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Why Ubuntu needs better marketing


Ubuntu’s goal is to be the most popular desktop OS for humans. But Ubuntu, like most Linux distros, is still marketed towards Linux geeks. They’re concerned with technology, trumpeting version numbers and drowning out the actual things you can do with their software. Let’s look at the 7.10 announcement, and see how we can fix it next time.

Ubuntu’s goal is to be the most popular desktop OS for humans. But new versions of Ubuntu, like most Linux distros, are still marketed towards Linux geeks. They’re concerned with technology, trumpeting version numbers and drowning out the actual things you can do with their software.

We’re picking on Ubuntu specifically because it has higher goals than most distros – it’s Linux for human beings, not Linux for hackers. Unfortunately, the release announcements have forgotten what humans care primarily about: themselves.

Let’s fix that, by looking at how the 7.10 announcement could be improved.

In social dynamics bible How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie illustrates that since a human’s primary concern is themselves, you must show how something relates to them in order to convince them.

Most Linux announcements don’t do that. Instead, they talk about:

* Version numbers of components.
* That the software has ‘many fixes and improvements’ without actually mentioning what those fixes and improvements are. People who have used computers expect new versions of software to be fixed and improved.
* That particular packages have been added. Users aren’t informed how these packages are relevant.
* The vendors impressions that the software is good quality. It is assumed that the vendor things the software is good quality, or at least wishes to convey that the software of of good quality.
* Licensing terms for the software.

These problems affect most Linux communication, but interestingly, not all Open Source communication – Firefox and Miro’s marketing is superb.

The Ubuntu 7.10 release announcement suffers from these problems, and so does the accompanying press release.

The Ubuntu.com Front Page for the 7.10 announcement

The front page of www.ubuntu.com rotated between the following graphics:

1. A dictionary definition for ‘Ubuntu 7.10′ defining it as ‘The popular Linux based Operating System suited for desktops, laptops and servers. Noted for it’s ease of use, stability and freedoms.’
2. An animation with the words ‘The power of free software, on your laptop desktop and server. Smart, secure, easy.’
3. An animation with the words 7 generation of innovation. ‘7 generations of quality. 7 generations of Ubuntu.’

There’s a few problems with each of these.

1. Ubuntu’s use of a Linux kernel is irrelevant for most people, who are unaware of what Linux is. Most people use another word instead of ‘desktops, laptops, and servers’, that word being ‘computers’, and it should be obvious from artwork that Ubuntu does in fact run on computers. A grammar check is in order too.
2. How does software being free (which most people think of in terms of price) make it powerful? Which software isn’t considered to be be smart, secure and easy by the people who make it?
3. Again, everyone says their product is of quality. How is Ubuntu different?

More to the point, nowhere does it state how Ubuntu’s innovations benefit its users? Compare with Firefox, which says right on its front page that it will make my browsing safer, faster, and more personal. What will Ubuntu do for me?

Clicking the animation doesn’t link to anything – a usability bug, but beside it ‘Find Out More’ linked to the real announcement.

Nowhere on the front page of Ubuntu.com was Ubuntu actually shown. So how about this instead:

Ubuntu 7.10 is out

[a screenshot of the artwork]

* Get it
* Find out more

‘Get it’ would link to the download page

‘Find out more would’ would link to the announcement. The announcement, by the way, begins like this:

The Ubuntu team is excited to bring you the absolute latest and greatest software that the open source and free software communities have to offer. This is Ubuntu 7.10, which brings a host of excellent new features. You may also like to view the Ubuntu desktop screenshot tour.

Readers have a short attention span. The site only has a very short time to get it’s message across. The above contains a lot of information that is not relevant to readers:

* That the text is an introduction. We know that.
* That the Ubuntu team is exited – not relevant to us, and also a cliche.
* That the new software is the best so far. Well yes, Newer software is commonly better.
* The new software always has new features. It does, but the way to show that to out audience is to tell them what the new features are.

The entire paragraph can be changed to

Ubuntu 7.10 released today.

That was easy. Next the official announcement has:

New features since Ubuntu 7.04

Of course the features are new since the last version.

Moving on…

GNOME 2.20

Ubuntu 7.10 brings you the latest and greatest GNOME 2.20 with lots of new features and improvements.

What is a GNOME? What are the new features, and how has it been improved? Why do I have to load another page to find out why it’s better? Why not just tell me here? If readers investigate (which most people can’t be bothered doing), they’d find GNOME 2.20 has new security features, which allow them to better remember their passwords, and keep import files secure.

Most users suffer from password fatigure. Gnome 2.2.0 actually has a really useful feature which remembers all your website, file share and wireless passwords after you log on. You could also write about the new Evolution or File Management improvements from GNOME 2.2.o too, but the important things is the features, not the name and version number of the software. Geeks (who are not Ubuntu’s target audience) can find that out version numbers from the package list.

Moving on…

Desktop 3D effects

Compiz Fusion is enabled by default and will bring 3D desktop visual effects that improve the usability and visual appeal of the system. Ubuntu 7.10 automatically detects whether the hardware is capable of running compiz; if not, it falls back to normal desktop. Additional effects can be enabled in “System/Preferences/Appearance” under the “Visual Effects” tab. There you can also disable the effects entirely.

Again, irrelevant information is specified in detail, while relevant info is vague. What do these ‘effects’ look like? How do they improve usability, or make things more fun?

Since these effects are actually a big drawcard for many people to Linux, this paragraph should probably be at the top.

