Friday, March 20, 2009
Ubuntu vs Windows install
I just finished working on a temporary project helping a relatively new company split their computers off their former owner's network. Although this effort was poorly organized and used brute force rather than the available Windows technology, that's not what this post is about. The manual Windows install process is horrible. The install process for most Windows software is horrible, and the horror is magnified when you are doing this over and over. The problem isn't the technology, it is the implementation. The Ubuntu Linux process is far more user-friendly. When installing XP, there are too many places where it halts progress and demands your attention. Worse, these halts aren't grouped together, so you have to keep paying attention to the screen. It might be 30 seconds to the next pause, it might be 15 minutes. The progress meter is nearly useless--It has a very inaccurate guess at the total remaining time, but gives you no clue how long before it needs your attention next. Installing software is just as bad. The typical install would involve clicking on the setup program to launch it. Then there's a sort of welcome page, to tell you that it is about to do what you just asked it to do. Next is a license page that you have to agree to, then a "start installing" button. At the end, there's a "finished" button to click. before moving to the next software. Some stuff needs to be installed as the user. Some needs to be installed as admin. Some stuff needs admin privileges to install, but has to be installed as the user. There is no sudo command, and "run as" isn't a good substitute. User files are scattered all over. I realize the license page is unavoidable with some commercial software, but it should be combined--Running the install program should give a single page with as many options as will comfortably fit--one of them should be "do you agree to the license", another should be "quit when successfully installed". The only way you should have more than one page is if there are too many options to fit, or if certain options depend on others. Adobe was a particularly bad setup--In addition to installing the software, we had the same "welcome, license, install, quit" process for each of 5 additional font packages for different languages. Ubuntu has several versions of their install disks. The standard is a live CD that launches a fairly complete desktop as soon as you boot up with it, with one of the options "install". While installing with this CD, you can actually use the computer for other things. A few older computers that can run the installed version of Linux can't run the live CD--for them is the alternate, which is similar to a Windows install. Tonight I just installed Ubuntu on an older PC, using the "alternate", because it was handy. It asked a handful of questions in the first 5 or 10 minutes, then it started installing. When I came back, the install was done, and it was asking to install updates. Even better, the system is fairly complete at this point--It has the basic set of software that most people need. Adding software is also simple--Find the software in Synaptic, click the box next to it. You might get another box to click to resolve dependencies. After you have chosen every program you want to install, click the "apply" button. Synaptic will install all the programs you selected without any more bother. If you are reinstalling Linux, the user's home folder has the software configuration files for that user--When you restore the home folder, you are restoring all their settings. I've been spoiled by the way EDS and GM had their systems set up--Almost all their computers are less than 3 years old, with carefully managed software and competent admins. I was thinking that Linux was close, but not quite up to Windows in ease of maintenance. I was wrong--In a less carefully controlled environment, Ubuntu is not only equal to Windows, it is considerably superior. I'm pretty sure that if Ubuntu were in a similarly controlled environment, it would be similarly successful.