Shane O'Sullivan's technical blog… really ties the room together

Ubuntu – good enough for grannies and girlfriends

Posted by Shane O'Sullivan on September 29, 2009

I recently installed Ubuntu Linux 9.04 on my girlfriends lovely new EEE Netbook (I highly recommend the 1005HA + EEEBuntu), but left the original Windows install intact, because, well, I’ve always had a need to go back to Windows for 30 minutes at some point for some reason or another.

The one problem I foresaw with this Ubuntu install was that if she ever had to use the Huawei Mobile Broadband modem I have, she’d have to boot into Windows.  I’d read a year ago that Ubuntu supported it, but when I tried with Ubuntu 8.10, it failed miserably.

So today I was using her netbook and needed mobile broadband, and was about to boot into Windows, when I thought “what the hell”, and tried it in Ubuntu first, fully anticipating the same failure as before, or at least 10 hoops that had to be jumped through before I could get it working.

But no – I was presented with a list of operators for my country (Ireland), asked if I was bill pay or pre-pay, I clicked once and I was connected!  No install required, unlike with windows, just enter your PIN and away you go.

The main argument against Ubuntu, and Linux in general, is that it doesn’t have enough driver support, making it impossible for non-computer literate people to simply plug in their devices and do what they need to do.  It’s great to see that the community is adding in new drivers at a great rate, and that things like cameras, wireless (which is also vastly improved recently) and now mobile broadband now “just work”, and in this case work much better than Windows.

My girlfriend, who is in no way interested in computers or open source, now complains about having to use Windows in university, because Ubuntu is so much easier and faster to use.  I can imagine the same story is playing out all over the world.  Hopefully at least 🙂


21 Responses to “Ubuntu – good enough for grannies and girlfriends”

  1. zenarcher said

    The argument that Linux “doesn’t have enough driver support,” always amazes me. Especially when talking about the “average user.” I’ve used Linux, one distro or another, exclusively for about four years…on four desktop systems, a notebook computer and a netbook here in the house. I may not run the most exotic hardware in the world, but I do run dual core processors, digital cameras, multi-function printers, Blackberry devices, webcams built into Dell flat screen monitors, decent Nvidia video cards, a couple of wireless keyboards, wireless cards and so on. A fair bit of average, everyday hardware. I have also installed Linux on old and new computers for friends and family…at least a couple of dozen systems of all makes and models. In my personal experience, all that hardware “just works.” Probably the most complex “installation” I have to do is open a terminal and type: “sudo hp-setup” with Kubuntu to get my HP multifunction printer working…and it’s on my wireless network. I’ve yet to manage to get the same printer to print wireless off my one Windows XP computer.

    And here’s something else I’ve learned from experience, working on “average user” Windows computers. When they crash…and they do crash on a regular basis, invariably the owner has lost the motherboard driver disk and the driver disks for all the rest of their add-on hardware. Let them try to do a clean install with their Windows disk and wonder why they have no audio and half a dozen other hardware functions. Let them plug their digital camera in, since they lost the driver disk and see what they get. Same with their multi-function printer. Zip…nada…nothing. They don’t have a clue. I’ve had Windows people tell me that they threw a printer away because they lost the driver disk that came with the printer. Not a clue they could go online to the manufacturers website and download the drivers, if they are willing to hunt and find the correct ones. Ever happen with Linux? No.

    And, what about updating drivers? How often do average Windows users search all over the web to find the latest drivers for the hardware they have installed? They don’t. They don’t even realize such a thing exists. Linux, on the other hand…the drivers generally get updated right along with everything else. So, you’re using the latest drivers. Maybe it’s easy for the average Windows user. They don’t have to spend hours hunting all over the Internet to find the drivers for their hardware when they need a fresh install. That’s left to the poor person who has to do it for them. Oh yeah. And “new hardware?” Linux now supports USB 3.0. Check and see what the latest excuse for not having USB 3.0 support in Windows is on the Microsoft website.

    Anyway, just some of my thoughts and personal experience when I hear how Linux doesn’t have enough driver support.

  2. […] Ubuntu – good enough for grannies and girlfriends « SOS […]

  3. Supercharger said

    Girls can’ use Ubuntu. They aren’t smart enough. Mark said so!

  4. […] had a need to go back to Windows for 30 minutes at some point for some reason or another. More here The main argument against Ubuntu, and Linux in general, is that it doesn’t have enough driver […]

  5. How about boyfriends and grandpas? How do they do?

    (Hint: just talk about *your* girlfriend and *your* granny. There’s no need to make gratuitous gender-based generalizations).

    My boyfriend doesn’t have a fricking clue…

  6. Adam,

    I wish that all this Ubuntu-hates-girls crap would just be dropped. It’s beneath us. I DID write about my girlfriend, read the first line and last paragraph. If MY grannies eyesight was good enough, I’d get her using Ubuntu too. (By the way, happy 80th birthday granny, hope you like your present)

    While I was unaware of the Shuttleworth contraversy when I wrote this (I was just so happy with Ubuntu that I felt like sharing it with the world), this is all a storm in a teacup, stirred up by people with too much time on their hands.

    YES there are many girls/females/(insert PC term) who are not “in” to computers. There are also a large number males who have little or no knowledge about what goes on inside a kernel. In my experience I have had to explain the workings and usage of computers to females more often than males, and this could well have been Mark’s experience also. Note, this is not a generalisation, it is MY experience. Whether it is down to an inexplicable inability of the female gender to comprehend the numbers 1 and 0 (doubtful as they usually do better in maths and science), or just that males dislike asking for instruction (or directions for that matter… damn another generalisation), who really cares?

