#2: Granny’s new camera

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

This is one post in a series, describing challenges we need to overcome to make free software ubiquitous on the desktop.

Power users love Linux.  It’s fast, customizable, personal, tweakable, and they can make just about anything work. Most peripherals can be made to work with Linux, it’s just that you normally need to wait a little while or know how to write the appropriate drivers or glue.

Office productivity workers love Linux too if all they do is web, email and a bit of office. They love it because it doesn’t go down for maintenance, it’s not subject to the same barrage of viruses and other defects for which Windows is sadly notorious. You can configure it as a thin client system and greatly reduce the total cost of ownership in these scenarios.

So the ends of the spectrum – the power users and the don’t-mess-with-my-system users, are already well serviced by Linux, and it’s getting better for them every six months. It’s the middle crowd – the guys who have a computer which they personally modify, attach new hardware to, and expect to interact with a variety of gadgets – that struggle. The problem, in a nutshell, is Granny’s new camera.

You gave Granny the PC last Christmas and set it up with Ubuntu because it Just Works. Everything’s peachy, no viruses or spyware, you can administer it remotely whenever you think it needs a bit of polish, and as far as you’re concerned it’s great. But then your brother gives Granny a new digital camera… and it only has drivers for Windows.

Solving this requires work at two levels – first there are possibly some drivers, and second there need to be relevant applications to manage the gadget’s content (music, photos, videos, GPS tracks, etc) and administer the gadget (firmware updates etc).  As Eric Raymond has said – kid’s just want their iPod to work.

My own feeling here is that it’s all about critical mass. Once 5-10% of the people who buy these gadgets are running Linux (actually, a single brand of Linux), only then will the gadget manufacturers themselves start to care about it as a consumer platform for which their stuff should work. That goes for everything from cell phones, PDA’s, and smart phones to some of the more weird and wonderful things that people like to drive from a PC, like laser cutters and 3D printing machines. It’s partly just a matter of time, but then it’s also partly a question of how we communicate the state of Linux today (just like the issues in “pervasive support” (challenge #9).

The situation is definitely improving. To the extent that Apple continues to use free software components like CUPS, we benefit in the Linux world because printers that want to Just Work with MacOS will also Just Work with Linux. That’s a nice boost.

64 Responses to “#2: Granny’s new camera”

  1. Josef Assad Says:

    “A single brand of Linux”? Why?

    I think the model where the hardware publishes specs, or releases generic linux (tarball) drivers and then leaves it to the distros to package works just fine.

    Would you support the release of ubuntu-packaged drivers for $RANDOM_HARDWARE over releasing a tarball?

  2. Mike Says:

    yup, that’s me. The guy in the middle. It has gotten better but most of us “guys in the middle” are a little scared to make the leap and with good reason. It’s hard and it takes your time to pursue this stuff. I think the pay off is there in the end or I wouldn’t do it.
    For example, I installed Ubuntu and it worked swimmingly until I tried to install the flash plugin, that broke and I have never gotten it to run. It’s frustrating to not have flash and to search the web for solutions to primarily hear “yeah, that’s an issue”. When I have found solutions, they have been poorly explained and black box like, I’m just downloading scripts and punching numbers. Maybe that’s where Ubuntu could improve next. Standardizing work arounds.

  3. Herzi Says:

    Nice article, Mark. Cameras are a very good example of problematic hardware: https://launchpad.net/ubuntu/+bug/56090

  4. Björn Bergqvist Says:

    You are absolutely right. My mother and her husband (age: 60+) has Ubuntu on their computers. I hear about scanner not working sometimes.
    – if you are running linux, you assume that the problem is that you are running linux.
    – if you are running windows: you see if the cables are attached, you install a new driver, it’s never windows fault.

    It’s almost like I want to say: Buy yourself a copy(or 3) of Windows, then I don’t have to bother anymore. I don’t know windows :-)

  5. aguafuertes Says:


    interesting read, as always, especially because I have a different view on how to obtain a significant market share. I agree that “just works” has to be achieved, but I do think that passionate users are way more important on our way to fix bug no. 1.

    I cannot help but read this post in the binary driver context, and I got from one of your previous posts that you think that “just works” takes precedence over “open and free” in this specific situation – something many people are passionate about.

    My own, admittedly little, experience is that “just works” is just not enough – even with perfectly supported hardware “normal” people would have to “learn” a new system and new software – which is inconvenient for many. That’s why I believe that only people actively switching to Linux for some other reason (freedom, legal at no cost) than “just works” will become satisfied users in the long term.

    I’m convinced that we need more multiplicators – people actively willing to spend time and knowledge to “educate” friends, family etc. over a longer period. People with passion, who have the patience to provide “service” every time those “normal” users experience inconveniences. And in my experience, those people are passionate about the whole idea of Free Software.

    In conclusion, I believe that “just works” does not create passion – it is something everybody agrees on. In contrast, the concept of free software is highly controversial – people are passionate about it. And as I believe that passionate users are crucial on the way towards significant market share, I believe that every decision should try to accomodate those users before “normal” users (=consumers).

    But, as you have by far more experience with Open Source and business, I’d really like to see the situation from your point of view – maybe I’m totally off the mark with my own perception of the “ecosystem”. Can you explain where exactly your reasoning is based on: your own experiences, your intuition or empirical research at Canonical? I guess it is a mixture, but can you share some formative details that shaped your opinion?

  6. Pete Goodall Says:

    You make some good points. However, I think what will get the manufacturers attention is really a combination of most (if not all) of the factors you have outlined in this series of posts. When it comes down to it, we need to make it worth their while. In this industry we are stuck in this “catch 22” (to coin a phrase) that is difficult to overcome, as you have so aptly outlined. Our quickest route to prominence, if I had to pick one, is the system integrators: Dell, HP, and IBM.

