also has a radio, has a really long battery life, and costs half the price of an iPod. But I’m not most people. Most people would much rather have a sleek iPod that costs more, has a cool scroll wheel, and works with iTunes.

I’d love to see Linux get some real success among home users, but if there’s not a Linux netbook that I can unreservedly recommend to friends and family before Apple comes out with one, I’m afraid Linux may miss the boat on this one. Or, even if Apple doesn’t come out with a netbook exactly, if the current line of netbooks stays flawed, netbooks themselves may die out, and the iPhone may take over yet another niche.

Asus Eee PC Linux Ubuntu

Ubuntu Eee 8.04.1 – I’m impressed!

If you’ve been following my blog at all the past year, you know I’ve been obsessed with finding the right Linux distro for my Eee PC. It came with an Asus-customized version of Xandros that works perfectly with the hardware but suffers in many ways on the software and user-interface side. I’ve since tried vanilla Ubuntu, eeeXubuntu, Mandriva, Debian, Puppeee, and various other distros that are supposed to be good for the Eee PC.

It’s been a tough search to find a good combination of usable and compatible. I just want something that will let me use all the hardware on the Eee and more or less let me use Ubuntu and its repositories. Why is that so difficult to find? Well, I think I may have found the holy grail of the Eee PC—Ubuntu Eee. Yes, I’d heard about it for a while now but never gave it a try, because I’d had a disappointing experience with eeeXubuntu. I’m very impressed with Ubuntu Eee, though, despite running into a few problems that were easily fixed.

Here were the problems I ran into:

  • The netbook remix it came with wouldn’t let me quit. I’d click the Quit button, and it’d look as if it were going to fire up the logout dialogue, but nothing would come up. And the way the netbook remix Gnome panel is set up, it was impossible for me to add anything to the panel (like the logout applet). So to shut down the computer, I had to use a virtual terminal and the sudo shutdown -h now command.
  • The netbook remix interface was also extremely unresponsive. I think it was designed with the Intel Atom processor in mind and not my poor little Eee PC 701’s Intel Celeron processor. So one of the first things I did was remove the remix and automaximize applications through Synaptic.
  • Wireless, as the Ubuntu Eee website indicates, is a little buggy with MadWifi on the 701 (and I’ve experienced this with other distros too), so I blacklisted the Atheros modules and installed and used ndisgtk, and that problem was solved.
  • There was a minor volume applet adjustment I had to make to get the front microphone working.
  • Ubuntu Eee comes with a lot of stuff installed by default (normal Ubuntu stuff and then a lot extra), so I spent a good hour in Synaptic Package Manager trimming out the fat.

The webcam, microphone, hotkeys, and sound all work great. They even have the little on-screen displays from Xandros when you press the hotkeys. I do get some weird message about the scanner group being unknown when I boot up, but the boot time isn’t too bad (still not as speedy as Xandros, of course). I think I’ll be sticking with Ubuntu Eee for a while. And now that it’s based on the 8.04.1 release of Ubuntu, I know it’ll be supported for the next two and a half years also.

P.S. There is one minor annoyance, which seems to pop up every now and then with Ubuntu releases. In Gnome, the volume manager will automatically mount my Lacie external drive’s FAT32 partition but not the Ext3 partition. With Thunar’s volume manager, neither will mount automatically. When the automatic mounting doesn’t happen, I get some message about not being able to mount the partitions since I’m not the superuser. So I’m mounting them from the command-line right now. I don’t mind doing that, so I’m on the whole pleased with Ubuntu Eee, but it’d be great if there were an easy fix for it.

Asus Eee PC Linux

What’s so bad about the Eee PC Xandros anyway?

Since I’m a regular on the Ubuntu Forums and, like some other forum members, I have an Asus Eee PC and decided to install Ubuntu on it, I do every so often get asked the question, “What is so bad about the Eee PC Xandros anyway?” I recently did a reinstall of Xandros, so after playing around with Xandros for a while again, it’s fresh enough in my mind that I can talk more specifically about the pros and cons of Xandros.

Xandros Pros

  • Hardware support. Yes, many distros have come pretty close to full hardware support or there exist some tweaks to get everything working, but Asus customized Xandros to work exactly with the hardware in the Eee.
  • Fast boot time. Likewise, there are some hacks to make Ubuntu or other distros boot a little more quickly (maybe 45 seconds instead of 90 seconds), but Xandros boots in 12-30 seconds, and that just can’t be beat. I understand some people have done some experimental fast-booting projects for other distros, but all of them have huge disclaimers about them being experimental for a reason.

