It’s an important concept: a Linux distro focused on simplicity, usability, and mass appeal. Unix has been the “next big thing that never happened” since the 1970s. Linux was supposed to be the killer implementation, and Red Hat and other companies did a good job at creating compelling server-side distros, but no Linux distributions have ever been sufficiently end-user-friendly to displace Windows and Mac on the desktop. For years it’s been next to impossible to find drivers for the myriad of hardware that’s required on the desktop for things like cameras, scanners, joysticks, etc.. And applications for Linux – while available – often lack the polish of Windows or Mac apps, and typically must be compiled for the user’s target operating system… needless to say, this is not the sort of process for Joe User. Problem is, the typical Linux user thinks this process is Just Fine Thanks due to a hundred technical reasons that nobody cares about, so for years, change has come very slowly.
Ubuntu and its benefactor Canonical have been working diligently to make a Linux distro that’s truly user-friendly – something that could truly compete in the free market against Windows and Mac. I installed Ubuntu for the first time about three years ago, and found it to be interesting – even compelling in many ways – but like always, the drivers and lack of software prevented me from living with it. I used MS Office apps, and the replacement, OpenOffice, was too underpowered for me, and drivers for much of my hardware were unavailable or inadequate.
Things have been changing, and I have now switched to Ubuntu on all of my computers except my Hackintosh and the DAW at Pleasantry Lane. While the software is still less-than-enough, I have found that over the past few years my dependence on MS Office has waned significantly due to two factors:
- MS Office has failed to advance in usefulness
- Cloud apps like Google Docs have become worthy alternatives
For photo management, nothing touches Picasa, which works better on Windows and Mac than on Linux. But it does run on Linux (are you listening, Google?). For music management, nothing touches Media Monkey, but I can use Ubuntu’s default player “Rhythmbox” well enough. Oracle offers a strong, free, VMWare-compatible virtual host called VirtualBoxOSE that has helped ease my Windows separation anxiety: if something comes up that requires Windows, well, I still have Windows.
I used to do primarily Windows based development. But, increasingly, I’ve come to see the light on using VMs for development since they make it so easy to have clean, isolated development environments that are easy to push back and forth to production VMs, so running a dev environment in a virtual machine isn’t really a problem if I want to do Windows development. And besides, increasingly, I’ve been itching to do more *nixy development, like Python, Ruby, MySQL, and CouchDB which I can do natively on this machine (though I’ll probably use a VM for them as well).
Other, bundled software is pretty nice. There is OpenOffice, which has matured significantly. There’s Gwibber (a social-media client) and Empathy (a chat client). Remote Desktop (for Linux boxes) and Terminal Server clients are both built-in. I spend a lot of time in text editors – and really like the Gedit editor a lot, enough to turn my back willingly on EditPad Pro. There’s the Evolution mail and calendar client which, like Outlook, I doubt I’ll ever need, since Gmail rocks.
Drivers seem stable, solid, and plentiful. The only device on any of my computers that doesn’t work in Ubuntu 10.04 is the fingerprint reader on my Lenovo notebook. Other stuff works surprisingly well. Integrated camera? Just works. HP all-in-one network printer/scanner/fax? Just works. Things that used to get Linux boxes really confounded (like Sleep mode) work great now. Heck, even Bluetooth works.
Other things are such a pleasure. Boot up time into Ubuntu, once the computer has left the startup screen, is literally one second on my Lenovo (which has an SSD). Networked computers all see each other nicely and play well together. The UI is slick and powerful. Fonts render better in Firefox than in any Windows or Mac browser, making web surfing more pleasurable. The installation process is super-painless – easier than installing Windows 7 or Snow Leopard. Ubuntu One is nifty. The Ubuntu Software Center maintains a convenient list of easily-installable, compatible, and free apps that automatically compile and install in seconds.
It’s fast. It doesn’t crash. And it’s virtually virus-proof.
Did I mention it’s free?