Mossberg has the WSJ logo floating above him so he is taken seriously. Once again, one doesn't mean to run him down. I merely have a few observations about his "review".
As some sort of preamble, let me add that I am highly sceptical of reviewers who get operating systems installed by others/companies and then test them.
The first thing that struck me was this sentence: "My interest increased when Dell began to sell a few computer models preloaded with Ubuntu instead of Windows." If this is the sole reason for reviewing any Linux distribution - that it should be offered pre-loaded by a major manufacturer - then one may well be starting off on the wrong foot.
First up, if I were reviewing a new operating system offered by a company, I would first look at testing it on a model that is in more common use - in other words, I would look at a desktop first, not a laptop. That's what the average non-technical man/woman of the masses has at his/her disposal. But then I could be wrong - maybe the "mainstream, nontechie users of digital technology" at whom Mossberg aims his column have a bias towards laptops.
Mossberg concludes that Linux is "still too rough around the edges for the vast majority of computer users." He cites the following problems as examples of "rough around the edges":
1. The lack of a control panel to control the sensitivity of a touchpad on the laptop.
Let's be brutally frank about this: these touchpads, tune how them you like, are not for the likes of people in their 50s and 60s who have clumsy fingers. I put myself in this class. I hate the touchpad with a vengeance, even that eminently adjustable one on my son's MacBook. For him, it is a piece of cake - his nimble fingers move around with ease and a $A50 wireless mouse I got him has been left unused.
If a 60-year-old complains about a touchpad, I would gently tap him on the shoulder and tell him to get a mouse. It's time to grow old gracefully. Some gadgets are not meant for those of us over 50. These "mainstream, nontechie users of digital technology" can afford to buy laptops - surely they can invest in a mouse as well?
2. The lack of codecs to play common audio and video files.
This is a genuine problem. It would not be if Dell had bothered to fine-tune the Ubuntu it sells; you wouldn't expect a Windows laptop from Dell to be in its vanilla state, would you? But then this is an issue with vanilla Windows too - only the Dell people probably sort out things for the buyer before a machine leaves the sales outlet. When I tested Vista , I could not play .avi or mp4 files.
3. Inability to get a common camera or an iPod recognised.
Once again, I am willing to grant the man his gripe. But there are similar problems with peripherals on Vista - I had problems with a printer for which the vendor has supplied Vista-specific drivers!
Towards the end of the review, Mossberg writes: "But open source is a two-edged sword. While it draws on smart developers from many places, nobody is ultimately responsible for the quality of the product, and open-source developers often have an imperfect feel for how average people use software."
Now I'm sure that the man has read, in its entirety, the end user licence agreement that every user of Windows is bound to. If one can find any trace of someone being "ultimately responsible for the product" therein, then I'd like to hear about it. I couldn't find anything in it to guarantee customer rights. But again I could be wrong.
The other bit of Mossberg's conclusion is again somewhat loose: "open-source developers often have an imperfect feel for how average people use software." I would change that to read "all developers". They really do live in their own world - but so do all of us. It's the usability people who decide on the look and feel, not developers.
Mossberg makes several valid points but all of them are diluted by broad generalisations and the lack of perspective - it reminds me of the people who write about "computer viruses" when they mean Windows viruses.
(I wrote to Mark Shuttleworth and asked him for some comments on this review but he hasn't replied. If and when he does, I'll tag on his comments.)
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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.