I hate Ubuntu, but my mother-in-law loves it

I hate Ubuntu, but my mother-in-law loves it

Summary: Ubuntu's Unity GUI isn't my speed. But that doesn't matter for the majority of end-users.

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For the last several days, I've been using Ubuntu's "Precise Pangolin" 12.04 release on my primary Linux workstation.

Mark Shuttleworth, CEO of Canonical, insisted I try it again after my last tirade, in which I laid out my list of grievances against the Unity UI that has been part of the operating system for over a year, and made its first appearance in Ubuntu 11.04, the "Natty Narwhal".

Also Read:

It's not often a billionaire makes personal requests of me, so when they do, I listen.

I was going to write an article about why I felt that very little in Ubuntu had actually changed since my previous tirade. You still can't move the Unity bar, the confusing menu contexts are still exactly the same as they were, and there are still some issues with doing distribution upgrades. Fine.

Steven J. Vaughn-Nichols has already told you about all the nifty feature set improvements and all the under the hood updated goodness. I'm not going to write about any of that junk because it would just be repetitive.

[UPDATE: Want a UI resembling old-school Ubuntu GNOME back? Enter "sudo apt-get install gnome-session-fallback" from a terminal prompt, and choose "GNOME Classic" at signon. Thanks to reader "Lennie" for the tip!]

Frankly, besides the "They still didn't fix what I asked them to fix" part, I would normally have very little to say about this release at all. It's a very incremental improvement in terms of the actual UI, with updated packages and a newer kernel.

I was just about to write that article, but then...

Ring Ring. Wife answers the phone.

"Umm, Jay?" my wife calls out to me about a minute later, from beyond the interstellar void that is my office.

"Yes?"

"My mother is on the phone, and she says she thinks her AOL email is compromised because one of her friends got one of those things from her that says she's in London and lost all her credit cards and she needs to send her money. And she's getting all kinds of weird corrupted hard drive scary messages on the screen."

"That sounds like a virus to me."

"Yeah, and she completely lost her wireless connectivity on her Windows laptop and the Chromebook."

"Did you have her reboot the router?"

"Yeah. Still can't see the SSID."

"Then the router is screwed up too. It's four years old, we might as well replace it."

I knew of course what was in store for me that day. It meant picking up a new router at Radio Shack, heading down to my Mother-in-Law's house, a good 45 minutes drive away, and then having to de-louse her Windows PC.

And that probably also meant a complete re-install of Windows. Multi-hour time sink, best-case scenario. I don't know how she got a virus, because it had Windows Defender and Microsoft Security Essentials on it. My guess is she got hit with some kind of phishing attack that installed malware on her PC that somehow escaped detection.

The dead Netgear router was an odd coincidence, but I won't rule out some sort of attack on the appliance itself.

And I knew that it was likely that the computer was going to get compromised again, and the next time it happened, I probably wouldn't be living so close by anymore. Low ongoing maintenance of her computing environment was going to be key.

You see, I just signed a contract on my house in New Jersey and within the next few months, I'll be a resident of Florida. Yeah, you heard me, Florida. That's a bit of a hike the next time she has a serious computer problem. I figured out what it would cost, and it will actually be cheaper to send her a new laptop.

I thought about it for a couple of minutes and realized that my Mother-In-Law didn't actually need Windows.

She already uses the Chromebook for 80 percent of what she uses a computer for -- browsing the web, using her email, managing her investment portfolio on Scotttrade, and using her real estate agency's multiple listing service. And she uses Google Docs and LibreOffice to write the occasional letter.

The only thing she uses her Windows 7 laptop for that's different than what the Chromebook can do is print and scan.

So I burned a CD copy of Ubuntu Precise Pangolin 12.04, stopped by after work at Radio Shack and picked up a Cisco Linksys EA2700, and headed over to mom's.