Unfortunately, that’s about it. I can think of absolutely no other advantages to Xandros over other Linux distributions.

Xandros Cons

  • Annoying simple mode. At first glance, simple mode (the one with the tabs and huge icons) looks good or at least easy to use for beginners. It’s not a well-thought-out interface, however. The difference between Network and Wireless Networks isn’t readily apparent (Network is for frequently used connections you want remembered; Wireless Networks is for ad hoc connections). There’s also no easy way to make the Favorites tab the default, which would make the most sense. If my most-used applications are on two separate tabs, that’s kind of annoying. And if I have to click to a separate tab every time I want to see my favorites, that’s also annoying.
  • Too much QT dependence. If you’re a Gnome fan or generally favor GTK applications, there’s only so much you can strip down the KDE libraries and QT dependencies in the Eee Xandros. The essential-to-functionality programs all depend on KDM and KDE libraries. I don’t have a huge problem with mixing QT and GTK, but when my hard drive is only 4 GB, having double the libraries takes up almost double the space.
  • Limited repositories. When you load up Xandros, you’ll notice that the software available for installation is pretty much what comes on the Eee PC by default and little else. And some of the software updates actually take away functionality (for example, the update to the usb storage applet makes it so you can’t turn off the device dialog when you plug in a USB device). It is possible to add repositories, but there aren’t extensive repositories that can be used without adding potential conflicts. There are some small community-maintained repositories you can add. Or you can add Debian ones and make sure to pin versions of applications so that the Debian versions don’t replace the Xandros versions.
  • Mounting like Windows. When you plug in a USB device, instead of appearing as a normal drive name, you get all the weird D:\ and E:\ stuff as you would in Windows.
  • You can’t add a password to sudo. I’ve done extensive research on this at the Eee User Forums, and no one has successfully been able to add a password to sudo, so for almost all intents and purposes, you are running as root all the time. I can understand if this were only the default, but if you edit the /etc/sudoers file so as to require a password for sudo commands, you render the Eee unbootable.
  • No Quicktime. Yes, it’s great that Xandros comes with MP3 playback and Flash installed by default. But you’d think they would also give you the codecs you need to play Apple Trailers. No dice. The workaround is that you add Debian repositories and force and lock a downgrade to the slightly older version of MPlayer that apparently has the proper codecs.
  • Old versions of software. People often complain about Ubuntu updating its software versions only every six months with a new release. Xandros doesn’t do even that. There are some really old versions of applications that I don’t think have been updated since last year.
  • The username is always user. So in a regular distro if you say your full name is Carol J. Clover, the distro will make your username carol, as would make sense. In Xandros, no matter what your full name is, you’ll always be called user and your home directory will always be /home/user.

I think that pretty much sums it up. So the next time someone asks what’s so bad about Xandros, I’ll just point them to this blog post.

Computers Linux Ubuntu

To Debian and back again… again

Every now and then I try out Debian because of its reputation of being rock solid and stable. There are many things I like about Debian, especially its release cycle. But I still end up coming back to Ubuntu.

My most recent expedition was on my Eee PC 701. I tried the specialized version of Debian that’s supposed to be fully Eee-compatible (it comes with wireless drivers and hotkeys working, etc.). The only problem is I’ve never had good luck with madwifi drivers, even though that’s supposedly the “correct” way to go. In Debian, I ran into that same problem. Oddly enough, the minimalist installer was able to retrieve and install packages over my wireless connection, but when I had actually installed Debian, I couldn’t get wireless to work, even though the madwifi drivers were installed.

So I tried, as had worked in Ubuntu, to use ndisgtk instead, but I got some fatal error about the module not being loaded. Even though Debian’s Gnome was a lot snappier than Ubuntu’s (not sure why), I just went back to what’s tried and true (if not as responsive an interface). Back on Intrepid again.


Enough with the sensationalist Linux headlines

You would think that self-professed computer nerds and/or geeks would actually read articles instead of just headlines, and you would think that tech journalists would actually try to get across facts instead of just latching on to controversial-sounding sound bytes.

Nope. Unfortunately not.

I’ve seen two major instances of this recently. One is the headline about Linux netbooks being returned at four times the rate of Windows netbooks. Oh, the anti-Linux trolls latched on to that one right away. Well, of course, Linux isn’t usable. People thought they were buying a usable system and then they had to return it because Linux is only for nerds.

