Over the years, I've tried a number of great Linux distributions. The distros that had the greatest impact with me personally were those that maintained a strong community. But there's more to a popular distribution than a strong community. Popular Linux distributions tend to appeal to newcomers, often due to features that make using the distro easier. There are obviously exceptions to this, but generally speaking it is true.
One distribution that comes to mind is Ubuntu. Built from a solid Debian base, Ubuntu has not only become an incredibly popular Linux distro, it's also made countless other distributions such as Linux Mint a reality. In this article, I'll explore why I believe Ubuntu wins the Linux distribution wars and how it's influenced Linux on the desktop as a whole.
Before I first tried Ubuntu years ago, I preferred using the KDE desktop. At that time, it was simply the environment I had the most experience with. The main reason is that KDE was the most popular option among various newbie-friendly Linux distributions. Newbie-friendly distros like Knoppix, Simply Mepis, Xandros, Linspire, amongst others and all of them pointed their users towards the welcoming arms of KDE.
At this time, KDE did what I needed it to do and I felt little reason to explore other desktop environments. Then one day after my Debian installation failed on me (due to my own user error), I decided to try out this "Ubuntu Dapper Drake" everyone was raving about. At that time, I was less than impressed with the screenshots I had seen, but figured it would be fun to try regardless.
The biggest impression Ubuntu Dapper Drake made on me was how cleanly everything was laid out. Bear in mind, I came from the KDE world where there were fifteen ways to make one menu change. Ubuntu's implementation of GNOME was very minimalist.
Flash forward to 2016 with the current 16.04 release: we have multiple Ubuntu flavors available, along with tons of distributions based on the Ubuntu base. The core thing all of these Ubuntu flavors and derivative distributions share in common is they're all designed to be easy to use. And when you're trying to grow your user base, stuff like this matters.
In the past, I've almost always stuck with LTS releases for my main desktop. The x.10 releases were best left to my testing hard drive or perhaps even an old laptop. My reasons for this were simple – I had no interest in playing with short term releases on a production PC. I'm a busy guy and simply don't feel this is the best use of my time.
Speaking for myself, I think Ubuntu offering LTS releases is one of the big reasons why the distribution has experienced such success. Think about it – offering folks a desktop Linux distro that will be fully supported for a long period of time has its advantages. To be fair, Ubuntu's not alone here, as there are other distros that do this as well. But I think this LTS strategy bundled with a newbie friendly environment has done Ubuntu a world of good.
In the past, users once raved about the ability to get newer software titles onto their systems using PPAs (personal package archives). Unfortunately, this technology has its shortcomings. Issues like PPA abandonment to discovery are both common issues when working with random software titles.
Then came the concept of Snap packages. Certainly not a completely new concept, as similar attempts have been made in the past. But what I think Snap will offer Ubuntu users in the long term is the ability to run the latest software without having to run the very latest Ubuntu release. While I still think we're seeing the early days of where Snap packages could end up, I'm excited at the prospect of bleeding edge software on a stable distribution release.
The obvious downside is how much disk space Snap packages might potentially use if you're running a lot of software. Not only that, but most software for Ubuntu has yet to officially make the switch over from deb packages. The first issue is solved with ample hard drive space while the latter will simply be a waiting game.
I'm among the first to admit that all of the major Linux distributions have great communities. However, I firmly believe that Ubuntu's community might be the most diverse in terms of folks from different walks of life. For example, we have forums ranging from Apple hardware support to gaming. That's a particularly wide variety of specialized discussions.
Going beyond the forums, Ubuntu also offers a highly defined community structure. This structure includes a council, technical board, LoCo teams, and Developer Membership board. There are others, but these are the areas of the community structure that really stand out to me.
Then we have Ask Ubuntu. In my view, this feature should replace seeking help from the forums as I find it to be far more likely you'll get useful information from this area. Not only that, solutions provided that are voted highly accurate might even make it into the official documentation.
I think Ubuntu's Unity interface has done little to increase desktop adoption. I understand why it was implemented, how it's making things easier for Ubuntu developers and whatnot. But in the end, I also believe it's paved the way for Ubuntu MATE and Linux Mint to increase in popularity as well.
Another area that I wonder about is the future of Ubuntu's IRC and mailing lists. The fact is, neither lend themselves to bettering documentation like Ask Ubuntu can. As for mailing lists, I've always felt this was a painfully dated way to collaborate, but that's just me – others feel different and that's fine.
What say you? Do you think Ubuntu will remain a major player going into the future? Perhaps you believe Arch, Linux Mint or others will dethrone Ubuntu in terms of popularity. Hit the Comments and give your favorite distribution a shout-out. If your favorite is based on Ubuntu, explain why you prefer it over Ubuntu proper. I think many of us can mutually agree that, if nothing else, Ubuntu makes a pretty popular base from which to build other distributions.