A Little About Ubuntu

I’m not a hater of Ubuntu by any means.  I think it’s done a ton of good for Linux.  It’s opened many doors and perceptions of users everywhere.  It’s available to more people than any other distribution in history.  However, I do have a problem with some of rather “excitable” users in the Ubuntu community.

Let’s take a look a look at why I’m not all over Ubuntu as a Linux Blog.

Perception is as Perception Does

When I say I don’t blog about Ubuntu…it’s not to say that it was always that way.  I did blog about Ubuntu a bit when it was the 5.04 version.  I put it into the rotation for an experiment I was doing.  See, back then, my wife and I had only been married a short while.  She didn’t know Linux from any other operating system…but the important part is she was willing to give it a try.  So we picked out a bunch of desktop driven distributions like Mandrake (now Mandriva), MEPIS, Ubuntu, PCLinuxOS and Fedora Core (now Fedora) and had her test drive each and every one…AND give valuable feedback on what she felt didn’t make the cut for each distro.  I had a set of criteria that I created and I didn’t tell her how to find things on the web…I didn’t hold her hand after installation.  We installed it and turned her loose.  She found Ubuntu to be a very bad experience.  The community, instead of saying “hey, there is a new Linux convert now!  We all win!” thrashed her for all sorts of things.  They didn’t pull any punches…they actually posted so many hateful things, I had to respond to the comments.  The Ubuntu supporters that commented on that post made me ASHAMED of using Linux because of their horrible and hateful words.  The community should be above that…other distributions that I and my wife reviewed were above that.  The Ubuntu community was not.

During that experiment, I was a die hard MEPIS fan.  I think if I hadn’t been using MEPIS before Ubuntu, I would have probably liked it quite a bit. At the time, MEPIS was new and exciting and did TONS for desktop users out of the gate. Handy tools, great installer, debian base. I saw what desktop linux should be in MEPIS and found Ubuntu to be lacking at that time…so I didn’t change what I was using.

Fast forward to the present. Ubuntu is now synonymous with the word Linux.  Articles like “Install 100 fonts on Ubuntu” and “10 Media Players for Ubuntu” are posted to digg.com every hour.  People adore it. The community loves it. Analysts love it. Journalists can’t stop talking about it. Zealots bite your head off about it.  The problem is that if you substitute the word “Linux” for the word Ubuntu in each of those blog posts and articles…it wouldn’t matter.  Ubuntu has become THE Linux and with all other distribtuions being held up to a certain expectation, it can cause confusion.

Refugee Expectations

When a previous Ubuntu user jumps into say…using Slackware Linux…some of the first questions they’ll ask are “Why doesn’t sudo work?” or “I can’t apt-get anything!”.  These things present in Ubuntu are assumed to be present in all of Linux.  Ubuntu has become the face of Linux and with that, holds all other Linux distros up to refugee expectations.  In some instances, this causes those distros to rise above and implement changes for the better (example, Linux Mint).  But in other cases, it just plain confuses both end users and developers.

Keeping this in mind, I’ve found there are more things than just software, packaging systems, and authentication methods being confused and mismatched…

Some People who Blog about Ubuntu Confuse and Muddle Linux as a Whole

Take for example, this article.  It’s a DVD player for Ubuntu. So a new user surfs in and sees that this DVD player is for Ubuntu. Since they are new to the Linux world…they see each distribution as separate.  So they think “Oh hey, that’s only available for Ubuntu”.  Call them properly confused.  A couple of new users I converted to Mandriva didn’t install Banshee because they thought it was for Ubuntu only (after reading a blog post on it).  They also didn’t install fonts from a blog post because they thought it was “for Ubuntu”.

It is my opinion that these authors aren’t thinking much about what they’re posting.  They’re just posting things with exclusivity because they think “if I throw Ubuntu on the name, it’s going to be a wildly popular post and get me more clicks and/or attention/comments“.  I’ve blogged about this before, It’s a foolproof way to garner more clicks and that’s evident by how many Ubuntu articles hit the front page of digg each week.  It’s also misleading.

Now some of you are going to say “well if those users can’t figure this simple thing out…that things are installable on more than just Ubuntu, we don’t need them because they’re stupid” or something similar.  I’d have to disagree with you there because Linux is not exclusionary.  It does not say you must have this much IQ to use.  Open source software means that no matter who you are…you have the opportunity to look at the source and use it how you see fit.  If anyone can look at it and use it how they see fit, should not anyone be allowed to use it no matter their IQ or computer savvy abilities?  I’m of the opinion that no matter where you come from, how much education you have, or who you know…you should have choice to use open source and Linux or not to use it.

Ubuntu uses Gnome. Most of the “cool things” about Ubuntu is just Gnome.

