Ubuntu makes Linux brilliantly simple

I may a relative latecomer to Ubuntu, but I wanted to share my first impressions as a couple of offline conversations have shown me that even the ‘digitally aware’ aren’t always that familiar with it.

And it seemed like a good time to post about it, as the latest version is released today, Thursday, April 23, 2009.

I’m not a technical person (As @pjeedai can testify!).  I may work with technology, but the reason I’m fascinated and entranced by it is because of what it enables us to do.  And although I’m always interested in speaking to brilliantly technical friends and colleagues and keen to learn more, time and a lack of natural ability generally mean I don’t get the chance to play around with technical stuff as much as I’d like.

Yet telling people I’m running Linux seems to have given a couple of people the opposite impression!

How hard is it to install Ubuntu?

It’s just as hard as installing any commercial O/S.

Which means it’s as easy as putting a CD into your PC, switching it on, selecting the language you want, and hitting return a couple more times.

That’s it.

Honest.

And having been a big fan of Firefox, OpenOffice and Gimp for a longtime, the fact they’re all automatically installed means an even easier life.

Why bother?

It’s free. That’s for personal and enterprise versions.

It comes with full commercial support for Canonical and other companies.

The Open Source nature of the O/S and software means, and I quote:

‘Every computer user should have the freedom to download, run, copy, distribute, study, share, change and improve their software for any purpose, without paying licensing fees.’

From the page on Ubuntu’s philosophy.

What about actually using it?

It’s not that much different from the Windows O/S you’re likely to be used to, and as a PC user, it’s less of a jump than trying to use a Mac.

(Although I still feel a little weird being told to ‘Mount’ and ‘Unmount’ removable hard drives and card readers etc!)

I’ve only been using it for a couple of days alongside Windows on my work computer, but so far I haven’t encountered anything which didn’t make sense after a couple of seconds.

And the best bit?

At the moment, Ubunut/Linux is still very much a minority O/S compared to Windows, which means hardly anyone would bother creating a virus to target it, especially as Linux makes it harder for a virus to run effectively.

So it’s another reason for switching to a Mac off the list for this PC user!

The latest version is available today, Thursday, April 23, 2009, and there’s a fairly short but interesting interview with Ubuntu CEO Mark Shuttleworth on InformationWeek.

So if you can ignore the fact your O/S will come with a version name like ‘Jaunty Jackalope’, I hope you’ll excuse me while I go and mount another hard drive.

Why I wish I’d invented Twitter…

Like most people with a career/interest in the online world, I’ve spent a fair amount of time coming up with ideas for internet startups and businesses. Some are quite fanciful, but others have a reasonable business case behind them. And sometimes, some were implemented by other people because I didn’t move fast enough or didn’t have enough passion.

But just about the only thing I wish I’d invented was Twitter, and it’s nothing to do with the money.

Instead, my wish is because Twitter is becoming successful due to a convergence of various elements which combined into a perfect storm. And on the timeline of digital communication, from IRC and newsgroups, through forums and silo’d and semi silo’d social networks, Twitter is the beginning of the next stage of an evolution which is perhaps 20% of the way to it’s ultimate evolution.

Twitter’s perfect storm:

  • The ability to initiate conversations and self-form communities of purpose (Thanks Dave) on the fly.
  • The integration of fixed internet and mobile.
  • The simplified nature of the core service – 140 characters, @ replies and # hashtags. That’s it…except…
  • The external ecosystem and open API which has produced an almost infinite list of tools and services -meaning there’s almost a suitable tool for every individual user, and if not, wait another minute and there will be!
  • The growing understanding of the utility of providing customer service quickly and efficiently – leading brands towards the idea of VRM.
  • It’s asynchronous, with the ability to be synchronous.
  • It’s ‘Many-to-Many’ communication.

Those are just my initial thoughts – I’m sure there’s at least a couple of things I’ve missed. Do add more in the comments.

20%? Really?

There’s a tendency to see the existing state of things as continuing forever – but nowhere is that further from the truth than in the digital (Fixed internet and mobile) world.  For example, from Friendster (2002) , to Myspace (2003), to Facebook (2004), to Twitter (2006), to Friendfeed (2007). (Dates from Wikipedia).

There are still large numbers of people who don’t have access to the internet throughout the world (whether via PC or Mobile). There are large numbers who don’t see the value and haven’t joined a social network. And there are countless companies and businesses who aren’t even close to understanding how to use new channels effectively, and the effect it will have on their business strategy and practices. And advertisers (and therefore lots of the money in content), are way behind.

But there’s a growing number of people who are familiar with the principles of the Cluetrain, even if they’ve never read it. They’re picking it up by living as part of it, and as my friend Tim recently commented on one of my blog posts,

I can’t wait to see the next generation do something with the mature version of the tech having grown up with it being nothing to be afraid of…

But while we’re waiting, the older generations are coming to Facebook and Twitter – and whether or not you’d pick Friendster, Myspace, Facebook or something else as the definition of early Web 2.0 and the social networked world, I’d guarantee Twitter would be the main name quoted for the next version. And there’s nine more before we even get to Web 3.0!

Sometimes you see marketing everywhere…

Sometimes it seems I do little other than see, hear, plan or produce marketing. Whether it’s a flyer through my door, an email in my inbox, or a message via a social network, I’m receiving a huge amount – and there’s even more via snail mail, TV, radio etc.

But sometimes something simple stands out, and this one made me chuckle. Today at work, I decided to go out to the smoking area at the back of the building, and on a low wall outside was a pile of 20 or so lighters, all branded with the name of a local pub. Underneath was a sign saying ‘Please take one’.

Either someone just wanted rid of a pile of lighters, or it was a reasonably simple targeting of the people most likely to actually need a lighter – especially now that smoking is banned in pubs in the UK!

In the midst of sophisticated marketing and targeting techniques utilising databases, touch points and insight, sometimes doing some simple and old-fashioned actually stands out.

If you want a busy homepage, let your users organise it

My interest in web design is generally based on usability and accessibility, due to the fact I’m not the most artistic person in the world. I can appreciate attractive designs, but there are far better people than me in the world at creating them.

But something has struck me that I think could be a good rule for web architecture and design, based on my own experience of website redesigns, and trying to cram an awful lot of information onto a homepage in the fear that if it doesn’t appear, no-one will ever see it or find it. So here it is:

If you’re forcing homepage contents on your users keep it simple. If you want it to be cluttered, let your users pick how they organise it – or what it on it.

This is backed up by a few examples. For instance, Google is the oft-quoted archetypal example of a very simple homepage. And one that could make more money for the company if it was covered in banner ads – but that would wreck the essence of it’s success.

Meanwhile users can be overwhelmed by busy homepages – but when was the last time you saw an empty Facebook or Myspace profile, or an empty Netvibes page? Users are happy to have a cluttered page, as long as they’ve been able to create and organise the clutter – just the same as people are happy to work at a cluttered desk if they’ve worked out the clutter themselves.

The recent BBC homepage redesign is a good example of moving in this direction -without hopefully overwhelming too many users. Personally I was disappointed it’s still a walled silo of BBC content only – but it’s a start.The Google homepage - keeping it simple

An example Netvibes page created by a user

Testing new systems…

A quick post today, as an idea has just struck me…

If you’re explaining how to use a new system or work process, and you find yourself apologising for the complexity, or for anything that doesn’t make sense to the user… that’s probably a sign it’s not quite right.

And that includes the often overlooked Admin functionality…as well as the user experience…

Remember kids…always try and make it more simple to use than it is already.