Ready, steady … no.

It’s been just about a year since I changed faiths. I was looking for something different, something new and exciting, something I could believe in again.

I found that something, it’s called Ubuntu. I’ve raved about it several times over the last year, and I still use it daily to do everything from emailing, web browsing, listening to music, storing photos and development. It is a triumph of open source software, and regularly makes me grin as I discover yet another great utility or useful feature.

However, and here’s where I invoke the wrath of the other Ubuntites, I don’t think it’s quite ready for the mainstream yet. Why? Simple: the terminal.

I’m a fairly savvy computer user. I know my SQL from my DNS, my PHP from my IRC. But even I panic when I look for an answer to a problem and receive something which looks like Martian in response. No wonder Gary Parkinson of the BBC is frustrated.

Whatever the “Users of computers should know the command line” crowd may say, most people don’t want to type commands in, they want things they can click with a mouse. The current young generation of computer users (not to mention everyone to come) see their keyboards as only there so they can type their usernames and passwords, and type messages to their friends. And, occasionally, type essays. The thought that they’d actually tell their computers to do something system-y by typing rather than clicking is not one that would enter their heads.

They’ve been raised on the GUI, given windows, menus and buttons for a reason¬†- so they don’t have to know command line stuff. While I agree that the real power, and speed, in using a computer is to be had at the command line, it’s not something we should force users into. Likewise when a beginner first gets a guitar they aren’t expected to play jazz chords straight away.

And this is where Ubuntu and other Linux distributions fall down. They may offer nice interfaces (I’m a Gnome man) and wizards for many things, but the terminal is still too close to the surface¬†- and relied on too much – to fix what should be trivial problems. Here’s a few off the top of my head:

  1. Networking. Going to the command line to fix a dodgy wireless connection? Come on, this is one area that open source should kick proprietary’s arse.
  2. External drives. Hang on, I have to type *what* command to make sure my USB memory stick is loaded automatically? Sheesh.
  3. Run as root. Maybe a root user should know the command line, but why isn’t there a right-click “Run as root” option for executables?

Ubuntu, especially the last 8.04 release, has gone some way to addressing these and other issues, but there’s still a long way to go. Until it a) just works and b) can be fixed by non-technical users, Ubuntu – and other Linux distributions – will find articles like the BBC one linked above being written. When it comes to getting people away from their entrenched addiction to the Microsoft operating systems, one article like that has profound effects.

2 Responses to “Ready, steady … no.”

  1. joshnunn

    I’ve found some odd issues with Ubuntu. It’s rocking my 5 year old Compaq Laptop and I’ve not had to touch the command line once.

    On the other hand, my wife has a 3 year old Toshiba that won’t unlock the keychain automatically at login (all settings seem exactly the same) multiple trips to the terminal later, I still haven’t fixed it.

    When I got my laptop working, I thought 8.04 had finally made a Linux possible for the common man, but I’m beginning to suspect it is a fluke – an anomaly. Ubuntu is good, but you’re right, it’s not there yet.

  2. Ian

    Interesting and thought-provoking thoughts. I must admit I do not mind the command-line for things I know, but oh how I want GUI for those I don’t!