Must-Have Missing Features in Ubuntu

Monday Jul 9th 2012 by Matt Hartley
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Users switching from Windows to Linux can use these alternatives to compensate for missing features.

I feel a certain kinship with newer Linux converts. Switching to Linux on the desktop is definitely a unique experience that many of us tend to forget. For instance, the need to stop and think about where a tool’s located can be challenging for newbies.

Similarly, anytime I need to use Windows 7, I find myself doing a double-take when trying to launch Linux programs like Synapse! I click the keys, only to remember that I'm on Windows, and not my Ubuntu box. I guess old desktop computing habits diehard.

For people who switch to Linux, they may find themselves missing select features. Not features that experienced Linux users consider groundbreaking, rather options that are considered 'nice to have' by those from the Windows side of the fence.

In this article, I'll look at some of these missing items, and offer comparable alternatives.

System Restore

Ask some users of newbie-friendly distributions such as Ubuntu about 'system restore', and they might tell you such a feature is available for Windows only. Ask someone who's more familiar with the Linux options, however, and they'll likely mention that rsync is the next best thing.

Unfortunately, though, rsync itself is best suited for system administrator personality types who feel comfortable in a command line environment. Therefore, I recommend meeting in the middle with the following solution: a rsync front-end known as Back in Time. I've found that Back in Time offers the same level for ease of use that's found with Windows' System Restore.

I have used this snapshot tool countless times, and let me say, I think that Back in Time must have software for most Ubuntu users. As a matter of fact, I suspect it works just as well on other Linux distributions as well. After all, it's just a GUI to the mighty rsync snapshot tool.

Legacy Software

I haven't been in a position where I've needed to purchase software in years. Fact of the matter is, the software I use on any platform is either freeware or it's open source. On my various Linux PCs, including my main Ubuntu rig, open source software is the only way to go.

However, some newcomers to the Linux space may be frustrated when a needed application doesn't work well within WINE. Worse than that, there may not be an appropriate open source alternative to this Windows-specific software title.

In instances like this, legacy software users are forced to make a choice. Boot into a Windows-based PC or use Windows in a virtual machine.

In either case, they still need a copy of Windows to run the application. Thanks to Windows licensing restrictions, this creates a number of problems for those who may have misplaced their Windows license key, or it simply won't work.

Trying to ween users away from legacy software is, to be honest, extremely difficult. Worse, WINE and virtual machines aren't a very elegant solution. Suffice it to say, there often isn't a fix for this problem.

A Driver Disc

Despite hearing rather dated horror stories about Linux hardware not working out of the box, desktop Linux distributions like Ubuntu offer very solid hardware compatibility. Based on this, one should be able to go to any big box store and purchase whatever peripheral they desire.

The idea, of course, is that it's going to work immediately once it's attached to the Linux-based computer. In nearly every instance, I've found this to be true. This is especially true with printer/scanner combos that normally require the included driver disc that comes with the device. Yet unfortunately some devices, such as select Epson printers or various wireless dongles, might not work as expected.

This is where – once again _ Linux experience will outshine Linux distribution documentation. In the case of a problem with an Epson printer, if it happens to not work, chances are there are drivers available for download. (Note: I only selected Epson as a fictional example. Overall, Epson is well supported in Linux.)

As for wireless dongles, you're going to find yourself presented with the following choices. Option one, the wireless dongle is simply working out of the box. Option two, the dongle is causing the restricted driver manager to nag you about installing a restricted driver. Option three, it simply doesn't work.

With option three, the included driver disc is of no use for Linux users. While some lesser known companies offer an exception to this rule, it's rare.

So what is the best solution then? Sadly, even in 2012, we still are presented with two basic options when it comes to peripheral support. Option one is to try random devices. Thankfully, as stated previously, this generally works fine. The second option is to rely on dated hardware compatibility lists for specific distributions. I usually opt for option one myself, as most stuff works fine out of the box.

The smarter fix is to see Linux distributions such as Ubuntu doing a better job at making supported peripherals easier to find. Instead of linking to useless fluff like backpacks and messenger bags, how refreshing would it be to see shop.canonical.com pointing to a store filled with affiliate links for supported devices.

Canonical's not in the hardware business? Too bad, they need to at least make sure newer users can find devices that will indeed work.

Because running to the local big box store and asking about Ubuntu compatibility is only feeding the Microsoft FUD machine. There is zero excuse for this. Paste a simple disclaimer at the bottom of the site, along with the statement that all compatibility is based on Linux, not just Ubuntu, and they'd be good to go.

Sadly, I know this will never happen. After all, it's not a 'service' to be sold, so Canonical can't be bothered with such an obvious concept. It's a shame, really.

Offline Software Availability

The last issue I wanted to address in this article is about offline software availability. For those people who come from a Windows background, the idea of using a stack of discs to reinstall software has been programmed into their brain. While for most Linux enthusiasts, this is handled by calling up software repositories for their favorite software titles.

So how does a new Linux user adapt to this need for physical media? Especially if they're not in an area where broadband Internet is readily available? Well, for Ubuntu users, I would recommend APTonCD.

Even though it needs to be installed over the Internet itself, one could grab the deb package from the developer's website and take it to an offline PC. From there, you can use APTonCD as a way to get all the goodness of APT _ without an Internet connection. Use this software to transport or backup software from one PC to another. Using APTonCD is a great alternative for those who are used to keeping their software on physical media, like they did on Windows.

Missing or Not Missing

Are we Linux users really missing anything that Windows users enjoy? While there may be some challenges presented, with select peripherals or legacy software, distributions such as Ubuntu provide a very satisfying experience.

Overall, I may find that there are some painfully obvious areas for improvement. However, I would sooner stop using a computer than fall back into using a proprietary operating system full time. Ubuntu, and other distributions like it, make using the computer both fun and functional.

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