There's Something About Ubuntu
Lucid Lynx is enjoying glowing reviews, and Ubuntu in general is immensely popular, as Linux distros go. What is it about Ubuntu that gives it such a large, loyal following? Granted, not everyone is Ubuntu's friend -- "irritating" and "fatally flawed" were a few choice adjectives that pop up. But others figure that if Linux is going to have a flagship distro, Ubuntu might as well be it.
May 10, 2010 5:00 AM PT
That Ubuntu is the most popular Linux distro these days seems to be a matter of relatively little dispute, and certainly, it's not hard to see why. The distro has a variety of features that make it particularly easy to use, especially for beginners.
With the recent release of Lucid Lynx, however, the rapturous jubilation seems to have reached epic proportions. To wit: "Ubuntu 10.04 -- Perfect" was the title of one blog post on the release, generating no fewer than 140 comments there before racking up another 400 or so on Digg.
"Lucid Lynx rocks!" was the conclusion over at Desktop Linux Reviews, while the post, "Why Ubuntu excites me more than Windows or Macintosh" has also made quite a stir.
A Linuxy Je Ne Sais Quoi
What Linux Girl wants to know is, what's up with all that?
Sure, Ubuntu has many great features, and sure, 10.04 might be fabulous, but this seems to be a matter of more than just ordinary user satisfaction. Plenty of other distros have great features too, after all, along with very devoted users.
It's hard to question anything that generates excitement about Linux, but to call it "perfect"? Something more is going on here, and Linux Girl wants to know what.
How, in other words, to define this Linuxy je ne sais quoi?
'One of the More Irritating Distros'
"Why Ubuntu? Your guess is as good as mine," Slashdot blogger hairyfeet retorted. "I honestly just don't get it. If anything, their crazy release schedule makes it one of the more irritating distros I've dealt with."
Not only that, but "is there no QA testing?" hairyfeet wondered. "Because I have YET to have an upgrade of Ubuntu not break something, be it sound, wireless, video, always something."
When that happens, "it is welcome to 1979 and sitting at a terminal all day typing arcane 'recipes' hoping that this or that 'fix' will work, which rarely ever does unless you tweak the living hell out of it!" hairyfeet said.
'Never Had a Majority'
Similarly: "Ubuntu accounts for the majority of Linux desktop de-installations," asserted Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site.
"People who download the image try it, then go back to Windows," Hudson explained. "This is what happens when you try to position yourself as the Windows desktop alternative, instead of 'The best linux out there.'"
Ubuntu "never had anything near a majority of desktops, and the last few rounds of bugs have gotten plenty of people looking elsewhere, or going back to Windows," she said.
Ubuntu is "seriously, maybe even fatally, flawed" in three ways, Hudson charged:
- Trying to go after the Windows crowd. "Guess what: Windows users already have Windows, and Linux users don't want to have to learn the non-standard 'Ubuntu way' of doing things," she explained. "It's a meritocracy in the open source world, and people who use Linux want to use it because of its differences compared to Windows."
- Fixed release schedules. "The upstream developers say, 'It's done when it's done.' Ubuntu says, 'We're on a fixed schedule.' The result is the same as in commercial software: more bugs."
- Trying to be different. "Continue to produce those awful color schemes; continue to push Gnome as the default desktop; continue to have a definition of 'Long Term Support' that Clintonizes the meaning of 'long term.' Their recent decision to license closed-source mp3 and h264 codecs is just another one of those decisions, and it's not going to sit well with the open source crowd."
Others, however, were less critical.
'The Fame and Bank Account of Its Leader'
"Ubuntu is arguably the most popular distro, and there are several good reasons for that, like the fame and bank account of its leader, Mark Shuttleworth," blogger Robert Pogson began. "With a proper business organization and a low price, a product is bound to be popular."
Distro share statistics are sparse, however, and "the TestFreaks data is very suspect because they show MacOS has 11 percent, and we know from their published unit sales that they are about half that," Pogson asserted. "That suggests the sample is largely USA, where MacOS is most popular."
Technically, "Ubuntu is mostly Debian," he pointed out. "Distrowatch shows a much closer ratio between Ubuntu and Debian on hits per day, probably due to geeks searching for their next distro. Ubuntu has the big advantage of being on some OEMs' product lists."
'Fans of Ubuntu Are Welcome'
There are also only small differences between the two, Pogson added. "I prefer Debian GNU/Linux mostly because of the huge repository and the fastidious attention to quality," he said. "Ubuntu worries about quality too, but releasing on schedule is an adversary of quality."
Either way, "fans of Ubuntu are welcome," Pogson said. "When they decide to choose a more mature distro, Debian GNU/Linux will be ready."
Ubuntu does have "the current Linux distro crown, and we can expect it to keep it until Shuttleworth runs out of ideas," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack agreed. "Meanwhile, other Linux distros will cherry-pick ideas they like from Ubuntu."
In the meantime, however, "I benefit because Debian can use Ubuntu packages with no problem," Mack added. "I only wish the other distros would dump RPM and switch to .deb -- there would be fewer packaging headaches."
'Requires the Least Fiddling'
It could be an issue of momentum, Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza suggested.
"The combination of a Debian-based distribution with the support of the masses seems to produce an environment in which problems are solved quickly," he told Linux Girl. "At least nine times out of 10, if I have a problem with Ubuntu, someone else has already had it and solved it. That lets me spend more time using my computer, and less time fixing it."
The situation is helped by PPAs, Ubuntu's system of user-created mini-repositories that allow users to receive packages from other users through a trusted mechanism, Espinoza pointed out.
"I run several software packages through PPAs, freeing me up from having to do my own builds, and thus saving me yet more time," he said. "In short, Ubuntu is the distribution that requires the least fiddling to get what I want."
'Good PR for the Linux Desktop'
Ubuntu is "the complement to RedHat," Slashdot blogger yagu opined. "Ubuntu's mission seems more community-oriented and committed to the open source cause. Whether there's any subterfuge in their stated mission, Ubuntu comes across as a pillar of the community, not a vendor."
That by itself, however, is not enough, yagu added.
There's also the fact that "Ubuntu consistently delivers one of the best out-of-the-box experiences," he asserted. "I don't have any true favorite distros, but I do know that when all else fails and I want to just get a computer running Linux painlessly, I turn to Ubuntu. I know it's going to be my best bet for recognizing my hardware, and I won't have to spend time downloading, compiling and configuring drivers and software."
Is Ubuntu the darling because it's the best?
"I don't know," yagu said. "But Ubuntu has earned its praise, and I'm happy to have a darling distro to provide at least one marquis Linux product for the less-experienced Linux pioneers. It's good PR for Linux desktop."