Ubuntu 8.04, newbie material?

Ubuntu is considered as one of the most “newbie friendly” linux distro’s today. But is it really?

Last weekend a friend of mine asked me to fix his computer. An old no-brand pc running on low-end hardware.

The pc was running windows 98 and was in need of some serious maintenance.

I asked him what he needed the pc for and it was no shocker that he only used his pc for browsing the internet, listing to music (and downloading it), view some pictures and chat.

A little light-bulb appeared above my head and the text balloon said: ubuntu!

Ubuntu’s installer is easy for most advanced computer users but most people using computers don’t know what kind of animals “partitions, mouse points, formatting, …” are.

So that is problem two. Most people can’t (or think they can’t) install an OS. It doesn’t matter how easy you make the installer, non-techies just can’t/won’t do it.

What’s problem one? Downloading and burning the image. Computer illiterate people don’t know how to burn an .iso or how the check the md5sum.

Just browse through the ubuntuforums absolute beginners forum and you’ll see people having problems with “problem one” all the time.

Luckily most people know some local “computer guy” to burn/install an OS.

I installed the OS on his pc and fired it up. All hardware was recognized and his pc was running fast.

I quickly changed the default gtk2 theme to something more modern and changed the wallpaper. (I don’t like the default theme and background, and I knew my friend wasn’t going to dig it either.)

It goes without saying that I couldn’t just stop here and walk away.

Installing codecs, programs, … is easy, … for me.

The first thing I did was add the medibuntu repo. Then I installed apps everybody needs but aren’t installed by default.

– restricted extra’s (removed open-java and installed java6)
– non free codecs
– p7zip-full
– adblock for firefox
– exaile
– emesene
– vlc
– frostwire
– …

Then I had to make sure a .mp3 file opens with exaile, .avi and some other video formats opens with vlc.

You might have noticed I installed emesene. There is a good reason for that. Pidgin is a great IM, but is a bit overkill for most people.

Here in Western-Europe almost everyone (at least everyone I know) uses the msn network to chat.

Emesene makes it a lot easier to let other people sign in to their account and the “look and feel” matches “windows live messenger” a lot better.

To finish things, I put the Firefox, Emesene, Exaile and the folder icons on the desktop.

I showed him how he can navigate the menu’s and how to install new software.

Those last two steps are very important. You can’t expect someone who has been using windows all his life to just figure things out in two seconds. You have to make the much used apps directly available to them (short-cuts) and explain how the menu’s work.

So, is ubuntu 8.04 newbie material?

Yes, but …

If I hadn’t installed the extra software and made short-cuts I’m pretty sure he would have loads of problems with it.

Ubuntu is easy to use after you set it up properly.

After everything was ready my friend thanked my and bought me a beer.

The next day I talked to him on “msn” and he had nothing but good words about Ubuntu.

You see, ubuntu is ready for the desktop for most people.

    • freduardo
    • May 5th, 2008


    Imho, there’s a difference between “linux newbies” and people who might be able to, and are using linux but essentially couldn’t care less about what exactly they are using.

    Linux newbies want to use and administer on their own.
    The latter category are just users, nothing more, nothing less. Case in point; your friend.

    So in that perspective, *buntu still is an excellent distribution for “linux newbies” (again: imho).


  1. Good job. Ubuntu is definitely ready for most people.

    I dislike the default GNOME theme too. What did you install instead, out of curiosity?

    Freduardo: I’d say it’s excellent for both types of users you’ve suggested. The people that Ubuntu or Linux in general is bad for are gamers and the people who think they know how the computer works but really have no idea (they tend to mess up essential things like xorg.conf).

    • linuxowns
    • May 5th, 2008

    @ IllegalCharacter:

    The elegant brit theme found on gnome-look.org. I use it myself too.

    @ Freduardo:

    You have a point.

    In either case, ubuntu is ready.

  2. According to my experience, Linux newbies generally may not consider about the proper settings. However, longer they use, they will find that Ubuntu is kinda pain in the ass as it is quite difficult to customise things despite of its uniqueness.

    I found that the general distribution such as Debian, Gentoo, Fedora Core and SUSE may be more open and workable.

  3. Ubuntu 8.04 is unique in that it’s the only version of Ubuntu (and the only distro based on Debian) that will install correctly on my Dell laptop. Every version previous has given me many problems. The graphics don’t work, the wireless doesn’t work. Most of the time, the Live CD wouldn’t even work. With 8.04, the install worked perfectly with everything configured properly upon the first start up. That took a lot of the work out of it, though I still had to do a lot of extra installing and customization to get everything to work properly.

    Of course, Windows can give similar problems. An out-of-the-box installation of Windows XP will lack most of the codecs required to play movies. But a codec pack like XP Codec Pack or CCCP will fix that easily. It takes a lot more searching to get things working with a Linux distro.

    • linuxowns
    • May 5th, 2008

    @ Cody.

    Most people don’t know what a codec pack is.

    Does it really take more searching to get the proper media codecs installed in ubuntu?

