US woman says Ubuntu can’t access the internet

Or so the article on The Register goes. Aside from populist titling, this story actually demonstrates what hurdles Linux has to go through in order to be accepted as a Desktop Operating System, and considering the size of the task I might as well retract my stand on the subject – yes, Linux is not yet ready as a Desktop OS for the general populace.

As the story goes (and don’t look in The Register for the details, read the original article at WKOW TV’s web site – the original news source for the story), a woman purchased a Dell laptop – the Ubuntu version, and apparently she did so by mistake: she expected to get MS-Windows on her laptop.

When she got her computer she tried to install some software that she “needed” in order to enroll for studies in her local college: Microsoft Office suite and Verizon’s broadband windows drivers. Both of course failed to work, so she dropped out of both fall and spring semesters (yes, she figured she can’t get the computer to work now so she might as well cancel her studies for the year).

There are several things that trouble me about this story (which I’ll go over briefly before focusing on the real problem):

  • How exactly does one get a Dell laptop with Ubuntu by mistake? From browsing the Dell web site, the only way you can get to the Ubuntu section is by specifically searching for Open Source laptops (just searching for Ubuntu will get you nowhere), and then – if you don’t know anything on subject – you are just as likely to choose the FreeDOS version. At no point you can go through the standard ordering process (or any ordering process for that matter) and choose Ubuntu over MS-Windows
  • Said woman is so un-tech-savvy that it boggles the mind – anyone who ever owned a computer knows to call someone when you have problems. Instead of calling for support she canceled her studies and called a TV station. The TV station apparently later called the local college (which said they can work with Open Office that comes installed on Ubuntu laptops) and Verizon (which said that Ubuntu is supported by their service and they will help her install it). The only support call the woman in the story did was to Dell, before she tried to work with the computer, to complain that she didn’t get MS-Windows.

Now the real problem is that Ubuntu is not user friendly enough for people that have no concept of an opearting system other then MS-Windows: an operating system is something that runs programs; Program are things that you buy at store or download from the internet and carry large “Works with MS-Windows” stickers. And this is what we have to work with, people.

I have no magic solution for the problem, and it is stupid to expect that we can educate the general public about what an operating system is and that while all operating systems should help you do the same things, they go about it in different ways and software for one is not applicable to another(1).

Maybe what Ubuntu should have done is to have something that detects that you are trying to run an MS-Windows installer, figure out what you are trying to install and offer native alternative – if good ones exist – or point you to wine/crossover-office otherwise.


  1. This is something that was once known to ordinary people that bought computers – a long time ago at the days of the Commodore 64, Sinclair Spectrum or the Apple II. People knew that there are different computers as much as there are different power connectors in different countries and you had to get the right plug to fit what you need, But that knowledge was lost – maybe forever. []

2 Responses to “US woman says Ubuntu can’t access the internet”

  1. Eran:

    It’s really really stupid but I can see it happening. Maybe she ordered the computer by phone or something. Maybe she has no friends she can call to on that subject. Maybe she is that stupid. It could happen.

    But it’s still sad there is no ultimate linux solution to the completely unsavvy.

  2. Oded:

    I think that there is no ultimate *computing* solution to the unsavvy.

    Nothing works out of the box, and as the resident tech support for several people of different technical prowess both you and me are obviously aware of that. This story is just the “man bites dog” case – when MS-Windows gieves you grief its no news (and I’d tell you stories about what I’m doing now and you’ll probably understand better), but when Linux misbehaves its something to write home about. The same as the tech (and not so tech) news sometimes report about another Firefox security issue, but when was the last time you’ve read on YNet about another Internet Explorer security issue?

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