Ubuntu 7.10 vs Windows XP : The Story of the Hotel Printer

By | 2007/11/08

So I’ve spent the last week in Dallas teaching a Linux system admin course.  Part of my job while I’m here is to give an exam on the last day of the course.  This requires me to print a few pages for the candidates regarding the exam.  Well, I forgot to do it while I was at the office so I when I got back to the hotel I figured I’d do it there.  That is where I was confronted again with the Windows XP machine…

I knew I’d most likely be printing this from a Windows machine so I had put the .pdf files on a small USB drive fomatted to msdos filesystem.  I figure I could just plug it in to the XP machine, click print and go.  Well… I guess I’m so used to Ubuntu that I’m giving Windows XP too much credit.  Here’s how it really went down.

I connect the USB drive and it takes a full minute for it to recognize, load and let me access the drive.  Connecting the same drive to an Ubuntu machine is under five seconds.  Note that Ubuntu even quickly recognizes the drive despite it not being a native Linux filesystem type.

I navigate my way to the file browser and find the removable disk.  I notice that it isn’t recognizing the .pdf file, but instead is suggesting I open it with Internet Exploder.  Ok, let’s try “open with”… no, Adobe pdf viewer (or anything compatible) is not found.  I guess I’ll try to go download Adobe Reader.  A 22M self-expanding .exe download later (for a simple .pdf viewer?  Are you kidding me!) I try to install it.  Nope, can’t do that either because I’m not admin on the machine.  Ok, this is going to get interesting.

So, I find one of the hotel employees and ask them if they could help me install Adobe.  They look at me like I’m a moron and honestly told me to “just open it with Microsoft Word”.  Uhh.. ok, nevermind.  They also said that the printer “only works sometimes” and that I might want to “go to the library to print things instead”.

Finally I simply asked if I could just connect the printer to my laptop and print from there.  They didn’t care.  Yeah, these hotel employees are top-notch! 🙂

Let’s retry this the “right” way.

I connect the USB device to my laptop.  Detected, mounted and opened for viewing in under five seconds.  I double click the icon and its opened in Evince.  Ok, that was much less work to get the document ready.  Now let’s try the printer.

I connect the printer via USB and wait a minute.  Perhaps thirty seconds later the printer is detected, installed and configured.  The desktop tells me “Printer X is now configured and ready to use”.  Cool.  system-config-printer should be renamed to zero-config-printer because that is how much work it took to set it up!

I then click print in Evince and out comes the document.  Done.  You know, people still insist on telling me that they don’t want to run Linux because its harder, or that Windows XP just works for what they want to do.  Are you kidding me?  Just this evening it took me twice as much work to *try* and print something, which never worked.  Ubuntu “just worked”… go figure.

33 thoughts on “Ubuntu 7.10 vs Windows XP : The Story of the Hotel Printer

  1. zero-9376

    For future instances when the hotel won’t let you connect your equipment to theirs you might want to carry foxit reader on your usb drive as well. Single file executable apps like this, utorrent and those on PortableApps are great for linux users who are often forced to use windows.

  2. Dawid van Wyngaard

    Yeah, man….I agree with the last statement you wrote: “Ubuntu just worked” and honestly, nothing to figure out….it just works!

  3. Brad Johnson

    Now put you in the same situation with an Ubuntu Machine in the hotel lobby (no admin rights) and Evince is not installed on the machine. You’d be in much the same boat.

    I love Ubuntu too, but damn, apples and apples please.

  4. ak

    Brad: Evince is a default application in Ubuntu. I don’t think anyone installing Ubuntu would deliberately leave out evince. It would be like installing Windows and removing notepad /calculator afterwards.

  5. aguafuertes

    Nice writing, and I generally agree, being an Ubuntu user for two years now.

    Ironically, Evince and printing are two subjects I’ve been having trouble with since the great Dapper release. Evince on Gutsy failed me miserably yesterday – even though the printer was automagically detected by the new printer dialogue.

    Guess I have to check Launchpad for that one, then.