Uh, no.

If you read the actual article in question, it’s specifically about the MSI Wind netbooks, and the representative giving the statistics clearly says it’s a matter of people dealing with something unfamiliar and unexpected. Here’s an exact quotation:

People would love to pay $299 or $399 but they don’t know what they get until they open the box. They start playing around with Linux and start realizing that it’s not what they are used to. They don’t want to spend time to learn it so they bring it back to the store.

And Asus has said the return rates on Linux Eee PCs are about the same as the ones for Windows Eee PCs:

I think the return rate for the Eee PCs are low but I believe the Linux and Windows have similar return rates. We really separate the products into different user groups. A lot of users like the Windows XP, but in Europe a lot of people want the Linux option.

So really what this means is that MSI doesn’t know how to market its products properly, and Asus does (as did Apple with its Think Different campaign). When you have a product that’s unfamiliar to users, you have to do two things to get it to sell.

  1. You have to maximize sales with the users who are open to new things.
  2. You have to tell the other people that different can be good.

And then there’s the old Mark Shuttleworth “no money in Linux desktop” hype. Yes, Mark Shuttleworth did, in fact, say

I don’t think anyone can make money from the Linux desktop

but when you couple that with

never seen selling shrink-wrapped packages of free software as a workable idea. The only way to build business around software is with [added costs] services

he’s clearly saying that the whole idea of selling software is outmoded. He’s not saying Ubuntu won’t ever make money. He’s saying the money comes from a different place. But people just see the headlines and think, “Ah, so those anticapitalist free software fanboys finally admit there’s no money to be made for open source.”

Just give it a rest. Linux has enough real problems as it is. No need to make up new imaginary problems.

Computers Linux Ubuntu Windows

Please stop pretending Windows “just works”

As a follow-up to Macs are just computers, not magic and Macs are computers, not magic (part 2), I have to say based on recent events that people who say “There’s a reason 90% of home users use Windows” (and mean to imply it’s the quality of Windows instead of consumer inertia) or “Linux is for people who don’t value time. I’m going to stick with Windows because it works” are delusional.

Recently, at my job, I’ve been lending the occasional hand to the tech support department (even though I work in the Admission Office), and the problems we’ve been encountering have been problems that have challenged even tech support (not just the end users). I installed Adobe CS3 on a co-worker’s computer, and all of a sudden Microsoft Word would keep crashing and would start up in only safe mode. And a whole bunch of computers could not view embedded PDFs in Firefox.

Such incidents are not isolated to this job or any job at all. Throughout the last two decades, I’ve seen amongst family members, co-workers, and friends, too many Windows problems to even count. It could be anything from an “unknown error” when an application tries to start to a print job not going to the printer but being unable to be cancelled.

The next time someone says “There’s a reason 90% of home users use Windows,” I hope someone else replies, “There’s a reason 100% of organizations who use Windows have tech support departments.” As a matter of fact, computer problems existing has little to do with what OS you use. I’ve seen Mac owners complain about various Mac problems and Linux users complain about various Linux problems. There is no such thing as “just works.” Windows does not just work. Mac OS X does not just work. Linux does not just work.

The only way around this I can see is a redefinition of the phrase just works. Here’s my new working definition:

Fill-in-the-blank operating system has caused me personally (and no one else necessarily) fewer problems than other operating systems I have used, and when I do encounter problems, they are ones I can tolerate and not big enough for me to abandon this platform for another one.

Everyone who uses a computer either is a geek, becomes a geek, has a geek friend, or pays someone to be a geek. I know no one who buys a computer and thinks, “I know nothing about how to fix computer problems, I know no one who can fix computer problems, and I don’t ever want to pay money to have someone fix my computer. I don’t have to worry about that, though, since fill-in-the-blank operating system ‘just works.'” Anyone who would think that is in for a big surprise.

Further Reading
Windows Setup… or Why I hate Windows
What could it be?

Computers Linux Ubuntu

Dell, you didn’t do right by your Ubuntu customers

Quite a large handful of Ubuntu Forums members ordered Dell Inspiron Mini 9 computers with Ubuntu preinstalled. Kudos to Dell for offering (and actually advertising) Ubuntu preinstalled, and good on those who bought Ubuntu preinstalled (not an XP preinstalled they installed Ubuntu in place of themselves) and sent a real message to a major OEM that there is a demand for Linux preinstalled.