I used Foresight Linux at my last job.  It’s absolute cutting edge for Gnome.  It is where the Gnome developers kit is made…that means SVN builds daily of the best of what Gnome has to offer.  I found it quite usable.  Gnome has great integration and lots of little nice things that work for it.

Don’t get me wrong, Ubuntu does a lot of good stuff for desktops…its detection is right up there with all other distros (you zealots would say it is superior…but that’s hardly true.  All distros are pretty close to equal nowadays…thanks Linus and team kernel!).  I just don’t find it “the best” distribution for new Windows converts.  It just doesn’t fit the bill.  Gnome is too far away from the way Windows looks and feels.  I know some of you will be saying “Bullcrap.  It totally fits the bill.  When I transferred from Windows, I was fine”.  I’m sure  you were.  But a majority of the people that I know that have no idea what Linux is or does are immediately attracted to KDE because of its familiarity and they shy away from Gnome.  These people are ones that don’t delve into customizing and tweaking their operating system.  These are the people that just use a computer to read webmail and hit facebook or myspace up from time to time.  What they’re looking for is a no frills experience with any computing they do.  That means familiarity and things ‘just working’.  I’ve found a good implementation of KDE (like Mandriva or OpenSuse) to fit the bill for most new Linux users.

It is my opinion that the best parts of Ubuntu are Gnome.  And it is also my opinion that Gnome isn’t what I feel is best for new Windows-to-Linux converts.

For Those About to Flame Me

For those of you about ready to flame me after this post, remember one thing:  I believe if one distribution of Linux wins, we all win.  I admire Texstar, the creator of PCLinuxOS, for his take on this;  He was approached in IRC some time ago with some hateful comments of someone who said “I switched to distro X and it kicks PCLinuxOS all over the place” but with explicatives laced inside.  How did Texstar respond?  He said “Congratulations on choosing Linux :)”  It’s attitudes like this one that Linux needs to adopt.  If you choose one distribution to use, you win.  You’re in control of your computing.  Therefore, if you are an Ubuntu user and find my post hateful or here to start a flame war, understand that this post isn’t meant to harm but to show how a few voices from a community can change user perception for a lifetime and to show how misconceptions can alter experience.  My wife still despises Ubuntu because of the comments made on her experiment review of Ubuntu.  They made her an enemy for life.

Activism and Promotion

I’ve spoken on this topic before, and I’d like to sum up this post by speaking about it again.  We need the Linux community to understand that everyone does not have to share your opinion on one topic or another…they don’t have to be all about the philosophy behind FOSS and FLOSS.  If they use Linux, that should be good enough…they shouldn’t be ostracized for not picking your favorite.

Keep in mind that there is confusion out there.  It may be caused by your distribution that you use and it may not.  If it does, have patience with new Linux users or distro refugees.  Take the time to explain the how and why of things.  Remember that perception is as perception does and that a new user will remember their initial experiences for many years to come.

It’s a big Linux world and there is plenty room for everyone to thrive.  Let’s all continue to use Linux for the win 🙂

Author: devnet

devnet has been a project manager for a Fortune 500 company, a Unix and Linux administrator, a Technical Writer, a System Analyst, and a Systems Engineer during his 20+ years working with Technology.

19 thoughts on “A Little About Ubuntu”

  1. Sir,

    Thank you for your wisdom and considerable thought into this message. I am amazed, daily, at the amount of energy that goes into ‘fighting’ between distributions. I have also noticed that those who are truly serious about Linux are serious about it. We support it, we use it, we ‘evangelize’ Linux. Then I see others who tell me I’m pushing the ‘wrong linux’ on my website and in my business. I’ve been told many times that if I want draw to my website, I need to push Ubuntu. “Ubuntu is the only Linux that non-Linux people recognize, today.” If persons involved in the other Linux distributions were to support and ‘market’ that distribution, the above comments would not be so true.

    Daniel of L4SMB.net

    1. Thanks Daniel..

      If only more of us “saw the forest from the trees” and realized that a little bit of tolerance of other viewpoints and other distros would go a long ways. I sure hope that more come to this conclusion as we move forward with Linux 😀

  2. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I’m happy for anyone who enjoys their Ubuntu experience, but it is not uniformly and unquestionably the best gateway to Linux for newbies.

    Although I do have one additional minor point. Some of the excitement of leaving a proprietary operating system behind comes from the new experience. When I first started using Linux, the FVWM95 Windowing environment was a reasonably faithful reproduction of the Windows 95 graphical user interface. I think FVWM95 fell out of favor with Linux enthusiasts simply because it was too similar to what they left behind.

    Over the years, KDE and GNOME, plus the various control panels offered by OpenSUSE, PCLinuxOS, Ubuntu, Mandriva, Fedora, etc… have at times both managed to be similar enough to Windows to make the transition easy but different enough to be interesting. Depending upon the release you used and the version, the differences from Microsoft could be small (but still bigger than the gap from FVWM95) to huge. I think some gap is good.

