12 ideas Ubuntu should steal from Windows 7

21st Jul 2009 | 13:55

12 ideas Ubuntu should steal from Windows 7

What Karmic Koala needs to do to lure Windows users

Boot times, encryption, help files...

Contrary to popular belief, Vista's many quirks haven't done much to change Microsoft's domination of the desktop.

Even by the most flattering measures, Windows has only lost around 3% of its market share to Apple's OSX over the last two years, while Linux has surged from powering 1.25% of desktops to... um... 2.13%. [Source: w3counter.com]

These numbers are significant – after all, they suggest almost twice as many people use Linux now as did back in early 2007. They don't really point to a mass defection from Microsoft, though, and as the common consensus points to Windows 7 being much better than Vista, there's no reason the trends couldn't be utterly reversed.

By happy coincidence, the next version of Ubuntu, the most popular distribution for those who do switch, is launching exactly one week after Windows 7 hits the shelves. Codenamed Karmic Koala, we're loving the alpha version already, but here are some things that Windows does that Ubuntu should (but probably won't) do, to help woo people away.

1. Better boot time

Canonical, the creator of Ubuntu, reckon it has got this one in the bag, but then it said that about Jaunty, too. Windows 7 isn't always as fast at booting as is often claimed either, but it has the reputation for being quicker than Vista. Karmic may well win yet, though: Canonical is aiming for a 25 second boot time by completely overhauling the way the OS loads.

2. Improved suspend and hibernate

Windows 7 seems to have nailed this one at last, after problems plagued Vista, and more especially XP. Ubuntu is still where Microsoft was four years ago, though: there's a lot of hardware – especially laptops – that struggle to return from standby.

3. The taskbar

If you install Avant Window Navigator, Linux has arguably the best user interface of all three major OSes, taking the simplicity of OS X's dock but combining it with a Windows-like system tray and start menu. Out of the box, though, the Gnome panels still look like they were torn screaming from the desktop of an Amstrad 1512 and skinned.


4. Kid control

It may be low on the priority list of FOSS devs, but even the most libertarian of us know that children can get up to no good, and it's our responsibility to help them learn to use computers safely. Some of Windows 7's Parental Controls have been retrograded from Vista, but at least they're there...

Parental controls

CHILD SAFE: It not be the first priority of the FOSS movement, but Ubuntu should start thinking of the kids

5. Help!

The universal panic button, F1, does bring up an HTML help booklet in Ubuntu, and if you want to know how to do something you used to do in Windows, it's a good place to start. There's almost no mention of one key word, though: 'Troubleshooting'. The Ubuntu forum is a good resource, but you have to admit Windows isn't bad at hand holding when you run into a problem. Which is why you hit F1 in the first place.

6. Drive encryption

Ubuntu comes with basic folder encryption, but the process of setting it up is a bit complicated for new users. It throws terms like 'PGP' on the unsuspecting, where BitLocker simply asks you for a password and then locks up.

Media, syncing, backup...

7. Side by side view

Linux, and particularly the Compiz window manager has long been way ahead of Windows and OS X for productivity stuff like multiple desktops and navigation. Despite the banality of Windows 7's Desktop Peek – why introduce chalk outlines of open windows when you've been able to press WinKey+D to make them vanish completely for years? - there is one neat trick Microsoft does that the Compiz team should steal immediately, and that's being able to drag documents to the side of the screen to immediately maximise them for viewing side by side.

8. Better sound system

There are problems with Win7's software only sound stack, but Ubuntu doesn't even ship with an equaliser by default. Surround sound is a far off dream for many Ubuntu users, and while Karmic will bring native support for Creative's X-Fi and – theoretically – a less error version of PulseAudio, setting up advanced audio in Windows 7 is simple and intuitive in a way Linux fans can only dream of. It's just the output that's rubbish.

9. Windows Media Player

Stop laughing all you clever WinAmp snobs. Windows Media Player may not be the best for a Microsoft system, but have you tried using Rythmbox, which ships with Ubuntu? Forget about controlling UPnP hardware elsewhere in the house; you can't even share its library without convoluted set-ups. And you can't tag songs with genres. Karmic Koala may end up featuring the slightly prettier Banshee, but only if it gets vastly improved over the next two months. Ubuntu needs a single, modern media player for music, DVDs and downloaded video that doesn't crash when you plug in an MP3 player. Simple.

Windows mediam player

EASY MEDIA:Even a switch to Banshee in Karmic won't match the simplicity and capability of Media Player

10. That syncing feeling

Phones, PDAs, USB drives - you can plug almost anything into Windows and get it working without much effort, but syncing anything with Ubuntu is a painful and often pointless process. Admittedly Cloud services like Google's Contacts are making it less relevant, but getting music onto an iPhone is a still a no-no. On the same subject, Bluetooth modem tethering is still hit and miss, too.

11. Better back-up

The new back-up tool in Windows 7 is versatile, easy to use and infinitely configurable. You can install something similar in Ubuntu, like Back In Time, but why on Earth isn't it there by default?

Windows backup

BACK UP:Windows 7 has got the interface for easy back up bang on. Everything should be this simple

12. User Access Control

Bear with us on this one. While the superuser function of Linux means it's very stable and secure, it's frustrating trying to change something – like graphics driver settings – only to hit the save button and find that nothing happens. Or delete a file that isn't owned by you without going through sudo in the terminal. What UAC does right is recognising when you're trying to do something you aren't allowed to, and prompting you to enter the administrator password there and then. The console is cool, but it's not for everyone.

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