The Ubuntu End-User ExperienceBy Frank Ohlhorst | Posted 2008-05-26 Email Print
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Both Ubuntu and Kubuntu offer a great deal of features right out of the box, which translates to almost instant productivity for business users. Users will find an office suite (Sun Open Office), a web browser (FireFox or Konqueror), an email client (Evolution Mail) and various productivity applications that make the system quite usable.
Both the GNOME and KDE 4.0 interfaces are pleasing to the eye and prove simple to navigate and picking one over the other may prove to be a hard choice for many. Both offer similar applications, utilities and features, but in a different fashion. For those familiar with Windows XP, Gnome may be a better choice, while those more familiar with Vista may prefer KDE 4.0.
Regardless of the interface, users will have the ability to download and install hundreds of applications, using an add/remove system applet. Most application installs can be done automatically, but users will have to make sure the applications they choose will work with their installed desktop. It would be nice if the application loader automatically filtered out incompatible application choices for users, but it currently does not. But, when it really comes down to it, 8.04 has eliminated the need for using the command line or most any other manual process to install applications. That in itself is a major improvement for Linux in general.
GNOME and KDE 4.0 do a very good job of hiding Linux’s complexities from the end user, perhaps too good of a job! For example, with Windows XP and Vista it is pretty simple to retrieve a list of the installed hardware and what drivers are in use and figure out if a particular piece of hardware is not supported. That simple task is extremely difficult to replicate under the default installations of GNOME and KDE. What’s more, Windows (XP and Vista) does a better job at installing applications, especially when it comes to adding applications to the start menu and informing the user on how to launch those applications.
Another area that Windows seems a little more intuitive with is setting certain system properties, such as choosing startup applications, customizing menus, setting up dual monitors, burning CDs and many other minor features that users have grown accustomed to. While all of those things can be accomplished under KDE or Gnome, finding the options can be a bit of a challenge or may require installing additional applications.
With the abundance of USB and Firewire devices on the market, plug and play functionality has become one of the most important capabilities of both MACs and PCs. Here, Ubuntu is no slouch either, pretty much anything we plugged in worked fine, but Gnome seemed to perform the task a little smoother than KDE.
We did encounter a problem with a USB based WiFi adaptor from Zyzel, although the OS identified the device and even showed available wireless networks, we were unable to connect to any of the wireless networks. We tried to connect to both open and WEP enabled WiFi networks. No matter what we tried, we could not successfully connect and were presented with credentials to try and connect again, even with the open networks. The lack of error messages telling us exactly what the problem was did not help! We eventually gave up on trying to use WiFi and attributed the problem to the flaky WiFi support that is all too common in most Linux distributions.
As we delved further into the feature set of both interfaces, we were pleasantly surprised by Ubuntu (and Kubuntu) support for networks. We were able to connect to and browse the various Windows networks on our Ethernet connection. Even more surprising was how smoothly we could connect via active directory (using the Likewise Open Utility) to Windows Servers with Gnome. That capability eliminates one of the biggest complaints surrounding Linux OSes, as far as network connectivity is concerned. As far as networking is concerned, Gnome outdid KDE and offered a more "windows like" experience. Users will appreciate some other Windows’ centric features, such as a terminal server client, a remote desktop viewer, drag and drop file management and so on.
The more we used both Ubuntu and Kubuntu, it became clear that Ubuntu (with Gnome) was somewhat easier to navigate and use and offered a better overall end user experience. Gnome organized applications in a more logical fashion and some tasks, such as burning a CD from an ISO image or using a USB hard drive, or changing visual effects was somewhat easier with GNOME .
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