Ubuntu 6.10 vs Windows – kinda

I know – I haven’t been running Ubuntu long enough to be anything near an expert on it.  That’s part of the “user experience” this post details.  I can’t afford to spend enough time with Ubuntu to learn to compile my own drivers, probe stuff, find the right header files to compile stuff…


I like Ubuntu on my laptop (IBM T42p).  Everything, except my Bluetooth just works – and it works well.  (Note – my Bluetooth didn’t work on this laptop with Vista either).  I like Ubuntu on my laptop.  It’s comfortable, and reliable, and it just feels pretty good.  I didn’t have to tweak much to get it to work – laptops are pretty well-defined in what hardware they have, and it’s pretty evident that someone in Ubuntu development has a laptop like mine.  Ubuntu works very well when the hardware is pretty bland defined.


But what about a home-built desktop machine with a variety of cards that may never have been combined the same way I have them combined?  Ubuntu doesn’t fair anywhere near as well.  My desktop install of Ubuntu left a lot of my hardware non-functional – my USB fingerprint reader, my Bluetooth, my scanner, my TV tuner, my PCMCIA adapter, my FireWire external drive (and internal card).  None of these were recognized and configured by the Ubuntu installer.  Subsequent “fiddling” got most of these things to work, but not all.  Not the TV Tuner, not the fingerprint scanner.  Not the FireWire drive.


What Linux in general is missing is something Microsoft has probably spent millions if not billions of dollars on – the Windows Hardware Quality Lab – WHQL.  Where Microsoft evaluates and tests drivers and hardware for compatibility and has generated a huge database of hardware and driver data.  And corresponding data (I would imagine) of what devices might cause problems for other devices.  This is why most of your hardware is just detected and just works under Windows (most, I said).  Microsoft has a centralized database and a well defined system for manufacturers to get their hardware qualified, and their drivers improved.


The Linux community is fragmented – there are many versions of Linux – Ubuntu is just one of them.  Each caters to a different audience.  Everything from the Desktop Manager to the targeted end user of the machine (Graphics, Net Admin, etc) appears to have a flavor of Linux out there.  The community is spending time on window-dressing – trying to find their niche — building pretty Windows-Like GUI’s, focusing on one aspect of computing – instead of coming together to enable a common platform of qualified hardware and software in a centralized database that they can all benefit from.  The Linux community needs a hardware abstraction layer and related software database that any and all versions of Linux can draw from so that the end user experience is as simplified as possible.  As long as I have to compile a driver to get something as simple as a four year old TV Tuner card to work, it doesn’t matter what version of Linux I am running – my experience is going to suffer.  It doesn’t matter how cool the Ubuntu sounds are, if my sound card isn’t properly detected.  It doesn’t matter how nice the graphics are if my monitors aren’t detected and functional.


Linux needs a Global “Linux Update”.  Where qualified and tested binary drivers are available to users, regardless of the Linux distribution they are running.  The hardware just has to work, and the software needs to be there to support it.  Qualified software.  Tested software – compiled for my machine.  NOT compiled by me.  Not tested by me.  Not tweaked by me.  Compiled, tested, and tweaked FOR me.


Until that happens, I think Linux will stay where I see it now – a fairly smart OS with an extremely smart user-base.  Until it’s an extremely smart OS that can cater to a fairly stupid user-base, it won’t appeal to the much of the greater user population.  And I know that’s part of the appeal of Linux – the “OS for Smarter People”.  But that’s not beneficial for the Linux community – they must address a lower common denominator to gain broader acceptance.


And yes – I do believe it’s all about the experience in getting hardware to run.  Most people can learn a new OS to access their hardware (click there instead of here) – but most aren’t able or willing to learn to be a programmer, or to compile, or to remember what 65 text files all do just to be able to use their scanner, Bluetooth and Wireless LAN.


Linux MUST fix this issue with hardware/software or it will remain forever in the realm of the uber-geek – and Grandma will still be running Windows, because face it – even if it crashes sometimes, the hardware usually just works with the software.  And I’ve never had to compile anything to use my hardware under Windows.


Call me a wimp if you want – forcing me to compile drivers won’t win me over.  And if you can’t win me over, you’ll never win Grandma over.  I can deal with some low-level surgery – but not when it costs me half a day for something that is just for entertainment (my TV card).  I don’t have the luxury of spending that time learning about the entrails of Linux.  I shouldn’t have to.  And until I don’t have to, Linux will be a fringe OS.  I DO appreciate that Linux let’s me tweak everything – but it shouldn’t force me to tweak anything.


I’m going to continue running Linux on my Notebook (because it just works out of the box).  I’m going to try moving my server over to Linux, because it’s an old machine, and it only sits their feeding my blog drivel to you – it runs an Apache Server and PHP and MySQL.  No need to be running Windows on it.  I could free up a lot of resources there by running Ubuntu.  And there are no “special” hardware requirements.

But my main desktop – the one I spend all day on every day?  I think it is going back to XP – no, not Vista (at least not now).

  Why?  Because I need it.  I need it to work.  Tomorrow.  Not when I get time to learn how to compile Linux drivers, probe video capture cards, etc.  It’s my bread and butter machine.  And Linux isn’t delivering for me on that platform.  Not yet anyway.



