Ubuntu 7.10

I’m trying out the latest version of Ubuntu on my Mac Pro, and I’m reasonably impressed so far. It seems to have detected and correctly utilised all the hardware that I immediately require. I’m able to quickly and effectively browse the web, check my email, and use instant messaging (although Pidgin, the instant messaging client, crashed shortly after I first launched it). I’ve managed to play games on my company’s website – this requires the use of Flash, which I was easily able to download and install, and the games play fine and make all the right sounds. I even managed to turn down the volume using the Apple-specific volume adjustment keys on the keyboard. I’ve got OpenOffice available too, and things like GIMP for photo editing. I’d be interested to see if I could get any music production software working on here, although if I could get something to work it’s hardly going to be on a par with Logic.

Pushing things a little further, I’ve tried to use Bluetooth and I can’t seem to make it do anything. I wouldn’t be able to watch live TV on here, although I presume I could watch downloaded movies using VLC in the same way that I do in OS X. I can’t try out wifi connectivity, although I suspect it would be a nightmare to set up… but who knows? And how would I sync my calendar, address book, and other items, from one computer to another? And to my phone and my iPod? No idea.

The user interface leaves a lot to be desired, though. Why three sets of menu bars? Why? I will never understand this. And why are they trying so hard to make it look like Windows, from the crappy Windows-style taskbar to the annoying and horribly yellow popups that pester you and get in the way all the time? There are better desktop paradigms than this, so why don’t they use them? And the fonts are another problem. They don’t really look right and they’re all kind of blurred and oversized. They never seem to be able to get the fonts looking anywhere near as nice on Linux as they do on Macs and Windows.

On balance, for the types of things I use a computer for at home and at work, I’d probably put this roughly on a par with Windows XP in terms of its quality and usefulness, although I’d need more time with it before I could confirm that. It’s a big step forward, but, despite what some enthusiasts are claiming, it still doesn’t come close to rivalling the Mac desktop experience. But it’s a lot better than it was last time I tried, so who knows where it might be in another two years.

Users and email applications

Thunderbird is, in my opinion, a nice email program. It’s straightforward, streamlined and visually appealing. It gives you plenty of control, it complies with standards, it supports IMAP very well, and it has a facility for easily adding plugins to extend its functionality.

Outlook, on the other hand, seems to me like a bloated, clunky mess. It’s slow, it looks messy, it misses vital configuration options and puts the rest of them in confusing places. It doesn’t support email standards very well and its IMAP support is dreadful: for example, when you delete an email it doesn’t get automatically purged – instead, it just sits there with a line drawn through it until you manually click the ‘purge’ button!

Because of this, I thought I was doing our company a favour when I attempted to standardise on Thunderbird. A few people objected at first, but I honestly thought they’d start to much prefer Thunderbird once they’d had a chance to use it for a while. And yet people have continued to beg and plead for Outlook to the point where I’ve finally given up and decided to standardise on Outlook. I still don’t understand this, but if people want crap then, as far as I’m concerned, they can have it. It actually reduces our installation time because Outlook gets installed anyway as part of Office, whereas Thunderbird needs to be added as an extra application.

People seem to view Outlook as the Holy Grail of email environments, and Thunderbird is perceived as a poor alternative that must be endured because their nasty System Administrator won’t give them what they want. They always look so incredibly happy when they get their beloved Outlook back. But I JUST DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHY. I’ve spend quite some time asking users to explain to me, or show me, what it is about Outlook that they love so much, and they just go quiet. Even they don’t seem to know why they want it so much. One person managed to mumble something about it feeling a bit more ‘professional’ when you send an email to a customer, or something, and another one said he thought he preferred the ’tile view’ that you get in the address book, or something, but that’s about it. I still have no real idea why people are always so desperate to use Outlook for email. It’s a complete mystery to me, and I honestly find it quite depressing.