Don’t Underestimate Ubuntu
I have made this mistake often. I think that others make it too. All of the time. I see it in the forums. I see it in the blogoshpere. I see it from magazine writers. I see users who dismiss Ubuntu as a lightweight distro for newbies only. I see them disrespecting its leader and founder. It has become a bit of a pastime for some.
When Ubuntu first came out, I was using MEPIS. I tried it and went back to MEPIS. When the buzz started, I tried it once again and could not understand what the fuss was about. I thought it was all hype and went back to MEPIS. After trying every release and dismissing it, I tried Feisty and stuck with it. Many people still see Ubuntu as all hype and that if Canonical did not spin it then it would just go away.
We all know that things do not work that way. Linux users are hard to convince. Ubuntu’s user base has many committed hardcore users. They are not a bunch of naive dimwits that some people would like us to believe. I know what you are thinking. Oh, no. Here comes another Ubuntu fanboy. That would be true, except I do not use Ubuntu.
I use Kubuntu and have been using it for two years. That distinction may seem subtle to some, but it is really quite huge. Kubuntu has the same base, but it is very much dominated by KDE. It is not affected by the same issues that affect Ubuntu. Canonical keeps an eye on it, but it pretty much goes its own way. I use Kubuntu because I like the large repositories. I like the great installer. I like the convenience having access to almost anything. I like the ease of use. Most of all I like the community.
I have have my reasons for not using Ubuntu. They are well thought out. I am not a GNOME guy. I tried it and found it limiting. I don’t like limitations. I don’t like having to add things to improve the functionality. I don’t like some of the issues that surround GNOME, such as Mono, and want to distance myself from them. Let’s just leave it at that. I respect GNOME and don’t think my decision to use KDE has merit for others to base their decision on. Use what you like and be happy with it. We should be thankful for having choice.
So why am I defending Ubuntu? Canonical is making changes to Ubuntu and have been doing it for awhile. At one time, it was like Kubuntu. It was pretty much out of the box GNOME. Slowly, in the last couple of years, Canonical has been changing the interface. They started small. They started with adding features, then changed the theme little by little. That has continued. Last release they added a font. The notifications have changed. The MeMenu was added earlier in the year. Software Centre has more features. Ubuntu One continues to evolve. But this was not enough. They have announced that they are moving to Unity and away from GNOME Shell, which has yet to debut.
I would like to add that had not Canonical started adding features and value to Ubuntu, distributions that did this on Ubuntu’s base, such as Mint, would have continued to grow at Ubuntu’s expense. Ubuntu and Mint are growing apart and that is good for both distributions.
I personally am not a Unity fan. I own a netbook. I have run the netbook edition and prefer full GNOME or KDE. Unity shrinks my world and simplifies things in ways that I do not like. However, I want to keep an open mind. Unity is a work in progress and what it will look like next April will be a far cry from what we now see.
I have also tried GNOME Shell. It looks interesting, but it will take some time to grow on me. For someone who likes choice, it is too limiting, but I am prepared to wait until it has matured to judge it. In the meantime, I will use it every now and then.
I get the frustration of GNOME developers. Your biggest distro is distancing itself from your next creation. This is something that you have thought out well and have great hopes for. Now they seem dashed and you want to prove them wrong. I say, Good. Do it!
But there is another aspect to this. I have used Linux for almost ten years. KDE used to rule. It was before there was an Ubuntu or Fedora. GNOME was a small time desktop environment. All of the big distros used KDE. GNOME’s fortunes rose with those of Fedora, Ubuntu and later Mint. And when Novell acquire SuSE, GNOME got an influx of expertise and help. So, there is no more free lunch.
You have to get your name out there on your own merits. GNOME has been resting on its laurels and taking things for granted, too long, IMO. GNOME has not done much to improve itself in the past several years. It looks to me like it did five years ago. I have witnessed GNOME’s rise and wondered at it, but then again, I like all of the bells and whistles, so probably miss the point.
Now, you are improving GNOME. I support that whole heartedly. But, like KDE when they moved to KDE 4, you will have to fight to keep users. If you expect everyone to blindly accept GNOME Shell, then you need to think again. People do not like to be forced to change their habits. Many users will elect to keep GNOME 2, just as KDE users kept 3.5. Many distributions took their time to accept KDE 4. You can expect some of the same.
Ubuntu sees this. They cannot be seen as regressive and holding back progress. They want to move things forward. Unity is something that they can control. It puts there destiny in their own hands. They do not want to place all of their bets on GNOME Shell and they do not want to put their users through a roller coaster ride. You have to get that.
Many people are saying, that they have over reached their grasp and that they will never pull it off. They don’t know Ubuntu. They do not see the team effort that goes on behind the scenes. I am not an insider, but I follow them closely. Ubuntu is more than a distribution. For those who use it, Ubuntu represents an idea. It is just like the word. Ubuntu has become what it set out to be. It is a community that embraces the philosophy. People who write off Ubuntu and Canonical miss that important point because by and large they are outsiders. People believe in Ubuntu and whatever you may say it will grow because of that belief.
There is a side benefit to most things. Unity will breath new life into Compiz, which was on its last legs. Most GNOME users rely on Compiz and are perhaps unaware that development was slowing to a crawl. Canonical is committing resources to keep Compiz alive. That has to be good for everybody.
So what of GNOME? GNOME 2 will be the fall back for Ubuntu, for those who cannot or do not want to use compositing. Many users and some distros will stick with GNOME 2. The transition to GNOME 3 will take time. That is what history teaches us. But in the end, GNOME 3 will become accepted and loved by users. I don’t doubt that.
To GNOME developers, I say, thanks. I used GNOME for years and continue to use it on other distributions that I run on other computers and on the side as an alternate distribution or desktop choice. (I have 17 partitions with at least eight distros installed at any given time.) That thanks should not sound like one you say at the end of something. It is really a new beginning. If you look at it that way it becomes exciting. I welcome GNOME 3, just as I welcome changes to Unity.
Our choice continues to increase. Linux is for lovers of freedom and choice. Choice is not irrevocable. People can try both before the choose. Choice involves acceptance and rejection. It is the Linux way. Or some will be like me and want their cake and eat it too. They will install multiple distributions, multiple desktop environments and switch as the mood strikes them. Linux can be dull if you don’t try everything that you can.
I no longer underestimate Ubuntu. I take it seriously. I have for a few years now. Ubuntu used to be just another distribution, but now when I think of Ubuntu, I think of people. It has become synonymous for me and many others with the philosophy. It won’t go away any time soon because of that. Its users are more loyal than most. It will take a lot to make it fall and there are bound to be stumbles along the way. So far, it has just gotten better with each release. I don’t expect 11.04 to be any different. So if you are not a fan of Ubuntu, don’t get too gleeful. It may come back to bite you in the Spring.