About three years ago I made a rant about Linux, how it wasn't ready from prime time and may never be. In three years, things have changed, but that truth remains.
I got very excited by Ubuntu Karmic Koala, especially the netbook remix (UNR) which I thought was not only a good option for my own netbook, but probably a great option for my parents, who are struggling with the tiny icons and the cluttered, badly disorganized Vista/XP start menu. The desktop paradigm shift, turning it into a pertinently categorized giant menu instead of the typical waste of space, is I think a stroke of genius for non-tech people.
I decided to push forward and refurbish one of my old-but-not-so-old desktop with Ubuntu UNR and try to migrate my parents, mainly my dad, over to it. They have the most basic needs computer users can have. Browse the web, email, IM and crunch numbers in OpenOffice Calc.
So I brought the computer over for a full day of training and migration. Taught my dad about the cloud, set him up with a gmail account so he could now use IMAP instead of POP with both his current Vista laptop and new UNR desktop. Installed dropbox so he could work on his OpenOffice documents on both PCs as well. The idea was to keep his options opened.
Most of this may sound rather mundane and basic for the tech-savvy, but teaching those rather new concepts to people in that age group is a serious and somewhat debilitating experience. Nevertheless I was rather pleased with the results.
On a sidenote, I found out to my dismay that for some reason half of his spreadsheet weren't made with OpenOffice (which I had installed on his Vista machine a while back) but with Works (Ugh!) so I had a conversion job to do (openoffice doesn't open works spreadsheets). That added about an hour to the whole process.
Near the end of the day I noticed he was comparing his on-screen spreadsheets with the printed copies, to see if I had done my conversion job properly. That reminded me that we hadn't plugged in the printer yet. I told him we should take care of that now.
He started to look for his drivers CD and I just said "No need for that, just plug it in". He didn't believe me "You need a CD to install a printer" he retorted. At that point I was showing a sort of arrogant smirk, because I knew that when he would plug in the printer and it would work right away, he would be so impressed.
The printer was a kind of mid-inkjet-era standard, default, run of the mill Lexmark z816. The kind that's on sale every other week. I couldn't possibly imagine that such a printer wouldn't be supported by default. And yet printing on this device was absolutely above and beyond what Canonical's new operation system could deliver.
Googling this problem revealed dozens and dozens of forum posts of people with the same printer and problem, and little solutions outside getting a new printer. A few people mentioned a long and horrible series of command-line operations, package download, conversions and so forth. These posts were followed by a rather high percentage of people saying it didn't work, or it worked with one version of Ubuntu but not another. That was the end of that.
Conclusions : "Congratulations Dad, after a day of hard work you now have, cluttering your apartment, this giant useless brick thing that can't do shit for you. I know you hate Vista, but guess what? VISTA PRINTS".
Few words could describe the rage and disappointment I felt after basically throwing away a vacation day down the garbage. Linux being a free and volunteer-type rig, it's hard to be mad at them for failing to support this printer. I think the printer industry may very well be guilty here. Guilty of requiring so many specific drivers for such a basic task.
I am disappointed that once again, the little OS that could, didn't.