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Over the years, I've watched Ubuntu develop into quite the impressive Linux distro. While Ubuntu definitely has room for improvement, it does offer the casual user an outstanding experience overall. In this article, I'll share the areas where I think Ubuntu is raising the bar on Linux for the masses.
1. Built from Debian – Long before I ever touched Ubuntu, I was a fan of Debian-based distributions. Early releases of Simply Mepis, Knoppix and other distros provided casual users with an outstanding desktop Linux experience. For people who value their free time and don't spend their weekends customizing their Linux installations, the straightforward approach offered by today's Debian-based distributions offers a fast path to desktop Linux success.
Because Ubuntu was built from Debian, we know that it brings with it a history of great package management. For me personally, it was Ubuntu's Debian package management that sold me on using Ubuntu in the first place. Being familiar with apt package installations, I felt right at home with Ubuntu, as did many other users of Debian-related distros.
2. Ubuntu PPAs – By default, you may not have access to the latest software in an Ubuntu install. In many cases, even after enabling the software repositories for pre-released and unsupported updates, you may still be missing out on the latest software releases for select applications.
To better address this problem, Ubuntu offers us the ability to share user-contributed software packages in what is called a Personal Package Archive or PPA. Unlike a standard apt repository, a PPA lacks the oversight of the Ubuntu development team and can offer instant access to software updates for applications like Kazam, Kdenlive, OpenShot and many others.
Taking the concept a step further, some PPAs for software like Google Chrome provide both a stable and unstable repository. This is useful for Ubuntu users who have had issues with the stable software and may need to test out an application version that is still under heavy development. An example of success with this was when I had an issue with a stable release of Chrome and found that an unstable release of the same application actually worked better for me under Ubuntu.
3. Proprietary software drivers – I may not be a fan of using proprietary software drivers on any Linux distribution, but I can rationalize the value of using them under the right circumstances. On my own PCs for example, I don't use proprietary drivers to power my dual-monitor setup with my ATI card. The existing open source driver, actually works quite well for my needs.
However, some of my wireless devices still require proprietary firmware that Ubuntu provides behind the scenes during the installation process. Even though I've not manually elected to choose to run this firmware, Ubuntu considers this addition acceptable as it doesn't actually alter the distribution outright, unlike proprietary graphics or wireless drivers.
In older versions of Ubuntu, the proprietary firmware offerings could be found in the Jockey utility. However, in the newer versions, these driver offerings are provided directly from the software updates menu instead. In both instances, users can easily enable or disable proprietary drivers without needing to drop down to a command line interface. This is useful for end users who need to run a proprietary driver instead of an open source alternative.
4. User adoption – One of Ubuntu's unique qualities is its strong user base that offers help when needed. Speaking for myself, I've found that it's the community that surrounds Ubuntu that presents so much opportunity. Whether it's cooperative problem solving or recruiting beta-testers for Ubuntu-specific application development, working with the Ubuntu community has its advantages.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of working with the Ubuntu community is how diverse its members are. Newbies to advanced users all come together to make the most out of the Ubuntu experience.
5. Ubuntu as a brand – Thanks to their efforts in the mobile space, in smart TVs, in the cloud space and on the desktop, Ubuntu has made quite a brand for itself. It's comical to think about how many new Ubuntu users, refer to Linux as Ubuntu—as if other Linux distributions didn't exist.
However, some people in the wider open source community have become frustrated with Ubuntu's success. Rather than learn from Ubuntu's success to affect positive changes within their own distribution, they berate Ubuntu for everything from not giving Debian enough credit to not giving back enough to the community.
Apparently, the fact that Ubuntu is effecting an acceleration of Linux adoption is completely ignored here. Despite any confusion between Linux and Ubuntu, the adoption of Ubuntu by new users is something to be celebrated, in my opinion.
6. Derivative projects – Kubuntu, Lubuntu, Xubuntu and others all have Ubuntu proper to thank for their existence. While each derivative uses a different desktop environment, the shared "Ubuntu-core" allows users access to the same software repositories and a very similar feel.
Steam is currently being aimed squarely at the Ubuntu environment. Arch and other distros will likely have mixed success running Steam games, but at the end of the day, Steam on Linux will be primarily at Ubuntu. More access to games means greater adoption in the long haul.
8. Ubuntu One (music, storage) – Despite still having a ways to go in its development, Ubuntu One could one day provide the kind of cloud access that its development team intended from its inception. Already, Ubuntu One does a fine job providing access to one's music and the ability to sync up files on demand.
However, I would like to see Ubuntu One provide complete home directory syncing. I'm not saying the option should be checked by default, as this would be a problem for those who have bandwidth caps. Rather, I'm pointing out that making the process of backing up one's home directory an automatic process would cut down on hundreds of needless forum posts.
9. Canonical support (for development and enterprise usage) – Hate it or love it, Canonical is a critical component of the greater Ubuntu "machine." Canonical provides both the development support for Ubuntu and the end user solutions for desktop and server Ubuntu. Despite Canonical setting up a road map for Ubuntu with a lot of, shall we say, "speed bumps" in place, I think that Canonical's contributions to getting Linux into homes and classrooms worldwide makes them a good corporate citizen overall.
10. Unity HUD – Despite not being a huge fan of other aspects of the Unity shell, such as the Amazon shopping lens, I do give Canonical credit for the Heads Up Display or HUD. HUD provides a fabulous way to interact with application menus and other desktop functions all from a singular interface. The idea is to provide a faster, more effective means of interacting with your Ubuntu desktop. For myself personally, I've found that the HUD is useful for finding menu options, even if you don't remember where they are otherwise located.