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Testing Linux Ubuntu

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Ashley Highfield | 12:02 UK time, Friday, 20 June 2008

I started this blog post when I was on paternity leave with my first child, thinking I'd get it finished over a few days in my spare time.

Fool. As any of you with children know, there is no spare time with a newborn.

So, here I am now, having lived with - and used when I can - an Ubuntu Linux laptop for the last couple of months. I've been trying it out alongside my usual laptop (Sony Vaio running Windows XP), my new MacBook Pro, and a Vista notebook that we also have in the house.

Firstly, the most obvious advantage of Linux is that it's free (as in cost).

Free is a big advantage. It will, I hope, presage an entirely new range of inexpensive Linux-powered laptops - such as the Elonex £100 machine - that might fulfil an increasing need for web surfing (and iPlayer-type A/V consumption) on the move, with a bigger screen than phone handsets allow (notwithstanding the beauty of the iPhone's display), but much cheaper, smaller and simpler than current laptops.

ashley_gnu.pngThe second big advantage of Linux is also obvious: it's free as in speech - or "open source" - and therefore any code created on this machine would be available to anyone else, free. (Not that I am about to start hacking into the LAMP stack, my serious coding days ended with Oracle some 14 years ago.)

I make these rather obvious unique-selling-proposition points about Linux because on their own - free and open source, they may well be compelling enough reasons for many to go the Linux route. Putting that aside though, I am intrigued as to how well Ubuntu stacks up as a consumer proposition, next to the might of Windows and MacOS.

ashley_tux.pngAgain, for many, this home test might be seen as a pointless exercise, as Linux is currently more frequently used at the enterprise level. (Indeed, a good proportion of bbc.co.uk runs on Linux servers.) The reason for Linux's use in corporations is usually because of its extremely compelling combination of price, performance, reliability and maintainability benefits borne out of (if I understood Jono Bacon correctly), both its relative simplicity / elegance of the design of the core OS, and the fact that at any one time there are literally hundreds of thousands of developers around the world working on improving the code.

But if Linux is going to be a substitute for Windows / MacOS, then I believe it needs to be an easy-to-use, reliable consumer proposition too. I'm no expert tester, so the following comments are merely my own, personal, experiences.

So, I did the ten things I might most commonly do on my XP machine, on the Linux laptop:

1. Installing the OS With the help of George in the office, we put Ubuntu Linux on to an HP laptop. Installation was straightforward.

Initial impressions of an OS with all the tools you need, but without extraneous, memory and hard-disk gobbling consumer apps that I won't use.

2. First thing at home, accessing my wifi Elegant. Easier than Windows: just worked; no hassles. Trying this at work: easy, and get a list of all available networks with the signal-strength of each network displayed in a simple well-designed table. Logging on the next time, it connects automatically and incredibly quickly to the office wifi. I'm already starting to like this.

3. On to the web, and to the BBC homepage Using Firefox, which over the last couple of weeks, appears more stable than Windows IE, and on a par with the Mac's Safari. Initially needed help to get it to display new BBC homepage properly, and the clock in the top right still sits on a black background rather than the colour of the rest of the page. Small quibbles, and ones that are probably caused by our setup rather than Firefox on Linux.

4. Go to BBC iPlayer Streaming works beautifully. Download service to come (please do not make all your comments about this point, which has been discussed before on this blog for example here).

5. Installing Skype With my sister living in Oz, and now an auntie, getting Skype video up and running has a new impetus. Installing the Ubuntu FeistyFawn version of Skype was easy, but I couldn't get access (Server connect failed message). On Windows and Mac, everything worked fine, first time.

It turned out I had installed an old version of Skype (I suppose quite easy when there is no central management of software releases for the few non- free / open source applications on Linux). The external webcam I have also worked out of the box with Windows (obviously, as it had a Windows disk), but I could not find any driver easily that worked with Linux.

ashleyskype.jpg

George Wright to the rescue with both of these issues, finding the latest version of Skype (albeit a rather simpler version than the Windows one), and, after a long hunt, finding a driver for the external video webcam. I appreciate a lot of drivers are preinstalled, but I'm starting to feel that perhaps the Linux OS is not aimed at my kind of usage (or my lack of time to invest in getting it all set up right).