Still, there was a major problem. If you ordered a Dell Mini with an 8 GB or 16 GB hard drive, only 4 GB of it appeared to be usable. Dell has admitted to the problem and has said it’s fixed the problem for future-shipping units.

There is a problem, though. In its latest blog entry, “Inspiron Mini 9 with Ubuntu Linux – 8GB and 16 GB Hard Drives Not Fully Formatted” (in which they mention my username but misspell it—just an aside, no big deal), they say

For customers wishing to be able to use the extra unformatted disk space immediately, if you purchased a USB DVD drive with your Mini, you may use the system restore DVD included with your system to completely reinstall the operating system. (emphasis added)

I realize they’re working on a simple method for customers to use to format/reclaim the unused hard drive space without reinstalling the OS but this is ridiculous. So customers have to have paid Dell money for an external USB DVD drive in order to fix a mistake that Dell made? Dell should be rewarding, not punishing, its loyal early adopter customers. I realize it’d lose some initial money on doing this, but in the long run it’d earn the respect and future business of its existing customers if it shipped its customers free USB DVD drives to reinstall the OS. If it’s your fault, you pay for the replacement.

My wife has an iPhone power supply part that Apple has recalled. Does Apple want her to pay for the replacement part? No, because the faulty part is Apple’s fault. Any recall, any manufacturing problem is the vendor’s fault and should be fixed at the vendor’s expense, not the customer’s.

Dell, you are not doing right by your Ubuntu customers. So if they happened to have bought a USB DVD drive, they can reinstall the OS. If they haven’t, then what should they do, buy one? And will you reimburse them the cost?

Computers Linux Ubuntu

My top ten favorite Ubuntu Brainstorm usability ideas

Anyone who has read my threads on the Ubuntu Forums or my posts on this blog knows I think a lack of properly advertised and thoughtfully tested preinstalled Linux solutions from major manufacturers is the main barrier to the bulk of average folks switching from Windows to Linux.

Dell recently releasing and semi-advertising the Ubuntu version of their Mini Inspiron 9 model has been a step in the right direction, but the reviews of it from forum members still make me cringe a little. Apparently it doesn’t recognize more than 800 MB of RAM, despite what you have installed, it complains about the architecture of i386 packages, and it gives you a 4 GB partition by default even if you bought a 16 GB model (so you have to format and/or integrate the remaining 12 GB yourself).

Nevertheless, even though that’s the main barrier, and even though Dell is taking some steps in the right direction, the software side of things in Ubuntu (and, somewhat by extension, other Linux distros, since they tend to share the same upstream changes) still needs to be improved for a better average end-user user experience.

Here are some of my favorite Ubuntu Brainstorm ideas to that effect. Fixing or implementing these will be a major step in the right direction to having Ubuntu and Gnome work for those who don’t enjoy fiddling with their computers or using the terminal instead of pointing and clicking.

Idea #136: Add a tutorial slideshow to the installation process

This is an idea they had marked for a while to be included with Ubuntu 8.10, but they have now deferred it to 9.04. I’m glad it’s on their to-do list, but I do think a guide to basic functions like installing programs through Add/Remove (instead of searching the web for downloads) or activating hardware drivers is necessary for new users to an unfamiliar operating system.

Idea #141: Include a graphical frontend to edit /boot/grub/menu.lst installed by default

This shouldn’t be too difficult to implement. The graphical boot menu editor already exists and just needs to be included by default. Linux still has a reputation for being too reliant on the terminal and manual editing of configuration text files. Why does Ubuntu need to reinforce that stereotype? If people want to edit the /boot/grub/menu.lst file manually, let them. But if they don’t want to, give them the option to avoid it.

Idea #142: Optional add-on CDs (not advertised heavily, but still available)

I understand why Ubuntu uses only one CD. It’s all about simplicity. One CD. Few choices. Sensible defaults. Less confusion. That makes sense to me.

But if you have add-on CDs, they don’t have to be heavily advertised or on the same download page as the regular installer CD. A Linux distro that advertises itself as “Linux for Human Beings” should recognize that a lot of people worldwide do not have broadband internet access (either no access at all or dial-up access) and would greatly benefit from add-on CDs they could buy to have extra software repositories available.

Idea #2298: Automatic reparation of interrupted dpkg
Idea #11690: Include proper instructions if dpkg is interrupted

The first idea is obviously the ideal, but it’d take longer to implement. Right now if you’re in the middle of installing software or updates and you kill the program installing those packages, you’ll get a message next time you try to install packages that the package manager was interrupted and you need to run the command

dpkg –configure -a

to repair the package manager.