  6. Kevin Mark

    People keep suggesting that you need to have any document in multiple formats for the situation you had. so have your doc in pdf, export it has a .doc, export to html, and put on the web, etc. But it is odd that the machine didn’t have a pdf reader seeing as how pdf is a popular format on all platforms. But its not on a default windows install, duh microsoft and the staff.

  7. ricegf

    I install a *lot* of operating systems (Windows XP and Linux). Some people look at me like I’m from another planet when I tell them that Ubuntu is noticeably *easier* to install and use than Windows.

    I was again impressed the first time I did a Gutsy install. When I went to laboriously configure my Canon MP730 (always Linux hostile in the past), I was amazed – it was already set up as the default printer *and* scanner. XP was never so nice to me, and I haven’t the big bucks to try Vista.

    Thanks for reaffirming my experience. I’m from earth – really! 🙂

  8. Josh

    Like Brad said, to be fair, you wouldn’t have had any real trouble if the Adobe reader had already been installed. Besides, when people say that Linux is difficult, they aren’t referring to printing PDFs, they’re usually referring to things like graphics card configuration and peripheral support for their favorite gadgets.

  9. Richo

    Very nice story Christer it resonated loudly for me after similar frustrating experiences with “unloved” hotel XP crapboxes. BTW I helped debug the automatic printer configuration in Gutsy on launchpad a month ago. Nice to see it working 😉

  10. Erigami

    You aren’t making a fair comparison: The Windows box in question is clearly administered by folks who aren’t technically savvy. The Ubuntu box is administered by an Ubuntu hacker and is properly configured. Is it the fault of Windows that standard apps haven’t been installed?

    This would have been a more compelling story if your grandmother had been the protagonist.

  11. Tristan Rhodes


    Excellent story! Keep them coming.

    Erigami – The default install of Ubuntu would automatically detect the printer and include the ability to view/print PDF files. No hacker needed at all.


  12. tim

    i dare you to try this with an hp 1020 deskjet. =/

  13. nop

    When Ubuntu does work, is like you say “just worked”. The problem is when it doesn’t work, it maybe really painful.

  14. Vincent

    I already know how Windows-supporters (or at least my friend who forces himself to like anything I dislike as a matter of principles) would reply:

    “Yeah, but it’s not more difficult to when Adobe Reader is already installed (even though Ubuntu has a PDF reader by default) and when your hardware is OK and when you don’t do stupid things (to avoid getting viruses) and when you would just save the document “normally” as a .doc”. *sigh*

  15. ricegf

    @nop: ‘When Ubuntu does work, is like you say “just worked”. The problem is when it doesn’t work, it maybe really painful.’

    Well, I deal with a lot of broken systems – peripherals stop working, or bizarre behavior manifests itself, or whatnot.

    You seem to believe sincerely that we give Linux a “pass” with diagnosis and repair, and complain about every little nit with Windows.

    The odd thing is that everyone I know *started* being very favorable towards Windows, myself included. We compared it to the mini-computers on which we learned our trade, and found it easier to configure and maintain.

    But NT changed into 2000, then to XP and then to Vista. Over time, Windows has become horribly bloated, convoluted, and virtually unmaintainable.

    The difficulty in diagnosing and fixing Windows now is rather legendary – the rule is “30 minutes then re-image the disk”, which is the end result in about 50% of the cases of anomalous behavior.

    Linux is *much* easier to diagnose and repair, since you get to skip registry analysis and malware scanning, and the system is cleanly layered, modular, open and nicely documented.

    So rather than being unfairly biased in favor of Linux, as you claim, we have actually *learned* that Linux is more supportable and maintainable by hard-won experience.

    You can believe as you like, of course. Just thought you ought to know the truth. We’re not biased – we’re experienced.

