A Look at the Ubuntu Installer

Evan Dandrea evand at ubuntu.com
Wed Jan 9 12:11:36 UTC 2008

On Mon, 2008-01-07 at 20:16 +0100, Thorsten Wilms wrote: 
> Hi!
> I did a walk-through and compiled issues, suggestions and several
> mockups regarding the Ubuntu installation:
> http://thorwil.files.wordpress.com/2008/01/ubuntu_installer_thorwil.pdf
> Any comments welcome. I'm willing to refine things where and if there's
> interest. I could file requests if that's deemed helpful.
> The document is actually a bit older, but I decided to wait past the
> holidays ;)


Thank you very much to take the time to write up this detailed and
visually stunning report.

I've CC'ed Colin, Matt, and Celeste, whom I think might be interested in
this discussion.  I encourage them to chime in if they notice a
technical error, disparity between what I've written and what we
discussed in the past, or a usability nightmare.

Previously, Celeste Lyn Paul was kind enough to provide us with a
usability test for the Kubuntu desktop installer [1], and out of
discussions at this past FOSSCamp and Ubuntu Developer's Summit with
her, Matthew Paul Thomas (the original author of the UI portions of the
Ubiquity specification), Colin Watson, and several other interested
parties, we were able to come up with a plan for improving the usability
experience in Ubiquity over the course of the next two releases.

The relevant specifications for this are:

As the former is somewhat sparse on the finer details (we lost some of
the notes at the usability session :-/), I'll go through your report
item by item and discuss where it already overlaps with current plans,
where you have good ideas, and where I disagree:

> What if the user can't read English? It should be considered to start with
> language selection before presenting anything else.

That's actually the current plan.  The language selection page will be
shown prior to the isolinux menu.  Colin is taking care of this.

> Language and keymap menus should allow type-ahead (hit D for a lan-
> guage starting with D).

This would be a good bite-sized task for someone with adequate time and

> F4 VGA reads like it's about VGA options.

Well, it is.  I don't think we want this option to be as easily
discoverable.  The user should be using the VGA options only when
booting into the desktop CD environment fails.

> F2 and F3 are followed by labels, not the chosen option, so the same
> should apply here.

This was discussed at FOSSCamp.  The language option is going away, so
that's not relevant, but I don't recall what was decided with respect
to the keymap option.  I'll get back to you on that.

> If the Help menu is up, all F keys except F1 have another meaning. So
> the legend on the bottom should be hidden.

Ah, that's an oversight.

> The user must know / figure out the use of F keys, arrow keys, Escape
> and Enter. An attempt at providing some help:

I recall something just like this being proposed before, but I cannot
find a record of it.  Nevertheless, it looks like a good idea.

> Bug #61050 The live system doesn't pick up the choice of key-map from text mode,
>            but defaults to English instead. The installer ignores both the text mode
>            choice and the live system preference.

This is actually LP: #181440, a recent bug that only affects Hardy.

> For installation, it would be better to:
> - start the installer automatically
> - hide all irrelevant preferences
> - hide all productivity applications that make only sense if you can save
>   to somewhere

In Gutsy we added the ubiquity-only boot option, which lets you start
the installer in a minimal graphical environment.  For Hardy, we plan
to reduce the number of options presented in the isolinux main menu, as
well as add "Install Ubuntu" and "Try Ubuntu" options, with the former
starting with ubiquity-only and the latter starting in the environment
you're already familiar with (it will still include a Install

> A good live system should have:
> - drive icons for easy mounting

Go to Places -> Computer, double click on any volume.

> - an option to save preferences to disk (or to make a package for online
>   storage)

This already exists: https://wiki.ubuntu.com/LiveUsbPendrivePersistent

> In Computer, the drives are listed with names like 14.0 GB Volume.
> Seeing the size is helpful, but not enough to identify drives that are
> named by the hda/sda convention elsewhere. Mounted disks are
> labelled disk, disk-1 ... . Too generic and no connection with previous
> name. Also counting from zero, which should be left in the coding realm.

My understanding is that it uses the disk label, when it exists.  I
could be wrong, but this is nevertheless outside the scope of the

> The User Switcher applet shouldn't appear with only one user.

Again, outside the scope of the installer, but you'll need to provide
solid examples of how it decreases usability if you're going to
convince anyone that it needs to go.

> Release notes should only be offered if there is internet access.

A fair point.

> Perhaps all languages could fit in without scrollbar?

Actually, an attendee at UDS suggested the exact same thing (the right
picture), and I'm planning on implementing this.  I only had it
recorded on other notes from that same session, so I didn't expect you
to already be aware of this.

> The Quit button should read Abort to match the question.

There's an existing bug with a patch on this one, I just have to merge it.

> The map should fit without scrollbars and fill the horizontal space
> from border to border.

Agreed, see the hardy-ubiquity-usability specification for exactly what
we're planning on doing here.

> The actual time zones/regions would be larger targets.

Yes, but we've had the problem in the past of finding a free source of
the boundary data.

> Asking the user to press certain keys like the text mode installer
> might be easier.

This was actually part of the original installer specification but was
never implemented.  Assuming that there's not a good historical reason
for that, I think a button for that option would be an adequate

Your next section deals with the partitioner.  I should note that the
partitioner is a complicated piece of code and because this is an LTS
release we need to be very careful that we don't change things so much
that we create lots of new bugs in the process.  So we're fixing the
partitioner in two phases, the first of which is detailed in the
hardy-ubiquity-usability specification, and the latter, which will
happen post-LTS, will be more fundamental changes to the way
information is organized on the screen and will be more in line with
the original ue-partitioning-tool specification.

> Another option should be replacing existing installations, especially
> older Ubuntu releases.

See the ubiquity-preserve-home specification:

Now, I really like your partitioner mockups and will be looking for a
way to incorporate what ideas I can from them.  Though I don't want to
diverge too much from the already agreed upon specifications and my
time is limited, so we'll have to wait and see.  Most of it may have to
wait until after the LTS is out.

> Friendly text, but the layout looks a bit chaotic.

I'm going to defer to Matthew Paul Thomas on this one as he designed
the layout.  Personally, I don't see any readability problems with the
current form.

> The Forward button should be disabled on unequal passwords. A hint
> should appear as soon as the letters don't match or after typing
> stopped with unequal result.

I recall it being this way for a technical i18n issue, but I'll look
into it.

> Strange frame around the text.

Modifying ubiquity to replicate this mockup is not a small code change,
and because the difference is minor I'm inclined to deal with this at a
lower priority.  I do like the idea of being able to jump back to
individual pages without hitting the back button a lot, though.

> The boot loader options might be better off as part of the par-
> titioning step. A menu should be used to list targets instead of having
> an error-prone entry.

This is already planned as part of hardy-ubiquity-reliability.

> If you want to encourage users to take part in the package usage
> survey, the option shouldn't be hidden behind a scary Advanced.

I didn't put it there, but I imagine it's there precisely because we
don't think most users should see it.  To my knowledge we do not use
the data for much of anything.

> Installer unmounting problem

Did you let the installer try to unmount the partition by hitting
'continue'?  Was it unsuccessful?

The button labels are a holdover from the underlying d-i code and should
be changed.

I think that covers everything.

Thanks again,

1: http://obso1337.org/hci/kde/Kubuntu_Installation_Usability_testing_June_2007.pdf
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