So, yes, first of all, if that command works 90% of the time to fix the problem (which it does), why can’t the package manager just run it automatically and repair itself? And, if not, a simpler fix is to have the instructions at least be the proper ones. If you try to run

dpkg –configure -a

in Ubuntu, you’ll be told you’re not root. Great. How about telling people to run

sudo dpkg –configure -a

instead—the command that actually works in Ubuntu?

Idea #2560: Option to Propagate permissions of parent directory to new files

Many times people like to have shared directories. I have my personal files. You have your personal files. But maybe we want to have a folder where we put our shared photos together. Right now if you change the permissions on that folder, the permission change will affect only the existing files. New files put into that folder will have read-only permission for the non-owner of the files. This is a must for usability, and it should be a simple point-and-click solution.

Idea #4755: Firefox/Mozilla: Synchronize “Open With” with Menu

I see a lot of stupid ideas on Brainstorm about changing the filesystem hierarchy. Why do those stupid ideas appear? Because there are still instances in which the filesystem hierarchy is not properly hidden from the end user.

If you want to change the default program that opens downloads in Firefox, instead of a list of available programs, you get the file manager listing your home directory. You have to know to go to /usr/bin to find the application launcher you’re looking for. The only people who should know about /usr/bin are the ones who want to know about /usr/bin.

Idea #11107: Users and Groups should always make sure at least one user is in the admin group

A lot of Ubuntu users are the only users on their computers. There’s a great graphical tool for managing users and groups, but it allows you to uncheck the box allowing the user to administer the system even if there’s only one user who currently has that capability.

In other words, it’s too easy to make it so that no user can administer the system. There’s no way an average user would know to boot into recovery mode, drop to a root prompt, and type

adduser username admin

Don’t make it easy. There should be some kind of validation happening on the back end.


One of the things my wife loves to do on her Macbook Pro is rename new devices (iPod, digital camera, USB stick, external hard drive). The drive appears on her desktop. She clicks to rename it and renames it, just as if it were any other folder on her computer.

How do you do it in Ubuntu? You use a command-line program called mlabel. Should those who prefer a command-line tool still be able to use it? Definitely. Should those who would prefer a point-and-click alternative have it readily available? Also definitely. But right now they don’t.

Idea #13024: Stop programs grabbing keyboard focus while typing

I believe this is a Gnome problem. I think (but am not sure) that in certain window managers you can change this setting. It should be fairly obvious why this should be a setting you can change and why the default should be for applications not to steal focus while you’re typing.

No one while typing intends to have the first half of what she’s typing appear in one application and the second half appear in another.

Idea #13965: offer to format unformatted drives
Idea #14319: Automatic addtion of new hard drives

Ubuntu handles external media pretty well if it’s formatted. But if you have new internal drives or an unformatted external drive, you’d better read up on your /etc/fstab manual. I don’t think further explanation is necessary. A simple graphical prompt is needed: “You have a new drive. What would you like to do with it?”

As I said before, fixing the usability issues here won’t magically bring masses of Windows users over to Ubuntu or other Gnome-using Linux distros. It will, however, make their stay, once they have migrated, more pleasant. And, of course, it can’t hurt to have properly advertised and well-tested preinstalled solutions either…

Idea #3575: Online Ubuntu compatible – PC Hardware Store
Idea #6847: Physical Ubuntu Hardware Store

Mark Shuttleworth’s admiration for some of Apple’s approaches to computers is no secret. I wish he would recognize publicly that Apple’s success is not just due to Mac OS X’s aesthetics. The Apple store is a great place for curious Windows users to try out and be amazed by Apple computers and find a host of peripherals that are guaranteed to work with Macs.

Unfortunately, Apple supports proprietary software. What would be great would be a Canonical store that allows curious Windows users to try out and be amazed by Ubuntu-preinstalled computers and find a host or peripherals guaranteed to work with Linux. Right now a lot of Linux-preinstalled solutions Linux users have to buy on faith or on video and text reviews online. I live in a major metropolitan area and have no store I can go to to try out the Dell Mini Inspiron 9 or the Asus Eee PC or Acer Aspire One with Linux.

I realize it’d be a huge commercial venture that could have initially lackluster sales and profit losses, but in the long run it could work, and I know Mark Shuttleworth has enough money to see it to the long run.