Ubuntu – is Linux finally ready for the desktop?

I’ve now been using Ubuntu on my laptop (a Sony VAIO – btw, the quality of the display is absolutely astounding: two years on, I’m still delighted by its brightness AND battery life) for quite a few months, and I must confess my perception of it has entirely changed.

As you can see from previous entries in this blog, I’ve been rather critical of Ubuntu and certain design choices – however, the more you get used to the `sudo` thing and the general approach that you don’t really need to `su` to root to get stuff done, then it becomes pretty natural and, indeed, most stuff does get done.

However, the one thing that most convinces me that the folks at Ubuntu are definitely travelling down the right path, is the ease of use of the user interface (which looks way better than Windows) and also how easy has it become to add functionality.
Adding hardware has also come a long way from the times when even getting Linux to “see” a WiFi card meant compiling some drivers, editing scripts and all that nonsense that was so frustrating for all those, like myself, that saw using a Linux box as a means to an end (eg, doing development, running a web server, getting a database server up and running) as opposed to the end in itself (as it still to me seems the case with some parts of the Linux community).

Ubuntu definitely is a massive stride forward in making Linux a much more compelling proposition to the “computer savvy” professionals – developers, and IT experts – who are sick and tired of buggy, insecure and drab Windows; but at the same time don’t have the time and desire to spend entire days and weeks trying to figure out why that particular kernel driver does not compile.

However, it is also important to say that Linux will really never become the OS of choice for the “great unwashed” – but this is no bad thing: trying to “dumb it down” would mean introduce technologies (such the infamous Universal PnP and suchlike) that make Windows such a security nightmare.

In other words: for those who can, Linux; for those who can’t, Windows…


2 responses to “Ubuntu – is Linux finally ready for the desktop?”

  1. I must say that my experience with the latest Ubuntu (Gutsy) has also been quite pleasant. Being South African with a latent (but fierce) patriotic streak, I tried Ubuntu when it first came on the scene and was thoroughly unimpressed. The partitioning tool stuffed up my hard-drive so bad that my Windows XP installer CD wouldn’t boot. Only after booting into Knoppix and destroying all the partitions on my hard-drive could I get into the Windows installer.That was the end of Ubuntu for me until 2006 when I started using Debian. It converted me to the ways of binary package repositories. Gentoo was fun for awhile, but I just don’t have the time to wait for everything to compile from source anymore.Some of my colleagues awaited Gutsy foaming at the mouth, so I decided to give Ubuntu one more chance. And what a pleasure it was this time round. Configuring my system for dual booting was the hardest part of the install (and even that was comparatively easy). I must agree that the UI is pretty and functional. And if you install compiz-fusion it’s even prettier and more fully featured.The first thing I noticed was also that my Wi-Fi card worked without needing to compile drivers or kernels. I almost wept. What more was there to do if I didn’t need to try and compile drivers? The only thing I couldn’t get to work was extending my desktop onto 2 monitors.I must disagree that Linux will “never” be the choice OS of the “great unwashed.” Networking might not be the most trivial thing to set up without uPnP but I don’t think the various players in the OSS communities are that far from making more secure, existing technologies easier for average joe to operate.As more hardware drivers become available for Linux it becomes less of a problem for average computer users to switch to Linux. The major problem is the paradigm shift that goes with it… Most people that are used to using one type of system only switch to another type when forced, and then only grudgingly. People whined when they had to switch from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 and now they’re whining again when they have to switch from XP to Vista… and those are just major changes within the same OS.Those that switch from Windows to Linux or Mac are the minority of users, I think, regardless of which platform addresses their needs best.

  2. Now, that was a very thoughtful comment and, I must say, I rather concur with all you’ve said.On the other hand, I still maintain the average user will refrain from using Linux for the very simple reason that you can still do very little without using a shell (try, as an experiment, to use your Ubuntu for 48 hours without using bash – to conduct the ordinary tasks that you would on a normal work day) and that is likely to put off most users who are not “technically inclined.”However, I actually think that this is a strength of Linux: unlike more “naive” Linux fundamentalists, I do not measure success of an OS by counting the number of users or the market share.Especially when profit motives are not what Linux is all about.Rather, an OS is “successful,” in my view, if it enables those users who elect to use it, to accomplish their tasks as effortlessly, securely and intutively as possible, without getting in the way, but rather simplifying those tasks to the point of becoming effortless.So, for example, having to compile the Prism drivers to connect to a WiFi networks is a hindrance, but is no worse than Microsoft’s opening the computer to all sorts of hackers by ignoring the most basic rules of designing a secure OS in the name of ease of use (and marketing expediency).In other words, I see Linux appeal and limits of use to a “restricted” community of technically savvy users as an advantage, rather than a weakness, and I welcome the fact that it is not an “OS for the masses.”Call me an arrogant elitist, if you will, but, really, flattery is not necessary to post comments on my blog…

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