Photograph of a man sat on a wall using a laptop in the evening
You might tether when working away from home

Do you use a metered data connection on your Linux laptop or desktop PC?

If the answer to that question is a firm “yes”, then GNOME developers have a few questions to ask you…

Survey Time

The team behind the popular open-source desktop environment is currently scouting feedback from folks who regularly use a metered connection on their desktop or laptop computer.

A “metered” connection is one that’s subject to a usage limit, ‘data cap’ or other restriction.

It’s 2019 and data caps don’t exist (except they do)

In an age where internet mega-giants can launch a streaming games service offering seamless 4K 60fps playback, you may think data limits are a thing of the past.

Nuh-uh.

‘I often tether my Ubuntu laptop to my data-capped mobile internet, mostly when I’m working away from home’

In some parts of the world (even here in Blighty) many internet packages come with a usage limit, traffic shaping or “data cap”. For many, myself included these restrictions are part and parcel of going online.

I often tether my Ubuntu laptop to my (data-capped) mobile internet, mostly when if i’m working from a cafe with a dodgy or insecure network.

Using a computer with a data limit certainly affects the way you use it, the websites you access (and how long they stay open), the apps you run (or have running in the background), and so on.

Overage charges can be costly. Traffic slowdowns often inopportune. Nixed connections the absolute worst.

Desktops with Data Awareness

Windows 10 and ChromeOS are the only two desktop operating systems (to my knowledge) that provide a built-in, data-conscious “hello i am on a capped connection please don’t update all the things in the background please thanks” setting.

On both systems the setting will pause all system and app updates and stymie unnecessary background app usage until a regular connection is established.

Now, GNOME devs are looking to implement similar features into the GNOME Control Centre (aka ‘Settings’). This will allow those Linux users who need it to benefit from a desktop session that’s a little less “om-nom” when it comes to data usage!

Can I take this survey?

The 10 question survey that is linked below has come out of a recent developer “hackfest” that focused on, capped data aside, the kinds of parental controls and “digital well-being” features (i.e. nanny how long you use the computer for) desktop users may want.

Do note that the survey is only concerned with metered data connections that are used on desktop and laptops. It is not about using data connections on mobile systems like Android or IOS (tethering excluded).

If you can answer ‘yes’ to any of the examples below then I think you should take the survey, file your feedback and elaborate on your experiences, whether it’s on Windows, macOS, ChromeOS or a Linux distro like Ubuntu:

  • Have an internet connection subject to data cap/usage limit
  • Use restricted wi-fi services in public (e.g, capped speed)
  • Use a laptop with built-in 3G/4G modem and SIM data plan
  • Tether Android or iOS devices using wifi, bluetooth or USB

In addition:

“Responses are anonymous and may be shared individually or in aggregate form with GNOME developers and other free software developers.”

GNOME Developers

The responses to the survey will be used to help improve the way the GNOME desktop’s “metered connection” efforts work.

Take the ‘Metered Data Connection’ Survey

I regularly work off a 4G tether, on a mobile plan has a data cap of 2GB per month. With some careful computing choices, I can work within this limit (I rarely go over).

But there are ways in which an OS like Ubuntu could be more “data aware”:

  • Restrict OS and app updates
  • Let apps “schedule” large downloads for convenient time
  • Prevent background data usage for non-essential tasks
  • Warn when launching data-intensive apps
  • Provide details on the amount of data used in a session

Developers could be encouraged to implement low-data modes in software that typically has high-data usage, such as podcast apps, cloud sync tools, etc.

Alternatively, and far more likely, the system could control app’s internet access.

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