As some of you may have noticed on the Ubuntu forums last week, I mentioned that I had made the decision that Ubuntu had become my choice for my own Linux desktop PCs. This weekend I upgrade to the latest 7.10 Ubuntu, and I also installed Kubuntu 7.10 on a second partition. In my post on the Ubuntu forums last week, many had asked that I share in more detail my experience with Ubuntu, and why after so many years running Linspire/Freespire, I have switched to Ubuntu. I promised that I would do that this weekend after I updated to 7.10. So, here it is...
First, a little history...
When I was CEO for Linspire, I tried to install and look at most of the popular distributions each time they had a significant release. I can still remember the very first time I installed Ubuntu, about three years ago. It was their first release, "Warty Warthog," in October of 2004. There was a lot of buzz about Ubuntu, largely due to its wealthy founder, Mark Shuttleworth, who at the time was best known for his Russian space flight. Other than this buzz about Mark, however, there was little else to set Ubuntu apart from the dozens of other distributions out at that time. I always looked at the latest distros from Red Hat, SuSE/Novell, Mandriva/Mandrake, and a few others. The only reasons I took a look at Ubuntu, however, was from the Shuttleworth buzz. My impression at that time was, well, unimpressed. I found Ubuntu quite "geeky" and not very noteworthy from the other Debian distros.
What a difference three years can make.
Over the three years that followed, I watched as Ubuntu grew, making a lot of wise decisions (strong community focus, consistent 6-month release cycles, strong single-focus leadership from Mark, etc.). For Linspire, when it came to Ubuntu, the last three years were the classic "ignore, endure, embrace."
We "ignored" Warty Warthog, because technically, it was far behind Linspire. However, in just one short year, we were trying to "endure" Ubuntu's success with things like the DCC Alliance and our own "free" distribution, Freespire. And then, one more short year later, we were "embracing" Ubuntu, forming a partnership with them, and basing both Linspire and Freespire on Ubuntu's core technology.
At that time, one year ago, Linspire still had, I believe, three big advantages over Ubuntu: 1) ease of use, 2) CNR (click and run) one-click software installation, and 3) better multi-media and hardware support through a judicious mix of proprietary codecs, drivers and software.
I have to say that today, however, those three Linspire advantages are now, for the most part, gone. Ubuntu 7.10 is without doubt, the best desktop Linux distribution yet.
As one who has never been a big fan of long, in-depth, blow-by-blow, "techie" reviews, I'm going to focus at a high level, and share why I believe Ubuntu 7.10 succeeds, even with the three advantages Linspire use to have, mentioned above.
1. Ease of Use
Ubuntu 7.10 can be installed in about 20 minutes. Even slicker, is how it updates from previous versions. At Linspire it seemed to be our endless goal to have a good way of updating from one version to the next, but we never quite got there. We got close, with some data migration during install, but you still had to update with a CD. Updating with CNR never did have much success, and was always a little buggy. As I said, we got close, but...Ubuntu 7.10 nails it. Installing from scratch or updating via their built-in Update Manager, finding your way to Ubuntu is a snap, and keeping it updated is one-click easy.
I was impressed with the overall attention to detail that I'm now seeing in Ubuntu. Linspire did a lot of little things right, all adding up to an overall easier experience. I'm pleased to see that over time, Ubuntu has also made many of these same adjustments. (I do still see some minor annoyances in Ubuntu, which were resolved in Linspire, and as part of the Ubuntu community, I look forward to helping them further refine their distro. I have, however, been pleasantly surprised at how many of the "little things" Ubuntu has already addressed.)
Keep in mind, I've been using KDE day-in, day-out, for the last six years, so you'd think there would be a big learning curve for me with GNOME and Ubuntu. Not so. The desktop is clean, and the menus are laid out very logically. I really like having most all the settings right in the menu, rather than a separate "control panel." (More on Ubuntu vs Kubuntu in my next blog.)
I was able to do pretty much everything I wanted without having to visit forums or knowledge bases. Setting up a network printer, changing monitor drivers, resolution and settings, connecting to an FTP site, and sharing files across my home network were all very easy to do, and would be for even the most basic computer user. I have yet to go to the command line for anything.
Having worked for the past six years to make desktop Linux super easy to use, I congratulate Ubuntu on their significant progress in this area.
2. Installing New Software - Better than CNR!
This is the one area I would have never imaged I would ever be saying. For Ubuntu users, I see no need to use CNR, and this realization really surprised me when I started running Ubuntu. As good as Ubuntu had become, I would have never believed it would also surpass CNR for adding and removing software, but it has.
Like CNR, Ubuntu 7.10 does an excellent job of hiding all the complexity of installing, removing, managing, and updating Linux software on your PC. Even a total novice will be able to add thousands of software titles with ease. At the bottom of their drop down applications menu, they have a Add/Remove... option.
