Has Ubuntu Linux Lost Its Luster?

With its focus on usability, Canonical’s Ubuntu is held up by many as the best Linux distribution of all time, and its Distrowatch rankings tend to reinforce that belief. Not only is the distro currently the most frequently downloaded from that site, but all the many ground-shaking changes it has announced promise to keep it exciting well into the future.

For those of us who love Ubuntu, then, it was both distressing and perplexing to read Bruce Byfield’s recent blog post entitled, “Ubuntu: Where Did the Love Go?”

Growing concerns and criticisms about Ubuntu’s relationship with the open source community at large are Byfield’s focus, and he comes up with a variety of possible reasons. Chief among them, however, is “the gap between the expectations created by Ubuntu and Canonical in their early days and their increasing tendency to focus on commercial concerns,” he writes.

“Instead of being the model corporate member of the community that it first appeared, today Ubuntu/Canonical increasingly seems concerned with its own interests rather than those of FOSS as a whole,” Byfield explains. “No doubt there are sound business reasons for the change, but many interpret it as proof of hypocrisy.”

‘Ubuntu’s Made Some Dumb Choices’

More than 50 comments quickly appeared on Datamation, where Byfield’s column was first published, and it wasn’t long before the Slashdot crowds got wind of the topic as well — to the tune of some 760 or so comments more.

“Ubuntu’s made some dumb choices recently in GUI layout and package selection,” wrote GameboyRMH on Slashdot, for example. “Not huge issues, but they are PITA issues and that’s what’s caused a lot of Ubuntu hate.

“Also over the years people have been getting increasingly pissed off at the fact that Ubuntu is a bleeding-edge distro and updates tend to break stuff,” GameboyRMH added. “Because of these issues a lot of people have been switching to Debian.”

On the other hand: “If people don’t like Ubuntu they don’t have to use it,” noted shellbeach. “There’s a billion and one distros out there, catering for any whim or fancy in the world … and if not, you can always roll your own. If Ubuntu changes enough to be unpopular with end users, then some other distro will catch on and we’ll all be praising that one.”

‘There Was Never Any Love’

While geeks were busy offering more such thoughts on the matter across the Linux blogs, iTWire’s Sam Varghese was moved to publish a post with his own take. Its title? None other than the provocative “Ubuntu: There Was Never Any Love to Start with.”

“People who write about FOSS are often prone to see the whole phenomenon through misty eyes, and portray the people involved as do-gooders first and foremost,” Varghese opined. “This is patently untrue — every open source project has been begun by someone who wanted to scratch his or her own itch; that it helps others is just collateral.”

More comments ensued from there until it became difficult to find discussions of any other topics going on in the Linux blogosphere. Linux Girl donned her best fire-retardant cape and set out to learn more.

‘The Real Face of Ubuntu’

“Ubuntu has only itself to blame,” asserted Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site.

“Look at the heavy-handed attempt to get developers to sync their release cycles with Ubuntu’s — this goes against the ‘it will be released when it’s ready’ philosophy of most open-source projects, including the linux kernel,” Hudson pointed out. “This was a marketing-driven demand that got what it deserved: a total rebuff.”

Despite the fact that it’s been around for more than six years, “Ubuntu simply doesn’t look like it has a clear vision of what it wants to be when it grows up, or a path to profitability,” she added.

Regarding the Unity netbook interface, for example, “jumping into the shrinking netbook market with both feet is one way to be a tiny fish in a small pond,” Hudson asserted.

Bad decisions “driven by short-sighted marketing,” in other words, are “the real face of Ubuntu,” Hudson concluded.

‘Canonical Has Done More’

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet saw it differently.

“This shows just another reason why the best thing Canonical could do is to just fork the whole thing away from the ‘community’ and go off on their own,” hairyfeet told Linux Girl. “I mean, here you have the community having a fit about Canonical and them not sharing upstream, yet this simple fact is upstream doesn’t want to go where Canonical is leading!”

Linux on the desktop “still has lower numbers than the margin for error, yet does the community ever ask itself, ‘What are we doing wrong, and what is the other guy doing right?'” hairyfeet asked. “NO! Instead it must all be an ‘M$ conspiracy,’ and if people would just ’embrace the power of CLI’ — which I swear I had a Linux guy actually say to me like it is the force or something — why then things would be all hearts and roses.”

That, however, “is a lie, and Canonical and Shuttleworth KNOW this, which is why they are trying to create the first ‘Linux for humans’ instead of Linux for CS nerds,” hairyfeet added. “Canonical has done more to make Linux accessible to the masses than has EVER happened before.”

‘It Just Doesn’t Matter’

Perhaps the most philosophical musings, however, came from consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack.

“In the end it just doesn’t matter,” Mack told Linux Girl.

“Ubuntu has had a large effect on the FOSS ecosystem and many usability changes have moved upstream, where all of the other Linux distros now have access to them,” Mack explained. “If Ubuntu pushes things too far in ways that their customers don’t want, there will be another distro to take their place.”


  • First of all, despite being a "Linux Loonie" tactic you seem to enjoy, lets get one thing straight: We are NOT talking about, in no particular order: Servers, routers, cell phones, or your toaster, okay? Those things have about as much to do with the topic as a golf cart has to do with a jet fighter, that is none at all, so focus Pogson, the topic is desktop and laptops, kay?

