My Ubuntu Experiment

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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
tar -xzvf install_flash_player_9_linux.tar.gz
cd install_flash_player_9_linux/

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.


Well, at home I'm 2.5 years into Sun Ray on ubuntu ... best move I ever made! The only thing that is a challange is iPOD's ... would love to get SR USB/ipods working with Banshee, but we've got a manual process that works for the most part.

This system is used primarily for browsing, email, msn, facebook, etc, and is our music centre with an couple of old SR 1 attached to two stereos.

I keep changes to a minimum and it just works!

I'm playing with Solaris Nevada, indiana, etc, and it looks promising. The only thing I'd like to have is acroread.

The key metric is the number of times my wife calls me a work - with the old windows xp stuff, it was far to often ...

Posted by fmozza on December 24, 2007 at 05:05 AM EST #

{begin rant}Now if only this installation worked when you have a 64-bit system, but it doesn't. Since Adobe is braindead and does not support x64. Promised in 2005, but still not there.
So as a Ubuntu (Gutsy, 64-bit) user, I have to deal with a 32-bit wrapper, that 1) crashes without any specific reproducable reason or 2) flash just stops working (showing an empty grey box).
Flash + Linux = SUCKS.
Nice to see that your father is willing to try Linux/Ubuntu. Wish my father was that wise.

Posted by SwitchBL8 on December 24, 2007 at 10:34 AM EST #

A couple of things:
1. The workaround for flash (you described) should be easy enough even for 'Windows Only' people. It would be a matter of providing proper documentation. Consistency and availability of such is the whole other issue.
2. Why not start your father with Linux Mint or something similar (where popular codecs are in place out of box)?

Posted by Vik on December 24, 2007 at 04:19 PM EST #


First of all, Merry Christmas!

Based the description of what your father needs (especially wrt managing his portfolios on-line), I believe the good 'ol Solaris 10 is--surprise, surprise--the best (or ideal) OS that you could ever ask for.

I own a minority interest in a decent-sized Linux-based company, but my mother has been using Solaris (10u4) for quite some time now (on her 14.1" IBM ThinkPad R61, which was given to her as her 90th birthday present). Her main use of the machine is to manage her investment portfolio on-line. As such, security (& maturity of the OS) is the utmost concern. She got burned by Microsoft Windows more than once. OTOH, the GUI in Mac is simply too overwhelming. Both Ubuntu & SuSE have idiosyncrasies that are too weird (reminiscent of immaturity) to make her feel comfortable. Interestingly, Solaris, which is supposed to be the most secure and most technologically complex OS, has the best (& the most comforting) look and feel for an old lady.

On her machine, she also has the option of booting into Vista, SXDE3, & SuSE 10.3. However, I noticed that she never showed such need or desire. (I should note that her version of S10 has been modified to enable her run StarOffice8 and Mahjonng from the SXDE3 slice.)

Posted by W. Wayne Liauh on December 24, 2007 at 06:38 PM EST #

It's been about a year since I started my one year with linux experiment, using Ubuntu.

While I have upgraded with each new release, You can likely stick with Gutsy for awhile without any issues. You may want to switch to the next LTS version when it comes out though.

I think you will find fewer issues with the unwanted effects of surfing with MSIE. If the box is wired to the network, I suspect you will not have any major requests for help. In any event, show him the Ubuntu forums as a first stop if he is at all handy. I had completely forgotten all those IE issues until I read your post.

Posted by Fr33d0m on December 25, 2007 at 10:23 AM EST #

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