The Ubuntu Experiment

This isn’t the regular granny-test – this time, we’ll put Ubuntu’s famous user-friendliness to the test the right way.

In this experiment, Ubuntu will face Windows, but it’s going to be a fair game. This means that I will not customise Ubuntu to make it easier to use – no, it will come exactly as-is.

Ubuntu screenshotAll of this wouldn’t be possible without my dear mother. She is a fairly typical computer user. She does basic things like reading her email and browsing the web, but now and then tries some more advanced things like installing Google Earth. Most important, however, is the fact that she is open-minded towards another operating system.

The version we will be starting off with is 7.10 (“Gutsy Gibbon”), as that is the most recent one at the time of writing. Of course, it will be interesting to see if she would like to user newer versions as they get released.

I will install Ubuntu Restricted Extras and the Medibuntu packages (with which I have no experience at all). Why do I do that?
Well, the reason Ubuntu cannot include these restricted packages is because they cannot include licence fees in the price (there is no price), and because they are not (fully) open source.
Now, when Ubuntu would come pre-installed on computers, the license fees could easily be included in the price. Furthermore, as we are not testing which operating system is better ideologically (we know that already, don’t we?), we are testing which operating system is better functionally – therefore I feel comfortable enabling non-open source software. For the same reason, I will also enable any Restricted Drivers available.

Why Ubuntu?

One of the reasons I chose Ubuntu, is because I think it is one of the user-friendliest distributions out there. The main reason, however, is because I use Xubuntu so it’s easiest for me to help, just as my brothers can help her with Windows problems.
So why don’t I give her Xubuntu? After all, being an Ubuntu derivative, Xubuntu’s goal is to be user-friendly too. Well, basically it is because I believe Xubuntu’s (or rather: Xfce’s) target audience is a bit different. Xfce is better for people who like to tweak their system more while still retaining speed and sane defaults, putting it somewhere in between KDE and GNOME. For those people (me), I still believe Xubuntu is extremely user-friendly.

Why my mother?

My mother has recently been complaining about her Windows XP computer becoming too slow. To my great surprise and delight, when I jokingly suggested installing Ubuntu on her computer next to Windows, she agreed. She is the perfect test candidate as she is quite the average adult computer user, not a gamer and, well, my mother! This means I’m there to help her (I’m still in high school, so I live with my mother) whenever she encounters problems. Furthermore, I’m there to write down her experiences and problems so we can finally really see whether Ubuntu has become as good as or better than Windows.

What about my bias?

Of course, being a great open source-proponent, I’ve got a great bias towards making Ubuntu a success. Of course, I liked reading yet another granny-test and see Ubuntu coming out as the clear winner, however, I was always disappointed by the amount of work that had to be put in before Ubuntu was a success. Therefore, I’ll really try to fairly document the experiences, and to honest admit it when Ubuntu isn’t up to the task. Then Windows-proponents can always point towards this blog when someone claims Ubuntu to be better than Windows functionally – until the next release, that is ;)
But of course, when Ubuntu turns out to be a success for my mother, I will make sure that everybody gets to hear it, and I will of course use this blog as proof :)

The future

Well, obviously this makes for a great New Year’s resolution, and I truly hope this will turn out to be a success. Of course, all suggestions (e.g. are there any other preparations I should take?) are welcome, as is feedback. I hope I do not run into severe hardware problems, as that is not my speciality (she has just bought an Epson scanner/printer combination, so my fingers are crossed…), therefore I hope I will find a lot of knowledgeable readers. All in all I’m extremely excited, and I hope you’ll all follow along (you can subscribe to my RSS feed or get notified of new posts by email).

Oh, and did I mention that my twelve-year-old sister has agreed to me putting Rockbox on her mp3-player? Linux’ momentum certainly is growing :)

Finally, I would like to point out that the content of this blog is licensed under a CC-BY-SA license, so feel free to copy this and later posts as long as you link back here :)

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8 Responses to “The Ubuntu Experiment”


  1. 1 luke 2 January 2008 at 2:07 am

    I tried this on my mom’s computer. She didn’t notice anything was different.

    She is not much of a computer person, though.

  2. 2 john dubmann 2 January 2008 at 2:31 am

    Hey, 50 is not old. I’m 55, ten years ago, I didn’t know how to turn on a PC. Now I use Ubuntu and Mac on a daily basis. I have 3 further distros running in a virtual box, I have a Windows XP laptop that I use for specific tasks and I design web sites for my friends. I do all my own repairs.

  3. 3 Vincent 2 January 2008 at 10:07 am

    @luke – haha, awesome :)

    I don’t expect this for my mom though, as she knows I’ll be installing it and she knows it to be different.

    @john – absolutely, I did not mean to portray her as old, because she is not. In fact, I pointed out her age to show she was not old and an average computer user. But I guess I’ll do some rewriting and remove the age part, as it is not of that much relevance.

    @both of you – sorry your comments got held for moderation, I edited the blog settings so now people should just be able to comment freely.

  4. 4 Rick 3 January 2008 at 2:22 am

    I commend you for bravery! You may be successful or not, but you never know until you try!

    I have not been able to get my wife to give up windows, but I have converted her Uncle and a neighbor. The Uncle is a new computer user who just needed basic internet and email. The neighbor has used both macs and pcs at work and she is happy with ubuntu at home. My wife doesn’t want to give up MS Access, MS Money and her tax programs.

    As long as your mother does not have special software needs she should be content with ubuntu. I recommend Ubuntu for linux beginners because it is easy to use and not too overwhelming. I use Kubuntu, myself, but Ubuntu is more easily tailored for linux beginners. I will add your feed to my Akregator list.

    Good Luck!

  5. 5 David 3 January 2008 at 4:59 am

    Good Luck. I made a pc out of spare parts 600 mhz compaq with 256 mb and Ubuntu and gave to a friend in need replacing her even older and slower machine that had win98 and had recently died. She only uses web and aol email. I configured it for her and she has had no problems and does not even know it is much different. Her kids notice it is not windows but it has been up and running for almost 3 months now with no problems whatsoever. I got a nice gift from her at christmas too. At home on a laptop, I dual boot XP and Ubuntu and my wife does not notice whether ubuntu is running unless she wants to play bejeweled on Yahoo.

    Good Luck!

    Dave

  6. 6 Vincent 3 January 2008 at 10:29 am

    @Rick – Thanks! AFAIK my mother at the moment does not have any special software needs, but of course, there’s always the risk that someone will someday recommend her some Windows-only application.
    She also needs some software by the Dutch tax office, but luckily they have made a Linux version available. They offer a source package and autopackage though, so we’ll see how she manages to install that when the time comes.

    @David – thanks! Gotta love those success stories :)


  1. 1 A real life "granny" test - The Ubuntu Experiment | Ruminations on the Digital Realm Trackback on 3 January 2008 at 9:11 am
  2. 2 It’s time to face it: Linux is not coming to the desktop. Ever. « The Ubuntu Experiment Trackback on 21 February 2008 at 10:20 pm

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