Monday, June 24, 2024

Dispelling FUD About Ubuntu

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It seems like every time Ubuntu makes any sort of change, the Linux community finds itself up in arms as if the world is about to end. First, they expressed concern over Unity, then the Amazon search results inclusion and now Mir vs Wayland. Admittedly, I don’t personally use Unity as my default desktop these days, as I don’t use any of its features. That said, however, I’m a big fan of the Ubuntu base that I run with XFCE. This desktop environment serves me well, and my experience with the Ubuntu base has never given me any serious problems.

In this article, I’ll examine some of the most common fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) surrounding Ubuntu, areas where Ubuntu has accomplished seemingly impossible feats and some other important considerations.

Blaming Ubuntu for Linux Challenges

Frequently, I see open source community members express the idea that everything Ubuntu does should benefit the entire Linux ecosystem. For example, when Valve first began working with Canonical to provided support for Ubuntu, some within the Linux community were upset because their distro wasn’t initially supported. Despite the fact that this had nothing to do with Ubuntu’s goals, the community’s expectation is that anytime Ubuntu makes strides to bring in a new player into the fold, that Canonical needs to ensure that other distros are included as well. Newsflash folks — this isn’t Canonical’s problem.

More importantly, when Ubuntu does make new strides to gain adoption with a product previously unavailable, other distributions of Linux are also free to reach out on their own behalf. In other words, stop blaming Ubuntu and Canonical for your distribution’s lack of a decent outreach approach.

Ubuntu’s Isn’t Reaching out to Adobe

Without question, the most ridiculous Ubuntu FUD issue I’ve ever seen was the idea that Canonical should have “intervened” to keep Adobe Flash and AIR alive for Linux users. There are two things wrong with this: first, Flash is a horrible technology that eats CPUs alive because of its poor resource management. Secondly, Adobe AIR wasn’t much better. Besides all of that, Google will be maintaining their own Flash offering for those who simply have to have it. And of course, there is the tiny issue that this wasn’t Canonical’s problem. Clearly, they either weren’t interested in intervening or simply knew their concerns submitted to Adobe would be met with deaf ears.

The fact of the matter is that an absence of Flash for Canonical, is going to translate into less forum threads filled with users complaining about how Firefox crashed due to an Adobe Flash problem. I see dumping Adobe Flash as an overdue event.

Ubuntu Forces You to (Insert Complaint Here)

If you use your favorite search engine to query “Ubuntu hate,” you might be surprised to see how absurd some of the viewpoints actually are. You’ll find search results ranging from “Ubuntu makes me use Unity” to “Ubuntu is spyware.” So what is actually happening here?

Based on my research, the Ubuntu hate is actually a good thing. The sheer number of folks raging about Ubuntu indicate that the distribution is at critical mass. It’s grown to a point that the disdain for it is approaching that of other operating systems such as Windows and OS X.

Let’s address some of the complaints head on.

Ubuntu forces us to use Unity: Factually, this is incorrect. Don’t use Unity if you don’t want to. I’m fairly sure no one from Canonical is going to visit you in the middle of the night and force you to do anything relating to Ubuntu. You’re free to use Unity-free desktop environments such as XFCE, KDE, LXDE, and these days, even the Gnome 3 desktop.

Ubuntu is spyware: This entire fiasco revolves around the inclusion of Amazon search results within the Unity dash. And while I maintain that from the usability point of view, the feature stinks—it’s hardly spyware. You can turn it off easily from the settings menu. A more accurate description would be “ad-supported” or “affiliate-supported software” instead of calling it “spyware.” Some might even get away with calling the Amazon lens for Ubuntu “adware,” but then again, so are most apps found in the Android marketplace — as in, they’re ad-supported.

(Random feature) is broken now, so Ubuntu sucks: Reviewing the various sites hosting complaints about Ubuntu, you’ll quickly notice how devoid of specifics or logic most of them are. Hating Ubuntu because you dislike something about it — and then posting a rant — is self-defeating. And while I accept that newbies may not know any better, I find myself at a loss for words when I see experienced users doing the same. Most of the time, whatever is thought to be broken isn’t Ubuntu-specific. Often times, it’s either a kernel bug or something to do with the desktop environment specifically. The beauty of Linux on the desktop is if something isn’t working well, you can try an alternative. More often than not, the alternative will resolve the problem.

Ubuntu Doesn’t Credit Debian

One of the most popular complaints against Ubuntu, especially with established Linux enthusiasts, is that Ubuntu fails to credit Debian with its success. Now I’m not talking about abiding by the GPL and making sure any code changes are made available to the public. No, I mean we don’t see a blinking banner stating how thankful the Ubuntu development team is because they decided to use Debian.

However, the Ubuntu website clearly indicates that their efforts are based on the Debian project. Going further than that would just be stupid. It would be like me telling anyone who would listen that tonight’s dinner was brought to us by my local grocery store. Clearly, if folks needed to know this, they’d look at the grocery bags next to my fridge.

Ubuntu’s Becoming Too Closed Off

I’ve been offering advice to the Ubuntu development team and Canonical through articles like this for years now. And by and large, my thoughts have fallen on deaf ears. Does that mean that Ubuntu is bad and should be avoided? Of course not. Rather, it means that a private company and a project it sponsors is going in its own direction. That’s fine, it’s their money, their project, their business to do as they see fit.

Despite the viewpoint that Ubuntu is seeing a growing number of users becoming disenfranchised with their current direction, it’s Canonical’s business. What about the community? While Canonical values the community’s involvement, it’s naive to believe that Ubuntu’s development is genuinely a democracy — it’s not. Canonical makes no illusion about the fact that Mark Shuttleworth and his team are the leads for the Ubuntu project. And while I think that Canonical is interested in hearing opinions on the direction of the Ubuntu project, becoming angry because Ubuntu is doing something you don’t care for is just stupid. It’s Canonical’s project, we’re just along for the ride.

The idea that Ubuntu is becoming closed off is an illusion. What’s actually happening is Canonical is taking the project forward with a vision they deem of value. This has always been the case. Where existing Ubuntu users are getting confused is in believing they actually “control” the direction of the project. Wake up folks, you’re simply there to participate and enjoy Ubuntu — not to run the project direction.

Ubuntu is a gift, not a right

As I bring this article to a close, I want to present you with some things to think about. Hate them or love them, the Ubuntu developers have accomplished adoption feats that no other distribution in history has even begun to approach. They’ve helped to bring forth a variety of pre-installed Linux vendors to complement the limited number of vendors in existence previously. We’ve also seen new software come to Linux that otherwise, may not have ever happened. Titles such as Lightworks and Steam are two new-to-Linux software titles that come to mind.

Ubuntu also made discovery tools such as the Ubuntu Software Center possible, while also offering improved management for proprietary drivers. Granted, other distributions did offer attempts at similar tools, but Ubuntu was the distribution that helped get them into the hands of more users.

Am I suggesting that Ubuntu is flawless or that other distributions should be completely ignored? Not at all, in fact, so far I’m loving my experiences with openSUSE 12.3. It offers functionality not found in Ubuntu and is a compelling, exciting distro in its own right.

My closing point is this: Ubuntu helped to kickstart Linux desktop adoption on a scale never before seen in history. Don’t kid yourself into believing that it would have happened with other distributions because I’ve seen a lot of newbie-friendly distros come and go. None of these distributions even remotely touched Ubuntu. Next time we’re tempted to show our frustration about Ubuntu, let’s instead consider thanking the development team for their hard work at helping to grow the Linux community as a whole.

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