    Just one nit-picky detail. Apple actually has a special exception for the cups license, and many of the drivers provided are proprietary. From the cupsys-bsd licence:

    “The Common UNIX Printing System(tm), (“CUPS(tm)”), is provided
    under the GNU General Public License (“GPL”) and GNU Library
    General Public License (“LGPL”), Version 2, with exceptions for
    Apple operating systems and the OpenSSL toolkit.”

    Under the exceptions section it specifically states that manufacturers creating drivers for any Apple operating system are exempt from the requirement to publish source code for their drivers. Now, I imagine the project made such a deal because they hoped to gain more in other parts of the system. While gaining stability and security are nice, those drivers would go a long way to helping solve the problem you outlined here. For more information on Apple’s GPL v2 exceptions for cups, see /usr/share/doc/cupsys-bsd/LICENCE.txt.gz.

  7. Martin Williams Says:

    The price of Vista is going to turn a lot of people towards Linux.
    Although Vista has AeroGlass it also has DRM, a higher virus and failure rate, a lot of existing software wont run on it and a lot of hardware neither….
    Linux is just about ready, with Beryl/Xgl/compiz and it’s ever increasing ‘ease of use’. I think 2007 might be a very good year for Linux :-)

  8. Roy Schestowitz Says:

    Manufacturers are fooled by the perception that there is no demand, due to Microsoft’s OEM chokehold. I believe Mark (you) ought to conduct/sponsor a study which reveals the installed base of Linux worldwide and proves manufacturers that they are being ‘fed’ false figures.

  9. jose hecia Says:

    I agree with Roy Schestowitz.

    You said there 8 million Ubuntu users, but people keep saying the “Linux is less than 1%” thing, but What are the REAL numbers?

    If there are no numbers, Microsoft will keep convincing companies to choose Windows.

    If there are no numbers, no company is going to sell linux (there is no demand, they say)

    Any time I connect with Synaptic, My computer can be counted for sure. We need numbers!!!

  10. Charles Kiyanda Says:


    Alternatively, couldn’t linux users communicate to companies that they want their devices to “just work” with linux. How do I tell pentax that I want my new digital camera to interface better with linux? Or my gps receiver? How about everytime a linux user shops for a new device, s/he sends an e-mail to the companies he’s investigating saying:”Does your device interface with linux, more specifically (insert distro name) linux?” Nevermind if the user or the company follows suit, could letting them know accomplish anything to convince them to support a distro of linux? Hopefully, the one I’m using. :)

  11. Andrew Chilton Says:

    You’re right and until that happens, sometimes I find it hard to tell my brother/mother/whoever to install Linux over Windows. It should just work!

    The good thing about have one Linux distribution occupy 5-10% of the market means that once the new shiny gadgets work on that one distro, it’s a simpler matter to get it working on the other distros too.

  12. John Says:

    I think you’re a little off in your example scenario, it’s not digital cameras that are the problem anymore, virtually every single digicam that now rolls off the assembly line supports standard USB Mass Storage and/or PTP modes and so just work (especially with Digikam). Webcams are a bigger problem at the moment, but they too will go the way of digicams, there is a USB standard for video that some manufacturers are also moving to.

    The real key here is not to ask manufacturers to write Linux drivers, the idea is to get them all to support a single open standard that works on Lin/Win/Mac with minimal effort and expense for the manufacturer. That’s an argument they will understand.


  13. Simon Allen Says:

    Hey Mark, nice post!

    I agree with what you said, Linux needs more market penetration, many users (including myself) have given up a lot of spare time to help the really new to Linux, people find it tough.

    I constantly hear things like: “Linux is free so it must not be good”, “Windows is popular it must be good”, “Linux is hard” (to a certain extent for newbs it is) and “nothing runs on Linux”. It annoys me that Microsoft had basically just choked the market for so long and has pretty much made it impossible for new users to have ANY alternative, a simple example is their boot loader; it does not detect any other OS (besides from windows) as standard and can confuse people when they try a dual-boot.

    I will be happy the day bug #1 has been solved, should be soon…

  14. Anonymous Says:

    >They love it because it doesn’t go down for maintenance, it’s not subject to the same barrage of viruses and other defects for which Windows is sadly notorious.

    Three falsehoods for the price of one; I am quite impressed, Mr. Shuttleworth.

    Sleazy smear campaigns are for those with no strengths of their own to put forward, a situation Linux is not in. Linux does not need you or your ilk to represent it.

  15. verevi Says:

    How about a “Works with Ubuntu” badge on hardware and software that does. I’d buy an Ubuntu branded or relabeled laptop. The brand has been built up nicely to imply stability, value, ease, and openness.

    Then, I can just tell Grandma, “Get the one that says ‘Works with Ubuntu’ on it and you’ll be set!”

  16. Michael Cordingley Says:

    Near as I can tell, the biggest problem preventing Linux from growing into a significant force in the market is a distinct lack of advertising. Imagine yourself as a non-technical user, and this computer appliance you bought is chugging along just fine, even if advertisements occasionally pop up and your homepage occasionally gets set to some dubious page. You get to talking to that kid down the street who seems to know a few things about computers, and he gets to talking about how he can hook you up with some software that’s not only cheap, but free, even. In addition to that, it’s better in all of these ways, half of which don’t really make any sense. Your first reaction isn’t likely to be “Hey, that’s great!”, but rather one of suspicion. After all, nobody gives these things away for free. If they do, it must either be part of something else or have a catch. Maybe this software is just a knock-off of the real thing. Linux is completely alien to the average user. As an unknown quantity, it is met with distrust. Perhaps the best way to build trust and awareness of FOSS is for the Linux vendors to co-sponsor an advertising campaign that targets more traditional media and audiences, not to discuss the differences of various types of software, but merely to introduce Tux to the masses. Get them to realize that there is an alternative, and it is serious enough of a player to have backers able to advertise it.

