Ubuntu: That was friendly!

When I first started using Ubuntu the difficulty with using it on a laptop was centered around wireless issues. Today wireless issues are much less common, but Linux laptop compatibility is still plagued with problems due to ‘optimus’ graphics and poor bios decisions from many vendors. As an IT professional I know enough to avoid certain hardware, but for people without my IT background trying to find a laptop that works well might seem an impossible task.

Option 1:
A consumer willing to purchase a laptop on-line might order a laptop with Ubuntu pre-installed from a vendor like System76 or Dell.  For many of people they would prefer to order from HP, Lenovo, or a local store like Best Buy.

System76 Lemur Ultra

System76 Lemur Ultra

System76 offers excellent laptops for a broad range of users including power-hungry gamers (with Steam being on Ubuntu graphics power is likely to be much more sought after). Dell offers a fantastic ultra-book with Ubuntu pre-installed that is aimed at Developers.

Dell XPS 13

Dell XPS 13

These options still amount to a very small selection of laptops and many people would like to get specific features in their hardware that are not offered on models with Ubuntu pre-installed. In the past when people got a laptop and then installed Ubuntu themselves it has resulted in experiences like the following:

After 3 days of solid searching, installs, compiles, theories, interfaces config, supplicant creation, and “this is what worked for me”- I’m once again at the end of my rope.

I’ve been having a real hard time staying with linux because of my laptop. it doesn’t have the worst combination of hardware, but the ATI card is really close to the worst thing.

Having a hell of a time installing ndiswrapper and wpa-supplement to get my wireless working. Again. ndiswrapper did come with Ubuntu, but wpa-supplement didn’t. I had it on a flash drive though, so I attempted to go compile it. Except it took about 50 tries before I realized Ubuntu must not have installed any dev tools. Got Make installed and tried to compile this stuff, now I can’t figure out why it keeps choking on some stupid error. I’m sure I’m doing something stupid that a Linux pro would a laugh at, but I’m so frustrated at this point I may give up.

All of the above issues could be avoided by knowing what hardware will work before a purchase is made. Around May of 2011 Ara Pulido and a small team from Canonical started Ubuntu Friendly to address this concern. Ubuntu friendly differs from the ‘Certified Program’ in that it is driven by community submissions. Ubuntu Friendly is a brilliant idea and will help as more and more people want to use Ubuntu.

Ubuntu Friendly

Ubuntu Friendly

There is a need to transfer this project from the Canonical employees to a community team. Nicholas Skaggs and I had a discussion on IRC last night and we both hope to get this process rolling in the next few weeks. There is a need to ensure the information on the wiki page is accurate and up-to-date as well as get familiar with the current process. I am sure that the needs will include web development, database work, testing application work and documentation. As the details are worked out I will blog more about the specific team needs, but if you are interested in helping out please contact me or join the discussion on #ubuntu-quality of irc.freenode.net. This is a fantastic opportunity to contribute to the growth and success of the Ubuntu Community.

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19 Responses to Ubuntu: That was friendly!

  1. Pingback: Links 11/1/2013: Linux 3.8 RC3, Firefox OS Phones | Techrights

  2. afanen01 says:

    I tried so hard to buy a system76 laptop, but I guess it was never meant to be.

    My 2008 HP laptop had a resolution of 1280×800. I could not find a 15″ laptop on System76 that had better than 1336×768 resolution. That does not count as an upgrade to me.

    I wound up with a Dell xps 15z with a 1080p screen, and you may have guessed it. Only Windows works on it. Windows is staying on it because I don’t have so much time in my life any more to fight with putting linux on there :(

    • Charles Profitt says:

      The Gazelle Professional has a 1080p screen on a 15″ laptop… in fact you can select a beautiful 95% gamut panel as an option. I purchased a Lenovo T500 in the past and got a 1680×1050 screen on it, my Lenovo W520 from work as a 1080p screen and my Lenovo T530 has a 15″ screen that is 1080p as well. All of those work well with Ubuntu.

    • Ubuntu User says:

      The problem with higher resolution screens right now is they come at a cost. Almost nobody has produced a laptop which isn’t dependent on proprietary graphics software and has a high resolution screen. While it is possible to manufacture such laptops companies assume such users want higher end graphics too so there just aren’t many on the market and none that really work well with Linux. I think HP is the only company I spotted with a business line that has a system with Intel graphics and also has a high resolution screen. I think I noticed System76 has/had one which purported to be Intel graphics although in fact was a hybrid NVIDIA/Intel graphics solution. Which is humorous because there were lots of problems with that on Linux.

      • Charles Profitt says:

        That is not true. You can get high-end displays with just Intel Graphics. I own two such laptops from Lenovo. As for the System76 solution it was a model that included an Optimus part, but it was running the Intel part only. I am not sure what they did to achieve that, but suspect it was a bios modification. With the high resolution screens being put on 10″ tablets I would think the cost for the screen on laptops is going down.

        • Ubuntu User says:

          I’m doubtful System76 modified anything. The company doesn’t have access to the BIOS source code. Thinking about it I want to say they might have worked around it with some hack. Anyway. It was a general statement. The point was there aren’t many high resolution laptops with Intel graphics. The fact Lenovo has a few or HP has a few doesn’t change anything. My point was there aren’t that many of them.