After plugging in the new router and backing up mom's data onto a portable hard drive, and running a CLAMAV scan against it using my Redhat Linux laptop to ensure the files weren't infected, I installed Ubuntu fresh and let it completely overwrite her Windows computer.

When dealing with computer viruses, it's best to nuke it from orbit.

As usual, the Ubuntu install was a breeze. 25 minutes later I had a blank desktop. I pulled extra icons off the Unity taskbar she didn't need to play with and put a few on that she would need instead, such as the Simple Scan utility.

I plugged the portable hard drive in with her data and copied all the files to her Documents folder. Data migration, done.

I installed Chrome stable, which when logged in with my Mother-in-law's account automatically re-synchronized her bookmarks and history from the Cloud. I put an icon for it on the Unity bar, and that took care of most of what she needed to get back up and running.

I removed Firefox from the Unity bar since she wouldn't be using it.

Network detection of her EPSON Workforce 600 all-in-one was a breeze using Ubuntu's Printing utility, and I literally had to do nothing to get the scanning function to work, as it was auto-detected by the operating system.

Next, I migrated her AOL email to GMail. Once that was complete, all I had to do is show her how to launch Chrome and use GMail and the Simple Scan utility. Total training time, about 30 minutes, and most of it was GMail instruction.

My Mother-in-law is happy since she's up and running again. Her PC performance is excellent, and now it's practically maintenance-free with the exception of her having to accept the occasional Ubuntu updates. Say whatever you want about the lack of quality commercial apps on Linux -- it's impervious to Windows malware.

For this particular end-user, given her usage parameters, she doesn't need Windows or even a Mac. Ubuntu is an ideal solution.

And yeah, I still hate the way Unity is currently implemented. But that doesn't matter -- it's fine for the majority of end-users out there, and for my anxiety and acid reflux, it's a godsend.

Have you migrated a family member over to Ubuntu or another Linux OS? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Open Source, Browser, Google, Mobility

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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394 comments
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  • Where have I heard this for the last 10 years?

    [i] Say whatever you want about the lack of quality commercial apps on Linux ??? it's impervious to Windows malware.[/i]

    Oh right, OS X users have been saying this. "Switch to OS X, no one bothers to write any malware for it, you'll be safe."

    Flashforward to Flashback and their tune has changed significantly. "Stupid users have to be twice clueless to go to Adobe sites and download Flash. OS X is blameless, it is the stupid users that are to blame."

    So the new solution? Same as the old solution. Find an OS that no one wants to use (used to be OS X, now its Linux) and get everyone to switch. Rinse, repeat.
    toddbottom3
    • Auto fulfill the prohesy

      Actually you are helping to fulfill the prophesy by keeping Linux to low numbers. Personally that makes me happy, since I rely no it every day on all my computers except one of the machines at my workplace.

      But that aside, as I have posted elsewhere in detail over the last 15 years - Microsoft has had a practice of deliberately baking in "features" that implicitly compromise security. They are only now implementing proper kernel level fixes (since Vista a UAC) to correct these issues. However, they are new at the security game, and it shows. Linux inherited a security system from a multi-user commercial level OS that was designed to have some security from the ground up. The default install of Ubuntu has a very high grade of security built in and turned on.

      Beyond phishing scams that entice users to actually type in information in the wrong places, or talk users into violating the built in security, Linux is provably more secure than Windows by virtue of SELinux.
      dimonic
      • Your post just shows how little you know about Windows.

        "They are only now implementing proper kernel level fixes (since Vista a UAC) to correct these issues."

        Well if we accept (which I don't) your assertion that MS only started getting serious about security when they launched Vista , that means they've been at it for at least six years!!

        "Linux inherited a security system from a multi-user commercial level OS that was designed to have some security from the ground up."

