Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Are there any Ubuntu haters today?

I was watching a video on youtube the other day of ThisWeekInLinux where the topic of discussion was Ubuntu haters.

Now even till a few years back I had my reservations about Ubuntu. It was a new distro, with a huge focus on making life easy for he average user. However, it was (and still is) being run by a South African billionaire, Mark Shuttleworth who made his fortune by providing security solutions for online transactions. I wasnt sure of his intentions and frankly I wasnt convinced if a new company with only a few employees would be able to revolutionise the Linux market by making it more user-friendly. Open SUSE had always been a very efficient OS and beating it to become the most popular distro was bound to difficult.

Fast forward to 2010. Ubuntu as of today is by far the most popular Linux distro on the planet with millions of users worldwide and gaining market share at a spectacular rate. Was this expected? I'd say no. But it only happened because the guys at Canonical (the company in charge of Ubuntu) knew what they were doing. They have in the past 2-3 years improved the usability of Ubuntu so much that now, its almost synonymous with Linux. Infact google insight predicts that soon, ubuntu will overtake linux as the more used search term! Thats quite an extraordinary achievement for a relatively new distribution.

Now there's a new group of people who think that Ubuntu's spoiling the Linux environment by making it a more n00b friendly. I really dont understand how something user friendly can be bad. Even experienced programmers I talk to tell me that after a hard day of coding, the last thing they need is to make another bash script when they get home, hence their liking for the distro.

Linux has forever been a geek's platform, and thats exactly the reason why it has almost been neglected by software companies for many years. Thanks to Ubuntu's success, Linux is making all the right noises. Ubuntu has such a huge market share with such a diverse community that its progress is the progress of Linux. Now that cant be a bad thing now can it?


  1. In my view, older Linux users might dislike Ubuntu and other "easy to use" distros for the following reasons:

    1. Older users had to work their way through piles of documentation to make things work. There used to be less auto-configured stuff, more manual stuff, more thinking and more tinkering. Today, anyone can pop in a CD and have a running Linux system in about 15 minutes, without ever knowing what a filesystem is or what mount points are good for. However, helping those users in case of problems can be difficult if they haven't read a single line of documentation and e.g. don't know where to find the terminal or how to open a system configuration file for editing. For the time being, Linux is not an all-GUI OS.

    2. Canonical and Red Hat have occasionally used Ubuntu and Fedora as a testing ground for new (and immature) technologies, such as PolicyKit, PulseAudio, xorg.conf-less Xorg, Upstart etc., creating problems for its users. While new users may find it exciting to be testing such "bleeding edge" stuff, it certainly doesn't help in creating a stable distro.

    3. Those distributions may not be shedding a very good light on Linux. Having to wait a couple of months until the next release to get fresh software from the official repositories is not an improvement over Windows. Also, in trying to make their distros more "user-friendly", Canonical and Red Hat have automated lots of stuff. This is helpful to the new user, but it makes the system less predictable.

    Of course, the definition of "user-friendly" is a very vague one. For some users it means having a system which just "does its stuff" and allows them to get their work done, for others to have a system which does nothing on its own, but if the user specifically wants something, it will be done in the best way possible, namely according to the user's wishes.

    People coming to Linux is, of course, not a bad thing. After all, it will hopefully push hardware manufacturers to provide documentation or even release open drivers for all of their products. I'm stressing "open" here, because many beginners do not grasp the concept of "free as in freedom" and only see "free as in free beer". They do not care whether they install proprietary software or whether their hardware requires it, yet they should. Otherwise, as a worst case scenario, Linux could turn into an OS with an open kernel, but thick layers of proprietaryware all around it.

    Also, I'd hate to see "Ubuntu" become synonymous with "Linux" just as I dislike it when people talk about "PC", while meaning "Windows", or thinking that "Internet Explorer" is synonymous with "Internet". It's not good because it's simply not correct.

  2. Thank you for your comment. Really appreciate it.