Desktop search

The deskbar applet is now included in the default configuration. It allows quick access to your common actions, including opening web bookmarks and searches, sending messages to your contacts, and more.

The Tracker indexer has been added to the desktop, making it easier and faster to search for your documents, photos, music, videos, chat logs, and all other files. You can use Tracker in the search dialog, the file selector, nautilus, or the deskbar applet.

What’s an applet? What is indexing? Good communication should be in plain language -’Configuration’ is a technical term, most people use ’set up’. Let’s put that in plain language.

Next the official announcement mentions…

Fast user switching

It is now possible to easily switch between user sessions without the inconvenience of entering your username or password numerous times, a time-saver on computers shared by multiple users.

Removing inconvenience isn’t a feature. Does this really warrant a mention? If we though it did, we’d combine with the file encryption update and show how Ubuntu 7.10 makes it easier to share a computer. But Ubuntu 7.10 has a lot of more interesting features, so we’ll just remove this paragraph entirely.

Firefox plugins in Ubuntu

Firefox now comes with an improved plugin finder wizard that allows users to search and install packaged plugins easily, bringing users a richer web-browsing experience with the integrated security support of the rest of the Ubuntu system.

In addition, users can now open the Ubuntu application installer with a list of packaged Firefox extensions available by clicking on a link in the Firefox Addons dialog.

Way too wordy, for something that amounts to ‘your Firefox plugins now get updated with the rest of your apps’.Again, more change than an exciting new feature. Our fix is to delete the paragraph.

Next we have:

Dynamic screen configuration

Several drivers, including ones for ATI, nVidia, and Intel graphics chips now support the X Resize and Rotate Extension (xrandr). This enables dynamic monitor detection, and resizing and rotating of video output, for no-fuss support for projectors and external monitors.

If you have this hardware and used MergedFB / Xinerama previously, you may need to update your X configuration to use this new feature.

Humans don’t know what in hell MergedFB slash Xinerama is. Specific driver support, and instructions for the tiny percentage of the general public who both use Ubuntu and manually configured dual head support, belong in the release notes, not the release announcement. Our fix is, again, to delete the paragraph.

Graphical configuration tool for X

You can now configure what driver you want to use for your graphic card, change the default resolution for all users or change your monitor’s refresh rate without having to turn to the terminal. A new GUI has been added making it easy to adjust your video and monitor settings. This tool can also set up dual screen capabilities for cards that use the Xinerama mode.

What’s X? What’s a terminal? Rather than telling me what I don’t need anymore, tell me what I have now: a simple way to configure monitor and video settings. But wait: it should have been simpler in the first place. This doesn’t sound like feature but a bug fix. Removed too.

Fully automatic printer installation

Printers are now automatically configured by merely plugging them in and turning them on. Printer setup cannot get any easier!

For once, the release announcement gets it right: short, punchy and relevant.No changes needed. Next we’ve got:

Handling of non-free device drivers

Restricted-manager can now handle drivers which are free in themselves, but which require non-free firmware or other packages to operate. Only three clicks are needed to fetch and install firmware for wireless cards with Broadcom chipsets, and for a number of Winmodems commonly found in laptops, provided that you have an alternative Internet connection.

When restricted-manager detects hardware for which a restricted driver is available, a notification window pops up.

Why would I have to pay for drivers? What is firmware? What is a notification window? This is an improvement in 7.10, but it’s a headache fix, not an improvement, and belongs in the release notes, not this announcement.We wield our editor’s scalpel again.

NTFS writing

While previous Ubuntu releases only supported read access to Windows (NTFS) partitions, Gutsy Gibbon now fully supports reading and writing to them, by integrating the NTFS-3g project. This significantly eases file and document sharing with Windows.

Most humans have no idea of what NTFS is, including the vast majority of NTFS users. Let’s write that in English.

Next we have:

Power consumption

Ubuntu includes the latest Linux kernel, featuring dynticks. It allows the processor to use less power and produce less heat. For laptops this means more battery life and burn-free laps and for desktops and media center PCs, a quieter, cooler environment.

Nice. Let’s put the benefit in the headline, and remove the jargon.


Encrypted hard disks

The alternate installer now given you the option to encrypt the entire hard disk (or individual parts if you partition manually). This provides robust data protection for laptops and other mobile devices which may be lost or stolen. Please keep in mind that this only protects the data when the machine is powered off.

Again, let’s put the benefit in the headline. Next…

AppArmor security framework

This easy-to-deploy kernel technology limits the resources an application is allowed to access and can be used to provide an added layer of protection against undiscovered security vulnerabilities in applications. Head to the AppArmor user guide to learn about this new security feature.

What’s a kernel? Why do I need to deploy this – and why doesn’t Ubuntu do it for me? Most humans can not roll out AppArmor, so if in fact that’s what’s required (rather than AppArmour just working like SELinux does in other distros), this section should be moved to the release notes.

Additional installation profiles for Ubuntu Server

New pre-configured installation options have been added to the Ubuntu Server CD. Mail Server, File Server, Print Server, and Database Server options join existing LAMP and DNS options for pre-configured installations, easing the deployment of common server configurations.

Great stuff. Users can now install a Mail server, or a LAMP server, or whatever else, out of the box. So say that in the title. That said, server stuff belongs in a separate page – since most humans don’t run servers. The same applies for ‘Profile-based Authentication Configuration’ and ‘Improved thin-client support‘, so we’re skippi

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