    A search for “video codecs ubuntu” in google should give you a website with instruction on how to install them.

    It’s nice to hear Hardy installed without any problems.


    I don’t fully agree with you.

    You can modify whatever you want on a ubuntu install.

    Don’t like gnome? You can use all window managers available for linux. Don’t like the theme, download an gtk theme. Don’t like the gtk themes, you can make one yourself, …

  4. The thing with Windows codec packs is that they’re executables. For people inexperienced with computers, it’s easy to download something, double-click it, and be done. All the codecs are there and no thinking really has to be done to pick and choose. With Ubuntu, as far as I know, there aren’t unified packs. You have to download individual codecs, add different software sources (not exactly a newbie-friendly activity), or go for something like Automatix, which isn’t even supported on Ubuntu 8.04.

    It’s not as if it’s an impossible task. But I found it significantly more time-consuming to enable movie playing on Ubuntu than on Windows and I’m certainly not inexperienced with operating systems.

    • Ryan
    • May 6th, 2008

    @ Cody

    No, you’re not quite right on that. When you open something and you don’t have the right codecs, a message pops up asking if you want it to search for some. then once found simply click for it to install. A little simpler than having to search around for individual codecs or even the KLCP, certainly for newbies. I know ‘cos I probably am one in comparison to a lot of users, and I found it a lot easier to do it in Linux, especially when subsequently keeping them updated.

    Half the reason Automatix isn’t supported anymore is because, at least as far as I can tell/know, you don’t really need it. The majority of Automatix’s usefulness appears to have passed (I’ve never used it myself, but as far as I can tell that certainly seems the case).

    What I don’t like however is the one many of these “newbie”articles take. It often comes across as if you’re treating the person as if they’re an idiot, or as if they SHOULD know what stuff like partitioning is, etc, and when they get into Linux, they SHOULD know what xorg.conf is, how to use the terminal, etc etc. Half the point of an OS today is that everyday people shouldn’t have to deal with that stuff, as it’s complicated, time consuming and a general pain in the arse, so it shouldn’t be normal that you need the terminal unless it’s for something particularly painful or much more advanced, it shouldn’t be normal that someone should know what xorg.conf is and how to edit it (I’m not saying a base understanding wouldn’t be useful, but in Windows, I don’t have to know the specific files that handle the visuals, I don’t have to know specific terminal entries to do this or that, etc).

    I’m a Linux nut now after transitioning, but the most painful part of the process was the condescending attitude that came across about certain things (especially about my lack of terminal knowledge at the time, as if even thinking of using the GUI was an insult), especially when you hear sentences like “for people who only use their PC for music, internet….” as if it isn’t what 99% of people the use their PC’s for anyway. It’s nice when people do convert, and it’s nice when you see Linux (and usually Ubuntu) get more mainstream attention, but the articles about these things so often seem rather condescending.

    Sorry to go off on one, it’s just an annoyance I’ve had for a long time on the issue after making the transition myself quite a while ago now.

    • ttutrader
    • May 6th, 2008

    I love Ubuntu, but there is continued compatibility problems with a lot of the built in hardware on my Lenovo t65. I just upgraded to 8.04, but haven’t had a chance to reboot because it’s upgrading over the network. I’ll see tomorrow if it’s fixed a lot of the issues, like power management not borking the whole laptop.

    • linuxowns
    • May 6th, 2008

    @ Cody:

    Like Ryan said, most programs offer to install the codec for you.

    Although the only thing you really need are the “ubuntu-restricted-extras” pack and maybe the “non-free-codecs” from the medibuntu repo.

    Either way, installing those codecs shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes.

    @ Ryan:

    Automatix had become mostly obsolete, even with gutsy.

    But the main reason people didn’t use it anymore was because it caused more problems than it fixed.

    Automatix used shady repositories that gave issues with other programs and broke stuff.

    About the condescending attitude.

    I don’t think I did that, if you were talking about this article, instead of “in general”.

    The whole purpose of this website is to help out users that are new to ubuntu (well, most of the time), and I try to explain things as simple as I can.

    With this article I was making the point that ubuntu is a good alternative for most users, because most users only use the pc for playing and downloading music, videos and browsing the web.

    But if the user is new to Ubuntu, it can be a good idea to install some stuff they will most likely need and place shortcuts and maybe give them a quick tour of how the to perform basic tasks. It can safe them some trouble.

    If you are completely new to Ubuntu, you will, for example have problems installing software. Because the idea of repositories and a program that downloads and installs software from them are unknown to people coming from windows.

    For those reasons I put this line in the bottom of the article:

    “Ubuntu is easy to use after you set it up properly.”

    @ ttutrader

    It might be a better idea to do a clean install from the live cd. Upgrading can sometimes cause nasty issues.

    • Elbow
    • June 24th, 2008

    Well, like you said in the article, most people cant/wont install an OS anyways, so you’d need to do the same thing for him or your grandmother had you simply reinstalled Windows.

  1. May 5th, 2008

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