Mossberg reviews Ubuntu

Mossberg reviews Ubuntu

Summary: I've just finished reading a review of an Ubuntu-powered Inspiron 1420N written by mainstream tech journalist Walt Mossberg. His conclusion: "But for now, I still advise mainstream, nontechnical users to avoid Linux."

TOPICS: Dell, Linux, Open Source

I've just finished reading a review of an Ubuntu-powered Inspiron 1420N written by mainstream tech journalist Walt Mossberg.  His conclusion: "But for now, I still advise mainstream, nontechnical users to avoid Linux."

Now, bearing in mind that I've been pretty critical of Linux in the past (there have been many times when the free, open-source OS has impressed me greatly), I can't help but feel that Mossberg is blaming Ubuntu for Dell's shoddy implementation of the operating system.

So, what do I mean when I say Ubuntu is too rough around the edges for average users? Here are some examples.

There is no control panel for adjusting the way the touch pad works, and I found it so sensitive that I was constantly launching programs and opening windows accidentally by touching the thing. Every time the computer awoke from sleep, the volume control software crashed and had to be reloaded.

When I tried to play common audio and video files, such as MP3 songs, I was told I had to first download special files called codecs that are built into Windows and Mac computers. I was warned that some of these codecs might be “bad” or “ugly.”

He also runs into codec issues:

Playing videos was a bad experience, with lots of flickering and freezing. Oh, and there’s no built-in software for playing commercial DVDs. 

To me, most of these issues sound like omissions on Dell's part rather than Ubuntu, and they're all issues that Dell would have had to solve on a Windows-based PC.  The touch pad needs a better driver/control app, the volume control software sounds broken and Dell needs to buy bulk licenses for a few commonly used codecs and preinstall them.  As to video playback being poor, this has to be a configuration issue or a hardware issue - I've not come across this problem on any Linux install I've carried out.  The bottom line is that Dell has failed to deliver a machine that works out of the box.  It's not Linux that has failed Mossberg, it's Dell.

I've had concerns in the past that Dell isn't serious about supporting Linux and this review confirms that.  Dell has rushed to support Linux and it's Ubuntu that's getting the blame.

[poll id=177]


Topics: Dell, Linux, Open Source

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  • You are missing a poll option

    I'm sure that 75% of the readers here could find some way of blaming MS for it. Please add that as a poll option and let's see. :)
    • :-)

      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
  • RE: Mossberg reviews Ubuntu

    I feel disappointed. It appears that Dell has let us down.

    There is however one comfort: at least all the hardware works out of the box. The rest can be remedied easily with the help of the huge and friendly Ubuntu community on the fora.

    Greetz, Pjotr.
  • Sounds like Dell failed to do what I pointed out

    My original post back when Dell first announced Linux support.


    [i]- Dell may want to [b]create a simple method[/b] for installing proprietary drivers, software, and codecs. Home users are going to expect to get full 3D support from video, [b]have java and flash for Internet and codecs for playing audio and video files.[/b][/i]

    Added emphasis

    I agree with you that Dell seems half hearted at Linux support.
  • RE: Mossberg reviews Ubuntu

    I am using Ubuntu with my AMD64 3000+ with ASUS K8N Motherboard + 1.25 GB DDR RAM + 128 MB Readon 9250 AGP and 80GB Samsung SATA-II HDD. The codecs are dounloaded and installed nicely. I have no issues with any type of Audio or Video Problem. I am happy to toss windows and using Ubuntu 7.04.

    -- Ashik
  • It's Dell.

    I OEM PCLinuxOS for really really non technical users. Unlike Ubuntu, it comes preloaded with full multimedia capabilities (maybe it is illegal). What Dell has done, basically, is start an install and halt it just before the end, leaving the user to complete the final steps. Now this is good because all the hardware works, however, it is not really customized.

    If you look at the same Windows PC, they install completely, install a bunch of teasers, install some semi-useful programs, maybe the DVD player, etc. They put support links on the desktop, load their support applets, hotlinks and restore points, etc.

    So, while I think Dell has done well for the technical user to have the Linux option, I have to agree with the article, the process is not refined or completed enough, or tweaked enough for Joe Average to just take it and run.


    P.S. It's all Microsoft's fault. :D Kidding, nothing to do with MS, just teasing NonZ.
  • Though I blame Dell, at least they are trying.

    How many other OEMs are pre-loading Linux onto systems?

    Dell is probably the first semi-serious vendor to do such a thing.
    We should be impressed that the laptops actually shipped at all.

    I am still tempted to consider one, but I think they need to get a bug or two worked out first. That and my car gets work before I get new computers. :/
  • Accountability Gap... Again

    The musical chairs of blame assignment...again. If it
    sounds familiar, it should. Hardware blames software,
    3rd party blames first party. Blogger, scores point by
    assigning blame correctly. In the bargain, gets to do a
    little chest beating around his technical knowledge.

