Why Current Linux-Preinstalls Pose Adoption Problems for Netbook Users

This christmas, Santa brought an Acer Aspire One (A110L) for my mother, a not so techy person. It even had a customized version of Linpus Linux on it featuring quite a pleasant, simple UI. It’s supposed to be simple and useful. And at first glance, that’s true: It comes with Firefox, OpenOffice, etc.

Unfortunately, there is also a downside. Why? Because it comes with Firefox, OpenOffice, etc… on Fedora Core 8, a quite old version of the Distribution. Firefox is on Version and no official update is available, leaving A110 users with known security issues and a product which is officially abandoned by the vendor. Same holds true for OpenOffice.org 2.3, the current Version is 3.0.

The Update System does not use YUM, it has propritary system that downloads XML descriptions, packages and shell scripts from a Taiwanese, overworked Server, with no (visible) signature validation (*yikes*).1)

So I wanted to install Skype, since that’s what my family uses to do voice and video chatting. The built-in messanger also has no support for Jabber. So I wanted to install skype and PSI instead of the built-in messanger. Both turned out to require advanced Linux-Knowledge (installing RPMs manually in case of Skype) and some google searching (becoming root, add items into the menu). Some choices, like the choice of language can only be done via
the GUI initially. Later on, one needs to find a script that sets environment variables and reboot the system.

So where is the trouble? The extra step via Linpus. While it seems like the ideal OS (Startup time of about 4 seconds, easy launcher interface), it

  • Keeps the users from secure upgrades to decent versions. Even worse: It keeps the users from even customizing their Netbooks just a little bit. With the Windows XP variant, installing Skype is just a Download and a Mouse click away. That’s why I find a lot of people moving on to XP right away or buying the XP version in the first place. The hypothesis that netbook users accept their devices just the way they are is a myth.
  • Keeps the average user from installing new Software (keep in mind the target audience!).
  • Woeks around the underlying distributions update infrastructure.

Not sure if Ubuntu’s Netbook spins are the answers, but I will definitely give them a try on an external SSD medium.

1) I admit that this is not the central point here, but since I’m at 25c3 and Dan Kaminsky has just stressed how many update systems suck because they lack any kind of validation about the blob they are about to download and run as root, I felt like pointing it out.

PS: Dear Lazyweb: Does anyone have expiriences with other Netbook Vendors? I am under the impression that the Eee PC preinstallation suffers from similar problems.