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Walt Mossberg is a very well respected technology journalist for the Wall Street Journal, and he was recently known for being the one to head up the Steve Jobs & Bill Gates interview. His articles typically revolve around either Windows or Macs, but his readers had been asking him to jump into the Linux side of things.

Mossberg was able to get his hands on a Dell 1420N laptop preloaded with Ubuntu. Right there you know he should have a great out-of-box experience since there shouldn’t be any hardware complications (such as getting the wireless card to work). That was partly true, and here’s a quick overview I put together of the good and bad things he discovered while using Ubuntu:

The Good:

  • It’s free and open source
  • Looks a lot like Windows or Mac OS X so it is easy to get used to
  • Runs on the least-expensive popular hardware configurations
  • Essentially free of viruses and spyware
  • Built and constantly improved by a world-wide network of developers

The Bad:

  • No control panel for adjusting the way the touch pad works
  • Every time the computer awoke from sleep, the volume control software crashed and had to be reloaded
  • Codecs had to be downloaded to play audio and video files, and the  user is warned that some of the codecs might be "bad" or "ugly"
  • Several computer reboots were needed to recognize a Kodak camera and Apple iPod, and the iPod had problems synchronizing
  • No built-in software for playing DVD’s
  • Nobody is ultimately responsible for the quality of the product, and open-source developers often have an imperfect feel for how average people use software

Are all of these things the fault of Ubuntu? Not at all. In fact many of the problems could be reconciled if the hardware developers would create proper drivers for the Linux operating system. Instead Linux distributions are often left on their own to make sure the different hardware configurations are supported.

Mossberg isn’t saying that all of these things are show stoppers, instead he’s just trying to get the point across that Linux isn’t quite ready for the mass market. He even quoted Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu’s founder, as saying "it would be reasonable to say that this is not ready for the mass market."

Here’s a 5-minute video that Mossberg put together to explain the details: