Everex should have gone with straight Ubuntu

I’ve been slowly tweaking the way my family uses their computer to make it easier to migrate everyone to Linux. First, I completely removed Internet Explorer and got everyone used to Firefox. Then, I moved my wife off of her thick email client and onto Gmail. Next, I replaced Office with OpenOffice. Each of those moves was relatively painless. Spreading them out over time helped.

The kids were even easier. When they were younger, they used a lot of PC-based CD-ROM games and educational software. Now ages 6 and 10, they are exclusively into web-based Flash games and virtual worlds. All browser, all the time, although they do seem to enjoy tweaking their wallpaper, changing themes, resetting their passwords, and, oddly, watching the CPU performance graphs. They can out control panel most adults.

Anyway, the spare computer finally became unbearably slow compared to the primary machine and my laptop. I decided I’d get a decent monitor (20″ Dell Ultrasharp 2009W) with a low-end workstation. I went with an Everex gPC2.

I’ve been running Ubuntu for two years, and the gPC’s gOS is based on Ubuntu so I figured it ought to be easy enough for me to support. But I had to do a bit more work than I thought I should based on that fact that this was aimed at the masses. I mean it used to be sold at Wal-Mart for crying out loud. I guess the ideal target end-user is a single user who connects to the net to do absolutely everything. At first blush, my family fits that description. But they also want to share files on the local network. And they want their own login. And they want a decent file manager. And they want to be able to “switch user” instead of logging out to let someone else log in. These are all done effortlessly on Windows and fairly painlessly on straight Ubuntu. On gOS, these seemingly rudimentary feats require additional installs. For those already familiar with Linux, these are fairly simple. But for families without a command-line lover in the house, it would get very frustrating, very fast.

I pushed through it because I’m the only one that has to deal with installation and config. If my family is happy, and if they can get their “work” done without coming to the “help desk”, I’m happy. And at first, my family was excited about the new box. It started up fast, the UI was pretty (my son loved the Mac-ish iBar), and the browser and OO.o worked like they’d expect. After a few days, though, the bleeding edge nature of some of the gOS components started to turn into annoyances:

  • Segment fault messages on every logout meant an extra close the error dialog.
  • Fairly often, Firefox complained that it was already running. (This usually happened when someone had just logged out and a new user was logging in and starting up Firefox.)
  • There was no easy way to mount and navigate Windows shares in the file manager. (I did see a workaround involving Thunar and Fuse but Fuse seemed to be acting a bit fishy–I wasn’t seeing consistent good behavior there).
  • Reported system freeze-ups. (I never saw any of these first-hand).

After less than a week I finally had enough. What was the gOS buying me? Nothing. Instead, it was costing me time. Today I slapped in the Ubuntu install CD and never looked back.

I still think the $199 I paid for the Everex box was worth it. And judging from the partial success of the gOS experiment, the family is definitely not going to miss Windows. I wonder if there is a group of happy gPC2 users still using gOS out there or if Everex would have done better forgoing some of the eye candy and distributing with a straight Ubuntu install.