  1. @Jason

    And do I really have to install 5 different anti-virus, spyware removal, security center, cookie killer, registry cleaner software suites that all want to run in my task bar and update every hour of every day?!

    No, you don’t. With proper security practices and a router, you should be fine.

    And somehow the second I connect to the Internet using IE7 I manage to get some piece of spyware on my machine.

    This article is about Ubuntu after all, so try it!

  2. Your experience sounds like mine and you said exactly what I had said: “It’s great that you CAN tweak a Linux distro but you shouldn’t be forced to”. For me there always seems to be a few flaky hardware issues that drive me crazy. I could spend several days and hours trouble shooting when all i want to do is use the system and software. I love to learn something new but I don’t want to be forced into it. However, as already mentioned, this is mainly the fault of the hardware vendors who refuse to provide either a Linux driver or the hardware specs necessary for the Linux community to write one themselves. So we are left with drivers that are the product of hacking and reverse engineering. Total BS. But as long as Linux is only running on something like 3% or less of desktops, don’t expect hardware vendors to even consider taking on the additional programming and support costs. So you’d think they could at least provide their hardware specs, no?

    I think people would prefer most Linux installation processes in the popular distros over the Windows installation process. Ubuntu takes less than 30 minutes to get a fully installed OS INCLUDING all commonly used software. On the other hand, I can spend half a day installing Windows, hardware drivers, and all the software + all the registration processes. And do I really have to install 5 different anti-virus, spyware removal, security center, cookie killer, registry cleaner software suites that all want to run in my task bar and update every hour of every day?! And somehow the second I connect to the Internet using IE7 I manage to get some piece of spyware on my machine. But I have 5 different pieces of software running that are supposed to protect me from that sort of thing!! What the heck!!

    I think Vista and it’s successors are going to really kill PC performance. Every release seems to hog more resources and offer fewer new features. Eye candy really doesn’t count as a new feature. I’ll probably continue to use XP until Microsoft no longer supports it (2-3 years). At that time, I plan to move over too the latest release of Ubuntu. Until then, I’ll install Ubuntu on a secondary PC and start familiarizing myself.

  3. I have a friend who uses Fedora and likes it a lot. Really though changing distros won’t help your TV tuner problem, it’s a matter of finding the drivers that work and installing them! Obviously you’ve tried that so you’re rather out of luck in that department, but what I mean is that drivers are generally a global thing. There aren’t *usually* multiple incarnations of drivers for the different distros except to have distro-native builds so they’re easier to install.

  4. I would definitely look into the Fedora core distro (I think it’s the most widely used one .. it’s the ‘commuity’ version of Redhat).
    As for Ubuntu and Debian: Ubuntu IS Debian! They just ‘branded’ it a bit, but under the hood it’s Debian (although they recently modified a few things, like the package tools, which pissed off Ian Murdock (Debian’s daddy) see http://ianmurdock.com/?p=167 )
    Slackware is nice, but too nerdy (not really ‘friendly’ for non-Linux geeks)

  5. Jim – you make a good argument – I haven’t tried enough flavors of Linux yet. I used to like TurboLinux a lot. No idea if they are still around – I’ll have to look.

    So what Linux distro has the best hardware support for TV tuners? How about multiple monitors?

    Anyone have an opinion, please share it!


  6. There’s a lot of other distros out there besides Ubuntu. Debian, for instance, has a large user-base and lots more experience with a variety of hardware. Currently I’m running two Slackware based distros, (Zenwalk and Vector Linux), Ubuntu, and Debian Etch. No way I’m forking any money over to Micro$oft, not as long as I can find communities of Linux users out there who are willing to share their experience with me. Has Microsoft ever released anything other than a beta for their first release of a new OS?

  7. U are right, but it isn’t the responsibility of the linux developers, but the responsibility of the hardware company’s. Nvidia is a nice company, they make hardware and make all drivers for it for all sort of systems, and then u have canon and canon makes hardware and then makes two drivers: one for windows and one for mac but where is the driver for linux??? Dunno and thats it we can complain and do, but they never will make drivers for linux. And personally I think it has something todo with microsoft and apple. Linux is free blablablabla so what linux is free make the stupid drivers, there are too many windows users and this is a dominant position, canon will never complain if they loose linux users, and this has to change not the devoloping of the gui but the end of the dominant position of microsoft. I rest my case.

  8. You are right there about the hardware part. Its coming along, but slowly. Setting up a linux distro is fun for me, as I like wrecking havoc and trying to sort it out.

    However, sometimes I get baffled, and the edgy eft distro ( and for that matter fedora 6) has left me a bit in the lurch. I dont think you tried out the 64bit versions, as the most problems are there. I have a AMD64, and the 64bit versions just refuse to run with default bios settings. Unless I switch off the AMD quiet and cool, and the APCI in the bios. However, windows wants it to be on (no, i dont use vista beta. I find it too bulky, and irritating).

    So yeah, not everything is working fine on the linux world, but it becomes better everyday. Now setting up the Nvidia drivers is an easy thing – they do provide the binaries.