If Canonical had its way, OEMs would make sure Ubuntu ran well on their hardware before shipping it. But most OEMs don't, so Ubuntu developers have resorted to the next best thing: crowd-sourcing hardware validation to users via the Ubuntu Friendly program, which is almost ready for prime time. Here's the scoop.

We first covered Ubuntu Friendly when it was announced in June 2011.  The project, envisioned as a community-based complement to the certification program Canonical already maintains, stood to broaden the hardware profiles on which Ubuntu was known to run well and make the lives of users easier.

Fast forward three months and Ubuntu Friendly is almost mature and ready for action, as Canonical employee Ara Pulido noted on her blog. The software tool that runs the hardware tests is available in a Launchpad PPA, and an alpha version of the site (now moved to this link) where results are reported is up and running. (When I visited the site the database seemed to be down, but Pulido's blog post includes a screenshot showing what it should look like.)

Testing Ubuntu Friendly

System Monitor tool running on Ubuntu 11.10

Ubuntu Friendly is pretty user-friendly itself. Running it on an Ubuntu 11.10 system is as easy as following these instructions (provided by Pulido):

  • Add our PPA to your software sources
  • Run "System Testing" on your system and submit to Launchpad
  • Install the latest version of checkbox
For kicks, I decided to give the tool a try myself (inside a KVM virtual machine, just to see if it would work there as well) and found that it is indeed pretty straightforward to use. You start the program, answer a few questions about which tests you want to run and then respond one-by-one to each test.

There are still some kinks to be worked out. For instance, the tool asked me whether my system was a laptop or desktop, but my only options for a response were "Yes," "No," or "Skip this test." Overall, however, the tool ran solidly.

The program also demands some basic geek skills on the part of the user, since it asks questions that require knowing how much RAM is installed in the system or whether it has VGA and HDMI ports. My mom wouldn't know what those words mean, but they should be familiar enough to many people.

Making Ubuntu Friendlier

The Ubuntu Friendly project itself won't revolutionize Ubuntu, but it does represent a smart investment on Canonical's part.

With minimal effort, Canonical now has a way to see how well Ubuntu works on many more systems and types of hardware than the company's employees could ever test personally. At the same time, users are exposed to a novel means of engaging with Ubuntu and feeling like part of the community by offering valuable contributions to Ubuntu developers. It's a win-win.