6. Try some online banking Annoyingly, my bank explicitly doesn't allow access using Linux, for security reasons. Note to self: change to an "open" bank. Actually, what are the implications, if any, of trying online banking via Linux? Do any / most banks enable access? A partial list of UK banks and their support for GNU/ Linux is available here - but I have no idea of its accuracy.

7. Before progressing any further, decide to update my OS There are 67 updates: this is either great news, or a worrying sign of work-in-progress. The updates took 20 minutes to install. Didn't need me to reboot the computer though, nice.

8. Getting photos from my phone onto Flickr Now an easy task. Uploading photos from USB memory stick reader to Flickr. First, the card was instantly recognised and photos dragged to the desktop. Great. Then tried to install a Linux Flickr photo uploader. Flickr themselves don't offer one, so went to their recommended link to jUploadr. Unfortunately, the site was down.

Right, let's use their web-based form (at this point I discover that the screen flips sideways if you have a dialog box wider than the screen to a new "workspace": beautiful). The web-based photo uploader worked, and latest photos now on Flickr.

9. Then played around with image editing software on my desktop Basic, but simple and slick. This is becoming a theme with Linux. Don't expect the bells and whistles or much support from other websites (e.g. my bank, Flickr, Skype, some p2p sites etc.) and you'll be fine.

10. Finally, editing this blog post in word processor OpenOffice Very similar to MS Office's Word. Saving the file in the open ".odt" format means of course that Microsoft Word refuses to recognise it. I am starting to feel the open source community's frustration! I could have saved in Word format but this wasn't obvious at first, and a slightly scary dialogue box suggests that this is a Bad Thing to do.

ashley_ubuntu.pngSo, there you have it. I've enjoyed using Ubuntu, it has a simplicity and elegance that I like and some great features that other OSes don't have (and I appreciate that I've only been scratching the surface). And it's free.

But I'd say it's horses for courses. For enterprise-side usage, or as a developers' workstation, or as a cheap platform for people with a fair amount of time on their hands and a willingness to deal with all the websites that only vaguely support Linux, fine.

For me, as a day to day operating system, would I churn from Windows or MacOS for it? Not yet; perhaps in a year or two. Critically though, I think the BBC can, and should, do more to support the Free and Open Source community, and I hope this has at least shown my commitment to listen and learn!

Ashley Highfield is Director, BBC Future Media & Technology

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    It seems that you got on fairly well. The main thing about linux hardware drivers is that they either work out the box or it's really difficult. However with the number of users now using linux it's probable that more and more hardware manufacturers will support linux.

    For uploading to Flickr, if you use the excellent F-Spot photo management software that is installed by default by ubuntu, then you would have found that it comes with the option to upload to Flickr, without having to install any additional software!

    I think your conclusion is fair, linux still has some way to go to hit usability parity with Windows or Macs, however at the current rate of progress I don't think it will be long, given that just a few years ago the command line was needed to simply access a CD.

    Also, as more and more of what we do using computers moves online the operating system of your computer will become less and less relevant and this can only be a good thing.

  • Comment number 2.

    Ashley, I never thought I would see you post

    "Critically though, I think the BBC can, and should, do more to support the Free and Open Source community, and I hope this has at least shown my commitment to listen and learn!"

    I'm not an Open Source nut, but it pleases me to hear that you now understand there is a bigger IT world than just Windows and the Mac.

    It is almost a shame you're leaving Auntie now...

  • Comment number 3.

    well I mean Ashley, it's about freaking time! you're coming to the party a bit late for an agenda setter like yourself.

    given that you leave us for the dirty commercial sector in a couple of weeks.... perhaps your parting shot could be to ensure that Mr Huggers (the man from Microsoft) is equally committed to linux before you go - lest he is fortunate enough to get your job - in which case god help us!

  • Comment number 4.

    I'm a serial bank changer, so I've had a few bank accounts and credit cards over the last five years. Haven't found any that don't support Linux browsers in recent years - indeed if I had, the account would have been closed pretty sharpish!