    Basically, consider Linux (or a selected distribution) as a new product. In order for this product to gain acceptance and “sales”, it needs to be marketed, just like any other product. People have to know that it exists and want to “buy” it. Referring to the Product Life Cycle of Marketing lore, the first stage is to introduce the product and inform potential customers about it. In so doing, a brand (for something completely “new” like Linux) is established. With a brand, people then begin to develop trust as well as various other opinions. It almost functions as an anchor for their collected impressions. After an initial impression is made and the typical consumer knows that there’s this Linux Operating System as an alternative to Windows and MacOS, then the persuasive message can be sent and we can see real growth.

    Unfortunately, the very thing that makes the development of FOSS so rapid and powerful, the distributed nature of the community, makes pulling together for certain more “corporate” functions very difficult. My suggestion is that Canonical, Red Hat, etc. pool a certain amount of money together and use it to hire a top-notch marketing exec and pay for a series of advertisements that promote awareness of Linux and begin to drive demand. With that, hopefully enough of a foot-hold in the market can be established for hardware and software vendors to finally take note of Linux and start supporting it.

  17. David Gagnon Says:

    I find it somewhat interesting/ironic that you use granny’s new camera as an example for this topic, because in my personal experience with Ubuntu, one area where I noticed Ubuntu shines, is how easy it has been for me to connect ANY cameras to it, and have plug and play support. Even an old camera that needs drivers under WinXP, just works under Ubuntu…

    Anyways, your point still makes sense and is true for a lot of devices, although I just feel It’s already pretty good in the case of cameras… :)

  18. Tiberiu Cristea Says:

    Finally, someone said it: the hardware manufacturers would start providing (better) support, provided that a powerful distro gathers at least half of the Linux market and the Linux market share increases to, let’s say, 10%.

    In this balkanized FOSS world, we need a distro “dictatorship”. I believe Ubuntu is able to get there.

    Goodluck, Mr. Shuttleworth!

  19. Chuck Moser Says:

    Spot on. The day HP ships each and every print/scan/copy machine with three cds will be the day I can dump MSwindows for good. Setting up hardware on a linux system is a nightmare for me. I spent hours searching the internet in an effort to determine if a certain HP all in one machine was supported. I found the model number on the list, and it was, apparently, well supported. Wrong. I spent even more hours updating, configuring, swearing, all to no avail. Until hardware manufactures decide to go the distance with linux support I will continue to use the system that does “just work”.

  20. Anonymous Says:

    I agree with the post, users shouldn’t have to faff around installing or even making drivers, stuff should ‘just work’, it’s the truth.

  21. james Says:

    ok, so we get this “5-10% of the people who buy these gadgets are running Linux (actually, Ubuntu),” you’ll probably get your wish, linux drivers, but they’ll be binary only, riddled with bugs and security problems, need to run in the kernel and be unsupported whenever the device reaches its next iteration. What we really need are open specifications for devices, so that open source programmers are able to write decent, working drivers optimised for their specific operating system. Vendor written drivers are also often pretty badly written (the intel’s gigabit ethernet drivers come to mind) and buggy.

    In addition, if said gadget is usb, the specific class of device should have a standard interface to its functionality, and getting drivers specifically for one device instead of a class of devices is no victory.

  22. Dusty Says:

    Would ubuntu and its users settle for buggy, bloated binary blobs? I’m sure there is a different way to achieve “just works” like getting manufacturers to OPENSOURCE the drivers so that they can be easily ported to ALL the opensource distributions.

    Mark, with your position in the community, it’d be more beneficial if you walked into SIS offices and said “WTF!>?!??! come now guys, give us SOMETHING to work with”

    I would like to see more driver support in other distributions, as long as the drivers are opensource and i’m not compromising my system so that i can plug in my digital camera.

    sis/nvidia/ati/usb “gadget” makers/wireless network card makers all need a good lashing, they need to wake up to the real world. Not everybody runs windows, and for that matter, not everybody runs ubuntu or even any linux flavours. opensource drivers would be better for EVERYBODY not just happy linux users.

  23. Mark Theunissen Says:

    I couldn’t agree more, I’ve just moved all my desktops to Ubuntu, and I’m trying to become an expert so that I can start giving it to my friends and family and confidently promise them support when they need it. The big problem is not just Granny’s camera, but also those ‘freebie’ disks that come with magazines such as the Financial Mail (South Africa), and are designed to autorun in Windows. Telling my dad that he can’t use his free disks would be enough to put him off Ubuntu completely (even though they’re normally just crappy advertising – it’s the perception that’s the problem).

  24. happy penguins love to dance Says:

    @Roy Schestowitz:

    “Manufacturers are fooled by the perception that there is no demand, due to Microsoft’s OEM chokehold. I believe Mark (you) ought to conduct/sponsor a study which reveals the installed base of Linux worldwide and proves manufacturers that they are being ‘fed’ false figures.”

    Yes, we need to know what the true state of the OEMs is today. How HAVE things changed? How many stores can I walk into and buy Ubuntu on a computer preloaded? I can count zero at the moment, how many can you count? How many computers have Windows only preloaded on them? How easy is it to get a refund (for Windows being preloaded) for buying a computer with Windows when I don’t want Windows? Shouldn’t the FTC, EFF, or somebody be looking at the state of OEMs today?

    People can say what they want about Shuttleworth, but those with wagging stink tongues spouting only nastiness usually have an agenda which is anti-Linux and anti-Free.

