Has Ubuntu Replaced Windows on Your Box?

Veli-Pekka Tätilä vtatila at mail.student.oulu.fi
Fri Jan 6 13:38:27 UTC 2006

Forum Post wrote:
> On the computer at work kubuntu has totally replaced windows. <snip>
Well maybe this is a bad move on a Ubuntu list after all the praise, but for 
me LInux just isn't there just yet and might never be. Disclaimer: these are 
just my opinions. I'm not accusing Linux of being poorly designed, badly 
programmed or that all of its power might be redundant. There's nothing 
wrong with Ubuntu as such, it is one of the more pleasant distroes out 
there. What I'm basically going to say is that Linux lacks many of the 
conveniences I take for granted and it's attitude doesn't seem to suit me 
all that well. True my Linux attitude isn't too good to begin with but it 
seems I just don't have the time and urge for it. Like grasping higher math, 
learning LInux seems very difficult at first and would require the user to 
put some serious effort into it. I believe my attitude and experiences, 
apart from minority things like accessibility, may very well apply to a 
large segment of Windows and Mac users, who've tried LInux and decided not 
to rely on it bigtime.

On the up-side Gnome and apt-get are nice and I find the promise of free 
software and configurability when I want it one of the advantages of Linux. 
Still I find that most of my LInux experiences have been negative and this 
post should outline why.

As you may have noticed in my original post here, Ubuntu is far from 
replacing Windows for me. I'm running it inside Virtual PC mainly 
experimentally. this is a nice setup as I'm under no pressure to get things 
running very quickly, can use my Windows access aids to troubleshoot stuff 
and have the ability to copy disk images and roll back everything should 
something major go wrong due to user stupidity or bad UI design. In the long 
run, I can see three major core issues which have made me step back several 
times, though I've tried a couple of Linux distroes:

1. Accessibility. Being sight-impaired a powerful screen reader, highly 
intelligible formant-based multi-lingual speech  synth as well as fast 
full-screen magnification are integral requirements to me. True I can use 
windowed magnification and even memorize bits of text but after having 
gotten used to proper access aids, it just won't cut it for me.

On the LInux side the sheer variety of WIndow managers and apps is a mixed 
blessing. The only accessible desktop is Gnome so I don't have much choice 
there. So Running KDE apps or Windows apps, much as I'd like to, is a 
no-can-do for accessibility reasons. Most Linux coders probably never think 
of accessibility consciously, but the same does go for Win32 folks, too.

I'm not very impressed by the screen readres and speech support either. IN 
terms of features even something as basic as OS X's VoiceOver is a well 
polished and easy to use package compared to Gnopernicus in my view. And 
many of the Win32 readres have good app-specific support for Web browsing 
and special scripts for music apps. Also, I just find festival unresponsive, 
muddy at high speech rates and there's no official Finnish support meaning I 
won't be able to write e-mail in that language using speech, which is a 
must. Oh yes and none of the distroes I've seen have the necessary speech 
and screen reading components built-in (Gnopernicus, Festival, EmacsSpeak, 
SVGATextMode), though Windows (Narrator) and OS X (VoiceOver) do. This last 
thing is important if you have to use someone else's mainstream linux box. I 
hope Ubuntu will eventually change that, as they advertise accessibility.

2. Music software. I'm doing music as a hobby so this is an important point 
to me. I've never got my TerraTec EWS88 MT working in Linux, though it 
should, and the last time I looked there were no drivers for the USB 
MIDISport 4x4. Though interested in Linux, I'm not going to get extra 
hardware for a secondary OS.

More importantly I've noticed that the free software hasn't quite caught up 
with the latest and greatest of music apps. Though my requirements are 
modest, I haven't found anything that would be as friendly and rewarding to 
use as Sound Forge for audio work or as handy as Sonar for working with 
MIDI. It would also need to be mostly screen reader accessible for me to 
use. There are Audacity and Jazz++ but they are about as good as shareware 
music apps used to be for Windows. On a more serious note the lack of 
instruments and effects is the worst aspect for me. Though there's VST 
support, very few of the plugs written for Windows will run as such. That 
means that most main stream effects and synths come out only for WIndows and 
OS X which will lock you to open-source creations, experimental synthesis 
systems like C-Sound and rolling your own which isn't easy.

3. At the risk of a tangent, Linux is not easy enough to use. I considder 
myself a PowerUser on Windows and DOS systems but have a hard time coping 
with Linux being very frustrated when the basics fail.  True it tels you 
what's going on and does offer numerous ways of fixing problems but from a 
usability point it is kind of bad. Most people expect their hardware to just 
work, preferrrably out of the box, and sound is a long-time issue for me in 
LInux and vital, too, because of the need for speech synthesis. Hacking 
app-specific config files, running wizards, loading oddly named modules on 
the command-lien and recompiling your kernel are not uncommon, yet they seem 
like necessary evals to most former Windows and Mac users who aren't 
interested in the OS itself but doing work with it. I'd really like to see 
more graphical GUIs for config files and the ability to manage, install and 
remove hardware graphically. Frontends and wrappers are great but in my 
experience they only help as long as your system works. WHen you are in 
trouble, it's going to be text-based config files, and Googling the net for 
solutions. Rather than simply installing the manufacturer's latest drivers 
graphically  which either will or won't work period. Maybe I'm biased, but I 
just don't seem to have the patience and motivation for Linux when it 
doesn't work. Most solutions seem cryptic, unintuitive and hard to find to 
the uninitiated.