  • Comment number 5.

    So despite all the pleasant comments I can assertain from your article that there are actually minimal to no benefits of switching to Linux short of the cost.

    The main other benefit you mentioned was the lack of extra software and features that bloat Windows. Well in 90% of cases that is just a case of turning them off.

    While your article proves that yes Linux is getting pretty close to comparible for most desktop users (especially if pre-installed with correct drivers and packaged with all the peripherals in the first place), it yet again shows that for most fo us there is no point in changing the OS of a machine.

    The 'free speach' argument is a tired and altruistic one of no relevence to 95% of PC users, despite supporting the idea myself it is not something that I comsider to be a valid selling point to a wider market.

  • Comment number 6.

    john-henderson - Erik has blogged his experiences of his first Linux desktop here.

    Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet blog)

  • Comment number 7.

    yes, thanks Nick, i had read that already. all will become clear in the fullness of time i expect...

  • Comment number 8.

    If you want to try a proper Flickr uploader instead of using the web site, then give Postr a go:

    http://burtonini.com/blog/computers/postr

    It is in Ubuntu so you should be able to install it using Add/Remove Programs, then it will be under Graphics->Flickr Uploader.

    I should admit that I wrote it... :)

  • Comment number 9.

    Hi Ashley - I'm Adam Williamson, and I work for (one of) Jono's competition, Mandriva Linux (http://www.mandriva.com ). But I know Jono, he's a good bloke, and it's good to see you had such a broadly positive experience with Ubuntu. I found your webcam example interesting, as I have a good counter-example. I've got a webcam here. My boyfriend bought it back before Windows XP (never mind Vista) was around. It's completely useless to him now, because no-one ever wrote a Windows XP driver for it - not Microsoft, not the manufacturer, not anyone else. But if I plug it into my Mandriva system (or, really, any Linux system), it comes right up working. So the hardware situation can be a bit more complex than that. But yes, it's true there are quite a lot of webcam drivers that are - for whatever reason - not shipped with the major distributions, so you have to find out what they are and install them separately to get any of these webcams working. Which is a pain, yes. It's also something the much-vaunted 'Linux community' is good at helping with - if you'd posted your webcam woes on the Ubuntu forums, you would likely have got a couple of useful responses explaining a pretty easy way to get the driver installed and the cam working. You'd also probably have got six needlessly overcomplicated responses which involve advanced compilation stuff you don't really need to do, two responses that were completely wrong, one treatise on how evil Microsoft is, and a lolcat, but hey - that's just the nature of forums...you can usually tell the good responses from the bad responses because they're shorter, look easier, are spelled correctly, and don't mention Microsoft. Or cats. As for the Flickr / image editing example, well, that's more a question of finding the right applications, which it seemed you missed. :) This can be the same in Windows - if you don't happen to find the best application for the task, you'll think it's a lot harder than it actually is. F-Spot is one of the most popular photo management apps on Linux; it's very very good at organizing your photos, and it also features excellent Flickr integration. You can literally just select a bunch of photos from the collection and select the "Export to Flickr" menu entry. The first time you do this it'll pop up a web browser and you then enter your Flickr username and password and grant F-Spot the right to access your Flickr account; you can then make this persistent, so that in future, all you have to do is hit the "Export to Flickr" menu entry and it's done. Very very easy. For image editing, it sounds like maybe you didn't hit the GIMP (yes, that *is* its real name), which is a pretty capable image editing tool. It's not quite on the level of Photoshop and the interface is quite different, but hey, it also doesn't cost several hundred pounds. It's certainly as capable as, or more capable than, the commonly used free applications on Windows. It's one of the most widely known Linux apps, but it's certainly possible you missed it. If you did find it, and that's what you're describing as "basic", well...your needs must be a lot more advanced than mine :) As for banks - I live in Canada now (PC Financial and VanCity are both perfectly happy with Firefox), but I know the Co-Op Bank and Smile.co.uk, at least, are both perfectly happy with Firefox on Linux. There are Firefox extensions which can let you fake what browser and operating system you're using; I suspect if you used one of these to pretend you were running Internet Explorer on Windows, your bank site would work just fine. Of course, explicitly disallowing the use of Linux "for security reasons" is craziness on a plate, and you should complain to your bank, because they're a bunch of idiots. I'm sure you have umpteen more important things to do than twiddle with a bunch of Linux products, but if for any reason you ever want to give something other than Mandriva a shot, feel free to drop me a line [Personal details removed by Moderator] , and I'll hook you up with some Mandriva. Go on, all the cool kids are doing it. :) Adam Williamson Mandriva

  • Comment number 10.

