Saturday, June 22, 2024

Ubuntu: What They’re Doing Right and Wrong

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Ubuntu’s rate of evolution over the past few years is astounding. It has grown from a standard Gnome desktop distribution into a full operating system with its own desktop environment, development tools and community.

To celebrate Ubuntu’s success, I wanted to take a moment to highlight the things Ubuntu is doing well and also mention some issues that could use improvement.

Peripheral Detection

One of great things about the Ubuntu desktop is its hardware compatibility. For example, it does Wi-Fi surprisingly well these days. While I may still grumble about its reliance on the ndiswrapper with select chipsets, overall I’ve been pleased with how well Ubuntu 12.10 now handles natively supported Wi-Fi dongles. In previous versions of Ubuntu, we often had to blacklist one driver to compile another, especially with select Ralink chipsets. Thankfully, this kind of compatibility issue is not a problem any longer.

Additional successes include fantastic support for just about anything that connects via USB: webcams, printers/scanners, external storage devices, MTP-based MP3 players, plus countless other devices. You really don’t realize just how great Ubuntu peripheral support truly is until you connect a wireless mouse to Windows 7 and then wait for it to be detected, then search for drivers and eventually see it activated. It’s rather disgusting when you stop to think about it. Since I don’t use Windows 8, I can’t speak to how USB devices work with that release. What I do know is that USB devices—old, new, and nearly everything in between—work great under Ubuntu.

Note that when you’re shopping for new peripherals, branding matters. For example, I’m a fan of HP printers for the Ubuntu desktop thanks to the functionality provided by hplip. I also think highly of Logitech webcams and Intel for wireless. This certainly doesn’t mean that other brands won’t work; rather that if you’re looking for the absolute best compatibility possible, these are brands that actively work with Ubuntu.


The Ubuntu community has grown to the point of being able to tackle nearly any challenge you happen to throw their way. Whether you use Ubuntu Answers or the Ubuntu forums, odds are there is someone out there ready to provide free tech support for any Ubuntu woes which may be troubling you.

On the other side of the Ubuntu community coin is the massive marketing arm of Ubuntu. This marketing arm includes numerous blogs promoting Ubuntu happenings and user groups aimed at introducing new folks to Ubuntu. Although Ubuntu’s marketing efforts have not yet succeeded at getting Ubuntu into the mainstream, the efforts presented thus far are effective. Ubuntu is seeing adoption faster than ever, and much of this is due to the press attention Ubuntu receives.

A Malware-Free Experience

While no operating system is completely malware-proof, Linux distributions such as Ubuntu come pretty darn close. Fact of the matter is, you won’t find any significant malware attacks against the Ubuntu desktop. Some might say this is because Ubuntu is still rather young. Others  might suggest it’s because Linux is more secure than proprietary desktop operating systems. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that you simply don’t hear about desktop malware attacks on Ubuntu or other Linux distributions.

Easy Home Directory Backup

One of the great things that stands out about Ubuntu is how simple it is to backup your critical data. Using Deja Dup, you can easily select directories to be backed up to Ubuntu One or even to a local driver instead. Simply setup the backup program and the rest takes care of itself.

For backing up software, all one has to do is utilize the Ubuntu Software Center. Simply go to File, then Sync between computers. Once the syncing is completed, you will always have a backup of your favorite programs.

Software Center

The Ubuntu Software Center isn’t merely a great way to back up your Ubuntu software titles, it’s also a great place to discover new applications you may not have known existed. The concept of a software center isn’t a new one, as other distros have offered them before. However, it was Ubuntu who implemented the concept in a way that was compelling to the end user.

The Ubuntu Software Center is dead simple to use and allows for discovery and installation of free and paid software. Plus, by installing your software through the Software Center, you’re ensuring your purchased applications will be waiting for you should you need to reinstall the operating system.

Areas Needing Improvement

Now that we’ve covered the areas where Ubuntu is doing well, let’s look at the areas that need improvement. This is an important step  so we can make sure future Ubuntu releases get better with each revision. As you read this, understand that I’m not trying to be overly harsh; rather I’m merely pointing out key areas that desperately need to be taken more seriously.

Parental Controls

To date, Ubuntu’s solution for parental controls is almost offensive. The official page lists applications way beyond the skill set of most Ubuntu users, then it’s followed up with a known-to-be-abandoned application called Web Content Control. What absolutely blows my mind, however, is the recommendation that users can rely on Gnome Nanny as a solution. This also is software that isn’t effectively being supported. Additionally, uninstalling it can have adverse effects on your ability to connect to websites.

The only application listed under Parental Controls that actually works is a non-Ubuntu specific service called OpenDNS web-based parental controls. It’s not exactly easy for non-geeks to setup, but it will work well for someone familiar with setting up a new DNS entry on your specific machine.

A Migration Wizard

While various Live Ubuntu solutions allow Windows users to test out Ubuntu without the commitment, they still don’t address a key issue: Windows users who are ready to make the leap to Ubuntu need a proper migration wizard. For anyone out there thinking such a thing isn’t likely to be possible, think again—it used to exist for another Linux distribution back in 2006.

Add in the fact that proprietary programs are now welcomed in the Ubuntu Software Center, and one has to wonder why an ancient and now-dead distribution like Linspire was able to make migration easy, but Ubuntu still requires a DIY approach? For a power-user such as myself, it’s not a big deal. However, for casual users looking to make the switch to Ubuntu, a good migration tool is a must-have, in my opinion.

Final Thoughts

In this article, we’ve examined the areas where Ubuntu does well by its users, as well as the areas where I believe Ubuntu could do better. By taking a tough-love approach, it is my hope that some of the needed additions will be taken seriously.

I realize that some folks will suggest that proper parental controls aren’t needed or perhaps that migration tools are a waste of time. My reply to those individuals would go something like this: These tools may be meaningless to you. However, other operating systems are already offering this functionality, and if Ubuntu wants to compete effectively, it means addressing these basic shortcomings.

Obviously, I don’t expect the Ubuntu team to create these tools magically—that would be counter-productive. Instead, perhaps they could reach out to existing software vendors and find out if they might be willing to help address this issue.

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