    Because of Shuttleworth, Linux has been elevated to the public’s awareness so much more than any other attempt I’ve seen to date by any one individual. This is what is lacking in Linux being on the desktop: solid marketing done right. Shuttleworth knows how to do it and we need more people like him.

    Linux would have better drivers for devices had it enjoyed the luxury of being the only preloaded OS at the OEM level. We will have better driver support for Linux, but it — freedom — takes time and effort. The more people speak out about the current state of affairs, the better.

  25. chris penn Says:


  26. Jarkko Laiho Says:

    A bit of a manifesto here. Mark, I hope you read this…

    In order to reach any mentionable levels of ubiquity, Linux needs to be bundled with sold PCs by the millions. The Ubuntu Foundation has money behind it, and it shows in a lot of places. But it needs to show more. The world needs desktops and laptops specifically branded and certified for Ubuntu. Think “Intel Inside”. Have HP, Dell, Gateway and the rest dedicate whole lines of strongly branded desktops and laptops to Ubuntu – machines that work 100% with Linux, with all devices and functionality fully supported. Think Centrino. Make the machines cheaper, make them seem more attractive than the Windows alternative. The marketing effort needs to be immense. Make them the obvious choice, the logical choice, the better choice. Think iPod.

    If all of this requires a few binary drivers, then so be it! The advantages hugely overpower the disadvantages. With Linux gaining ground in the desktop market, open source drivers will probably slowly seem like a better idea even for the current binary-only dunderheads. Motto: always prefer open source, but go with binary when that’s the only way.

    People calling for open source drivers all around need a wake-up call. Yes, it’s a nice utopia, but it’s simply not going to happen. The sooner the zealots deal with this fact, the sooner we have a fighting chance to see any significant desktop Linux movements in the market. Freedom is immensely important, but it can’t be seen as all-important in all of the cases all of the time. The idealism is seriously hindering any significant progress for Linux on the desktop. Here’s a bold assertion: for the sake of Linux’s mass consumer future, the freedom zealots need to be ignored, and pragmatism chosen as the flavor du jour. If you say, “I’d rather see Linux as a marginal player in the desktop than see any binary drivers in Linux”, then you, specifically, need to be ignored ASAP.

    The Ubuntu Foundation is quite a powerhouse in the Linux world already, so it would be a logical choice as the frontrunner of such an undertaking. MS won’t make it easy, but given their antitrust troubles of late, it’s not impossible. I can’t imagine HP, Dell et al actually being completely satisfied under Microsoft’s foot. Any one of them perhaps won’t dare do it, but all of them together, I’d think so.

    Individual retailers doing minimal bundled Linux selling is insignificant. The needs to be done with millions of machines, as a market force to be reckoned with.

    Final note, though: work on polish, cross-OS interoperability, usability and maintainability before going there. Too much utter crap-for-software on Linux at the moment.

  27. thedudeinlondon Says:

    Critical mass yes, but how come it’s the fedora project that’s started to try to get a verifiable count of the number of live fedora machines out there ? And the critical mass will be reached faster if the main distros join force in evaluating their user base.

    Single Linux what ? hardware support require kernel drivers. there is only one kernel that matters. Why would we give up the Linux ecosystem for a single version/brand of the stuff ?

    Cmon Mark, you start sounding more and more Like Linspire….

  28. Cameron Says:

    SIS ? Pardon me but I wouldn’t touch SIS hardware. Period.

    On another thought, I do think that in the future the hardware companies will opensource the drivers, I mean in my mind there is no gain for a hardware company to keep the drivers closed source. Plus that, even if the hardware has drivers for Windows only, making them opensource would make the job easier of porting them by the Linux community.

    And on the last thought, yesterday evening I installed the Ubuntu 6.10 on my Asus F3Jm notebook and it worked flawlessly. I needed to do some project and was in a hurry, but I figured it would be a good moment to play a bit, so I downloaded Debian, Gentoo, and of course Ubuntu. Guess which one of these installed and found the needed hardware without an intervention from me ? I do have arround 10 years of overall Linux experience but sometimes you just want things to work. You are not always in the mood for tinkering.

    Congrats Mark and Ubuntu team for a job heavenly done.

    Period :) /*I do enjoy saying that*/

  29. macewan Says:

    End user joe here and I’ve not sure there will be too many Grandparents moving to Linux and expecting a new camera to work. If someone is going to purchase or recommend a computer for Granny unless they really dislike the elderly *badbadVista.orgy* – they will probably suggest an Apple computer.

    At this time I just do not see Gramms as an area that needs lots of attention.

  30. Alan Pope Says:

    To the anonymous person:-

    >>They love it because it doesn’t go down for maintenance, it’s not subject to the same barrage of viruses and other defects for which Windows is sadly notorious.
    >Three falsehoods for the price of one; I am quite impressed, Mr. Shuttleworth.

    They’re flat out not false.

    The only reason I reboot my Linux machine (to perform maintenance) – both desktop and server is to replace the kernel, and I rarely do that. Pretty much anything else that is updated – applications, daemons and so on, require no restart of the machine at all. This is unlike the Windows experience of “breathe near it and reboot, and you get no choice”.

    There is no where near the number of viruses targeting the Linux desktop as there are poking at Windows. That’s an indisputable fact. Ok there are holes in server products, but that happens on both sides of the camp, and this blog post seems more targeting the desktop sector than server market, where you (should) have competent admins making sure they are protected anyway.

    There *are* defects in Windows which I am glad I don’t have to deal with on a daily basis now I run (Ubuntu) Linux. Every time I go to visit my accountant there is something new wrong with their computer that I need to look at. Every single damn time it’s some oddball windows issue. My father and sister also run Windows and they also have stupid issues to contend with. Many of these are not Windows faults per-se but to do with the way that applications are deployed or libraries are managed. My wife and brother both run Linux – I almost never hear from them because they just don’t have problems, it just works..

