Why More People Are Choosing Ubuntu

Ubuntu is succeeding in areas where many other desktop Linux distributions have failed.
Posted February 19, 2013

Matt Hartley

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It's been my observation that Ubuntu fans are thrilled that the distribution is seeing adoption not only with end users, but also from companies like Valve in the gaming space. Bundle this with the rumor that Microsoft Office could make a Ubuntu version in 2014, and you find that Ubuntu seems unstoppable.

Sadly though, some in the Linux community are less than impressed with the distro. Some Linux enthusiasts find themselves rehashing old arguments in that Ubuntu is spreading itself too thin. While others simply dislike the distribution for their own personal reasons. Regardless of how any of us feel, the fact is that Ubuntu is succeeding in areas where the Linux desktop has failed previously.

In this article, we'll explore why Ubuntu is succeeding, why some folks dislike Ubuntu and how this affects (or doesn't affect) other Linux distributions.

Ubuntu Learned from Others

Anyone who is a student of Linux desktop history can't deny that the early Ubuntu releases were based on avoiding mistakes made by other newbie friendly distributions at the time. I know for a fact that Linspire was one company that Canonical (the company that supports Ubuntu) studied closely. Besides the fact that they hired one of Linspire's key Click-n-run software store developers, Canonical also focused on Ubuntu's adoption before monetization. These key decisions, along with Ubuntu's Debian distribution roots, helped propel Ubuntu into the hearts of countless users worldwide.

Another area where Ubuntu nailed it early on was attracting power users and newbies alike into the fold of Ubuntu's development. This meant that existing users would remain satisfied with what Ubuntu had to offer, while newer users wouldn't be intimidated by confusing menus and extras that are better suited for enterprise admins than casual end users.

It's interesting to note that early versions of Ubuntu dating as far back as Ubuntu 5.04 offered tools like the network manager, which made connecting to your local network a snap. At that time, other distributions were all over the map, with some of them using control panel-centric settings for this basic functionality. Very early on, Ubuntu was focused on bringing forth needed functionality to the end user without making them to dig for it. This is where Ubuntu was able to differentiate itself from the other distributions. Even the other newbie-friendly options relied too heavily on convoluted desktop environments and settings tucked away out of easy reach at the time.

Desktop Environments and General Usability

Bearing in mind that I will receive a bucket of hate mail over my next statements, history agrees with my sentiment. When Ubuntu selected the Gnome desktop for its users, nearly all the other newbie-friendly distributions at the time were based on KDE. Now I agree that both desktop environments have evolved a lot over the years. However, at the time, the Ubuntu developers felt that Gnome was the least convoluted desktop out there. KDE was complete overkill for the casual user who didn't need fifteen ways to access the same thing on their desktop. Back then, KDE was better suited for power users and Gnome, with some tweaking, offered a far simpler experience.

There is no denying that KDE had two things going for it back then. First, it looked a little bit like Windows. So some thought this would make the transition easier.

Second, KDE was — and still is — vastly more attractive to look at upon initial installation. One doesn't need to tweak KDE to make it pretty.

Where Gnome shined, however, was that it was brain-dead simple to navigate. Application and menu navigation were very straightforward, and at no time would users be presented with choices that they might not understand. Again, I believe this was the reason behind the decision to use Gnome over KDE for early revisions of Ubuntu.

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Tags: open source, Ubuntu, desktop linux, Canonical

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