Divining from the Entrails of Ubuntu's Gutsy Gibbon: Page 4

Posted September 20, 2007

Bruce Byfield

Bruce Byfield

(Page 4 of 4)

Ubuntu Vs. Debian

Some of the shortcomings mentioned here originate in GNOME itself. Yet Ubuntu has often changed GNOME to suit itself, so it must still take part of the blame. Ubuntu began with some promising improvements on the desktop, but for the last few releases, it seems to have neglected other changes that are just as much needed as the original ones.

Moreover, somewhere along the line, a strain of what might be called "Windows thinking" seems to have entered into the project's plans. Free software has always been about user education and choice, yet, at times, Ubuntu seems to forget these goals in favor of a quick fix that keeps users ignorant and unaware of alternatives.

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These tendencies are not consistent. Nor should you make the mistake of thinking that, because I criticize Ubuntu, I am hostile to it. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, at any given time, I usually have one actively used computer that is running on it.

All the same, I can't help comparing Ubuntu to its Debian parent. Despite its reputation for being difficult, Debian has always had a habit of accommodating all levels of users and helping them learn as they go.

For instance, if you enter dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg at the command line in Debian (or in Ubuntu, where it is still buried, if often unused), you have three options for setting your monitor's resolution. In the simple one, you simply select the monitor's size. In the medium option, you choose the resolution and refresh rate you want, while in the advanced one, you can enter the monitor's specs directly from its documentation. You can use whichever one you are most comfortable with, but, at the same time, you are aware of other options, some of which may be more precise than the one you choose. Such an arrangement avoids overwhelming new users while letting them know that there is more to learn at some later point.

This is the sort of flexibility that I find too often lacking in Ubuntu's desktop. For all its many excellences, Ubuntu would be an even stronger distro if it tidied up some long-neglected corners and helped to develop users' knowledge in the same way that Debian does. And maybe, eventually, it will. However, if the pre-release versions are any indication, none of that is going to happen in Gutsy Gibbon. For the next release, it looks like business as usual.

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