Linux: the girlfriend test

Task 3: Rip a CD

It may come as a shock in these downloadhappy times, but Erin still buys her music on CDs. She rips them using iTunes and puts them on her iPod Nano without any trouble. When asked to make a list of the more important things she uses a computer for, Erin put this task near the top.

Seconds after she put the CD in the Fedora machine's drive a box appeared asking her what she wanted to do. The options were to either play it with Rhythmbox or open it with Sound Juicer. The latter was clean, simple and functional: all Erin then had to do was click on the big 'Extract' button and Sound Juicer took care of the rest.

The songs were extracted using the open source Ogg Vorbis codec. Erin, like most other users, doesn't know what a codec is or that a song on a computer can be anything but an MP3. Storing the songs this way is all well and good if Erin only needs to play them on this installation of Fedora, but what happens when she wants to play those files on her friends' computers, or her iPod? It won't work, and she won't know why.

It's fine for Fedora to default to extracting music files as Ogg Vorbis, but it should inform the user of this the first time they run Sound Juicer. Erin should've been told what the repercussions were, and how she could use MP3s instead. If they want to be fully functional, distribution makers can't stick their heads in the sand and ignore the dominant standards.

Task 4: Send an instant message

To chat online with her friends, Erin uses the Windows Live Messenger client. Her first instinct was to go to the Microsoft website and download it. It's a Windows executable file, so her attempts to use it fail unsurprisingly and miserably. Linux's conceptual shift away from the Windows method of installing applications is simple once explained, but significant enough to confuse anyone uninitiated.

After a bit of exploring, Erin found Pidgin – listed in the menus as 'Instant Messenger'. As soon as she ran it, the first-time wizard asked her to add an account. Pidgin, being a multi-protocol client, confused Erin. She doesn't know what AIM (the default network) is, let alone what a protocol does. Moreover, using something like MSN doesn't involve having to add an account – you just log in. This should really be an option. Erin thought she was creating a new account on the 'AIM' network!

It wasn't until after three failed attempts that she played with the protocol option, found MSN and put in the right details. You're right if you're guessing that the first things she said to her friends weren't exactly favourable towards Linux!

Task 5: Create a pie chart in

If it weren't for, Linux wouldn't be nearly as desktop-ready as it is currently. The suite is mature, stable and does everything that most people need. Erin's attempt to use the Calc spreadsheet application went very similarly to her word processing attempt: smoothly.

Kudos to Sun for getting so heavily involved with the open source community. It's an excellent sign that Erin wasn't even surprised that it worked so well – she was expecting it at this stage.

Task 6: Put the ripped CD on to her iPod

Erin uses her Nano daily, and puts new music on it at least once a week. She uses iTunes and never has any trouble. When Erin plugged in the iPod, Fedora recognised it straight away and presented her with the option of opening it in Rhythmbox.