I have advised my parents to buy a Dell laptop with preinstalled Ubuntu. They went to the nearest Dell shop in Yerevan, and asked the seller about the laptop I have showed them in the Internet, on a local Dell distributor web site (Dell Inspiron N5050).
The seller said:
– I don’t think you want this.
– Why? – asked my father.
– Because it’s Linux.
The seller probably thought that they don’t have an idea what the word “Linux” means. He started explaining:
– This means it’s hard to use, and you won’t have many games, programs you are used to.
– We use Linux at home – my father tried to set the seller’s mind at rest.
However I would ask him:
- Is this an official advice of Dell, to not by the Ubuntu notebooks produced by Dell?
Okay, so they brought this notebook home, were able to connect to their wifi, and read web pages.
However, they said they have troubles with games: trigger didn’t run smooth, and the laptop were hung from time to time.
I went to their flat in order to see what’s going on with that notebook.
First of all, it was Ubuntu 10.10. Really old. I don’t know why did Dell setup this old version, may be because it’s LTS.
Secondly, I cannot understand what is the reason that preinstalled Ubuntu was 32bit on a 64bit hardware. What I can think of, is may, be the flash plugin was the reason: they decided to use 32bit plugin, instead of using nsplugin wrapper to use the same 32bit plugin in 64bit system, or instead of using native 64bit plugin.
Now I need to tell that my perception is, that Adobe/Macromedia flash is obviously not written well, cause they were porting it to 64bit long since. And for years they are still unable to accomplish this task. I believe this example defines proprietary software: it is very often written in non-portable, I would say, ugly way. Another example is Skype – there is no native 64 bit version yet, it just works by using 32bit emulation feature of modern x86_64 cpus.
And then I cannot resist to not tell, that making decisions because of having dependency on such software, such as Adobe Flash, or Skype – proprietary, ugly written software – is not a good idea. Why would someone need to run x86 system on x86_64 hardware? I was using 64bit GNU/Linux since 2005, and I never have experienced problems with that hardware. The only problems I can imagine are because of proprietary software which the software vendor cannot port to the new platform.
I didn’t use Flash or Skype. I didn’t use Adobe Reader – we have Evince.
So choosing x86 OS instead of x86_64 because of Flash means using crutches in design. Clean design does not need crutches.
However, Ubuntu is an operating system which needs market, which tries to follow customer needs. Dell is a hardware vendor, which also works for market. And the typical consumer wants Flash, and wants Skype. That explains why Dell notebook with preinstalled Ubuntu contains that Skype icon.
Customer wants Skype, because it follows what marketing guys want them to follow.
And Dell/Ubuntu follows customer needs, which means they follow what Skype/Adobe marketing experts need.
However, this still does not explain why Dell guys had to choose that old version of Ubuntu, where Intel video drivers just don’t work out of the box on the modern hardware they have distributed this software with. They sell notebook with operating system which does not support it’s hardware. Even after updates of that LTS version.
So hardware video acceleration didn’t work.
Also, running few programs caused environment to hung – it was possible to move mouse pointer, but it was not possible to click, interact with buttons, elements on the screen, they did not response.
Ancient Firefox 3, which was also preinstalled was not able to show any modern web page. I had to manually download and install the modern version of Firefox, by knowing how hard would it be to explain to my parents how to do upgrade the Firefox manually without me. Previously, in Debian, they have used updates suggested by the operating system, but if I install Firefox not with the help of package manager, then they have to update it by hand too.
I didn’t have an exact explanation why the environment hungs, however my guess was that it may be connected to the old kernel, which means old drivers incompatibility with modern hardware. Probably, Intel video drivers are not the only incompatible part of the system.
Another problem I dealt with was that Ubuntu suggested to update the wireless driver. I don’t remember, whether I have chosen “restricted drivers” application, or the suggestion appeared on the screen by itself. However, I was sure, that Dell and Ubuntu already tested the driver suggested by the OS, and that it is safe to use that suggested driver.
I agreed. My guess was that system becomes not responsive because network hungs, and network hungs because of the WiFi driver issues.
After the wireless driver change, which was done by that Ubuntu restricted drivers utility, wireless network disappeared. I have checked, there were no wlan interface shown with ifconfig. Short search in the web pointed, that Ubuntu utility may have blacklisted the module originally installed so it won’t load, and I have tried to edit the blacklisted modules file in order to uncomment it.
During the next reboot Ubuntu alerted that there is an important change in configuration files, and suggested to reinstall the system. I have agreed, cause I was tired, and then the installer erased not only root but also user’s home, because the whole system was installed on one partition, without separating /home as separate entity in partition table.
How it is happened that Dell approved the sell of the notebook with the system which does not support the hardware well?
I don’t know – whether they were not serious about it, and selling Ubuntu just means they believe nobody will use it, and that’s a way of selling the same notebooks cheaper, so that future users can install pirated Windows instead of the default Ubuntu. Or, may be, they work without attention to details in Dell, and their quality assurance just did not notice the problems I described.
Obviously Dell QA guys were not using Ubuntu on that notebook long enough – it is necessary just to use it for half an hour to see what happens.
Anyway, I don’t use Ubuntu. I am a Gentoo user, and that means I like when the system does not hide something from me behind the wrapper scripts or bells and whistles. I believe, Ubuntu is not a convenient system because it assumes that I am stupid, I don’t know anything, and it suggests to use it’s tools in order to configure something. This hides the underlying processes from the user, which means this complicates understanding of what is going on when you press this or that button. It also complicates manual changes if necessary – whether manual changes are not obvious and hidden behind Ubuntu specific wrappers, or system alerts that config files were changed, and asks to
make a suicide reinstall itself.
What I have done?
I just ended up downloading and installing x86_64 version of Debian Wheezy. Graphics worked like a charm, as far as I remember, I had to download manually the firmware for the ethernet, and also, there were no free wireless driver yet, and I had to find a Debian tarball and build the proprietary wireless driver by hand against my kernel. That was easy, I have done it in 10 minutes.
The only customizations to the default Debian I have made for parents were:
– added MATE repo, in order to provide them convenient desktop experience they had previously with GNOME 2,
– and another repo – with 64bit version Google Chrome with integrated Flash plugin. Unfortunately, my parents still need Flash.
Anyway, it was easy and clean with Debian, it didn’t take much time, and it’s a pity I spent an evening before by fighting Ubuntu version which came with this laptop, i. e. because of Dell’s carelessness.
I believe Dell could have done it better, install more modern version of Ubuntu, have better, more careful quality assurance, i. e. at least check all the drivers, and then I wouldn’t need to change the system or tinker with default Ubuntu. That would predict and eliminate most of the user problems.
On the contrary they have sold the notebook with obvious problems out of the box. It is not surprising if most of unexperienced users would just think that Linux is a raw unstable crap and won’t consider to use it again.
It is obvious that the notebook out of the box was not usable, and that unexperienced user would be unable to solve those issues herself.
Does Dell support cover this problems? I don’t know, I was sure that I can solve my problems better than the local (and actually, not local) Dell support. And I am almost sure that if anyone calls to the local Dell support with those Ubuntu problems, caused by Dell’s negligence, they (support) would just suggest to install pirated Windows. And I would ask them, is it an official answer of Dell – just to install pirated software?
And how can we call Dell after that? How can we wonder why Linux on Desktop is still behind other operating systems?
und so weiter