  3. After I installed Fedora on my computer, it proceeded to eat a 100 DVD spindel and shoot them at my neighbors. I tried to remove the battery to stop it, but not before it shot 10 foot flames from the heat vents! I managed to knock it out with my Western Digital hard drive but not after succoming to 3rd degree burns.

    Needless to say, I’m not using Fedora anymore for the above reasons.

  4. I’d have to say that I don’t think software is your culprit there B…that sounds like hardware to me.

  5. I totally agree with the sentiment of this post. I’m an Ubuntu user myself because back when I started using Linux it was the distro that worked with the hardware I have and now I’m kind of stuck on it (but not complaining).

    I recently installed KDE as I wanted a change from Gnome and was surprised to hear my very non-tech partner tell me it was more line Windows. I never saw it like that myself but I trust her as she isn’t nearly as close to tech stuff as I am.

    Anyway, all I wanted to say is that the only thing I disagree with you about here is the support that is offered by the Ubuntu community. I’ve found it excellent for any trouble shooting I’ve had and have always though that they were very inclusive of the N00bs. In fact it was because of this community that I could get it working with the hardware I was using which is why I went with it.

    Of course, this may well have all changed over the last 3 or 4 years.

    1. Hammy,

      I think you’d find the community a bit different if you don’t champion Ubuntu across the board…especially if you do it on your own blog. When you buck the status quo on Ubuntu, the sharks come out.

      People always will disagree with others…but with Linux, the important part is HOW they disagree. In the case of my wife, a new-to-linux-on-the-whole user, they made an enemy for life by chastising her. On the other hand, the PCLinuxOS and MEPIS community were quite supportive of any trashing of their distro she did…Fedora was as well. They were just glad she was trying Linux.

      I hope someday that the Ubuntu community will have this attitude prevalent throughout. I don’t see that happening though because it’s just too popular…an prevalent attitude like that would be hard to press into all the various community areas and members.

  6. First up, congrats to an essentially unbiased article. Although I think some of the info may be a little outdated with regards to the n00b-unfriendly attitudes in the Ubuntu community. While I’m not after for “naming & shaming” the help forum/s your wife approached for assistance, from personal experience, they are mostly quite tame, cordial folks.

    My beef instead is most of them aren’t techie enough i.e. they simply lack the expertise to handle even the simplest end-user problems. Either that or as happened in some of the ubuntu irc channels e.g. ubuntu+1 on freenode, the devs, ubuntu members, testers seem to be more interested in totally irrelevant discussions and arguments e.g. should freeze be unfrozen to push a bleeding edge version to a certain popular software into the repo but a week before a major distro release instead of helping me a few others out with a dist-upgrade issue sometime ago i.e. from Hardy to Intrepid. Having been a past user of several distros such as the then Mandrake, SUSE, Redhat to Slackware and Debian even the BSDs e.g. FreeBSD before finally settling down on Ubuntu, while I’m not saying idiots don’t exist, my experience with the Ubuntu community has largely been ok excepting for what I have already mentioned above. I think there is an official code of conducts that all users of Ubuntu’s official forum needs to agree to before signing up that specifies the kind of behavior expected and actions that will follow should a user misbehaves. This probably has culled most of the dreaded BOFH-types from the Warty Warthog i.e. migrants from the infamously hard and geeky Debian.

    With regards to this KDE Vs GNOME thingy, as with the argument for the hundreds of distros, it is all about choice, needs and taste. Different people have different expectations. Back in 2000, when I migrated from Windows, I found Mandrake’s (now Mandriva) default KDE desktop to be really slick. So too SUSE’s implementation. Ever since making the switch to Debian, I’ve found GNOME to satisfy most of my needs and as a lover of exciting new technologies, I’m pleased that devs working on GNOME or those close to the desktop project have been at the forefront of most of the interesting, user-friendly stuff we often take for granted these days e.g. DBUS, HAL, gamin, GStreamer, Pulseaudio, PackageKit, ConsoleKit, GIO/GVFS, Clutter. While admittedly, most of these innovations are of an under-the-hood nature, I think it is safe to say without them, Linux just wouldn’t be as nice a ride.

  7. “I’d have to say that I don’t think software is your culprit there B…that sounds like hardware to me.”
    you have no idea how many times I warned “B” to never let water and gremlins mix after midnight!

