Friday, August 14, 2009

Ubuntu Linux- Making it more newbie friendly.

Ubuntu Linux is the world's most popular  Linux desktop OS. Day in day out, more and more people choose Ubuntu over other Linux distros and Windows. However, most new users of Ubuntu are  very frustrated  with the problems they encounter initially when they start to use it. I strongly believe that if Ubuntu is to be a very popular alternative to Windows more than it is now and be adopted by the mainstream users of computers, then some little things that have been taken for granted can go a long way to make the OS more newbie friendly if they are given the requisite attention.

The most asked questions on the Ubuntu Forums are all questions that have to do with how to get multimedia to work in Ubuntu. Indeed most people who try Ubuntu for the first time are simply turned away not because the OS is not good but because in my view, they were not made to understand what they were about to try out. Ubuntu is based on certain philosophies and principles that its developers believe very much in. Key among these philosophies is that Ubuntu is a completely free software and as such is distributed with no proprietary codec installed. Thus if you install Ubuntu, then all you can play is free software formats. But to play proprietary formats, then you would have to do some work.

This is where Canonical loses customers. There is no clear cut and simple instructions in the Ubuntu help manual that comes with the the CD as to how the average user can go about this problem. In fact this very important piece of information is missing on the very download page of Ubuntu. This is very worrisome to me because users get needlessly frustrated with the OS and just run back to the evil they are used to. It should not be forgotten that not everyone who wants to use Ubuntu believes entirely in its philosophy.

The issue of playing proprietary multimedia formats can be addressed in such a manner that Ubuntu will still maintain its philosophies and at the same time win over more converts. This can be done by explaining very clearly the implications of the philosophical beliefs of the OS on user experience. It should be made clear that proprietary mulitmedia formats will not work out of the box and that those codecs will need to be installed from the repos.

Also, the implications of the philosophical beliefs of the OS must be explained in the context of the Ubuntu catch phrase of "it just works". To an average Joe, it just works means he should be able to watch his blu ray movies after an Ubuntu installation. Then detailed instructions on  how to get such restricted codecs running on the system must be made available to a user rather than asking them to search on the forums or ask professor Google.

A small icon  item can be placed on the desktop with a message like "click to install restricted extras" or something to that effect. So anyone who believes in the free software philosophy and prefers only open formats will just ignore such a thing. Those who also want to get restricted extras also have it on a silver platter. 

It is my honest belief after reading hundreds of threads on the Ubuntu Forums about multitmedia codecs, that, more people can be converted to Ubuntu if only the learning curve can be made as tolerable as possible. More specific guides about the very peculiar problems that almost all newbie users have to contend with will go a long way to establish Ubuntu as the OS of choice for a lot more people.

Do you have any newbie problems you faced when you started using Ubuntu? How did you overcome it? Please share your experiences  the comments below. 

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By Seraaj Muneer with 2 comments

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