Selecting this option presents you with a very CNR-like, easy-to-use client, where you can search from among thousands of software titles, and then add them with a couple of simple clicks of your mouse. The programs are laid out logically by category, or you can find them with the quick search, built right into the client.
Everything I wanted to add was easily found and installed, such as Thunderbird, and even KDE applications which I like such as Kompozer, Ksnapshot and KoulorPaint.
Once the installation is complete, the program is added nicely and logically in your Applications Menu.
CNR.com does have a more robust infrustructure for community involvement with reviews, screenshots, mini wikis and forums, which are linked directly into CNR. CNR also has "aisles" which let you create compilations of your favorite applications and install them all with one click. I have to believe Ubuntu will eventually offer similar functionality, and with their large community, I predict it will be very active and garnish a tremendous amount of valuable content.
There were also a couple of programs I didn't see in any of the repositories, such as Adobe's Acrobat Reader and Limewire. As I mention in #3 below, I'm hopeful this is something Ubuntu will be addressing as OPTIONS for those who are interested in licensed software.
The nice thing about Ubuntu's application manager, is it WORKS. Functionally, it's a superior system to CNR for Ubuntu users. It's very easy to use, comes pre-loaded and integrated, is chuck full of the latest and greatest software, and works fast and reliably. It just feels like a very well thought out and implemented system. I was extremely impressed.
3. Multi-media & hardware support
One of the first things I did when running Ubuntu's application manager, was to turn on the "partner" repository setting. This allows a wider variety of software to be installed on your Ubuntu system, although not guaranteed to be supported.
One of the more interesting programs found in the unsupported repository, was called the Ubuntu Restricted Extras. This package contained dozens of files to add things like Flash, MP3 and Java to your system. Not sure how many laws I br0ke, but I did install this program and it worked brilliantly. (I guess that makes ME a "high brow pirate." =) However...
I believe this is one area Ubuntu (or Canonical really) should address immediately. Linspire legally licensed dozens of these same drivers, codecs and applications. There is no reason Ubuntu (or Canonical) couldn't do the same and make them available AS AN OPTION to those who feel they need them. Many businesses and enterprise customers will be particularly adverse to running DVD, etc. if it's not licensed. Many of these licensed bits and pieces can be obtained at no per-unit cost, and I'm quite confident many users, such as myself, would be more than happy to pay fair and reasonable licensing costs for these products. I know some FOSS purists will bristle at this, but if Ubuntu is to find its way into the mainstream, this option needs to be there. OEMs too will want to include DVD software, for example, but most are not going to want to take risks with any gray licensing areas.
My new venture, www.datingdna.com, is a Web 2.0 site and requires the latest Flash plugin. Here is what the site looked like on Firefox in Ubuntu before installing the "extras" package:
And here is how it looked after quickly installing this one package:
One of the nice things with Linspire, is out of the box, it would deal with all the file types found at http://linspire.com/filetypes. In days gone by, when I had tested Ubuntu by clicking on the different links from Linspire's /filetypes page, it was a bloodbath, and hardly anything worked. Today, about half of the links work without installing anything additional, and almost all of them work once you've installed the "extras" package. So, as we see, we know that technically the problem is well in hand, they just need to get some licensing in place for those who are interested in that option.
If Ubuntu can get some optional licensing in place, which I have to believe they are working on (again, as an OPTION for users), they will lick the Multi-media issue for those who still need certain licensed codecs and drivers, until good, reliable open source alternatives can be developed.
Ubuntu is doing a lot of things right, and is really taking desktop Linux to the next level. It's certainly not perfect yet, but it's the best distribution for me, and I'm sure for many like me. I look forward to being part of the Ubuntu community and making suggestions as to how it can become even better still. Part of the reasons Ubuntu is so good, is because it has so many millions of people using it, all providing testing, input and suggestions. That alone will help set Ubuntu apart from the less popular distributions.
Of course, there are many quality Linux distributions, and they all benefit from each other. Over the years, Linspire contributed a great deal to FOSS. I take pride when I see features that Linspire contributed to FOSS, which I'm now enjoying as I run Ubuntu. (There are many, but one of my favorite Linspire FOSS contributions is the on-the-fly spell checking in Firefox. Every time you see that red underline beneath a misspelled word when you're making a forum post, think of Linspire! =) Nvu (now Kompozer) is another project funded by Linspire, which I'd like to see continued.
Mark Shuttleworth has done a wonderful job with Ubuntu. His ability to rally a strong community, his focused leadership, as well as his deep pockets =), are quite evident in the quality of the Ubuntu distribution. Kudos to a job well done!
Next Blog: Ubuntu or Kubuntu for me