    Second of all YOUR OWN NUMBERS show what a giant fail Linux on the desktop is, you know that right? You dig up W3 schools, which is a website for WEB DESIGNERS and other IT personnel, yet the BEST numbers you get is 5%. Now try Amazon or Yahoo Portal or any of the bazillion other sites not IT related and then look at the numbers, go ahead I’ll wait…its below 1% isn’t it? Why that would be…drum roll…less than the margin for error! Tada!

    You are the PERFECT example of why Linux has gone nowhere. Instead of asking a question taught in the first week of business 101, aka "What am I doing wrong that my competitors are doing right?" you still insist that the numbers are a lie, it is all a conspiracy, and granny is secretly writing Perl Scripts…WAKE UP!

    Your OS is a royal PITA, with drivers failing every. single. update which is something your competitors haven’t had to deal with in over a decade (Win9X for Windows, System 7 for Mac) , your UIs are lousy and often fail, there is no simple "find drivers" button so any failure (which BTW the OS doesn’t even bother to tell you that something isn’t working, you just get to trip over that yourself) means a lovely maze of forums where you BETTER know the exact make, model, and rev of the hardware in question (which is about as likely as me walking on the moon for most folks) and be skilled and confident enough to tweak said "fixes" or they often won’t work.

    I’m sorry Pogson but until you wake up and smell the FAIL and start to fix the glaring flaws Linux on the desktop ain’t going nowhere. Android, your savior is being "TiVo tricked" as we speak (try to update to the latest rev on a Motorola and see what happens) so it is no different than proprietary now, and despite what you think most people consider the cost of Windows beyond cheap($33 an install for the HP 3 pack).

    So instead of taking the junk the community gives you and coming up with excuses why not stop taking it? If the community would rise up against the mess that Linus and the rest are pushing with their "scratch an itch" approach things might actually change, but on its current course Linux will strictly be a server OS (and even then only because CAL costs make it worth the hoop jumping) and on the desktop it’ll be right there with Amiga and OS/2.

  • The trouble with Linux is when you look at any Linux it looks cold and lacks any really good User Interface inprovements. That’s because Linux comes more from software engineers then designers.

    My thought is that Linux needs to start looking at Windows 7 and OS X and realize that these operating systems are popular because people are using them. They want a good looking, simple to operate and fix operating system. Linux is not good looking, it certainly is not simple to fix, and it is not even close to having a good reason for anyone to switch to it. Being Free is not enough.

  • hairyfeet contributed "still has lower numbers than the margin for error".

    Nonsense. GNU/Linux passed MacOS in popularity 8 years ago. Many OEMs are cranking out devices loaded with various Linux OS: GNU/Linux, Android/Linux, Meego and variants of all of these.

    Web stats, which we know are wrong in absolute terms, indicate CAGR for GNU/Linux hit share of 9% per annum over the last 7 years (W3Schools). Considering that the number of PCs shipped has been growing more than that annually means a very healthy growth for numbers of PCs in use with GNU/Linux. Now we have Android/Linux growing even faster and even tiny smartphones can do most of the personal computing.

    The numbers of users of Linux are a lot more than noise/error.

    • W3 schools is a techie website for people who want information regarding web site design. Their statistics show that 5% of their site visitors are using Linux, which is about 5 times the rate reported from more general purpose sites.

      Pogson isn’t satisfied with that, of course, preferring to imagine that the statistics are flawed. He ignores a more telling inference, too, namely that a website that expounds on the use of Linux and other FOSS software such as Apache is visited by about 90% of the time using Windows and more often by Macintosh users than Linux users.

      Now such a site is pretty much the optimal place to find Linux users, but even there they are barely registering on the scale. Linux as a desktop is not popular, it seems, even amongst its most likely users.

  • There is nothing new and its boring, why? because i use a very stable LTS and it just do the job, there is nothing new to it because i use it everyday, its in my pc, in my media center, and elsewhere, its pretty much the NORM.

  • The FOSS world is obviously in wonderful shape if people have so much time on their hands to hate a single distro. When Apple or Microsoft mandates something, its users have to live with the consequences of that decision. If you don’t like something in Ubuntu:

    sudo apt-get remove whateverbloodypackagegetsyourknickersinaknot

    Please just get a life and move on to a new topic. FOSS will live with or without Ubuntu, but everyone — EVEN DEBIAN FOR GOODNESS SAKE — have benefited from Ubuntu’s focus on usability and its concern for newbies. Has anyone noticed Fedora, SUSE, and Debian pinching some of Ubuntu’s GUI ideas? Not every upstream contribution has to be source code.

    If you hate Ubuntu stop wasting your breath and just move on to another distro.

  • I totally agree on your story.

    I used to be an early adopter of Ubuntu after using Debian and RedHat before that.

    I was very fond of Ubuntu, a real fan, but since 10.04 I stepped back to Debian and now since 6 weeks a happy Mint-user.

    However Mint is based on Ubuntu, it’s so much more reliable and -very important- al lot faster.

    Ubuntu was good for me for several years, but I really said goodbye to it permanently …

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