That time of year is rapidly approaching. The time of year when my brain will be picked to shreds by friends and family looking for "free" tech support. Chances are that you know the routine yourself by now. One of the things I do each year (partly as a distraction from the tough questions :) is put together CDs/DVDs/flash drive containing free software as a giveaway for friends and family (if nothing else, it gives them something to play with). This year, for the first time, I'm adding an OS to the freebie package - Ubuntu 8.10.
This is a big deviation for me from the usual selection of freebie Zip tools, utilities and such that I put together. I'm adding a copy of Ubuntu because I think that the time is right to shatter the illusion that the OS race is a one or two horse race. The time is right to offer Ubuntu as a credible alternative to Windows. Why? Well, there are a number of factors that come into play:
- Ubuntu is a MUCH better OS than it was 12 - 18 months ago. Installing Ubuntu 8.10 on most machines is quick, easy and painless, and most of the driver hassles that plagued installations are now gone. Almost every install of Ubuntu that I've carried out across a variety of hardware platforms have been successful, and the problems that I have had lately have been minor.
- Many home users have shifted from client-side software (such as email clients) to web services. This has moved the emphasis away from the OS and onto the browser.
- Experimenting with Ubuntu is easy. Not only is there the Live CD that allows people to boot up into the OS.
- Also, dual boot is no hassle because the Wubi installer that makes installing Ubuntu alongside Windows a snap. This way you can still keep Windows for gaming.
- Firefox has become an acceptable alternative to IE. People aren't freaked out when the "Big Blue E" disappears.
- People are struggling to secure Windows. I know of many people who go from one malware tragedy to another. Yes, bottom line it's down to the the user not following some simple rules. While it's possible to make the moats deeper and the walls taller, but unless you lock down the OS, people can easily leave the drawbridge down.
- While I'm under no illusion that Linux is impenetrable, I know for a fact that the OS isn't currently under siege from the countless forms of malware that continually hammer at a Windows installation. Bottom line, Linux (and for that matter, Mac) is immune to almost all the malware junk out there. Even if you are the type that's gullible enough to try to install a bogus codec in order to get your hands on free porn it doesn't matter because nothing bad will happen.
I'm well aware that Ubuntu isn't going to work for everyone, and there's no reason that it should. But the fact is that Ubuntu (and Linux as a whole) has matured to the point where it'll work for an increasing number of people. I'm not interested in pushing a "on size fits all" OS onto everyone, it's about helping people find an OS that works for them.
It'll be interesting to see how Ubuntu goes down with the average user. I will also load Ubuntu onto a notebook and a desktop specifically so friends and family can have a play with it because I'm interested in gauging their response to the OS. My guess is that most won't ever have see it before so the reactions that the OS gets during the first five minutes of use could be very interesting.