    ..and on that subject – back to Marks post.

    I support my brother with his Ubuntu Linux computer. He is two hours drive away and I see him maybe 3 times a year. I setup the computer for him initially and added all the necessary stuff to get him going. Since then he has asked me about buying a printer/scanner/copier, a digital camera and an MP3 player. Without fail the three devices Just Worked. The printer – an HP PSC1610 acts as a printer and works as a scanner using standard Ubuntu supplied packages. It also has a card reader which auto mounts when he puts media in the slot. His digital camera works, and he can download pictures from it and manage them on his Linux desktop. The MP3 player I bought for him and made sure it worked under Linux first before posting it to him. I knew that he could just plug it into his computer and start using it.

    So, yes, Linux (and specifically Ubuntu) is so definitely ready for some desktops, as Mark says, the people at either end of the scale (I am at one end, my wife and my brother are at the other). There are people I don’t think I’ll even try to convert yet – my sister who has 3 daughters who play lots of games, or my father who does a lot of video editing, or my father in law who has to support Windows applications that he uses at work, from home. But as far as I can see, as each 6 month release cycle goes around, those users are more (and not less) likely to switch to Linux.

    Well done Mark, keep it up.

  31. comp_user Says:

    I think there are a lot of areas Linux needs to improve on before it can become a mass consumption desktop operating system. One of the biggest single issues I think a lot of new users face is the lack of a universal installer of some kind. I suppose you could argue compiling from source fills this gap, but its not appropriate for the casual user. There needs to be a defining standard in this area that is supported on all distributions of Linux. I think a lot of software companies aren’t going to rush to get out a version of their latest applications in .tar.gz, .rpm, .deb and so on. They will however rush to get out a .exe for Windows mainly because of the market share but also because of the universal support on all versions of Windows for .exe. This may also make people from a Windows background more comfortable because they will be familiar with downloading applications from websites and installing them via a wizard, as opposed to querying a repository to find an application. I’m not suggesting remove the command line, or compiling from source, simply make alternatives more readily available and accessible for those less technically inclined.

    I guess you could say device drivers and such fall into the above category. People want their hardware to just work, and with Windows 90% of the time it will. I think a big step for Linux would be getting would be more proprietary drivers out of the box. I’m no expert on this, but I’m guessing it goes against the ethos of open source software, and there may be legal issues, but I think this is something well worth overcoming to reach a wider audience.

    Just my 2 pence worth.

  32. hairball Says:

    “[5-10% of people] are running Linux (actually, a single brand of Linux)” — so, is that your agenda? After undermining Debian now you are going for Linux, too.

  33. Robin Says:

    The issue is companies trying to control access to their products. Just play doesn’t work in Windows either in many cases. I hear about it weekly about a new piece of hardware that the drivers don’t work “just right.”

    There are standards for devices that hook up to a computer that allow these devices to work without any special drivers. I got an iRiver mp3 player that needed special drivers for Windows and Linux to work but iRiver also provided an update that allowed the player to work as a USB device. Same with my Pentax digital camera.

    In the case of Granny getting a new camera, I would return it to the store and let them know that it doesn’t work in Linux and let the company know by not purchasing their products. An email on the side doesnt’ hurt either.

    I have done this in the past and I will do it in the future as well.

    A Mac is an option but two of my family members both have experience with Mac’s and still prefer Linux.

  34. baird Says:

    The Granny scenario is a great example, as exactly the same thing happened in my family. Except the camera was a printer and a scanner, and the Granny was my mother. The brother was still my brother…

    My mother had asked specifically that Linux be installed on her computer, something I did NOT want to do. She has been at my house, witnessed the extreme lack of drama involved in using Linux that my wife experiences, and decided on her own that she would like the same lack of drama at her house.

    The problems she has had are the same as those experienced by anyone not running Windows. Namely, driver support for new devices and specific software that others in the family rave about that will not run on Linux. She was completely happy running Linux. To be honest, I moved her back to Windows because I’m too busy to be the only person in my family for her to call for support.

  35. William Ortel Says:

    Mark –

    There is incalculable power in flawlessness. Word of mouth takes care of itself after a while, just be right.

    You’ve already got an intelligently designed piece of software that appropriately harnesses the fundamental power of the open source community. The issue, as you state, is “pervasive support”.

    …But there are things that already support Ubuntu. Why don’t you create a Universe/Multiverse system like the one that’s used for software? Create a simple way for people to figure out what works with Ubuntu (or any other version of Linux), and your work will not go unrewarded. Ubuntu is already growing rapidly in popularity, and the 5-10 percent point that you speak of is not far away.

    There are already hardware manufacturers that support and will continue to support Linux. Catalog their products, offer a review forum, and create a way for individuals to give input to the hardware manufacture process.

    If you start with what we have, and make it work, eventually it will be beneficial for OEM’s to be members of the Ubuntu universe. Documentation and accessibility, though is what we need.

  36. Granny’s new camera: Shuttleworth calls for wider hardware support » KOKYUNAGE NEWS » Says:

    […] “It’s the middle crowd – the guys who have a computer which they personally modify, attach new hardware to, and expect to interact with a variety of gadgets – that struggle. The problem, in a nutshell, is Granny’s new camera.”read more | digg story These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. […]

  37. Granny’s new camera: Shuttleworth calls for wider hardware support » KOKYUNAGE NEWS » Says:

    […] “It’s the middle crowd – the guys who have a computer which they personally modify, attach new hardware to, and expect to interact with a variety of gadgets – that struggle. The problem, in a nutshell, is Granny’s new camera.” These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. […]

  38. smbdy Says:

    it seems somebody did not realize that manufacturers don’t exactly like linux os bacause linux people generaly do not like closed source drivers. So they are not getting it.

