The Ubuntu End-User Experience

By Frank Ohlhorst  |  Print this article Print


Desktop-as-a-Service Designed for Any Cloud ? Nutanix Frame

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 .

Frank Ohlhorst Frank J. Ohlhorst is the Executive Technology Editor for eWeek Channel Insider and brings with him over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field.He began his career as a network administrator and applications program in the private sector for two years before joining a computer consulting firm as a programmer analyst. In 1988 Frank founded a computer consulting company, which specialized in network design, implementation, and support, along with custom accounting applications developed in a variety of programming languages.In 1991, Frank took a position with the United States Department of Energy as a Network Manager for multiple DOE Area Offices with locations at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), FermiLAB and the Ames Area Office (AMESAO). Frank's duties included managing the site networks, associated staff and the inter-network links between the area offices. He also served at the Computer Security Officer (CSO) for multiple DOE sites. Frank joined CMP Technology's Channel group in 1999 as a Technical Editor assigned to the CRN Test Center, within a year, Frank became the Senior Technical Editor, and was responsible for designing product testing methodologies, assigning product reviews, roundups and bakeoffs to the CRN Test Center staff.In 2003, Frank was named Technology Editor of CRN. In that capacity, he ensured that CRN maintained a clearer focus on technology and increased the integration of the Test Center's review content into both CRN's print and web properties. He also contributed to Netseminar's, hosted sessions at CMP's Xchange Channel trade shows and helped to develop new methods of content delivery, Such as CRN-TV.In September of 2004, Frank became the Director of the CRN Test Center and was charged with increasing the Test Center's contributions to CMP's Channel Web online presence and CMP's latest monthly publication, Digital Connect, a magazine geared towards the home integrator. He also continued to contribute to CMP's Netseminar series, Xchange events, industry conferences and CRN-TV.In January of 2007, CMP Launched CRNtech, a monthly publication focused on technology for the channel, with a mailed audience of 70,000 qualified readers. Frank was instrumental in the development and design of CRNTech and was the editorial director of the publication as well as its primary contributor. He also maintained the edit calendar, and hosted quarterly CRNTech Live events.In June 2007, Frank was named Senior Technology Analyst and became responsible for the technical focus and edit calendars of all the Channel Group's publications, including CRN, CRNTech, and VARBusiness, along with the Channel Group's specialized publications Solutions Inc., Government VAR, TechBuilder and various custom publications. Frank joined Ziff Davis Enterprise in September of 2007 and focuses on creating editorial content geared towards the purveyors of Information Technology products and services. Frank writes comparative reviews, channel analysis pieces and participates in many of Ziff Davis Enterprise's tradeshows and webinars. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including back to back best review of the year awards, and a president's award for CRN-TV. Frank speaks at many industry conferences, is a contributor to several IT Books, holds several records for online hits and has several industry certifications, including Novell's CNE, Microsoft's MCP.Frank can be reached at frank.ohlhorst@ziffdavisenterprise.com