I like some tech things, even programming languages like Perl, but things 
such as the TCH in SunOs make me shudder with horror <smile>. Maybe I jus 
tdon't have the right kind of attitude for Linux. Rather than changing my 
attitude, I'd rather switch to OS X which combines the best of the GUI and 
command-line worlds for me. It is the only OS to which I could seriously 
imagine changing full-time. It is a lot stronger on the accessibility, music 
making and usability fronts which are my major three complaints about Linux 
even if free and open-source.

The second thing that irks me is the geek and computer science mentality so 
pervasive throughout Linux. perhaps I'm just an oddball of sorts but I'd 
really like to see a command-line system that at least tries to be friendly. 
A bit of hand-holding can make the Os much nicer to use to the average Joe. 
Take command names. You've got affairs like rm, umount, ls and chmod. What 
does CH stand for in mod, most people don't know I guess. True they are 
brief to type but not very mnemonic and you cannot figure out what they do 
by their name. As with programming, using the shell is no typing contest for 
me. I'd rather take names that are intuitive, consistant and mnemonic to 
begin with compare C and Java standard libraries for a programming 
comparison. The same attitude spans to config files as well. I'd like to see 
a regular, clean approach preferrably in the Windows ini or XML formats. Yet 
there are zillion app specific formats and you need to read the manual to 
learn them. This is something  which doesn't interest me the least bit as a 
user. I was going to add compiling programs from sources on the list, which 
shouldn't be a user business if I'm to do it and is not something I'd reckon 
most non-programming people want to do. But I'm actually very impressed by 
Debian's package system and view that as a Linux strong point.

I could put up with most of the issues if things were nicely documented. 
When I started learning computing I used to read most of the documentation 
and even found that nice in some regards. I guess I'm one of the few people 
whose read most of the DOS 6.22 and Windows 98 help files. But on the Linux 
side One of the things I really dislike are the man pages, you guessed it. I 
generally prefer friendly Mac-style help files or tutorial approaches that 
actually make sense and are down-to Earth for the average user. Yet the 
manuals are often terse, reference style thingies that are heavy on forward 
references and assume knowing most of the concepts elsewhere. Many ar 
written by the program author and resemble the engineer's account taking 
delight in explaining how things work internally in technical terms that 
make sense to fellow engineers. When there's a switch that causes the 
program to go through all the sub-directories, for example, that info is 
enough for me. Yet I get all kinds of computer science tree analogies, 
depth-first--searches and disconcerting stuff on recursion. Wearing my user 
hat, it is enough to me to know that it works, I don't care how especially 
if explained in technical terms, and I am not really worried about 

I think that if command-line interfaces should be friendly, there are a 
number of lessons that people could learn from the GUI world. One of the 
well-known Nielsen GUI heuristics is that the app should speak the same 
language the user does. This goes horribly wrong for the average Windows or 
Mac user in LInux: directory, umount, kernel etc... Another thing of GUIs is 
reducing complexity which I mainly view as a good thing. How many graphical 
searches actually let you determine if it is depth-first or recursive? The 
options in LInux are there, though not needed, and manuals try to be 
complete rather than put the most important things to most people first. 
Lastly, I can strongly identify with the Unix haters handbook in many things 
and have just recently realized how difficult it is to make a GUI that is 
easy for most people let alone a command-line. The Gnome usability test 
opened my eyes in that regard:


With the level of technical knowledge many of the people had I reckon they 
would have a hard time learning one of the Linux shells out there.

To summarize it's been a bit of a shock to find out that LInux might not be 
my cup of tea after all. Being sight-impaired I actually thought that 
text-based UIs are the way to go. Yet i've been spoiled by the GUI in 
Windows and Mac and no amount of power is going to make me love the 
command-line these days. And Linux has always been and still is a lot about 
text-based config files and the command-line. I like to adjust things when I 
have a clear idea and need of what I'm adjusting such as locking to a 
particular sanmpling rate, tweaking latencies and turning off automatic gain 
adjustments. But reading up reference manuals on topics that I've always 
found boring just to get them working is not fun at all. Briefly put, many 
of the issues I've listed are so fundamental and monumental in scope that no 
single distro is going to fix them. I appreciate Ubuntu and it is a nod 
tords the right direction but it still has a long way to go for me. Maybe it 
just isn't for me. As one Linux user put it Linux is user-friendly it is 
just picky  on who it calls friends.

With kind regards Veli-Pekka Tätilä (vtatila at mail.student.oulu.fi)
Accessibility, game music, synthesizers and programming:

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