Beta Ubuntu Vs. Beta Windows: Good Experience?Is the nature of human interaction with the manufacturer a valid parameter when selecting an operating system?

Before Windows 7 was officially released, I accepted Microsoft’s invitation to download and install the beta release version. The computer I put it on was a home built one that still exists. The installation went easily, but I got the expected number of error messages which were duly reported back to Microsoft. Eventually the formal release version was available, but I declined to update on that machine. Instead, I kept it as a test bed for various things. Eventually I installed Ubuntu on it, which went through several iterations up to version 11. I only installed release copies of Ubuntu, not betas.

Last week I decided to download and install the beta version of Ubuntu 12.04 on the same machine. It hiccuped a bit over the fact that there was already a valid installation, but I told it to go ahead and overwrite everything. The results were similar to installing the beta version from Microsoft with one very interesting difference.

Setting up dual monitors in Ubuntu is not the same as doing it in Windows; sometimes there is a problem with graphics drivers, and sometimes there is a problem with me. This time a different problem arose. The beta system booted correctly to the master monitor, but ignored the secondary one. Not to worry; I opened the Nvidia graphics application and started to ponder over the various settings. It was quickly determined that I could drive both monitors with the same display — similar to what you would do if you wanted to have a laptop display what you see on its monitor and simultaneously on a projector for a presentation. That is not what I wanted. I simply wanted to extend to first screen onto the second. Those of you familiar with Ubuntu know there is a couple of ways to do this. Nothing worked. I got screens that would have blocky kaleidoscope colors and screens where the secondary monitor was black, but with cursor enabled.

This was not good. I was obviously not understanding something. But finally it became clear that beta means just that and I had bumped into some type of bug associated with dual monitors. It was not my fault. So just as I did with Windows 7 beta, I sent a bug report on Ubuntu 12.04. The process of submission is a bit more complex than with Microsoft, but as it turns out, well worth it.

Within minutes I received an email acknowledging the bug report submission. That was nice. But the real surprise came about an hour later when I checked my email inbox again. There was a nice note saying that my reported failure mode was identical to one that had already been reported and was being fixed. This was surprising because I had scanned through the reports involving dual monitor bugs before hitting the send button on my report, and none of them seemed to be identical. I must have missed it. But is was heartening to realize that I was behind the power curve and that the team was already working to fix the problem.

The next surprise came later that day when, on a whim, I decided to look for updates to 12.04. Since I had just installed the latest version, it seemed unlikely there would be anything significant, but indeed there was, and when the updates were completed, I had dual monitors working the way I wanted!

A half hour later, the system had Stellarium, Audacity, InkScape, and several other old friends installed in addition to the latest release of LibreOffice.

I cannot claim everything is fine yet — the system occasionally still does some weird things — but this is a beta version, and the remaining bugs do not seem to be significant. I look forward to the formal release version.

Although I voluntarily performed the same service for both Window and Ubuntu, my interactions with the providers were very different. I came away from Microsoft with the feeling that it had agreed to give me a preview look as a special favor, and, by the way, it wanted the bug reports. That is, it was doing me a favor by letting me have a sneak peak at its new baby.

With Ubuntu, I felt like my input was more valued as part of the vetting process. That is not to say that I am putting Microsoft down in any way. On the contrary, I think the company did a great job with Windows 7, and Windows 8 will be even better. I am saying that when you enlist the public to help you debug a beta version, it is good PR to have excellent feedback communications. The letter I received from the Ubuntu team telling me that it already knew about my report could have been computer-generated or the result of a human looking at it. Either way, any response is better than no response.

We could even speculate that Ubuntu is destined to remain at a few percent or even less of the PC installations. Will they be able to field a version that does not depend on a keyboard? Touch screens are rapidly becoming a requirement. Maybe.

But whether or not Ubuntu continues to advance, I appreciate the effort and the way I was treated as a volunteer tester of the beta release. It is unlikely I will do the same for Microsoft again unless it is for my own enjoyment — like wanting to be the first kid on the block to test drive Windows n where n > 8.

What is your experience with either provider?