The Freetard gives his Mama a bit of Ubuntu

How is it that some fancy-pants framework is always the right tool for an abstract job and PHP is the right tool for a real job? (The right tool for the slob) Exactly. Though I would say “Why do all these freetards talk about freedom, but then give their Mama a Mac?” So it is good that an idealist, freetard like myself actual tests his ideals in the real world. In this case, the test subject was an important one: my mother. A couple of weeks ago, Mark Pilgram’s post about switching his father to Ubuntu reminded me that I had told my mother she should try Ubuntu since her Windows laptop was slowing down. That weekend, I mentioned it to her again in email. Her response was “Ubuntu is what? … oh I see something about printing. That would be GREAT if I could communicate from my computer to the printer.” (You can read our whole email exchange, if you like.) Given her limited knowlege of Linux, I asked her to try it out. In fact, I made it more challenging. I pointed her to the Ubuntu download page and asked her to download the ISO and burn it … and I wouldn’t help her. She managed to get a Dapper installation CD burned (I didn’t tell her which version to try) but ended up thinking she had failed because the MD5 checksum process didn’t work. Or maybe it did and the download was bad. Still, I was able to use the CD when we met up a week later. In the end, that part of the experiment showed part of the failures of Ubuntu’s efforts. At least when it come to 56 year-old grandmothers, Ubuntu’s download page is too filled with jargon to be really useful. And I don’t know where to report this bug. Even though we live a thousand or so miles apart, we happened to be getting together the next weekend. So I got a Gutsy CD ready so that I could walk her through the Ubuntu installation and finish it up. Even then, my faith in Ubuntu was shattered. When I asked her to boot off the CD, she did, but she started it in safe mode (which probably created other problems). Still, there were a few bright spots. Perhaps the biggest thing Ubuntu got right was converting her existing Windows user, including bookmarks and IM account, over to the equivilent programs in Linux. That feat, in and of itself, makes me almost forgive all else. Still, there were a number of things that the installation didn’t get right:

  1. When it is converting the only existing Windows user, it asks for a username and password. And then it asks for the “default” username and password on the next screen. Why?
  2. Resizing the disk when you want to preserve the existing Windows installation is too confusing. Still.
  3. The Live CD installation tells you to “remove the CD and reboot”, but you can’t remove it when the Live CD environment is still running.
  4. The boot splash screen was a blank screen and you would have thought the installation failed if you hadn’t seen this before and watched the drive activity light
  5. She has a widescreen laptop, but it defaulted to 1024×768 and a VESA driver instead of 1280×768 and an ATI driver
  6. Suspend on her Compaq Pressario V2000 doesn’t work.
  7. Her broadcom wireless meant I had to download drivers on my laptop and transfer them to hers.

(Yes, I still need to report these bugs.) But even after all this, I was still encouraged when I explained that we wanted to preserve her Windows partition and she asked “Why? I won’t be needing it any more!” In the end, she went home with Ubuntu running on her laptop and seemed pretty happy with it. Hopefully, in a few weeks I can write more about any snags she has run into.