What I’ve learned deploying Ubuntu desktops in the community

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I’ve got some donated computers with me at the moment that I’m refurbishing them for aTek warning community group . I thought it’s be worth detailing some of the changes I make to the Ubuntu desktop for these computers before I hand them out again for use. I find that you do have to take into account what potential users may feel is the norm in terms of layout and use. This doesn’t make it better as users will often use the term “easier” when in fact they mean “more familiar” in terms of that’s what they’ve seen before or what their friends may have at home and encountering something different can be disorientating for them and quite simply they may not know of any other ways of doing things. You can’t preach to the windows converted, all you can do is make users feel at home and present them with less of a difference when being given a computer with an open source desktop on it rather than Windows . If you’re deploying to the right sector of the community then the free desktop will have less of a rough ride.

So I tend to keep the default orange Ubuntu desktop as is (at least it’s not brown anymore) but change the following:

  • Add the computer, home folder and web browser icons to the desktop
  • Move the applications bar from the top default and swap with the lower bar
  • Do all updates and add Automatix2 and sometimes easyubuntu programs
  • Add many extra programs including Skype, Songbird music management, Google Picasa , Google earth
  • Add the slab menu for user friendly program, prefs and system navigation
  • Make sure, as much as possible that the most common browser plugins and multimedia playback is configured
  • Add auto login to the default desktop
  • Make sure that Deskbar search is visible and enable beagle desktop search (nearest thing to Apple’s spotlight)
  • Community group deploymens get extra desktop lockdown and reset tools
  • Easy “How-to use” screencasts made available in the home folder or on CD
  • Add NX Free with no-ip client for any potential remote support.

I could deploy Windows 2000 or even XP on the right desktops through the Microsoft refurbisher program but frankly experience working with other reuse refurbishers has taught me I could be bogged down in support issues if not very careful. If I donate these machines and the user loads Windows from what ever source then great as that’s their responsibility and it give me a complete get out from some of the headaches of support. I’m not finding that I’m burdened with a high level of support issue with this setup though I am trying to be very targeted in who I’m passing these desktops onto and I haven’t positioned myself as a competitor to the high street (some peoples expectations for free or low cost refurbished computers can be a little high and it’s best to steer away from this demand as most of these people will stretch to the shiny new Vista or OS X desktop that they desire from the high street or elsewhere.

See also here for previous related musings.

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