    Er, I mean "other than Ubuntu". Obviously. D'oh.

  • Comment number 11.

    There's a built in tool in Ubuntu for uploading to flickr - and indeed managing your photos. It's called F-Spot. You can import photos from your memory card, phone, camera or just from disk. Once imported you can tag, sort and otherwise manipulate the pics. In addition there is an option to upload directly to flickr which will also resize photos appropriately if required.

    Being heavily involved in the Ubuntu community in the UK it was great to see your blog post. Clearly Ubuntu (and Linux in general) isn't for everyone, but thanks for giving it a try and detailing your experience. We can always learn from an "outsider" point of view.

  • Comment number 12.

    "Critically though, I think the BBC can, and should, do more to support the Free and Open Source community, and I hope this has at least shown my commitment to listen and learn!"

    Well you could make Kangaroo Open Source and not Windows only (according to Wikipedia it will be Windows only).

    And perhaps use an "Open Protocol".

    You words say one thing, your actions another.

    On the subject of your bank I would write to them to complain (incidentally which bank was it?). You could also have Firefox change it's user agent to look like Windows. Google user agent switching firefox

    Skype is a pain because it's non-free, which means it can't be placed in the automated software installation tools. (Those tools are one of my favorite Linux features).

    Any other problems feel free to contact Ubuntu-users https://lists.ubuntu.com/mailman/listinfo/ubuntu-users or #ubuntu on irc.freenode.net

    And of course there is Ubuntu-uk http://ubuntu-uk.org/ and #ubuntu-uk on irc.freenode.net

    @hackerjack
    Have you even tried Linux?

  • Comment number 13.

    I love LInux. Two months ago I bought a brand new Dell laptop with Windows Vista on it and straight out of the box it would LOCK UP! I was furious. After hours of mumbo jumbo from Dells tech support I finally took matters into my own hands. I wiped the hard drive! I then reloaded the PC with LInux! Problem solved. Wish I would have switched to Linux YEARS ago.

    JT
    http://www.FIreme.to/udi

  • Comment number 14.

    Great review. I'm glad you enjoyed Linux. I can't live without it anymore and I'm happy the BBC is looking towards the future.

    A couple of comments:

    - RE: Banking. I do all of my banking transactions online through Firefox 3.0 on Linux and my bank has no problem with it. I have very little clue as to why they would prefer a Windows machine "for security" reasons. It makes very little sense. I would have a talk with my bank.

    - Re: 67 Updates. I am willing to bet that out of those 67 updates very few were actually for Linux itself - if at all. You see, the beautiful thing about Ubuntu Linux is that your system not only updates the OS itself but also 99.9% of the software installed on it! (unlike Windows/Mac). You don't have to hunt down individual packages. It's all managed for you (unless, like skype, you had to install it yourself through other means)!

    - RE: OpenOffice/ODF. As you might be aware, there is a big documents format battle going on right now between Microsoft and the Open Standards Movement. The Open Standards movement is winning. Countries around the world are rejecting Microsoft's new format on becoming an ISO standard (and with all reason: see - prevents vendor locking, abusive monopoly, stagnation of innovation, etc, etc). This has pushed Microsoft to announce native support for the ODF format in Office 2007 service pack 2. The fact that Open Office is using ODF as the default format just means they are thinking ahead ;)

    Cheers!

  • Comment number 15.

    Linux is NOT an OS. It is a Kernel. Please refer to each distro as it is named, such as Ubuntu, openSUSE, Debian etc..

    Otherwise, good article.

