Tag Archives: Ubuntu

The Equal Accessibility Paradox

Whilst reading Bruce Byfield’s “Divining from the Entrails of Ubuntu’s Gutsy Gibbon” today, I began pondering the evolution of Ubuntu. Ubuntu began live as Warty Warthog back in 2004, and rose quickly to fame. Its biggest selling point was that it was user friendly Linux, the best, most accessible Linux distribution to date. Now, just a few short years later, Ubuntu has truly conquered the Linux market with an estimated 30% of the field, and suddenly, there is some pushback.

I’ve seen a project take this path before, but project was Mozilla Firefox. The Firefox devs suddenly turned their back on their userbase in favor of catering to a wider audience. As a result, I – an obsessively dedicated Firefox user since at least Phoenix 0.2 – have sworn off the software completely.

Enter the “equal accessibility paradox.” I see this often with software projects especially, but it exists in all sorts of arenas, from websites to cell phones, cameras to iPods, from cars to TVs, even in restaurants and stores. The problem exists as such: you have two distinct groups of customers, one who prefers additional options or features even if it introduces complexity; and another, possibly larger, audience who prefers elegant simplicity at the expense of features. The goal is to provide everyone with the options and abilities they expect without overwhelming them. Can a new, non-savvy user control the product to do what they want equally as well as an advanced user can configure the product to do what he wants?

The problem comes from the fact that all too often, like with both Ubuntu and Firefox, you begin to favor one community over the other. I believe the Mozilla Foundation, at least in the provided example, unfortunately decided to cater to a wider audience by making decisions at the expense of its current users. They have made decisions that have cost them at least one user. Ubuntu, if the article is to be believed, has provided plenty of advanced options but over-simplified the non-advanced procedures. In short, if you aren’t a complete novice, you’re an expert. Thus the paradox takes shape: the gap between your two user groups becomes greater. Hopefully, along the way, you don’t so aggravate your most vigilant supporters so that they abandon you.

I’m positive I haven’t best expressed what I intended to say, but I think there’s a theory in there. As your userbase grows, the gap between your two user-types widens, and your target generally becomes one or the other.

As Apple grows and branches out from the Macintosh computer line, I can only hope they don’t cater to new users to a degree that forsakes the current users who kept them afloat for so long. As Microsoft has grown, they have taken more and more steps to frustrate the people who best support their products, so much so that my business now uses Linux on web servers and PHP for programming and I always recommend Macs and Linux to my friends and colleagues. As Firefox grew, I felt they left users like me behind. As Ubuntu grows, I hope they can control the divide before they find themselves head-to-head with the “equal accessibility paradox.”

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An Ubuntu Experiment, Part 2

As a follow-up to my previous entry, An Ubuntu Experiment, I wanted to keep you updated on how my neighbors are doing with their new Ubuntu workstation. I caught up with them yesterday to discuss how things are running.

The first report was that things are going great. They’ve got everything figured out and running, they even saw that it had a firewall, but, they asked, it has no antivirus! Do they need antivirus, they wanted to know.

I explained to them that there was antivirus protection programs available, but that right now, due to the nature of Linux, it really wasn’t necessary. I explained that they should be careful of running things with which they are unfamiliar, but that viruses were unlikely to be a problem. It took some convincing.

The mother was hooked on games. They were psyched to have new games besides Freecell and Solitaire, and she enjoyed the abundance of games on the default install.

They were unable to get their video camera to work. They told me the disk that came with it didn’t work. I explained that the driver and software was for Windows, and that the camera probably worked fine. “But,” I asked, “which program were you using it with?” Blank. “Well,” I continued, “what are you trying to do?” Blank. They hadn’t really considered why they needed or wanted the camera. It just was there. We’ll revisit that with them later.

Their internet experience was complete. They got Flash installed. They got MP3s working. They understood Firefox. They were also able to get their digital camera synced.

So far, the experiment is going very well.

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An Ubuntu Experiment

On Monday, my neighbor came to my house and asked me if I had a “spare Windows XP disc.” He’s not very computer savvy, but someone owed him some money and he wanted a computer so that his 15 year old daughter could access MySpace. His requirements were minimal, but he had gotten a relatively decent Dell machine – something like 1.2 Ghz with 512 MB of RAM – and it was hosed. The guy had given him a Windows 98 SE disc; they left off the actual restore disc and the drivers.

So I told him the truth – I didn’t have a copy of Windows XP I could legally give him (in truth, I don’t even have a copy of Windows XP I could illegally give him since we are PC free). I told him, if he was feeling adventurous, I could give him an operating system that had tons of programs, would likely work with no additional drivers, and was completely free and legal. So he took it. I burned him Ubuntu Feisty Fawn. I told him to give the installation a shot, walk through and read everything carefully, and see what happens. If he needed help, I’d visit the next night.

But I didn’t hear from him the next day. So, Wednesday, I saw him pulling into his driveway and went out to talk to him.

Result? They successfully got Ubuntu running. They got Flash installed in Firefox. The programs that came with it were “totally sweet” and he was able to get everything figured out. It was online successfully, they had used OpenOffice.org, they had figured out Pidgin and his step-brother was in the process of backing up his files to put Ubuntu on his machine.

Maybe 2008 is the year of the Linux desktop and maybe not, but Linux is ready *now* for people who are ready for it.

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IceWeasel and the Focus Failure of Free Software Fans

I have been thinking a lot about this Ice Weasel fiasco lately, and I’ve begun to see it as a failure of the open source aim. I’m really bummed out that it’s come to this. I’m disappointed in Mozilla, I’m sick and tired of Debian, and yet, I “get” both sides. Read on for my breakdown of this issue.

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