Ubuntu Linux ready for the Desktop? NOT!

To balance my recent Vista exploits, I decided to try out the latest Ubuntu Linux. I downloaded version 6.10 and burned a CD. The Ubuntu cd is a “live-cd” which means that you can boot on the CD and run the operating system without installing anything or changing your current installation. Here’s what happened:

Firstly I tried booting the CD on my two machines at work. Non of them would finish the boot. My old XP box, had issues with my errors on my hard drive, which makes absolutely no sense. My new Vista box, had issues with the graphics card, maybe because I had two monitors attached. Searching for help on Google didn’t help much and I just gave up.

Just to give it another change I downloaded the latest Fedora Core and that booted fine on the XP box. Didn’t try the vista box. Both my machines at work are Dell boxes.

Take the Ubuntu Cd home with me and tried on the home machine (an AMD home build, also dual monitor on a Radeon 9800 card).

Booted fine. Looks good!

Dual Monitor

But I really want it to use both monitors – I went through a few guides, without any luck. It could be because I needed to reboot my machine, but that doesn’t make much sense with a live-cd, as you always start over from scratch. System changes does not survive from boot to boot. Okay, I’ll have to try later with a real install.

Installing Ubuntu.

I’ve a secondly 120gb drive in my system that I’ve used for backup and for a period of time MythTV. I decide to install Ubuntu on it. There’s a nice “install” icon on the desktop of the live cd, and after a couple of questions and a wait of 15 minutes it’s installed. Rebooting directly to the secondary drive (using the bootmenu of the bios) doesn’t work, but Ubuntu has installed a new boot manager in the primary harddrive, and the first couple of options are different ways of starting Ubuntu. The “boot manager” doesn’t have a way of changing priorities (I would, still, like windows to be the primary choice), but maybe somewhere in Ubuntu it self..

Okay, so it starts, asks for the name of my user and what I want to use as password and we are there. Nice. Can’t see my primary hard drive (NTFS formatted). Haven’t seen the dual monitor set-up. But I’m on the net.

Installing applications

Ubuntu comes with a nice package of installed application out of the box, including Open Office (a rather old 2.0). And it’s quite easy to install new applications. I start by installing Wine. Click and a message come up asking for my password for “administration”. Okay, I get the idea that it wants an administrator password (root). As I haven’t been asked what I want to root password to be (like when I installed my Debian install, for the MythTV), I tried to leave it blank. No error message, but it just goes back to the list of applications and then tries again to install. I try “root” and “ubuntu” as password, but it just keeps on going in ring. Finally I figure that I want MY password. And it works. I’ve wine.


Wine is a windows emulation layer for linux. It make it possible to run a lot of Windows application under Linux. Quite nice and lots of applications work. So the first thing I do is insert a USB key with the (windows) application I’m developing at my place of work. The key is mounted just fine and I’m pleasantly surpriced that I sees both partitions on the key (a RO and a RW) – I tried at work and Fedora only saw the ReadWrite. I launch the application, which reads the USB keys “hard drive serial” wrong, but I can work around that (we use the key as a token), networking just works and it connects to the server just fine. Then I try to launch a part of the application that uses an ActiveX to connect to a Terminal Service server (mstsax.dll 6.0). No can do. I can run regsrv32 (which is used to register activeX’s in windows so that applications can use them), but Wine gives a lot of “this application tried to use an unimplemented function” (that’s me paraphrasing).

Getting stuff from Server

I’ve a old Windows 2000 box running at home as a house server. It has a mirrored set of hard drives and is used as our document folders and as a media server (I’ve a slimp3). I can browse to this server with the file browser just fine. So I double click on an movie (Xvid .avi) file to see what Ubuntu will do with it. Noting. It launches a media player, but it gives a “can’t read file from that position”. Agh. Crap. So I think, maybe I have to mount the networks drive or something. I right click on the directory on the folder on the network and select “link”. “Operation not supported” – okay, maybe not.

Reading my primary (NTFS) harddrive

I really want to be able to read my Windows hard drive. Makes it a lot easier to move stuff to the new system and maybe run application directly with Wine. I try a couple of guides without any luck. The latest I’ve found is this one that I haven’t tries yet.


What a piece of crap. Sorry, can’t say it any nicer. So many thing just don’t work out of the box. Getting them to work is a question of firing of terminal commands from guides that are often so badly written that it hurts my brain just thinking about it.

Example: Trying to get the “backwards” button to work on my mouse I found a guide that describe some lines to add to a file. It just didn’t bother to mention what file (no link to protect the innocent), you had to dig down to the comments to find out that it’s the xorg.conf file. Hey, that probably obvious – if you are used to X (the underlying desktop manager), but for someone new to desktop linux, it a royal pain in the arse to have fight your way through this stuff. Especially when the results, as often as not, is not even something that works.

