Petter Reinholdtsen

What is missing in the Debian desktop, or why my parents use Kubuntu
29th July 2011

While at Debconf11, I have several times during discussions mentioned the issues I believe should be improved in Debian for its desktop to be useful for more people. The use case for this is my parents, which are currently running Kubuntu which solve the issues.

I suspect these four missing features are not very hard to implement. After all, they are present in Ubuntu, so if we wanted to do this in Debian we would have a source.

  1. Simple GUI based upgrade of packages. When there are new packages available for upgrades, a icon in the KDE status bar indicate this, and clicking on it will activate the simple upgrade tool to handle it. I have no problem guiding both of my parents through the process over the phone. If a kernel reboot is required, this too is indicated by the status bars and the upgrade tool. Last time I checked, nothing with the same features was working in KDE in Debian.
  2. Simple handling of missing Firefox browser plugins. When the browser encounter a MIME type it do not currently have a handler for, it will ask the user if the system should search for a package that would add support for this MIME type, and if the user say yes, the APT sources will be searched for packages advertising the MIME type in their control file (visible in the Packages file in the APT archive). If one or more packages are found, it is a simple click of the mouse to add support for the missing mime type. If the package require the user to accept some non-free license, this is explained to the user. The entire process make it more clear to the user why something do not work in the browser, and make the chances higher for the user to blame the web page authors and not the browser for any missing features.
  3. Simple handling of missing multimedia codec/format handlers. When the media players encounter a format or codec it is not supporting, a dialog pop up asking the user if the system should search for a package that would add support for it. This happen with things like MP3, Windows Media or H.264. The selection and installation procedure is very similar to the Firefox browser plugin handling. This is as far as I know implemented using a gstreamer hook. The end result is that the user easily get access to the codecs that are present from the APT archives available, while explaining more on why a given format is unsupported by Ubuntu.
  4. Better browser handling of some MIME types. When displaying a text/plain file in my Debian browser, it will propose to start emacs to show it. If I remember correctly, when doing the same in Kunbutu it show the file as a text file in the browser. At least I know Opera will show text files within the browser. I much prefer the latter behaviour.

There are other nice features as well, like the simplified suite upgrader, but given that I am the one mostly doing the dist-upgrade, it do not matter much.

I really hope we could get these features in place for the next Debian release. It would require the coordinated effort of several maintainers, but would make the end user experience a lot better.

Tags: debian, english, h264, multimedia, web.

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