        Ditto Windows, all current versions (desktops and servers) are based on the NT kernel, a multi-user commercial level OS that was designed to have some security from the ground up

        Look I've no problem with Linux, I use it as well. But I'm sick of reading posts by noobs who think their particular OS is inherently secure - we get this kind of crap all the time from OSx users - they're not quite as smug now though after the Flashback episode. And lets not forget, Linux and OSX share a common Unix heritage.

        Bottom line is, all OSes are insecure to some extent. They all contains zillions of lines of code and as a result there are bound to be weaknesses waiting to be exploited. Quite contrary to your assertion, I think MS are pretty hot on security these days and have been for a while. But the problem they face is the massive amout of attention Windows gets because its the dominant desktop OS and OSx is starting to get some of that heat now. Linus isn't immune either, its dominant in the Web server arena and has been compromised many times.
        boycottFUD
      • ingore them

        you're right. ms shot itself in the security foot by tying all those program directly into the os. unix and linux would never do anything so stupid. and ms did it to lock out competition. they created these hole o'plenty and only since vista have they back pedaled. they indeed came to security late, as an afterthought.

        and it has nothing to do with market share. nothing at all. linux and unix will never have the direct line to the underpinnings of the os that microsoft created with their program tie ins. ie was nothing but a big red bulls eye the moment it came online. had ms not tied this to windows it would have been a different world. sure unix and linux will get attacked more but they'll never suffer the success rate bad guys had with windows.

        so, yeah, kudos to them for getting serious but it was their own fault to begin with.

        all you people giving negatives. don't be shy. explain to me where this is incorrect. come now, surely you can do more than click a button.
        oneleft
      • @oneleft

        Well, you obviously don't have a clue as to what you're talking about.

        First off, the registry isn't 'tying something directly to windows,' it exists to support COM/COM+ applications. People still use it for some ungodly reason, but that's not the security issue.

        The only valid fundamental argument is that unix uses deny first policy whereas windows uses allow first. It's a subtle difference, and in the end largely moot as most people utilize predictable default configs in unix as well 90% of the time, so it's unlikely you're going to exploit OS-level permissions in either case.
        Tea.Rollins
      • uh, ok

        @Tea.Rollins
        no clue. truly, a singular mind

        ie was part of the system, not just an application that was installed. surely you haven't forgotten the "it can't be removed" argument put forth by ms? no?

        and i suppose you see nothing wrong with ms issuing patches that would actually undo any system tweaks you may have done - network shares come to mind. or maybe you've disabled vbscript and ms undoes it with their latest update. no problem right? and this isn't "people" doing this for some ungodly reason, this is ms. this is, after all, the major os that was attacked through a clip art program made by... microsoft.

        but hey, i guess clues are hard to come by in your neck of the woods.
        oneleft
    • Since my original post disappeared here is a repost for all to enjoy

      No way in heck would I ever migrate any family members or friends to linux. Its a dead OS and I don't want to have to migrate them to Microsoft Windows in 30 days when they say linux can't do what they need and its an overall pain in the butt to use.

      [i]And that probably also meant a complete re-install of Windows. Multi-hour time sink, best-case scenario. [/i]
      This statement can only be described as being full of crap. Microsoft Windows will be installed and ready to go in less than an hour. That is one of the benefits of Windows, an out of the box experience of a full OS in minimal time.

      [i]I thought about it for a couple of minutes and realized that my Mother-In-Law didn???t actually need Windows.[/i]
      Everybody needs Microsoft Windows. Its only a matter of time before she calls you up saying how much she really can't do with linux. Then we'll see another article by you on how you are forcing her to use something she doesn't want.

      Lets see what problems she will face now that she is being tortured by using linux. She will need to do daily patches and updates and reboots. I want to see her recompile that kernel source code. She will have multimedia issues since we all know flash is very buggy in linux and crashes a lot. Your overconfidence in linux's security about malware will be the downfall. Once someone taps into that telnet port its all over for her PC. Thanks to you she will now no longer be compatible with the rest of the world. When one of her clients sends her documents and they don't open properly in libreoffice she is going to be very uspet. Same when they send her pictures, or even when friends tell her to check out a new time killing game.