I’ll probably boot up the Ubuntu once in a while to see if I can’t get it to work, but it is obviously going to be a major task to get it to work as I want it to. Or maybe I’ll kill it and try to install some other distribution.

Ubuntu is not ready for the desktop. Unless you define “ready for the desktop” as “ready for installation by masochistic nerds with way to much time and the need to do arcane incantations to feel important”. It’s not granny ready, mom ready or even dad ready. It’s not even ready for me, and I develop software for a living and I’ve installed more windows boxes that I dare to count and I admin my own LAMP server.

I really wanted to like Ubuntu, but it just kept being really, really annoying. My life it to short for that.

P.S. Feb. 23th 2007: I needed the secondary disk for something else, so I formatted it (in Windows) and create a new partition and formatted it NTFS. Restarting my machine GRUB (the software that allows you to select what to boot), failed. I couldn’t boot into windows. It makes sense at GRUB stores it’s information in the Ubuntu partition. Damn. As I didn’t have my XP CD around (it’s work license), I ended up reinstalling Ubuntu on small part of the secondary drive.

Please read part 2 here..

10 thoughts on “Ubuntu Linux ready for the Desktop? NOT!

  1. Anna Andersson

    Dear Thomas

    I’ve been reading your blog and I am curious by nature 🙂 I wonder who you are?

    You seems to be a man of various interests. Your blog has a lot of different topics.

    I’m not flirting with you (it’s best to get THAT out of question) but I just want to know something more about your person.

    Kind regards


  2. Mike

    Hi there, being a linux user myself (not Ubuntu though) I thought your review was interesting to say the least.

    It’s kind of amazing that often windows users will give some live version of linux a try and then quickly decide it sucks because that can’t figure out what the hell is going on and how to do stuff, cause, well it’s not like windows at all.

    Seriously, running a windows application you are developing via wine and then complaining that it doesn’t work as it does on windows is mindboggling, for one because it has nothing to do with linux itself, but is clearly an issue with wine. Which in turn is just a tool to provide crutches for people who can’t help it but use windows programs.

    The crux of the whole thing becomes quite clear when you complain that you were unable to read your NTFS HD. It’s trivial to do, but you need to have a minimum amount of knowledge of how linux works, which you clearly don’t seem to have, the bit where you try to mount a network drive by linking to it is almost
    comical in this regard.

    I’m not sure why you seem to think the fact that you installed windows or develop software on windows somehow makes you an expert in the use of linux, your claim to administer a LAMP server seems somewhat strange in the light that you don’t even seem to know what links are.

    Instead of assuming that you already know everything, I would suggest that you read an introduction to linux/unix before you give it a try next time, makes for much less frustration when you try to do basic stuff and it doesn’t work like you’re used to on windows.

    Regards. Mike.

  3. TC Post author

    Hi, Mike, well, I’m happy that I could provide you with some comical relief. I especially liked the bit where you just tells me I’m an idiot for trying something, instead of telling me why it was stupid.

    The short of it simply is that, with windows you can blunder around in the GUI, and you’ll probably end up getting stuff to work. With Linux… you can’t, and you probably end up editing ini files and killing the system when you do something wrong.

    Linux is ready for a lot of stuff and better than windows as even more stuff, but it’s not desktop ready. Not before you can use it out-of-the-box, by solely using your mouse.

    Oh, and get of the defensive – I didn’t /complain/ about Ubuntu not supporting my application. I just mentioned that wine couldn’t run our application. I actually didn’t expect it to.

  4. Andy

    I’m afraid you don’t get to say things like "Get off the defensive?" after writing articles with claims like "sorry piece of crap" and "ready for installation by masochistic nerds with way to much time and the need to do arcane incantations to feel important" I’m afraid. You say its not ready for Grannies, but grannys aren’t trying to install Windows applications that require ActiveX. When you consider that Ubuntu works at all due to the plethora or proprietary technologies without Linux support from manufacturers, its quite quite an achievement. Not to mention that you didn’t pay a penny for the effort.

  5. TC Post author

    Andy. I agree – what it does is quite impressive. At any price. Free*2 it’s even better. But that doesn’t make it good enough, for the desktop. And actually I sort of payed for it. I’ve donated to mozilla and FSF and OpenOffice.Org 2.0Beta used one of my Creative Commons Shared photos for the logo.