  16. Aman

    Ubuntu and mac have been known for their out-of-the-box usage. No fight on that. But yea just because windows is soo deep rooted in every common persons minds they think we are being stuck up geeks wanting to run linux(not smae with mac though)

  17. Maarten Kooiker

    I installed ubuntu on an old computer of my girlfriend a few weeks ago and she started using it a bit recently. I installed the programs she likes to use, so she wouldn’t have too much trouble. This morning she was downloading some programs with Bittorrent and complained about the opened windows, so I suggested her to try KTorrent.
    She looked at me with sweet eyes and I told her: try to do it yourself. I kept watching and without helping her she managed to install within 5 minutes!!
    Quite impressive for someone that has about 12 hours of Linux experience in her life!!
    Ubuntu is Easy!
    [I’m writing this on my PClinuxOS desktop ;)]

  18. Hedi

    Yeahh XP is sucks 😛
    Windows need more time to read other system, sometimes it stucks. But Linux always walk nicely like in freeway 😀

    (Sorry bout my poor english)

  19. Zexy

    No idea what was wrong with the hotel’s WinXP box. I duel-boot Ubuntu/WinXP and they both recognize USB sticks in about the same amount of time(under 5 secs).

    As for no Adobe Reader, that’s typical…it’s a mass of bloatware anyways. I use Foxit on WinXP, it’s much lighter at about 4MB 🙂

  20. macfan

    I’m glad you all are having such a great experience with Ubuntu. But for crying out loud every one of these comments could have been found in Windows vs Mac flamewars starting, I don’t know over a decade and a half ago? This great experience of things just working properly is not a new or recent phenomenon. For Linux perhaps yes. For free, yes again. But it really does continue to mystify me every time I used Windows how in the world it has gotten to this point and how people continue to put up with it.

  21. Lance

    Windows XP does not install PDF by default. That’s a big error in itself! Ubuntu and free software include everything you need with no hassles.
    I am getting people going on Ubuntu 7.10 right and left here in ASIA. Installing Ubuntu is usually a snap even for beginners who know Windows.

  22. Steve

    If Windows had included a PDF reader and a lot of other pre-installed software they would be very quickly slapped with an anti-trust lawsuit . Just look at what happened with their media player. So I do not think it is a fair statement to say that the default installation of Windows does not include similar applications as Ubuntu.

    The first time you install new hardware in Windows it takes a minute or so to recognize it the first time. Subsequent times it is recognized very fast.

    I’ve been using Linux for a few years now and Ubuntu for 10 months, love Ubuntu and it is my main system. I’ve had some hardware problems, especially with NVidia drivers, but once past that it has been a breeze.

  23. George

    You may be just lucky that the printer worked.

    My Canon MP160 refuses to “just work” in Ubuntu. In many cases, it doesn’t even “work.”

    I got it working (after a solid week of fiddling) in Feisty. Even then, the formatting was all messed up. I wiped my Linux partition to install Gutsy (something I told myself I’d do a while back, because I butchered Feisty configs as it was my first time using Linux since ’98, and I also wanted to see how much Gutsy did by itself…which was significantly more than Feisty). However, even with all of the excellent changes, I still can’t get my MP160 working.

    It’s a shame (and somewhat confusing) that the default printer list in Ubuntu goes from MP150 to MP170, skipping over the MP160.

    The only two things keeping me from switching completely are reliable Photoshop (I can use VirtualBox for basic editing, but any remotely complex files just eat up way too much RAM on my little 1GB machine (of which I can only devote 512 to VB) and printing. Now that Gutsy at least gives me a wireless connection long enough to download the packages needed to get it working completely, if these 2 final thorns could work reliably out of the box, I would move Ubuntu from my 80GB drive to my 320GB Windows drive. I’m not holding my breath for Photoshop anytime soon, but I was hoping the printer support would be added by now.

  24. Bob Schnick

    Ubuntu works. PERIOD. Any enterprise style printer I encounter at work (and there are alot) – UBUNTU Gutsy recognizes. Do I dual boot Linux with windows? Hell no, but I do dual boot with fluxbuntu! 8^) Love your blog – but of course in my case you’re preaching to the choir!

  25. HeavyGod

    Really good and really interesting post. I expect (and other readers maybe :)) new useful posts from you!
    Good luck and successes in blogging!

  26. propeller

    I suggest that you expand this post asking for submissions so that users can submit their stories of how they were pleasantly surprised to find Ubuntu work “out of the box.”