    “.. FVWM95 fell out of favor with Linux enthusiasts simply because it was too similar to what they left behind.”
    I’ll guess that FVWM95 (“desktop”?) resembled win95 because FVWM95 was intended for biz usage? each version of windows differs from previous, proving that change has been “digestible”. (btw, other than the file-search in win98, xp is/was likely the best.)
    if any OS differs from an existing OS, those differences should be improvements (oh, isn’t that “demand” too obvious?)

    btw, I’ve sporadically tried distros, and *ubuntu has not been among those i’ve tried (until the last bunch. but it seems the hardware was too old for ubunto 6 to install?). so, I don’t agree that n00bz see “ubuntu=linux” (or see “linux=ubuntu” 🙂 )

    1. I started using linux because I could use the command line (like DOS) and found it interesting. Right now I use Ubuntu, Mint XFCE and AntiX(Fluxbox).I haven’t upgraded Ubuntu to 9.04 because from helping on forums,it seems to be half-baked(cups broken,wireless issues).
      I haven’t used an rpm distro for about 3 years and don’t miss the dependency hell I used to run into with them, but think I could deal with it better now.
      On the forums I hang out in, there are rules that keep it bearable, however I have noticed that outside of the forums, there are a lot of people who seem to get their kicks by flaming other OSs, other distros or other views. It seems that if you don’t agree with them that you aren’t even human. Ubuntu, Mac & Windows fanboys spend their time trashing everyone elses posts. Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Liberals, Conservatives, Marxists, Anarchists etc. trash each others views. It seems to be all emotion and d***ed little thinking involved.

  8. Close to the top of your blog you said “It’s available to more people than any other distribution in history.” speaking of Ubuntu. Just how do you believe that it is any more available than any other Linux version? The only thing that I see is they advantage is that you can get the Distro free. And that is only because they have someone with big $$$$$$ than can afford to throw cash at it. Outside of that I see the availability of all distros the same.

    1. I took into account that Canonical will send you free discs to your house…you don’t just have to download them…no other distro was doing that when they started on that large of scale.

      Also, another point to consider is the fact that it is pre-installed on Dell computers and almost every Linux PC maker uses it as their default OS. So, I’d say that a majority of any Linux PC sold is Ubuntu.

      With these two points in mind, it’s very clear that Ubuntu isn’t just available through normal channels of downloading but through multiple channels. That makes its availability far and away larger than any other distro. It doesn’t mean it’s the best…it doesn’t mean that it’s the most popular (though, I think it probably is the most popular), it just means that it is available in more ways to more people.

    2. I think he is referring to the popularity / stardom of Ubuntu.. like, go to distrowatch.com and see the Ranking.. It’s all Ubuntu. I do agree with this post 100%. This is a very thorough review that clearly explains all variables.. It explain the emotion of the choices of a distro.. which is where our choice comes from, whether you like it or not.

      On my site, RandomRandy.com.. it’s funny because I did a write up on PCLinux OS twice about the features a friendliness of this Distro and about how it has helped my beginner computing-using parents. Anyway, this article has helped me to back up my reason for recommending friends, family to using a great Distro that is easy to use for all.



  9. Well, it depend what one understands with “being in control of his/her computing”. I do not think there are many Ubuntu users who can claim to be “in control”. Actually, most of them do not want to be in control, they just do not care. Cannonical and community around Ubuntu intent to build a system where no user intervention is necessary. That is a great idea for people who do not care but very poor idea for people who want to be “in control”. This is probably the reason why many Linux users simply dislike Ubuntu.

    1. You can “not care” about how your computer works…but you should care about how technology dictates your actions. Let me share a little piece I wrote a while back about this subject. While it is fictional…it isn’t something that cannot happen.

      People should be more aware of what they COULD do instead of what the HAVE to do when it comes to technology…I think most people, when presented with technology without limits, would choose that over technology with imposed limits. A comparison of this concept brings it home:

      Choose one of the following:

      • An internet with no limits or boundaries where you can go to any website and read/view anything
      • An internet where you can only go select websites deemed appropriate by third party reviewers

      To me, the answer is always the first. I may not go to every single retched page on the internet BUT, I have the option there if I want to. Technology is the same…I shouldn’t be force fed anything. I should be given the choice at least. Being given a choice means you decide. When you decide, you are in control…decisions aren’t made for you.

      Hope this clears up where I’m coming from and what ‘being in control of your computing’ actually means.

  10. Wow,

    I consider myself to be a die-hard ubuntu fan, and I often speak to nerds who have this obsession with more complicated distros that really hate Ubuntu for being so “newbie”. That’s what I expected to see when I saw the post, imagine my surprise when every argument was perfectly sane. Very good post, I think many Ubuntu-fans should read this. 🙂

    1. Thanks Marcus

      I truly believe in what I’ve said in this post. I hope there are more people who feel the same way out there 😀

  11. Whatever distribution your version of linux came from, it’s all the same thing — GNU/linux.

    I never tried ubuntu, but I did get hooked on MEPIS, like you. I like KDE a lot. But I also installed Gnumeric, the awesome mathematical spreadsheet program. It’s a GNOME application. But I use it under KDE many times every day with no problems.

    Using GNU/linux encourages competition. You can try different programs until you find the one you like best. And the fact that all the programs are free – well, you can’t beat that.

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