      There were better choices to make for getting her PC restored. In the time it took you to install everything you could have ran antivirus from cd and been fixed.
      Loverock Davidson-
      • why did you bother?

        I suspect your original post disappeared because it rapidly achieved a score of -15.
        Quite rightly so as it contained not one iota of fact or intelligence within. Windows 7 installed and ready to go in less than an hour?? do me a favour pleeeease. The 160 ish security updates take a good 2 -3 hours to install by themselves, and that's after installing SP1. Add on time for install Office, PDF reader, AV solution, missing drivers etc etc and the best part of the day is gone... The only way you ar eever going to achieve 'ready to go' in under an hour is if you are using a custom image tailored to your hardware.
        'Everybody' needs MS Windows do they? Yeah right! like every body needs to catch mumps just to develop immunity...
        Your comments regarding the day to day experience of running a modern Linux system clearly prove that you have not the slightest clue or indeed any experience in such matters.
        To sum up - you are clearly a prize pillock of the first order!
        The Central Scrutinizer
      • I bothered because the truth needs to be told

        I understand some people want to be hidden from the truth about how bad linux is, I'm not one of them. I'm simply bringing up some valid points about why linux isn't a good choice especially in this scenario.
        Loverock Davidson-
      • Stop displaying your ignorance

        Dear Loverock Davidson, If you do not know about Linux ask people who know. If you cannot use Linux, ask people who use. But, do not show your ignorance like this.

        Linux is only a kernel. It has little to do with the end user's usability. Just try some linux stuff like Ubuntu or Linux mint or Android for a while and then speak about them.
        adeekshith
      • Is that you Steve Ballmer?

        Daily patches and updates and reboots. Let's see, how are daily patches bad? It's better than MS's once a month patch cycle. And for 90% of patches you do not have to reboot (unlike Windows). Moreover, updating can be done in one click. Everything on the system is updated (unlike with Windows).

        Why would she need to recompile the kernel source code? You are just making stuff up now.

        I never have problems with Flash. Ever. Haven't for several releases now. I do not deny Flash is a piece of junk, but it works as intended. Perhaps one day we will have an open standard that can compete with it.

        Telnet port? Not sure if srs? I am beginning to think you are a master troll.

        Libreoffice is fully compatible with MS Office document formats.

        Pictures? A jpeg is a jpeg, bro. They work the same universally.

        The blog writer is correct, installing Ubuntu will save the average person a *ton* of headaches especially where security is concerned. I am no saying it is for everyone, but for most users it can replace Windows rather well.
        KodiacZiller
      • If I may....

        I have been an Ubuntu user for sometime now, and I agree that certain applications won't run properly on linux (any distro). Nevertheless, the majority of user activity nowadays is executed in the browser, and you have firefox and chrome that are widely in use, running perfectly on linux (at least in Ubuntu). About flash, it works on linux, I even play some of my flash games on it. I agree, the lack of netflix is a minus (then again, last time I check, netflix was a silverlight app with DRM-Microsoft technology).
        With all due respect, I have never compiled the kernel from source in my home computer (some distros encourage this, but not ubuntu).
        And finally, although is not perfectly intuitive, Ubuntu Software Center gives you alternatives to the Windows software you are acustomed to right, just a couple click away (granted, people still prefer MS Office than Libre Office or Open Office, and Impress is well behind Power Point), so the full system-in-a-box is better provided by Ubuntu than Windows.
        About security though, I agree with you, we'll have to see what happens if someday any Linux distro go mainstream in the desktop arena, and then and only then, we will know how good the security is there.
        istari2ve2002@...
      • Here it is, one more time for your enjoyment

        No way in heck would I ever migrate any family members or friends to linux. Its a dead OS and I don't want to have to migrate them to Microsoft Windows in 30 days when they say linux can't do what they need and its an overall pain in the butt to use.

