Ubuntu 11.04 - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I've just been reading the comments to my previous post, concerning Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

I've just been reading the comments to my previous post, concerning Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal. It appears that @covariant is right, this is a very polarizing release. But I think it is extremely important that we keep an open mind about it, whichever side we are on. Mark Shuttleworth is a very smart guy, and he has a lot of other very smart people working for him. I don't think they are trying to please experienced Linux users (and so far in most cases it seems they are doing a good job of not pleasing us), but they don't need to please us. We're happy with Linux. We'll find a way to use it, whether it is Ubuntu or some other distribution. I think what they are trying to do is position it to appeal to a much larger audience of computer users, and of computer OEMs. Convincing people to "switch" to Linux from whatever operating system came on their computer, or to buy a computer without an operating system and load Linux, has been proven to be insufficient to gain any kind of market share. The only way forward is to convince some of the major OEMs to offer systems preloaded with Linux. Not one system, or just a few, or special configurations, but to offer it across the entire line. I believe that the changes being made to Ubuntu are primarily aimed in that direction. They might work, I don't know, but they deserve to at least be given a chance because if it does work, we all end up in a much better place but if they don't, we end up in pretty much the same place we are already, so who cares?

In the meantime, we should be taking advantage of the diversity in Linux distributions. We are constantly getting bashed by people about there being "too many" different distributions leading to confusion. Arguments about breakfast cereal, automobiles or pretty much anything else sold on the open market don't seem to stop that criticism. Well, here is the perfect example. If you like Ubuntu 11.04 and the Unity desktop, then use it! That's great! Tell all your friends and relatives, show them how great it is, convert as many as you can. If you happen to like Ubuntu 11.04, but not the Unity desktop, then just sit tight, it won't be long until Linux Mint 11 is released. (To those who say "just use the Ubuntu Classic desktop", I remind you that this is a temporary solution that is likely to disappear with the next release.) If you don't like Ubuntu, you think they are going in the wrong direction with their development, or perhaps you just can't run it because your hardware isn't up to it, take a look around, choose one of the many other Linux distributions available. If you like Debian, and you are up to the task, you can go back to the top of the stream and use the recently released Debian 6.0 release. If you want something that is more fully developed and integrated, along the lines of Ubuntu, there is SimplyMEPIS, who are about to release their version 11 distribution, and that's only one of the many good choices in this category.

Of course, you don't have to stay within the Debian family. Long-established distributions such as Fedora and openSuSE are great options - openSuSE released 11.4 not long ago, and Fedora will be releasing 15 soon. Both are extremely solid distributions, with excellent development teams behind them. If you want to really learn about Linux, installing, configuring and caring for your own computer and operating system, you could try the brand-spanking-new Slackware 13.37 release, which very few people even noticed because they unfortunately released it right before Ubuntu released Natty (I will write about it next week). If you like the idea of Slackware, but you would like for someone else to do a lot of the initial "dirty work" before you get your hands on it, there is Vector Linux, who are getting close to their 7.0 release, or if you have a more relaxed, "Zen-like" approach to computing and Linux, there is Zenwalk Linux, who recently made their 7.0 release.

The list could go on and on, but the point is we have choices. Lots of them. When you go to the store, you choose the breakfast cereal that suits your taste. You (hopefully) don't waste a lot of time denigrating those who choose differently than you. More pertinent in this case, if they change whatever cereal you have been choosing, and you don't like the new product, you make another choice. You might choose something that is similar to what you had before, or you might decide to take the opportunity to change to something completely different.

So, I have talked myself in a complete circle back to where I started. If you like Natty and Unity, use it. If you don't, choose a different distribution and use that. But the really important thing is, the next time you hear someone whineing "there are too many different Linux distributions, it's just too confusing", take up whichever end of this spectrum you are on and enlighten them. You can tell them "because different distributions are developing in different directions, and look how great that has turned out with Ubuntu and the Unity desktop", or you can tell them "because different distributions are developing in different directions, and if one does something I really don't like such as Ubuntu with Unity, then I can just change to another one which is staying on the path that I prefer". Either way, it's the diversity that is working in our favor here, and we need to keep that in mind and remind people of it. Contrast that with what happens when Microsoft does something totally stupid, like Windows Vista; first, you get to pay for the privilege of finding out that it is garbage and doesn't work with your computer or your peripherals. Second, you have no alternative other than stumbling along with Vista as best as you can, or staying with the previous version (XP). Third, when Microsoft finally smears some lipstick on Vista, taking care of some of the most serious problems, and re-releases it as "Windows 7" rather than "Vista Repaired" as it should have been, you get to PAY AGAIN for the privilege of finding out if it works on your computer and with your peripherals. If it still doesn't, or if your hardware is not powerful enough, well, you are once again basically screwed; you can try to stay with XP if that works for you, but Microsoft will immediately start denigrating XP as "old and out of date", because they are determined to force you to "upgrade" to Win7, and they don't care the tiniest bit if that means you also have to buy all new hardware and peripherals.

Given those two scenarios, I will opt for choice every time. That's why I get a bit irritated when people bemoan the variety of Linux distributions.

jw 30/4/2011

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