May 1, 2008

1081 words 6 mins read

6 Ubuntu Usability Problems

I was talking with Ben earlier today about Ubuntu and we got into a discussion of usability problems. They aren’t necessarily major issues, but range from annoyances to “duh?". I figured I’d discuss them, and for a few of them I have Ubuntu Brainstorm links.

Mounting of unclean NTFS drives (Brainstorm #4994). This is a pet peeve of mine. All of my external hard drive drives are formated in NTFS — big deal. I also have a bad habit of not going through the proper unmount/eject sequence under Windows. Its Plug-and-Pray after all, right? So why not Unplug-and-pray? Besides, I always made sure whatever I was copying to/from was done before I yanked it. Now, plugging in a drive that wasn’t properly dismounted isn’t a problem. Under Ubuntu it is another story entirely. It pops up this message that is about a paragraph long telling you that it can’t mount the drive, but you can modify your fstab file, or execute a certain command on the command line.

This is one of those things that should have been a “duh” moment when writing up the help text for the pop-up error. Instead of telling the user how to do it on the command line — how about giving them another button? Maybe the button says “Force Mount” and gives them a little warning about potential file loss. I’m sorry, but these aren’t the days of DOS any more. People aren’t going to migrate from Windows to Linux en mass if they have to hit the command line on a regular basis.

Unmounting removed devices. Going with the trend I mentioned previously, I tend to yank drives without unmounting them first. I did this in Ubuntu recently and the drive stayed on my desktop. I right clicked and hit “Unmount” several times and it never did anything. Finally, I tried it on the command line and it gave me some error about not finding HAL info… I dunno why… might have something to do with the drive being UNPLUGGED. Regardless, I ran ‘sudo umount -f /media/THUMBDRIVE’ and away it went. Ben also noted that the /media/ directory that is automatically created, isn’t removed — so I had to that by hand.

Again, not a problem for me, but a newbie would only be able to fix this with help — or a reboot. Personally, I believe that when the OS detected that this drive was yanked — it should have removed its entry. Baring that, when I couldn’t unmount (and gnome gave no errors) — it should have popped up a box saying there was an error — and giving me the option to Force Unmount.

Key Bindings This is another pet peeve of mine because it drove me up the wall. I’ve been a Windows user for a long time (also using Linux, don’t get me wrong), so I’ve got habits. Like Windows+M, Win+R, Win+L, etc. Try Win+M in a recent (reasonably stock) version of Ubuntu. Yea … Your screen just inverted colors. Trippy, isn’t it? It might be cool to look at, but it is annoying as all hell. So if you were to go into Preferences > Keyboard Shortcuts — you wouldn’t find this entry. It is in fact a Compiz feature — and you have to INSTALL the administrative tool for Compiz (who thought of that!?).

Ubuntu needs to consolidate all key bindings that aren’t application specific into a single location — even if it is Compiz. It is totally unacceptable to have several locations for key bindings. Not to mention the fact that once you get Compiz to give up the key bindings you want (which aren’t all in one screen, they are stuffed away into sub menu’s for each effect type)… Windows Key doesn’t work properly by default. You have to go into the Keyboard layout preferences and change Windows key to act as “Super”.

Monitor switching on laptops (Brainstorm #7846) This one is fairly self explanatory. I am one of many that use their laptop “docked” fairly often (read: every day) with an external monitor. Now I can move my screen from the laptop to the external display using nvidia-settings — but it’s not user friendly. I know the process now, so I can do it fairly quickly — but why isn’t there something very simple like in… well… Windows? Additionally, if I have the display pushed over to an external monitor, and I close the lid of the laptop — it turns off the screen. This is… cool… when the laptop is running normally — but when “Docked” this is silly.

Checking for Solutions (Brainstorm #7817) This is something that would be more of a nicety rather than a full fledged problem. But why not have an optional process that can scan core dumps, scan logs, scan hardware, etc and check a database of known issues and fixes. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could scan your system and it would pop back saying “Hey, we’ve detected your X hardware doesn’t work. This problem has been fixed with Y update.” or “A workaround for this problem is known, please visit THISURL”.

First Boot Tour(Brainstorm #7768) I know some people gasp in horror from the thought of putting in something like Windows XP first boot video/tour — but I think it would be a good thing. Have some easy explanations for Windows/Mac/First Time users. Heck, you could make a tour for each type of user. Just enough to get them into the system, understand where the programs are located and what software comes pre-loaded. Make it easy to skip for those of us who have used Ubuntu before — and everyone should be happy.

One additional thought. Have the installer ask if the user would like Ubuntu customized to be more like Windows. I know Linux zealots are going to try to kill me for this one. The typical “BUT LINUX ISN’T WINDOWS” crap. I know that people like Linux because it’s not Windows. But even I would appreciate things being configured just slightly more like I’m used to. I’M NOT SAYING MAKE LINUX JUST LIKE WINDOWS. But why can’t we get a default key mapping setup for Windows users that like Windows? Just as an example. Just a few simply changes would help newbies (who don’t know how, or aren’t willing to go through the crap I am to change key maps) be just a little less scared of this “Ew-Bunn-Too”.

Just a thought.