  • Comment number 16.

    @hackerjack: Pragmatically, if someone was using a Windows PC that performed well, was running a recent version of Windows and that they were happy with, then yes there would be little reason for them to go to the hassle of switching away from Windows.

    However, a great many Windows PCs don't fit any of those criteria. Consider in particular older PCs, not quite up to running XP well, let alone Vista. There are still lots of Windows 98 and (horror!) Me machines out there that really need to be running something more recent - and for many of those PCs Linux is the only viable upgrade path. Many probably are XP capable, but as that requires spending money installing Linux instead becomes a viable alternative, depending of course on the use of that computer.

    So for a large number of people, there would in fact be a point to switching to Linux.

    Also, it can also be a real pain to get a freshly installed copy of Windows to work properly with hardware. I have a PC that for years ran Linux without issue, yet when I gave it to my brother and installed XP on it all sorts of problems cropped up. Networking didn't want to work properly a lot of the time, the software for the TV card wasn't a patch on MythTV (again, when it wanted to work), and having iTunes playing music while also playing a game would usually crash the system after a few minutes. No matter how I fiddled with different drivers, XP wasn't happy. In the end I took it back, and it's now happily running Mythbuntu 8.04.

    Regardless of all that, it's very important to remember that it's actually beyond most people to install or upgrade *any* operating system. They either leave things as they are, pay someone to do it for them (or rely on family and friends), or buy a whole new computer. So really IMHO, in any discussion involving "most people," the ease of use of Linux is irrelevant.

    Sam

  • Comment number 17.

    Sam #16: well said. One of Ubuntu's huge strengths is its ability to run smoothly on older computers. In effect giving a new lease of life to old machines.

    Ashley: the black background of the clock on the BBC homepage is a bug in Adobe's Flash player (http://bugs.adobe.com/jira/browse/FP-80). As Flash player is not open-source we'll have to wait for Adobe themselves to fix it.

  • Comment number 18.

    Very nice article. Very nice indeed, but it seems that Mr. Highfield got some of the basic concepts wrong. Honestly, that is fairly common among people who are entering this field, but I would expect a journalist to do some more research ;-)

    "The second big advantage of Linux is also obvious: it's free as in speech - or "open source" - and therefore any code created on this machine would be available to anyone else, free." [picture of GNU on the right hand side]

    Well, "free as in speech" isn't characteristic of "open source" but of "free software". "Open source" simply means that you get to read source code of the programs you use. It doesn't mean you are allowed to edit those source codes or distribute them. Open source licenses don't guarantee you the right to give your friend a copy of the the software in question. But, free software licenses do: you can edit and distribute copies of free software as you wish.

    The picture in this paragraph is a logo of the GNU operating system. Explaining why it is a blasphemy to put a GNU logo in an article about "Linux" and in a paragraph labeling Ubuntu as "open source" would require a blog post of it's own, but let's just say this: the picture is a logo of the GNU project. People at the GNU project claim a) that Linux is just a "kernel" of the operating system called GNU/Linux; b) that "open source" which is not "free software" is bad for you. So, if you are going to use that logo, then Ubuntu is a distribution of GNU/Linux operating system. And GNU/Linux is free software.

    Further reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNU/Linux_naming_controversy

    And the second part of the sentence ("any code created on this machine would be available to anyone else, free")... man, you should really know better if you write an article about it. This is par an example par excellence of what "free (or open, for that matter) software" does NOT mean. Software written using free software tools (machine doesn't have anything to do with it) is not automatically free software. It is perfectly OK to produce proprietary software with free software tools.

    "It turned out I had installed an old version of Skype (I suppose quite easy when there is no central management of software releases for the few non- free / open source applications on Linux)."