    I was using the WiFi setup with my laptop running Ubuntu at the Indian Trails Library in Wheeling, IL @ http://www.indiantrailslibrary.org/

    I had to print a 6 page document and I was getting ready to send it to my gmail account so that I can login to the library PC and print it. I just thought I would give it a try. So I configure the printing options to check for a network printer at a certain address. Voila, 60 seconds or so later, Ubuntu not only loads the proper print driver, it prints flawlessly in the first attempt. I was just thrilled and to think that something that is community driven to be this perfect is just awesome.

    Thanks to all those who contributed to Ubuntu’s success.

  27. DD

    I’ve been using Ubuntu for 6 months now. It’s way better than XP. I try to convince my friends to use Ubuntu but They are used to Windows XP and they think that other OSs are all risk (including Vista). That’s reasonable. Since i installed Ubuntu on my computer, I’ve reinstalled it for more than 10 times. However, that’s not a big deal to me. Nothing can stop my excitement in learning a modern OS that i believe to be used widely in the future. Linux with compiz fusion is fascinating. If people choose Mac because of the candy look, they are really wasting their money. Though, it’s hard to convince them to use just a free stuff.

  28. Marco

    I’m a devoted linux user myself, but as others have said the comparison made isn’t quite fair. On one hand we’re criticizing windows for not shipping with a standard pdf reader (something that probably wasn’t quite standard when winxp was released), and on the other when IE is bundled with windows it’s antitrust. Furthermore, if the hotel computer isn’t up to date it’s the hotel’s fault, not the OS. A fairer comparison would be to compare it to the ubuntu distribution from when the hotel computer was last updated – did ubuntu even exist then?

  29. Sushanta


    let us then try to compare Vista(Premium Business) with the basic Ubuntu. To be precise, let us take the exact version of Ubuntu matching the birth of Microsoft Vista.

    I started using windows in 1998 with the 3.1 and then 97, 98, 98SE, etc. Quite late I came across 2000, ME, NT and then the siblings. I only came across Linux in 2002, after four long years of using DOS and Windows. I have admin experience on all aforesaid. 98se was a relief to many, including me. But after having extensively used so many OSes, I just can say that Ubuntu in Linux means what XP means in the windows family.

    Can there be any explanation to the claim that accompanied Vista of being natively virusproof. It can be proved that the 3.1 or the NT architecture can never be virus proof with what ever antivirus or other tools being deployed. It is a feature of the OS architecture.

    Now a days people are afraid to insert stray pendrives or CDs or DVDs, because none knows when an autorun executes and corrupts the system files. But I have been using Ubuntu for years to disinfect such pendrives. Friends give a satisfying smile after their sick pendrive recovers to get working again. We confidently plug pendrives to ubuntu machines.

    If you ask how Linux is inherently virus tolerant: Ask an ardent NT 3/4/5 fan if he ever knew what a PPID was!

    That’s the answer. May be this is enough.

  30. El Dusto

    LONG LATE Comment! But, XP is faster than that, and Ubuntu is slower than you mention. And Adobe is responsible for the huge download, not Microsoft Windows.

    Nice job bashing, but it doesn't give your article much cred. I use and like Linux, and Windows. Linux is awesome in many respects, but it isn't as awesome as you portrait it. Just because of ONE hotel PC that didn't do what you wanted, but YOUR PC does, doesn't mean that "Ubuntu just works". So does Windows. If you know what you are doing! 😉

  31. MHA

    thats thef cuking shittiest arguement ever

    its like me saying i went up to a server with no gui just command-line and wanted to print put firdst had to install a DE and pdf reader but couldnt coz i didnt kno the root password(the computer wasn't set up correctly for you, and was obv runnig slow because somebody had messd it up, i find an install of xp with nod32 and office 07 (WAY FUCKING BETTER THAT Open OFfice (office 97 rip off)) on the same PC is faster than a linux install in general esp. on FF and stuff

    if you plugged that fucking usb stick into my XP computer it would have been recognised instantly and you would have been able to print on adobe pdf reader or sumatra pdf reader

    and have you never heard of fucking portable apps that require an install, why didnt you DL one of those on the XP pc


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