I'm not a programmer - I work in market research - but I wanted to contribute to Ubuntu as a way of saying thanks for a great operating system. So I did a little project on a group of friends I saw as the Ubuntu "Switcher" target market - "typical" 20 something computer owner with some computer skills. This was not some big budget, flash job with a team of thousands. It was just me talking to some friends using some of the basic techniques of market research. "How do you use your computer?" "Ummmm" "Un hunh." "Tell me more." I haven't formally written it up, just pulled the key top line findings.

If people get some value out of this, I'll do more. If you are interested, see part II: WhatWindowsUsersWant.


Brief interviews (~20 min) with eight friends that involved talking to them about how they use their computer (qualitative) and looking at how they have it set up (observation). All were Windows users - primarily XP, a few 98ers - none had used Linux/Ubuntu. All were between 25 and 35. There was a mixture of computer competency - "what's a folder?" to regular kazaa downloaders. All were prime conversion opportunities.


To identify the 80/20 for the average home computer user, that is the 20% of functionality that will satisfy 80% of the population. What do we need to offer these people "out of the box" to get them to switch? Then to benchmark the current state of Ubuntu in meeting these needs (using my knowledge of Ubuntu).

Conclusions / Key Findings

Computers are almost more trouble than they are worth for many people. As windows users, these people face a constant battle with viruses, adware, spyware, "bugs," mysterious crashes, hardware that doesn't work, etc. No user spoken to felt that their computer was "working correctly." All had stories of problems/lost work. Many spoke of needing to get a new computer as their existing one was "too slow." From looking at these computers, in many cases the slowness was caused by spyware/adware and a wide range of Microsoft cruft. Microsoft's recent moves (SP2, buying Giant Spyware) clearly indicate their research is telling them something similar.

There is clearly an opportunity for a trouble-free computer that "just works." However, this space is probably occupied by Apple. A number of those spoken with talked about getting an Apple for their next computer. However, Ubuntu can succeed in this space, as it offers an opportunity to recycle an existing computer, if it does all of the basics well.

For most people, the computer is a tool not a lifestyle. Most people don't want to "fiddle" with their computer. The analogy is a car: a few people like messing with car engines; most would like to never have to lift the hood. When they approach the computer, they want to quickly achieve an objective. They approach the computer with a task in mind. For example, they want to download the photos from their digital camera onto the computer for safekeeping and viewing.

The 80/20

The 80/20 list of tasks/objectives that were identified by more than 80% of those interviewed were (in order of how well I think we do these thing in Ubuntu - see below):

  • Write a letter
  • Chat online
  • Surf the internet
  • Email friends
  • Look at photos
  • Download "stuff"
  • Listen to music
  • Watch a video
  • Do my taxes
  • Play games

Other tasks identified but not in the 80/20 included (again in no order):

  • Make a sign/chart/diagram (e.g. lost cat)
  • Make music / edit video
  • Make free phone calls (VoIP)
  • Work on work from home (e.g. spreadsheets/presentations)
  • Make a website

That's it. OK, only a sample of eight, but these are the tasks these people required from a computer. If we can do many/most of these there is a real opportunity for conversion. However, outside the scope of this research, the challenge with widespread conversion will be "automagically" transferring mail/files in a Windows-to-Ubuntu changover.

Benchmarking Ubuntu vs. the Ideal

Once participants identified how they used the computer, I asked them aboout their "ideal" computer. Summarised responses are captured in the chart below. I have also tried to benchmark the current Ubuntu Hoary with this ideal. The benchmarking is my reading on how easy it would be for these people to achieve it - remember these are typical computer users, not command-line junkies. In addition, please note that these were Windows users and in no way did Windows meet their expectations (i.e. ideal "switchers").

Users Task

Ubuntu Grade

Interviewed Users Ideal Computer

My Take on the Current Status in Hoary

Write a letter


It's easy to write a quick letter. The program checks my speling and grammar. I know where to find a letter I wrote in the past (understanding folders/hierarchy). I can change the formatting. Some nice templates to make my letter look good.

OpenOffice and AbiWord have this solved. However there is no "My Documents" icon/default location/structure to help users find their past work.



I can get started easily. I can easily see which friends are online. I don't have to make it start - it's always on. I can talk to my friends. I can talk to friends on different systems.

Gaim is a mature piece of software with good cross system support. However, it's not intuitive to set to load by default at startup (like MSN).