    Can’t we just make good free software?

    As for Mark’s constant usage of the word “guys” when referring to who does the work, I distinctly remember in the mid 90’s when that began to be used for both genders. Like I said, silly little storm in an overly PC teacup.

  7. mario said

    well nice stuff dude…keep on…

  8. Eike said


    I love to read it too : ) And I like Linux … also if another candidate is my choice (Gentoo). Because I like the system. With Drivers it’s everytime the same. For most devices the drivers exists but all Linux (expekt Suse with other problems) has problems for easy install them.

    If I had a small Laptop or EEE I will install Linux too. But Windows is needed for many Software expessially games, that not exists for Linux.


  9. michielv said

    I also installed Linux (Linux Mint 7.0) next to Windows on my girlfriends Acer Laptop.
    Since then, she doesn’t use Windows any more.
    Faster boot, no troubles with viruses anymore.

  10. Yeah, I forgot the faster boot – she says that’s why she spends much more time online now, no more waiting 5 minutes before she can check her mail.

  11. Jonas said

    Shane: No, apparently we can’t “just” make free softwarea, since some people keep writing “it’s good enough for girlfriends” as headlines on the web.

    When enough people do that, which they do, half the population will grow up with no natural interest in hacking in general and free software in particular.

    That can’t be too hard to understand? It’s a simple logical explanation for a complex social phenomena. Now deal with it!

  12. Half the population already has no natural interest in hacking. It’s a pity, and I wish it wasn’t the case. I know quite a few very competant, intelligent female programmers, however very few are interested in working on open source software in their free time. Of course there are exceptions to this, but in the majority of cases it is true.

    If this was not the case, the open source world would be much better off to have their contributions. But it is the case.

    However this blog post is not about that. I’m simply stating that I’m so happy that I’ve converted one more person to open source, and she happens to be my girlfriend. Anything else being read into it is the reader projecting their own issues.

  13. awgonnerman said

    I read somewhere this week about printer problems and Ubuntu. I knew that 8.10 on my family’s desktop worked fine with our wired printer, but I wondered about my laptop and the wireless hp printer at work. I’d never tried it. It took less than five minutes and if I had to download a driver, I apparently didn’t have to think about it much, because I don’t remember.

    Every six months a new edition of Ubuntu is released, and not just for the sake of keeping it fresh in people’s minds. Real improvements go into the distro, as you have demonstrated.

    Good blog, btw. I’ll be back.

  14. I plugged in my HP printer for the first time to Ubuntu last night, and it worked straight away also. Like you said, it’s getting better all the time.

  15. autumnlover said

    OMG! You just reminded me Linuxhater’s “A word to your mother” post. Its the same story over and over again – “Your granny will not see the difference” meme. If so, then why 99,9% of population prefer Windows over Ubuntu? (and 99% over GNU/Linux in general respectively)

    It just not work like it should. People expect “free Windows” and since Windows does not require to learn Bash to fix a problem – most of the people ran away from Linux.

    ps. I use Ubuntu on my two home PC’s on a daily basis since Dapper, so I know what I actually said.

  16. Bogdan Bivolaru said

    I think it would be better fit to say “it’s good enough for non-technical users” rather than grannies and girlfriends. I don’t see any reason as to why a grandfather would be better prepared to use Ubuntu than grandmas – or other distros with the Linux kernel.
    I converted my father to Linux, but it wasn’t because he has computer knowledge, it was easy because he didn’t know much about Windows anyway. In fact he feels much more comftable with Ubuntu 9.04 than he ever was when using Windows (he tried Win98, 2000, XP).

  17. @Autumnlover, I agree that Linux is still more complex than Windows. However the point that I’m making in this post is that the community is doing a great job of bridging that gap, to the extent that I feel it is now usable by non-technical users.

    @Bogdan, while it would have been more PC to say “technical users”, and grandads may also have difficulties with computers, such slavish adherance to politically correct terms has never interested me. My title has nice alliteration, which is why I picked it. It sounds good to say aloud. I could also have said “Ubuntu – now it is suitable for use by non-technical users, who may not even have heard of it, including both genders and members of every age group, and those with learning disabilities”…… it goes on. I doubt a single person who reads this post is insulted by it. Rather, people are complaining are more likely worried that others (i.e. tech-literate females) are insulted by it, and complaining on that basis. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, this is all blown out of proportion

  18. Daniel said

    My girlfriend is a happy ubuntu user, now she hates having to use windows^^ and a friend of her too, so i agree that it’s not that hard for a new user 😀

  19. Meg said

    I’m a tech-literate woman, and I am insulted by it. I also love how you can’t bring yourself to say the word “woman”, we are either ‘girls’ or ‘females’. I guess it would be too “PC” to use a word that says I am both an adult and a human being, when what’s really important is my vagina, hurr hurr. Are there many 7-year-olds using Ubuntu ya think? Or she-lions? Words mean things, and you are just being absurd by pretending otherwise.

  20. Hi Meg,

    I’m sorry you feel insulted by it, as it was not intended to be a provocative piece. As for the language used, I’m pretty sure you’re reading too much into it – this isn’t a State of the Union piece, I didn’t plan every word just to insult you personally. It was written in about 90 seconds to express how happy I am with the improvements in Ubuntus usability by non-technical people.

    Obviously as a tech-literate woman this piece does not apply to you. See my comment above regarding readers projecting their own issues.

  21. ME said

    Ubuntu is GNU/Linux for grannies and kindergartens. True men enjoy true computing with Archlinux or Gentoo, maybe Fedora

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