    Now, that was really an accomplishment. ;-) Because on http://www.skype.com there is a nice green link to the newest version. I wonder where did you get that old version from. And, it'd be really nice gesture if you mentioned the obvious fact that on Windows there is no "central management of software releases" at all, while on Ubuntu you can get 90% of your software through such a system. :-)

    "[...] or as a cheap platform for people with [...] a willingness to deal with all the websites that only vaguely support Linux"

    Sigh. Oh well. Websites don't have the slightest clue about your operating system. All that websites support or don't support are web browsers. And arguably the best web browser in the world (i.e. ;-) Firefox) works on GNU/Linux just as good as on Windows. Websites can't tell the difference. Just can't. So, there are no websites that only vaguely support Linux. There are websites that enforce standards, and there are those that only bother to work under Microsoft Internet Explorer. A good website enforces web standards and works fine under Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Opera or any other standard-compliant web browser. If a website enforces only Microsoft's arbitrary self-proclaimed standards... well, then it works only on Internet Explorer.

    And if a website works on Firefox on Windows, it works on Firefox on Ubuntu. As simple as that.

  • Comment number 19.

    dijxtra #18: "Websites don't have the slightest clue about your operating system"

    Not true. Every browser identifies its make, model and operating system in its user_agent string.

    For example Firefox 3 on my Ubuntu computer is identified as "Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux i686; en-GB; rv:1.9) Gecko/2008061015 Firefox/3.0".

    I only mention this because I know you like a bit of pedantry. ;)

    That said, I cannot imagine why the website of Ashley's bank "explicitly doesn't allow access using Linux".

    I would be very interested in learning which bank that is.

  • Comment number 20.

    I'm partly defending Ubuntu here (although not in a zealot way I hope), partly agreeing with some problems, partly directing blame, and partly criticizing the reviewer.

    Older unsupported versions of Skype in the repository is a problem. I think the solution here is to get companies like Skype Unlimited, Opera, and others distributing free and non-free software alike to support a standard distribution method through each distributions repository. In the case of Ubuntu this should be supported through the repositories containing non-free software.

    I think parts of this review are an unfair, as in comparison you are not focusing on GNU/Linux supported devices. You wouldn't install Mac OS X on non-Mac hardware and compare it to MS Windows. This is exactly what it sounds like you have done with the webcam. If the webcam has stated supported support by the manufacturer for Ubuntu Feisty then we have a fair comparison. The fact you can get it to work or that unsupported hardware works at all should be looked at as an advantage over other operating systems such as Mac OS X or MS Windows where generally hardware unsupported by the manufacturer never works.

    It is a shame that the bank you use artificially (most likely) excludes GNU/Linux users. You should complain about this to the bank. While I'm sure you can find an American bank that is problematic with GNU/Linux I haven't had one yet even though I've gone through a number of them over the years. I don't know what it is with the UK banks being anti-GNU/Linux.

    The significant number of updates is a sign the distribution has kept up with applying security patches to packages. This is not the case with many other distributions. The 20 minuets is relatively quick given these updates apply to more than just the operating system, and the fact Feisty has been out a long time. Unlike Microsoft's update system which is limited (in practice) to the operating system and Microsoft applications.

    I've complained about Flickr before with someone with the capacity to make it work better. They just blew the issues off. I believe the response I got was something to the effect of GNU/Linux being used primarily by technical users, and it not being worth the time to improve. I frown on such comments by pointing to the increasing popularity and mainstream use of the operating system. Having worked in a big box retail store selling MS Windows computers 5-6 years ago, and recopying the same position again in the same store this year it amazes me that we actually have customers coming in with GNU/Linux systems/or asking about such systems without it being 'sold' to them by me. This is in addition to personally selling Ubuntu upgrades to people buying new Vista systems and revitalizing older systems.

    The thing with support from such sites as Flicker, Skype, and others most users don't encounter these issues. Those that do often have a technical support base they rely on who can work around these minor issues. For instances Internet Explorer/Firefox through wine/crossover office or virtual emulation. In my experience most people are simply not concerned enough about the few minor issues to get the IT guy supporting them to fix it even when a fix exists. Most of my customers (typical middle class / upper middle class average joes) have access to second machines and are not heavily reliant on technology in the first place. This all makes these issues too minor to be a huge concern if the email/news site generally work.

    To conclude: you are not an average user. Even while you may not be all that technical the usage you have displayed goes beyond the expectations of most users. You sound to me as though you are a light power user.