  3. MagicFab says:

    How about making Ubuntu Friendly distribution agnostic and merging its work into h-node.org / mergin both databases? This woul dof course require UF to clearly indicate what is supported by 100% free software.

  4. Ubuntu User says:

    This is a mistake. We have seen these projects come and go. They cost too much and achieve very little. Hardware that works today (including system76 hardware) won’t work tomorrow. And tomorrow is only a few days away. The problem is proprietary drivers and companies which don’t take the time to make sure there sources reach mainline (and/or other critical repositories).

    What we need is an economic incentive for companies to put the money into supporting free software. Not to tell users which hardware might work with some very specific version of Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Debian, etc.

    Hardware need to be “designed” for Linux. And that means it can be fully supporte din all aspects by the community. We shouldn’t just accept that it is “working” today.

    Right now it seems ThinkPenguin is the only company that realizes this. They are investing serious cash to fix the hardware problem and there doing very well as a result. The company is the only place you can readily find hardware that works out of the box and will continue to work with future versions of Ubuntu, Linux Mint, and dare I say completely free distributions. Everything ThinkPenguin ships has free drivers/firmware available for the critical chipsets. There is not a single item in there catalog that has stopped working in the five years the company has been operating.

    Compare that to System76, ZaReason, ZaReason, and other companies shipping with hardware dependent on propitiatory software. They have all shipped hardware (laptops) which stopped working shortly after there discontinuation. It takes nothing more than a simple search to find people complaining about it.

    Before you call me a free software fanatic consider this. I’m not. I just want working hardware and even the “open source” proponents are B****ing about the lack of cooperation from companies like NVIDIA and others who produce “good” proprietary drivers.

    • Charles Profitt says:

      I have not seen or heard of this issue with System76 laptops.

      Also, I think there is value to having a database like this for laptops from Lenovo, HP, Dell, Asus, Acer, etc.

      • Ubuntu User says:

        It isn’t anything specific to System76. It is just the drivers/firmware they depend on. I don’t know if I should or shouldn’t point out one *really* p***** off user although he created a entire site on it. If you can’t find it your not looking very hard.

  5. lembas says:

    This is a bad idea and will work to further muddy the waters and people will buy hardware that’s Linux compatible but not freedom aka Linux-libre compatible…

    Aaargh, if only Linus hadn’t caved in and approved binary blobs in the kernel… Of course this does not mean he couldn’t try to remove them any time he wants. Unfortunately his reputation suggests one should not hold his breath waiting for this change. I very much hope I will be proven wrong tomorrow.

    FUD, fear, uncertainty and doubt are already the major hurdles for adoption of free software. (Thanks Micro$oft!) This will only make matters worse.

    • Charles Profitt says:

      Not really following… especially why Microsoft would have anything to do with Ubuntu Friendly.

      • lembas says:

        Nothing. M$ is the champion of FUD on the other hand.

      • ahj says:

        Charles,

        All of the System76 laptops ship with wireless chipsets that require proprietary (aka non-free) firmware. Some of them also ship with nvidia graphics that require non-free kernel blobs, and their associated proprietary drivers.

        This muddies the water because the distinction between free and proprietary software found in ‘open source’ distributions like Ubuntu is blurred, especially when a company like System76 goes out of its way to exclusively ship GNU/Linux, but then decides to ship wifi that requires binary blobs. It begs the question: are these guys serious about GNU/Linux, or not?

        If they were serious about GNU/Linux adoption, then why not ship all their laptops with liberated wifi chips, such as the Atheros AR9285? This chip works without the need for any proprietary blobs, just use Linux at least version 3.0 and go. Whats the advantage of shipping free, i.e. liberated hardware? Well, the PC distributor is not controlled by the whims of a third party. If bugs need to be squashed, the community and/or distributor can fix it. Want to change the behavior of your wifi connection at the firmware level? Have at it horse.

        Companies like System76 who exclusively ship GNU/Linux ought to mention that such an OS is not only technically superior than its counterparts, but that it gives its users freedom.

        The ‘Linux’ community often prioritizes the functional and technical advantages of its widespread adoption, rather than the serious ethical issues that non-free software, often used in tandem with the kernel Linux, creates for its users.

        • Aaron Wolf says:

          Just wanted to add a thank you! I am a relative newbie to GNU/Linux and came to it because I value my freedom, not because I’m a computer nerd who understands the technical advantages (although I’ve since learned that those can be nice too). Thanks for emphasizing the ethics, and please keep it up.

          P.S. contact me if you’re curious: I’m founding an organization to try to better fund strictly Free/Libre development projects

  6. Pingback: Friendly Needs You! « Free Trader Beowulf

  7. 3rdwiki says:

    If “System76″ is Soooo F@#king Friendly, then why the heck is it not listed on the ubuntu friendly website itself ??
    Hey, Answer me that then … ??

    • Charles Profitt says:

      Ubuntu Friendly requires test results; my assumption would be that no one has tested one of their systems.

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