Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Fedora Usability FAIL

What happens when a harcore Linux geek liberates two systems for non-geek use?

You know that I am a big fan of the Fedora Linux distribution. It only includes free software by default, and won't install the potentially cursed Mono.

And its packages are mostly on the cutting edge.

So I put that on two older systems I gave to non-geeks. And, for performance, put XFCE by default instead of Gnome.
Result? Disaster.

Sometimes plugging in a digital camera works, sometimes it doesn't. Installing software turns out to be too complicated for a novice whenever a bit of choice is required.

And then, one of them had to configure the dreaded Samsung printer drivers, which 100% stink. Someone put together some repo for Ubuntu that are a major step up than the lousy installer from Samsung.

These users conclude "Linux is just too complicated, for no benefit", and I don't blame them. They can't understand that Samsung is being foolish not to let distros package their drivers for them.
They are used to monoliths like Windows and Mac where everything 'just works' and is well integrated. They can't think in terms of Linux Distributions. They can't think that XFCE may have a bug that will be updated next week. They can't think in terms of XFCE vs Gnome vs LXDE vs KDE. All of this is just too complicated. So, "Linux sucks" for them.

And the dollar savings and the extra freedoms won't matter if the work doesn't get done out of the box.

Two conclusions for me:
1) Install Mint or Ubuntu in the future
2) Make sure to install some remote desktop-like functionality, so that I can fix things remotely if ever needed.


  1. It happens in a similar fashion to LibreOffice ... regular (not very well informed) users are told or read somewhere that a new version of LibreOffice have just come up ... they listen/read it is the best Free-Open Software Suite ever ... they don't think in terms of 3.5.0 or 3.5.3 ... they only know LibreOffice is very hot and that it has LOTS of improvements. Power users ? ... what's that ? ... give me a copy to run it, they say. And they get disappointed with the instabilities and rough edges of a “.0” release. They will give up LibreOffice ... they will not try version 3.5.2 or 3.5.4 ... they will just consider LibreOffice as a low quality software ... and of course ... they won't try LibreOffice 3.6.* ... they will just remember LibreOffice as a bad experience ... they will remember that for years ... and will tell that to their friends ...

    I know that testing the product with a big user base (releasing it as mature) is a great way to locate bugs and a very good opportunity to improve the software itself ... BUT ... it also erodes the prestige of the product. I wonder if , in the future, the release strategy could be slightly modified in order to mitigate this kind of drawbacks.

    As you rightly said “And the dollar savings and the extra freedoms won't matter if the work doesn't get done out of the box.”


    1. There is a big gap in the mindset of corporate software and free software people.

      Corporate software will try to release a product that is heavily tested internally and is very shiny. And the releases don't come often.

      Free software people follow "Release early, release often", which is a tad bit crazy for most "normal people". I think using more beta releases could help a bit...

  2. I have the opposite experience on that matter, but I've installed Xubuntu 11.10 instead on several of my relatives' PCs/Laptops. I chose Xubuntu, because I believe is the natural choice for non-geek Windows users that don't want (many) changes in the interface (ie, Unity is too confusing for them, because everything is "out of place").

    I installed 3 PPAs for LibreOffice, Wine and Jupiter (on laptops), as well as Google Chrome (as it has a wonderful, light PDF reader). Everything works fine, and they praise the system on 2 accounts:
    - Faster and smother;
    - Better "start menu" where everything is separated by categories.
    - Kids like the Gnome Games, SuperTux, Gianna's return, some Indie games I offered on a couple of HiB licenses, etc.

    The biggest problem is the Office replacement, but not because LibreOffice (3.4.x and 3.5.x) doesn't work fine for them, it's just that the conversion of Documents isn't perfect, and the ODF standard isn't adopted by the majority of services, schools, etc.

    It's a shame and, in my view (and theirs as well), the problem is that governments and other institutions don't adopt it.
    This problem alone makes the competition between MSOffice and LibreOffice unfair, even if the latter is free.

    1. I had a similar experience. Users wouldn't be inclined to do a "save as". Thankfully, there is an option for changing the default format to doc that helps a whole lot. Have you tried it?

  3. BTW, regarding printer drivers, we had no problems since everyone (luckily) uses HP printers.
    I'm probably the one to blame since I advise everyone to buy them.

    1. That's great. The thing is... when I liberate a computer, I get stuck with whatever hardware the person has. And it can be quite a pain to make things work with some hardware.

      Recently, it was a Canon scanner. Before that, it was a Samsung printer. The list of incompatible hardware is pretty long, sadly.