It's so nice to see Ubuntu getting more mainstream


The New York Times had a review of Ubuntu today, and it was generally pretty positive. I've been using it for most of the year now, and at this point, I've almost forgotten that I'm not using the same OS as everyone else because it works so well. Not only are all the parts of the OS really great - Gnome, Open Office, Firefox, Thunderbird, Gimp and all the little apps like gEdit and the file manager - but the integration of these apps and general organization in Ubuntu is awesome as well. I find myself more and more productive using it every day as I unlearn old habits and learn new ones.

It's nice to see the article praise the package management system - as it does rock and adding a new app is so insanely simple - but I think the focus on the multimedia stuff is a bit overblown. It doesn't take much effort to add in DVD support with the multiverse. Compared to the level of effort you need to make to clean up all the junk many Windows boxes have after you get it pre-installed, I think it's actually a breeze.

The mainstream question for Linux/Ubuntu though is a tough one. There's still another few releases before it'll become drop-dead simple to use. It's definitely well within the capabilities of a "Power User" to have and enjoy, but the newbie user is still going to get a bit confused in various areas - including hardware support, etc. One area where I'd love to see Ubuntu - and all of Linux really - clean up a bit is in the file system organization. I think all the various system directories need to be hidden more cleanly, a la the Mac OS. There's already a Linux distrib out there called GoboLinux that's done exactly this with a small kernel patch that does some interesting trickery with links, so that it looks clean but remains compatible with standard Linux installs. I'd love to see the Debian and Ubuntu community adopt this, as it would go a LONG way to making the OS more user friendly.

The great thing about stuff like the NYT review is that there's an acceleration associated with Ubuntu that you can almost feel. Every release gets exponentially better, and the idea of Linux as an alternative OS is getting more and more widely accepted. As more developers use it, more developers will add to it, which is a virtuous circle. And obviously as that circle widens to more people, more manufacturers will start to support the OS out of the box as well. Combined with the fact that multiple cores are becoming common, as is the ease of installing virtual OSes for those few "must-have" apps, the barrier to switching over is lessoning every day.

One thing that bums me out though is that almost everyone I know who's a geek now is using a Mac. Urgh! Macs are nice machines and the OS is Unix based and of course everything famously just works. But I really just think there's too much lock-in in that world... I'm not an Open Source zealot, but Macs and the closed OS they use are just generally elitist devices owned by only the top 1% of the world's population. It'd be nice to see my geek pals embrace the OS of the common man, you know? Besides, you know in his heart of hearts, Steve Jobs would love to lock down Mac OSX as much as he's locked down the iPod and iPhone - why invest in that insanity? Maybe Apple will pull a "vista" and screw up Leopard somehow, pushing the recent Mac converts to Ubuntu? Ooh, that'd be nice, wouldn't it?

Anyways, like I keep saying. Ubuntu is a gorgeous OS that I love more and more every day. Definitely give it a try if you haven't, especially if you're an old-skool Unix head stuck in Microsoft or Mac land, you'll definitely be glad. And don't be surprised over the next year or so to see Ubuntu keep barreling ahead with improvements. I bet by this time next year, we'll be seeing a lot more head to head comparisons of popular OSes out there, with Ubuntu winning more than its share of them.


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