  39. Esteban Barahona Says:

    Periphals are a significant part of what makes a PC useful. But what about the PC itself? Shouldn’t the free software community start making hardware? Any free distro (even a *BSD or Solaris one) that is developed and tested to run in a subset of current hardware (which, as a whole, is a LOT) will probably help with “the brand recognition of the free software community”, and with serious 3rd party apps and drivers.

  40. Seth Brundle Says:

    Its kinda scary that this post is even newsworthy, it is pretty much the story of the problem with desktop linux’s entire history.

    Linux needs to eradicate the umpteenth number of package management systems to one, which installs with a double-click, and never concerns the user about dependency conflicts, and whose packages can be easily built and distributed by anyone.

    This is a problem which can be solved by the Linux community internally.

    As for hardware support, you need to solve problem #1 first so you can build up the userbase enough for hardware vendors to make Linux development worth their time and money (because it requires both), and they need to distribute their own drivers which can be distributed with Linux, because no one is capable of making a better driver then the hardware manufacturer itself.

  41. Venkat Bhamidipati Says:


    Nice post and I’d like to add my 2 cents.
    Whenever people want to promote linux, they say its much better, its free, its secure etc. And the desktop users complain that its hard to learn, hard to install, drivers wont work etc.
    Everytime I go to Bestbuy these days I’ve been observing their GeekSquad service. Earlier I thought who would want to pay somebody for installing some stupid antivirus software etc. But to my surprise, many buyers are paying them $150 to get those antivirus, spyware installed and create a recovery CD.
    In other words people don’t want to get their hands on even the most easier stuff like click, click, click done and instead would be ready to pay if some company does it for them.

    Then I realized it might be possible that 70-80% of desktop users never installed windows as well. They just started using it as it comes with desktops and laptops preloaded. So common desktop users would consider an alternative choice if it comes preloaded with machines (like MacOS). But Macs come with huge price attached with them. that’s why though most people like it its marketshare is so huge.

    Linux has a huge advantage here. If Ubuntu can provide a low cost alternative to Windows meaning preloaded with atleast one big manufacturer (may be Dell), then I’m sure people are willing to try it given the frustration with spyware and malware on windows. Its just that they don’t want to get into installation and all that stuff.

    I myself am looking for a preloaded Ubuntu laptop to buy though I can set up on my own :)


  42. ljb Says:

    Funny that you mention Mr. RTFM when talking about recruiting users. He’s more responsible than Microsoft for our low market share.

    The question is how you get users. What does Linux offer that Windows doesn’t? It would happen if WalMart were selling Ubuntu pre-installed on lower-end hardware for $300 less than a low-end Vista machine. It would happen if there were a $50 million “Get Secure” marketing campaign. Send copies of Linux books to your local library for high school kids to read.

    It won’t happen if you stumble around and boast to every 30th Windows user that Linux is “closing the gap” with Windows. Lack of drivers is a problem, but that won’t be fixed until there is market share, and by itself will not give market share.

    And by the way, how do we know there aren’t enough users? The problem is that there is no easy way for Linux users to find compatible hardware. After making a purchase, you send a note to the manufacturer that you purchased because of Linux support, and send a note to the other manufacturers that you purchased from a different company because they lack Linux support. I’m just not convinced that there are too few Linux users.

    We are missing some pieces, and it would be nice if the community could fill them in.

  43. Leo Says:


    Have you read the following petition? https://wiki.ubuntu.com/NoBlobsByDefaultPetition . Please read it.


  44. Andrew Says:

    Might be a little bit long but…

    Jarkko Laiho – I’m afraid I’ll have to disagree with your stance on binary drivers.

    I think the ideal solution is a balance between idealism and pragmatism, encouraging open source drivers in every way possible without selling the core ideals of Linux out to commercial interests for short-term convenience.

    Closed source drivers should only be tolerated when there is no comparable FOSS driver, the vendors are willing to competently maintain it themselves. and full OSS reverse engineering of the product is near impossible, such as with graphic card drivers.

    There is far more against them then just blind FOSS zealots. There are plenty of technical and social reasons why not to allow them freely and to only tolerate them under our terms.

    1. Binary drivers are inflexible and will likely slow down any open source projects that rely on them, see X.org development for an example and the amount of time they’ve been waiting for graphic card vendors to implement the new features they want. The OSS ATi drivers were doing AIGLX a few weeks after it was announced, where FGLRX hasn’t even got them working to date.

    2. Binary drivers are often insecure and difficult to fix. There was a security bug in nVidia graphic drivers that took a month or so to get patched. Security bugs in open source products often get fixed in under a week.

    3. Binary drivers/codecs/blobs aren’t cross platform. See the state of multimedia and hardware support on PPC systems. One of the biggest advantages of Linux is the number of platforms it currently runs on and the fact that it can easily be adapted to run on future architectures like Cell.

    4. Freely allowing binary drivers discourages vendors from providing real OSS drivers. For any hardware vendor, releasing OSS drivers opens them to a tiny degree of risk from patents and competitors. Insisting on OSS drivers means that everyone has a level playing field.

    5. Binary drivers may be legally questionable derivative works based off the Linux kernel. nVidia gets away with this because their driver features an open source shim which provides an interface to run a userspace blob of code which is most likely based on their Windows drivers. Some other drivers that are compiled directly against the kernel would be considered illegal under the GPL.

