In October, a friend asked me for help with an Acer Aspire One netbook that wouldn’t boot. It turned out to be a bad hard drive; I picked up a new one at Fry’s and popped it in. Then I thought, “I wonder if Linux would perform better than Windows on this anemic processor and 1 GB RAM?” So I downloaded Ubuntu 10.04 and installed it. I was impressed: it installed effortlessly, ran speedily and required less than 200 MB RAM. And the Netbook Edition launcher looks slick!
When I returned my friend’s computer, I explained that I had installed Linux instead of Windows and walked her through some basic tasks: connecting to a wireless network, importing photos from her digital camera, etc. She seemed pleased with the snappy performance and cool appearance; she said she only used the computer for basic tasks, so Linux should be fine.
As I was leaving, she asked, “Will this work with my Zune?” Uh oh. Current versions of Ubuntu can sync with Apple devices, but apparently Microsoft’s player uses a non-standard protocol that hasn’t been ported to Linux. So, um, no. “No problem,” she said, “all my music is on my mom’s computer anyway, I’ll just sync the Zune there.”
A few weeks later she called me about another problem: she had recently purchased a Palm Pre phone, and had downloaded a program to install third-party apps onto the phone. The program is written in Java, but apparently it requires the Sun (now Oracle) Java runtime, which is not included with Ubuntu. She had made a valiant attempt to download and install the correct runtime, copying and pasting commands into the Linux terminal, but she couldn’t get it to work (turns out she had downloaded the 64-bit version).
I borrowed the computer again and installed the correct Java runtime. I also installed VirtualBox, Windows XP and Microsoft’s Zune software, so she’d be able to sync her Zune without going to her mother’s house.
A few weeks ago she sent me a frustrated email with the subject, “I give up.” She was trying to apply for a job, and the application included an online test; for some reason the test didn’t work on her computer. She asked if I would please put Windows back on her machine: VirtualBox was giving her an error and she didn’t want to keep bothering me. So I did.
So, the Great Linux Experiment lasted about two months. Maybe if I had installed the Sun Java runtime and VirtualBox at the outset, my friend wouldn’t have gotten frustrated so quickly. Or maybe you need to be a geek (or live with one) to make it work.
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