        [i]And that probably also meant a complete re-install of Windows. Multi-hour time sink, best-case scenario. [/i]
        This statement can only be described as being full of crap. Microsoft Windows will be installed and ready to go in less than an hour. That is one of the benefits of Windows, an out of the box experience of a full OS in minimal time.

        [i]I thought about it for a couple of minutes and realized that my Mother-In-Law didn???t actually need Windows.[/i]
        Everybody needs Microsoft Windows. Its only a matter of time before she calls you up saying how much she really can't do with linux. Then we'll see another article by you on how you are forcing her to use something she doesn't want.

        Lets see what problems she will face now that she is being tortured by using linux. She will need to do daily patches and updates and reboots. I want to see her recompile that kernel source code. She will have multimedia issues since we all know flash is very buggy in linux and crashes a lot. Your overconfidence in linux's security about malware will be the downfall. Once someone taps into that telnet port its all over for her PC. Thanks to you she will now no longer be compatible with the rest of the world. When one of her clients sends her documents and they don't open properly in libreoffice she is going to be very uspet. Same when they send her pictures, or even when friends tell her to check out a new time killing game.

        There were better choices to make for getting her PC restored. In the time it took you to install everything you could have ran antivirus from cd and been fixed.
        Loverock Davidson-
      • re Loverock Davidsons rants

        I actually like Loverock Davidson's rants. Every time I install a Linux based OS for someone, I give them a week to get used to it then I show them one of Loverocks's rants. That's usually all it takes to inoculate them against future lies and misinformation they will get from other Windows zealots, and computer repair companies, who makes their money delousing Windows.

        Thanks Loverock, your assistance in this matter has been appreciated.
        anonymous
      • Awesome

        My comment was hidden at 5 votes, now its up to 33 meaning people are purposely clicking to read it. Only one word can describe this: AWESOME.
        Loverock Davidson-
      • HUH???

        I'd like some of what[1] you are taking!

        [1] Whatever mind altering drug of choice, that is!
        fatman65536
      • troll

        I really really don't understand why you haven't been banned from here. Your posts are empty deceitful diatribe with no basis in fact. I'd even go so far as to say you suffer from some severe mental illness.
        spin498
      • 180 off target

        LD, you couldn't be farther off-base. I have first-hand experience with three people who have had their Win7 computers (each less than a year old) compromised in the past 12 months. Central Scrutinizer is right: I set up one of those computers, a new HP Pavilion, a task that took most of a day last June. 8 months later, my friend called to say that her computer was acting up, and that all her files had disappeared. Since she had bought an extended warranty, she took it back to the seller, who "sort of" recovered her files (for an added $120), and promised they had re-installed Windows and had brought it up to date. NOT. Six hours later, after an interminable number of scans and updates, I had Win7 and supplementary software set up again, this time (I hope) with better malware protection.

        This same user has an Acer netbook on which I installed Linux Mint over two years ago, after a Windows XP upgrade went bad. For most things, she prefers the Acer because Linux is (in her words) so much faster than Windows. I have never, ever received a request for help from her since I installed Linux Mint on her netbook. I checked the little Acer while I was working on her HP laptop, and to my surprise, Mint was completely up to date.

        End of story: Linux Wins, Windows still sucks.
        S_Deemer
      • Office Compability

        @KodiakZiller writes: "Libreoffice is fully compatible with MS Office document formats."

        Which is a lot more than can be said for Microsoft Office.
        S_Deemer
      • troll pt. II

        [i]I really really don't understand why you haven't been banned from here. Your posts are empty deceitful diatribe with no basis in fact. I'd even go so far as to say you suffer from some severe mental illness.[/i]

        His mommy has been neglecting him a lot lately. Plus he no longer wears his safety helmet when he leaves the house, the result of spastically banging his head all the time.
        ScorpioBlack