  • Comment number 21.

    dijxtra: I think even you have mistaken the meaning of "open source" here. "open source" may not be free software, but the right to redistribution is a requirement even if it is not by definition "free software". "open source" does have a specific meaning that goes beyond the source code being publicly available. I think you can find out specifically at opensource.org and fsf.org.

  • Comment number 22.

    hackerjack: This author failed to point out the real benefits of Ubuntu or other GNU/Linux distributions to the average Joe. They didn't recognize that they are getting enhanced security. This is true for most users. Most users fail to understand anti-* and get infected all too easily. With Ubuntu and other distributions the average user doesn't get infected to begin with as security updates are applied to all applications automatically. Installing most new applications is a matter of using the repository so infection by "software download" or "codec update" doesn't happen.

    I think in the case of Mac OS X and MS Windows reviewers security is not an issue since they know enough not to be stupid. This is not true for most users, even those who know better fail to keep up to date anti-virus. In the MS Windows / Mac OS X worlds security is really just a front to sell snake oil. If you haven't noticed not one add-on security product does much to protect customers in practice. Even the best get only 95-98% of the viruses and if you count other types of mal-ware it never does the trick without knowledgeable end-users. The security on MS Windows / Mac OS X requires education. This is less of an issue with GNU/Linux due to the entirely different packaging/update system which stops this non-sense without users understanding the security implications of their actions.


  • Comment number 23.

    @dijxtra (#18): Apologies for any offence caused by the blasphemy. Let's hope we don't have another Jerry Springer The Opera moment...

    The images are really just there to provide visual links so that readers who want to know more about GNU, Linux or Ubuntu can find out for themselves.

    And now, with your comment, they can find out more still!

    ATB

    Alan, BBC Internet Blog

  • Comment number 24.

    Great to the point review.

    for your webcam problem is an easy solution (get compatible linux hardware)

    here is the list of working webcams (in green work out of the box):

    http://mxhaard.free.fr/spca5xx.html


    One man writes Linux drivers for 235 USB webcams:

    http://www.theinquirer.net/en/inquirer/news/2007/04/30/one-man-writes-linux-drivers-for-235-usb-webcams

    enjoy and thanks for the support to open source :)

  • Comment number 25.

    bizarreandy101 - the Wikipedia entry on Project Kangaroo does not say it will be "windows only" as far as I can see.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Kangaroo

    Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet blog)

  • Comment number 26.

    Thanks, moderator - not only did you remove my "personal information" (which is in fact a public, company address that anyone can find in umpteen places, and which was intentionally obfuscated to avoid automated spam), you also removed all the paragraph breaks, rendering my (long) comment virtually unreadable. Apologies to anyone reading these comments - my previous comment was not *written* as one gigantic paragraph, it's just been turned into one by the helpful moderators.

  • Comment number 27.

    Well done!

    I will make one comment, regarding the difficulty of getting Skype and webcams working under Linux vs under Windows (XP in my case).

    I find that Windows drivers supplied with some peripherals are so poorly written as to be almost useless. Often, you can get an updated driver from the company's website -- if you can find it, and if they are still in business. I can truthfully say, that I have had no more trouble getting things working with Linux, than I have with Windows XP. When you run into trouble, with Linux or Windows, remember: Google is your friend!

    The major difference with Linux, is that things that once worked, continue to work. With Windows, your computer is subject to the vagaries of the not-always-optional Windows Update service. I can also reinstall Linux as many times as I want (though, unlike with Windows, a misconfigured install is unlikely to require this drastic step).

    Linux also won't require the CPU-hogging antivirus programs, which are almost worse than the viruses themselves.

    All in all, an excellent review. On balance, I have found that Linux is not any worse than Windows. They each have their pluses and minuses, but Linux does give you back control of your computer.

  • Comment number 28.

    What a refreshing blog posting. Now we know what we should have done years ago - cornered you and forced a (Gnu!/)Linux box on you!