    6. No longer updated binary drivers become useless. If a binary driver stopped being updated, what will happen when we go to kernel version 2.8? We’d be stuck with providing a bulky compatibility layer (unlikely) or scrapping the driver completly.

    7. Binary drivers can remove support for legacy hardware at any time. A recent update of FGLRX removed support for 8500 – 9250 Radeon cards. Those users can now use the OSS drivers, but it goes to show that depending on binary drivers to provide support for old hardware is not wise.

    8. Binary drivers make OSS developers angry. There have been quite a few discussions on the kernel mailing lists about devs getting fed up with fixing bugs caused by closed modules. This lead to the incident a month or so back where one of the devs suggested a patch to warn users that closed modules won’t be supported after a certain date. That patch was shot down of course, but it’s just a symptom of a wider problem. Why should our developers have to care about someone else’s crappy code?

    9. Binary drivers often can’t work “Out of the box” like open source drivers can. Once a OSS driver is in the kernel tree it should work in nearly every distro with that kernel, where as many other desktop distros are against including closed source components and the chances are it won’t work. This causes a negative view of Linux as a whole.

    10. A trivial short term gain for a serious long term pain. Let’s just say Ubuntu decided to preinstall every closed source driver under the sun. How much marketshare would that gain us? I would say not a lot. Hardware support is only a small issue preventing Linux from taking the desktop. Many users rely on Windows only applications/games and are not satisfied with the quality of FOSS equivalents and the vast majority have never even heard of “Linux” or “Ubuntu”. Hardware support is important yes, but quality applications and marketing are more so.

    What would happen in the early days of Linux is Linus himself decided to release his OS under a BSD license because it might “boost his marketshare” compared to the GPL? Why is Linux the dominant *nix operating system instead of FreeBSD which is much more closed-source friendly? The GPL may be ugly at times but the fact that it’s bought us this far proves it’s value.

    Are we willing to sacrifice the entire philosophy that bought us to this point and risk our long-term future in exchange for a tiny slice of fleeting marketshare? That’s not pragmatism, that’s stupidity. Good pragmatism is balancing your ideals against reality, not forgetting your ideals all together.

    Pragmatism is saying “Though closed source drivers are fundamentally bad, sometimes we must be willing to make a sacrifice and work with them if we have no better options”. Not “anyone who dissents against closed source drivers must be silenced for the good of Linux” and calling everyone who doesn’t share your view a “freedom zealot” wishing for a “utopia”.

    Ubuntu and Canonical may have produced the current most popular Linux desktop OS however you must understand that all they do is repackage the work of others, add some extras and then release it. Ubuntu is not a “powerhouse”, merely the current focus point for a powerful community. Without the whole Linux community, Ubuntu is nothing.

    Patience and a steady hand is the key. Every year Linux slowly moved forward on the server and now is moving on the desktop. We are not getting any smaller. Everything is improving steadily and we’re drawing closer and closer to our competitors in more and more areas. I doubt there will be one mass exodus from Windows to Linux, just steady growth. We’re in no danger of being wiped out and in a very healthy state.

    I don’t see anything wrong with Ubuntu distributing ATi and nVidia graphic drivers (uninstalled) on the same media (CD) as Ubuntu and offering the user a choice to install it (with details about the issues involved, info about alternatives etc…) during the installation process of the Ubuntu OS. I believe this is allowed under the GPL, provides education to the user and still encourages OSS friendly vendors.

  45. Jmac Says:

    There needs to be some sort of comprehensive hardware support wiki and it would be great if it were backed by a distro like ubuntu or a consortium of distros (maybe this organization can also certify hardware as being fully supported on Linux). It seems like now the only way to see if a particular piece of hardware is supported is by googling it (which has mixed results), observing the outrage in your distro’s forums (I’m sure anyone that frequents any linux board is well aware of ATI’s crap linux support), or by using the very frustrating buy and try method. I think the first step is empowering the community to make the right hardware choices.

  46. De IT y cosas peores » Grupos de usuarios Says:

    […] Pueden leer la entrada completa en el blog de Mark Shuttleworth.   […]

  47. Meriblog: Meri Williams’ Weblog » links for 2007-01-13 Says:

    […] Mark Shuttleworth » Blog Archive » #2: Granny’s new camera Great discussion of the different types of users that need to be taken into account for Linux to “break” the desktop. (tags: hardware linux opensource ubuntu usability usercentreddesign users) […]

  48. Scott Templer Says:

    Well in any OS when is it normal to have 2 drivers for the same thing. For instance Amarok will transfer my music to my ipod and my podcasts to my ipod and list my podcasts in the podcast menu on the ipod, but will not display Album art (i know there is a work around not my point) Banshee will transfer my music and display my album art but not seprate my podcasts from my music. The point is both comunicate with the ipod using 2 different libs. go figure. For gadgets to be succsessful when we write apps let not try and reinvent the wheel. this would speed things up in some areas. In others, how many cameras can you buy Mark. tell you what, buy all the gadgets you talked about and 1 of every Mfg and every model then send them to the developers of the respective apps drivers what have ya. Then they /Might/ be able to reverse enginere it’s communication with the computer and come up with a way to make it easy for Granny and the kid who wants his iPod to “Just Work”. Most Linux hardware developers can get there hands on the devices this is why we have them in linux the Odd balls or brand new ones take time. And I don’t see ATI or Nvidia opening there drivers if we just “deal with it”

  49. anger in my heart Says:

    I bet a lot of the people who don’t want Ubuntu to have nvidia drivers and the like by default (or to choose this at install) are double-talking hypocrites who enjoy using closed source drivers in another distro and just want to try and limit Ubuntu’s advancement.