    I’ll give you that my usage of the word crap, may have been a bit excessive, but I spend a day, that I could have used more productivly, trying to get this to work, and frankly I was kind of pissed at the end…

  6. Elmeri Kokkonen

    Next time when you try to install Ubuntu, what I did I googled a little when I first time tried Linux on my system (actually went through several different distributions like gentoo, debian, fedora core etc…). I found that ubuntu had the most easiest help wiki in internet (I was then so frustrated trying to get my ati card to work among other devices I had in my systems) for newbies and linux newcomers. It is located at http://www.ubuntuguide.org. With that guide it made the actual installation pain to go away almost completely. Now I have used my Edgy eft without problems for several months with my nx server and ported all my office programs to linux entirely. I just use games in my Windows machines nowadays because gaming in linux is just plain stupid.

  7. Roger

    Was cruising the web looking for a way to get rid of the annoying token ring password request that I get when I login to my Ubuntu machine and came across this. I guess it struck a chord in me, so here’s my 2 cents.

    I find the flamefest on this topic as stupid now as it was in ’99 when RedHat and Slackware were being compared to Windows 95 and NT 4.0. I’ve used Linux since ’97 in a variety of different distro’s and I happen to agree with TC on a great many points. Ubuntu is not a replacement for Windows as a general purpose desktop OS – unless you are willing to make compromises. That’s been true since the beginning imo.

    I have used Ubuntu 6.06 and 6.10 for over a year now on several machines ranging from a T43p Thinkpad, Dell D620 Latitude, and an HP Optisomething desktop machine. I find it to be a very good OS, and actually think that it can do some things far better than a Windows machine can. At the same time, it does some things much worse, and I refuse to be without a Windows OS on my personal machine which has both Windows XP Pro and Ubuntu Dapper installed in a dual-boot configuration.

    In the Linux corner, I have found that any type of; Perl, Python, web prototyping, GIS data munging, photo manipulation, and use of one-off open source programs to be a cinch in Linux and imo as easy or easier than in Windows. At the same time, multimedia support out of the box sucks, wifi support is mediocre, and playing the driver game gets really, really old at times.

    On the Windows side, multimedia (especially in web applications) is better supported out of the box, MS Office is still the defacto standard in business (I happen to prefer Open Office though), and most importantly new hardware is supported much, much better. Finally, there are applications, especially business and engineering apps (and I don’t mean Software Engineering) which are only ported to Windows. On the down side, programming in Windows is a PITA, the cmd console is a joke, and system work requires way, way too much overhead, and config files are buried all over the damned place.

    Here’s what I think is the problem, and it extends beyond Windows/Linux to most other aspects of our culture. Too many people believe in causes, and become fanatics about one thing, or are are too rigid and set in their ways to consider alternatives. The Windows users (like you, TC) decide to give Linux a shot, give it a cursory look and try to make it "like Windows" and leave disappointed. Linux nuts, who mostly look down their noses at people who haven’t looked at every MAN page on the system, view the steep learning curve that competent Linux use mandates as a badge of honor, and make no bones about ridiculing people who are "too stupid" to figure out how to get stuff done in Linux. In my mind they’re both retards.

    Linux users – get it into your heads that Linux is a pain in the ass for certain things, and that everyone doesn’t find it pleasant to spend 6 hours hacking away at their system to get whatever-the-hell-it-is to work. It’s not going to improve until copyrights and patents expire, until hardware manufacturers become more open about the specs for their latest and greatest stuff, or until someone decides to spend money on making a Linux OS that is more like OS X.

    Windows users – stop acting like Windows is the only solution for everything. A good part of the web’s infrastructure doesn’t run on Windows, and probably never will. Be happy that you can run the latest version of what-not on Vista, but be willing to consider that doing certain things in it is akin to placing your (insert favorite appendage here) into a meat grinder and turning the crank yourself.

    Basically, grow up a bit.

  8. TC Post author

    Thanks for your comments Roger.

    Did you just call me a retard on my own blog?

    I didn’t try to make Linux "like windows" I just tried to get it to work. If getting both screens to display something and getting most of the buttons on my mouse to work, is "like windows" … well, okay, then I did that… but if that makes me a retard…

  9. Cannie

    Ubuntu Linux is a new Debian-based distro sponsored by Canonical Ltd. I spent a week using Ubuntu and came away impressed, despite some of its obvious teething pains. After using Ubuntu for a week, I must say that, though Ubuntu has its share of problems and teething troubles, it did impress me. It was easy to do most of what I do on a daily basis with it. I came away from it with the impression that Ubuntu is here to stay.

    I would not recommend using this release as your sole operating system, because of its problems with Windows networking, multimedia, and installations. That said, if you like trying out new distros, do try this one. Ubuntu has taken a different path from most other distros, and if it continues in this manner, it will be a force to reckon with


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