My Ubuntu Experiment
By Josh Simons on Dec 24, 2007
My 71 year-old father has agreed to try Ubuntu on his home PC. He has used Windows for years, but after his XP system became so infected with viruses and other malware that I needed to wipe his system, he's willing to try Linux. I've promised I'll reload XP if this experiment fails.
His needs are basic. He has already been using Firefox to surf the web, check stock portfolios, and read his email via a web interface. He has used Microsoft Office occasionally for simple spreadsheets and documents--requirements that OpenOffice should meet without a problem. He likes solitaire and that is included with Ubuntu. He prints. That's about it. I'm hopeful that Ubuntu's user experience and functionality will be acceptable to him.
I wiped his system and installed Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) last night. I'm starting to wonder if it is the administrative aspect of the Ubuntu switch that will be the gating factor on how acceptable Ubuntu is in this case, rather than the user experience. As his de facto system administrator, I need to consider how much ongoing work it will be for me to keep his system working and healthy. Based on my initial experiences setting up his system, I'm not so sure...
The installation process itself went very smoothly except at the partitioning step where it wasn't clear to me that I needed to use the manual option to repartition the disk rather than using the Guided/Use Entire Disk option. Selecting the Guided option resulted in an error creating the root ext3 filesystem for reasons I didn't explore. Once I got past that problem, the installation proceeded without any further issues. I then restored his Word, Excel, and other files from the CD I'd burned and configured Firefox as it had been on my father's XP system.
The problems started when I checked that YouTube videos would play okay on the system and Firefox reported I needed a new version of the Flash plugin. After some research, I was able to modify the package system configuration to include the packages in the "metaverse," which includes Adobe's flash plugin. While I did also find an open-source flash plugin, I decided to start with the Adobe version. After more reading, I issued the following command:
sudo apt-get install flashplugin-nonfree
to download and install the plugin. This failed repeatably with an md5 checksum error. Yet more reading led me to the developer forums where I learned this is a known problem that is currently being worked. Pending integration of the fix into Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon, I now know I can fix this by manually downloading the latest package from Adobe and installing it, like so:
sudo apt-get remove --purge flashplugin-nonfree wget http://fpdownload.macromedia.com/get/flashplayer/current/install_flash_player_9_linux.tar.gz tar -xzvf install_flash_player_9_linux.tar.gz cd install_flash_player_9_linux/ ./flashplayer-installer
None of this is particularly difficult for a person with UNIX background--it just takes time to figure everything out. And it is definitely the case that by giving my father a Ubuntu-based system I am signing up to be the sole administrator for this system with no hope of anyone else helping him. But that's essentially the situation now and when I ask myself whether I want to continue having to deal with Windows problems, especially with Vista now rearing its ponderous head, or whether I'd prefer to spend my time learning more about how Linux administration works, the choice isn't really a difficult one.
So now the real question is whether my father will be happy with Ubuntu as his desktop user experience. I'll deliver the system to him next week and report back on how that goes.