  50. Mr Frosti Says:

    As Ben Collins (Ubuntu kernel maintainer) says, “I’d like to see a better GUI (actually any GUI, since none exists) for device driver management.” One exists in Windows, and although difficult to use, at least something exists. If I encounter a device that doesn’t “just work”, I find step 1 is always going to the terminal – and that is where you lose your middle crowd. In Windows Vista, this device manager is even more confusing, giving Linux a chance to pull ahead in another area.

    If Linux had a consistent API for driver interaction across all distributions, this would satisfy what the PC and hardware manufacturers are calling for. As it stands now, ATI is making a RPM for SuSE / Red Hat, and an installer that generates packages for 10+ additional distributions. How does that make sense for a hardware vendor to develop? It doesn’t.

  51. Mo Says:

    I honestly agree that encouraging manufacturer support for a single brand of Linux is the way to go. Not in order to lock out other distros/trees, but for precisely the opposite.

    If *all* Linux distros co-operated competitively (I know that sounds wrong), then the sort of aggressiveness that builds will lead to an ever improving core, and whatever specification set a single brand of Linux manages to woo a manufacturer, that specification will be unequivocally adopted by the others. This is open source/free software of course!

    Holding the door open arguing “after you sir” “no, after you sir” all day will do nothing. Ubuntu wants to be THE Linux, no other distro has made it so clear. And it likely will as it is the most powerful distro out there, on many levels (arguably). I would love to see hardware with ‘Ubuntu [Hardware Specification Set Name Here] Compatible stickers as that really is the start to making a physically visible dent.

    When I see the Ubuntu logo on hardware in Dixons and PC World, then I’m certain that Linux is ready to put on the boxing gloves.

  52. Ubuntu-blogi » Arkisto » Uutisia ja lainauksia, viikko 2/2007 Says:

    […] “So the ends of the spectrum – the power users and the don’t-mess-with-my-system users, are already well serviced by Linux, and it’s getting better for them every six months. It’s the middle crowd – the guys who have a computer which they personally modify, attach new hardware to, and expect to interact with a variety of gadgets – that struggle. The problem, in a nutshell, is Granny’s new camera.” – Ubuntun kehittäjä Mark Shuttleworth arvioi Linuxia eri käyttäjäryhmien kannalta. http://www.markshuttleworth.com/archives/76 […]

  53. its about time» Blog Archive » links for 2007-01-11 Says:

    […] Mark Shuttleworth » Blog Archive » #2: Granny’s new camera “This is one post in a series, describing challenges we need to overcome to make free software ubiquitous on the desktop.” (tags: opensource linux ubuntu hardware compatible challenge) […]

  54. Its not all Sunshine and roses. Says:

    […] It was on the third hour of reading forums and checking configurations and checking settings that I realised that in many ways we in the community we call open can sell our selves short. We underestimate the willingness of the end user to prevail and learn about their technology and we undersell the value of the support community we have established. Given the recent Mark Shuttleworth posting regarding grannies new camera I felt my experiences  on a purely windows basis alone were worth sharing with the open source community. Reading the forums and investigating this problem leads me to believe that it may be time to revisit some of our “established” prejuidices and beliefs about users and operating systems.The evidence would  suggests that the sun isnt shining any brighter on the other side of the fence. […]

  55. Lesley Clayton Says:

    Yip it would be great to see more linux for the gadget world

  56. Fern Rimbaud-Molini Says:

    Mark: Agreed, we need to continue to put pressure on the manufacturers to support platforms that are important to their customer base.

    That said, it is an uphill fight similar to the one we have with browser support and other technologies. Most of us don’t use IE or Office and we need to be very vocal about what we as consumers need whether it is the OS, the web interface or an open file format in which to save documents.

  57. stefan.waidele.info » Blog Archive » Shuttleworth: Challenges for Free Software Says:

    […] #2: Granny’s new camera – Vendor-support for the latest, cool gadgets. […]

  58. Chin Wong Says:

    Hi Mark,

    I’ve enjoyed your posts on the challenges we need to overcome so much I wrote about it in an article called “Almost famous” for one of the national dailies here in the Philippines. I’ve also posted the story on my blog:


    Ubuntu has come a long way in a really short time, but you are right when you say we need to 1) make it even easier to use, even for Granny, and 2) spread the word, not only about its benefits but also about how many people are really using it–as a way to encourage more hardware manufacturers to support Linux.

  59. Brad Whittington Says:

    I was thinking about grannies camera, and spec’d up this feature for launchpad: https://blueprints.launchpad.net/launchpad/+spec/hardware-compatibility

    I would appreciate some thoughts and insights?

  60. nasrullah chinnarassen Says:

    i want to know if printer f380 Hp is compatible with ubuntu

  61. Mighty Linuxz » Granny’s new camera: Shuttleworth calls for wider hardware support Says:

    […] read more | digg story […]

  62. Hardly Any Hardware Works on Ubuntu Linux! | Ubuntu Linux Help Says:

    […] “…it’s all about critical mass. Once 5-10% of the people who buy these gadgets are running Linux (actually, a single brand of Linux), only then will the gadget manufacturers themselves start to care about it as a consumer platform for which their stuff should work. That goes for everything from cell phones, PDA’s, and smart phones to some of the more weird and wonderful things that people like to drive from a PC, like laser cutters and 3D printing machines. It’s partly just a matter of time, but then it’s also partly a question of how we communicate the state of Linux today…” You can read his full post here: http://www.markshuttleworth.com/archives/76 […]

  63. 451 CAOS Theory » 451 CAOS Links - 2007.01.10 Says:

    […] Granny’s new camera, here be dragons, Mark Shuttleworth (Blog) […]

  64. hardware » Blog Archive » Granny’s new camera: Shuttleworth calls for wider hardware support Says:

    […] read more | digg story […]