    Mossberg, is correctly, trying to make this about the
    non technical user. There are precious few under this
    ZDNet masthead trying to do that. The doctor, who's
    has committed a large chunk of his life to
    understanding medicine, can benefit from this blame
    assignment? His desire to get something done may be
    torpedoed by some aspect of open architecture's
    accountability gap. Thank heaven there are computer
    repair men around to give him a talking to. Some of
    that medical knowledge should make room for how to
    correctly find and install a codec on a Linux box.
    Everybody should know this right?
    Harry Bardal
    • So what's the alternative?

      What computer company will take responsibility for [b]everything[/b] that could possibly go wrong with the computer without being sued into oblivion by millions of irate customers?

      snicker, smirk :)

      There is no perfect solution out there. Quite frankly, going without a Microsoft codec on my Linux box is closer to perfect than anything Apple has to offer.
    • It's the users fault.

      Ubuntu is open source software. Therefore the user can fix anything that goes wrong
      with that.

      Don't blame me for this lame reason...this is the reason OSS zealots have given as an
      advantage of OSS over Windows. Not that I ever thought it was a compelling one but
      here it is.
  • Could only be Dell.

    Last I checked my XP disks didn't include DVD playback software (although my DVD-Writer did) and I don't see the need for seperate sound controller software when Ubuntu handles that fine all by itself (picked up on my laptop's control keys automatically).

    I also see no reason why they didn't include RealPlayer. I know it's clunky but it manages to include MP3 playback without a hitch.

    Honestly, if they can manage to find and include a WiFi card that works with Ubuntu only wilfulness or sheer incompetence can explain these problems.
    • PS

      If anything, my bog-standard Synaptics touchpad is [u]under[/u]sensitive to taps in Linux (as a whole).
  • Notice a pattern emerging from the ABM crowd?

    When Vista has a problem it's that Vista is a PoS.
    When Linux has a problem it's the vendor.

    No double standard there :-)
    • or maybe...

      ...different kinds of problems have different root causes?
      • Sure. Let me list them for everyone:

        1. When Vista has a problem it's that Vista is a PoS.
        2. When Linux has a problem it's the vendor.

        Simple. When Vista has a problem the root cause is Windows. When Linux has a
        problem the root cause is everything but Linux.
        • Not true.....

          What almost everyone fails to realize is that when someone says Linux, most of the time they are confusing the Disro with Linux the OS, The Linux OS is the Kernel, period. Not what Apps are sent with the Distro for the individual to load and use,or are loaded as a default. So in that respect it's not the fault of Linux, It may or may not be the fault of the Linux Distribution from a said company.

          The same can be said with Vista, or XP for that matter, It was not uncommon in earlier versions of media player to get an error message saying missing codec, for a particular file type to be played in WMP. Microsoft chose to bundle certain apps as part of the OS, and then tied them to the OS, like internet explorer. Making security issues with that application a security risk for the OS also, and in that it is M$ fault. As for Vista, I have no basis for comparison as I will not spend that much money to beta test software. A lot of the problems I understand are with drivers from OEM's not with the OS itself, other than missing or not working applications that M$ said would be included in the released version of the software.
        • how about we look at it again?

          1) when vista has a problem, it's vista's fault because microsoft promises these functions will work.

          2) with the Linux problems, it's normally a situation where the VENDOR setup the system, configured it before shipping, and didn't do it right. The distro makers don't promise your pre-loaded machine will do all these things out of the box, the vendor did.

          So, Dell, in tweaking Ubuntu for their use, failed to make sure that the out-of-box experience was up to par. Ubuntu has methods for you to be able to do most of these things... however, doesn't pre-install them. Ergo, Dell is to blame, as Dell didn't do the customization work required for the effort to be a success.
          • Yes

  • What the hell DOES Mossberg like?

    Except for Firefox, has Moss liked anything that was open source? I know he lauds Apple till his fingers bleed, and he constantly urges readers to invest in Microsoft for some crazy reasons. <br><br>
    Dell's to blame for shipping a vanilla config of Ubuntu, but Moss is to blame for rigging his review for 'non-technical' users, however he defines the term. I'm not sure Ubuntu can ever be dumbed down for the likes of the Mossbergs.
  • It's Ubuntu's fault primarily

    But Dell could have picked up the slack.

    Yes, Dell could have done more to get the touchpad software going, but there's no reason why Ubuntu should not have recognized there was a touchpad and installed the requisite software (KDE has an excellent touchpad control, I'd even go as far as to say better than Windows in that it's much easier to adjust sensitivity to not only tapping but also scrolling). There's no reason why the audio software should crash after sleeping (the sleep/hibernate scripts ought to be able to deal with that). And while I understand the F/OSS objection to the MP3 format, you can't ignore its popularity (you don't see the same rejection of .doc or .xls in the office suites, do you?) and given the fact that Ubuntu wants to gain mass popularity perhaps an opt out solution would be more well suited than an opt in solution.

    The proprietary codecs are on Dell as long as Ubuntu is a "free as in beer" OS, and yes Dell is ultimately responsible for the final product, but Ubuntu has to admit their shortcomings.
    Michael Kelly