Surf the Internet


Click somewhere once and I'm on the internet. Everything just works right out of the box. When I visit a site it just works - flash, java, video, sound

Mozilla Firefox is a great program that works. Spyware and pop-ups are not an issue. However, some plug-ins are not installed by default (RestrictedFormats).

Email Friends


It's easy to write a quick email. I'm notified if I have new mail. All my address are in one place, as well as being on my phone/pda. I can check my mail from anythere (e.g. internet cafe).

Evolution works well for people with Outlook experience. Unified systemwide contacts in development. No "just works" way to sync with phone/pda. Internet mail a service provider issue.

Look at Photos


I plug in my camera and my photos download to an "album." I can find my photo album easily to show friends. My photo album has annotations/backgrounds/borders. I can easily fix little problems with the photos. It's easy to email my photos to family and friends. It's easy to upload my photos to a website.

Mixed bag but improving plug-and-play camera detection. Gimp - the default open for most picture formats - useful for editing by advanced users, but not a photo album. F-Spot an emerging solution. No ability to annotate album.

Download "Stuff"


I can easily download some music/video files. I don't get any spyware or viruses. I don't get arrested and sent to jail. I can go to the iTunes/other store and buy some songs.

Gnome BitTorrent in Hoary. Xmule/etc available in universe. No chance of getting spyware/viruses.

Listen to Music


I put a CD in and it plays. I can play my digital music collection. I can sync with my iPod/other player. I can easily get new music to listen to from the internet. I can listen to internet radio stations.

CD autoplay works. No mp3 support out of the box. No clear instructions on how to make it work (RestrictedFormats). No out of the box support for iPod.

Watch a Video


I put a DVD in and it plays. I can play videos which people email me or my digital video collection. I can edit some video from my camera.

DVD autoplay works. Limited support for video codecs out of the box. No clear instructions on how to make it work (RestrictedFormats).

Do My Taxes


Its easy. I load a tax program that has all the forms for my country. It does all the work for me. It sends my results away.

GnuCash or do it yourself in Calc/Gnumeric. Also MoneyDance

Play Games


I can play a quick game of solitare/minesweeper. My/my friends existing PC/Playstation/Xboxgames work. I can buy any game and it just works. I can show off how fast my computer is to my friends.

Basic Gnome games installed by default. TuxRacer. Wine/Cedega available for the brave.

Other Observations

The amount of spyware/adware/cruft on many of these computers was unbelievable. Most people were unaware of how bad the situation was, but rather fatalistically accepting of their lot. "All computers are like this."

Everyone spoken with had a "computer guru" - a friend or family member they used to solve problems.

Awareness of Linux was high. Knowledge/comfort with Linux was low. Awareness of Ubuntu was nonexistant.

We can win. The tipping point approaches. You can find me at (tjlmorris gm a il). Tim Morris


- I have more notes/impressions, but this is all I have written up so far. -Tim

- If you are interested, see part II: WhatWindowsUsersWant. -Tim

Wrong direction --Michal Bendowski, Tue, 29 Mar 2005 22:15:41 +0100

I'm sorry to say that, but Ubuntu's never going to be as user-friendly as Windows. We already have Mandrake in Open Source community to be GNU Windows - Ubuntu should take another direction. I can understand, that it should be easy to start and use Ubuntu, but how far can we go?! It's Linux after all. "OS for hackers by a hacker" - remember? Linux doesn't work in the "one click and I can chat with my friends " way...

From AbdullahRamazanoglu Thu Mar 31 18:32:54 +0100 2005 From: Abdullah Ramazanoglu Date: Thu, 31 Mar 2005 18:32:54 +0100 Subject: Excellent direction Message-ID: <>

Mandrake is trying address both server and client domain. We have already got the best server OS, Debian. K/Ubuntu complementing it as a focused desktop/laptop distro would lead to an excellent duo, each excelling in their own scope. There are sure some glitches (such as including server/developer/vertical class apps in the CD) as of now, but then again K/Ubuntu is so young. Given a little bit of time, it is surely geared for being the best desktop distro around. The only thing that I agree with you is that K/Ubuntu shouldn't target being as user friendly as Windows. It should target Mac and beyond. Since wiki is hardly a place for threaded discussions, please see my initial proposals in this regard at

CategoryMarketing CategoryBrainDump

WinningTheDesktop (last edited 2008-08-06 16:18:02 by localhost)