    I can understand why you felt that Linux wasn't aimed at you when you had problems with your webcam, but the reason is simply that not only do manufacturers often not bother to write their own Linux drivers, but they can also refuse to release vital information about their hardware with the excuse that it would benefit their competitors, thus forcing the Linux coders to reverse-engineer in order to support the devices. It is quite remarkable how much hardware Linux supports considering that it is faced with this double whammy.

    Regarding the internet banking, I guess it's Barclays. This bank is mentioned in the list referenced, and its site does specify Windows and MacOS only. I'm pretty sure it used to be happy with Linux. On the surface the policy appears to be bonkers, but perhaps it's a response to the Debian flaws with SSL, discovered last month? This was a Linux-specific problem, albeit only affecting Debian-based distributions (of which Ubuntu is one), but which would compromise secure web sessions - exactly what internet banking uses. Of course it's all been fixed automatically now, so long as you let your machine update itself.

    OpenOffice does pop up a message warning about potential loss of information if you save in Microsoft formats, but that's no different from what Word can do if you also try to save in its non-native format. In fact, the message can be far "scarier" because it can warn about security risks. In general the two suites are usable together for most documents, where you're not trying to do things that are too clever and the odd formatting glitch isn't a problem. Word processing files are not designed to maintain perfect formatting anyway. That's for the likes of PDF, something which OpenOffice has been able to create with one click for years.

    Also very significant is the announcement that Microsoft has finally promised to support ODF soon. Not only will we actually be able to choose an office suite on its merits rather than the file formats it supports, but all the documents we write will be in a format that is documented so will never become unreadable as the software creating them becomes obsolete. As with any announcements from Microsoft though, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

    You say that there are no central repositories for non-open source applications in Linux, but this is incorrect. There are, but they are kept separate so that you can enable them as required if you want a setup that is not entirely open source. I have these repositories enabled, and, for example, Flash 9 was installed automatically along with every other update.

    You're right that you normally don't have to reboot after updates. In fact, you so rarely have to reboot that the latest Ubuntu package management system puts a little icon in the system tray if it makes any updates that need a reboot - i.e. the kernel! My laptop hasn't been rebooted for several weeks (sleep mode now seems to be very reliable) so I haven't clicked that icon yet - my running kernel isn't quite the latest.

    It's worth noting that the arrival of the small Linux laptops you mention, such as the Asus Eee, has so spooked Microsoft that it's had to do a U-turn on terminating sales of Windows XP - it will now continue to be available for small machines (incapable of running Vista) until mid-2010. Now that's real competition at work, as well as an admission that Vista doesn't have any benefits for most people. You see, if you don't have shareholders breathing down your neck then you can do what benefits your users, rather than what generates revenue from your users (i.e. a never-ending cycle of pointless "upgrades").

    Finally, a comment on installing Linux. Because Windows is normally foisted upon us pre-installed, not many people ever have to install it themselves, so Linux has had to try very hard to make installing as painless as possible. Firstly, many distributions will run as a live CD, allowing you try them out without touching your hard disk, and then installing simply by clicking an icon on the desktop. Or a complete read-write installation can even be put on a USB stick, not affecting your PC in the slightest. Secondly, not only do the installers do the best possible job of detecting the machine's hardware correctly, but they will allow you to make your machine dual boot - shrinking the Windows partition, putting Linux on a new partition and sorting out the boot loader so that Windows is unaffected and you choose what you want each time you power up. And thirdly, Linux automatically mounts your Windows partition read-write, allowing you full access to all your Windows files as easily as if they were Linux files. You try presenting Windows with a Linux partition and it will refuse to believe it's even formatted!

  • Comment number 29.

    Nice article! I've been using exclusively Ubuntu since April. Despite some problems, most of them related to the lack of support provided by the hardware companies, I don't intend to go back to Windows Virus-Land. And speaking about that, you did not mention in your article that the virtually virus-free environment is one of the best advantages in using Linux.

    Regarding BBC, I'd like to mention that BBC radio cannot be played in Rhythmbox (the standard audio player for Ubuntu) like some other national level radios like CBC (Canada), Radio France, and Radio Switzerland. There is at least a thread in the Ubuntu Forums about that (http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=832498). I think BBC could give us Ubuntu users a chance :-) !

    Regards!

 

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