Thoughts on Ubuntu

By Deane Barker on October 3, 2006

Well, I finally installed Ubuntu at home the other night. I had seen it and played with it before, but I figured it was time to live with it for a while, given all the hype. Here are some thoughts —

Installation was rock-simple. I burned the ISO to a disk, then booted from it (burning an ISO isn’t simple for everyone, of course, but in a perfect world you could buy this on a store shelf).

It booted to a fully-functional Ubuntu install, with an icon on the desktop helpfully called “Install.” I clicked on this and answered a few questions and, 10 minutes later, it had formatted a 120GB drive and installed itself.

It is, without a doubt, the slickest Linux desktop distribution I’ve ever seen. It’s well-configured, intelligently set-up, and I have complete confidence that my Mom could use it. All the pieces are here, and the previous confusion that accompanied my other attempts at living with desktop Linux are gone.


It’s no Mac OS killer. It’s not even a Windows killer, I don’t think.

I don’t say this to slam Ubuntu. Indeed, Ubuntu is a huge, huge leap forward in desktop Linux. But there are still rough edges that detract from it and don’t hold up well to other OSs.

Example: here is a screenshot of the CNN homepage in a default Ubuntu installation. As you can see, it looks….goofy. There are font issues here, I think. This is a drag because — small fix as this probably is to a geek — regular users can’t even comprehend what a font is outside of a WYSIWYG editor, and they would have no idea how to fix it (confession: I have no idea how to fix this…).

In the end, what I like about Ubuntu is that I have a desktop install that approaches the polish and ease-of-use of other OSs, but has underpinnings that are very close to the Linux server environments on which I work all day (yes, yes, I know Mas OS is based on FreeBSD, but it’s expensive…).

I now wait patiently for Joe to leap to Ubuntu’s defense. I’m interested to hear his point of view. Since he went on vacation and left us all to do his work, he should have a lot of leisure time to think up a good response.

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  1. I’m sorry, I looked at the screenshot…what’s supposed to be wrong with it??? it looks goofy how exactly? Ubuntu and/or Linux are supposed to be to blame for the fact that some website author can’t or won’t do their job properly?

    If this is the only thing you can find to complain about then it sounds pretty darn good to me. I’m sure I can find plenty of standards-compliant web pages which do not render correctly in Internet Explorer, and this is not fixable even if one had the skills or the time to do it.

    This is a geek site isn’t it? Or am I lost?

  2. Check out SUSE Enterprise Linux Desktop 10. It is the most polished and easy to use desktop distribution available right now. Won Best of Show at LinuxWorld. More impressive than Ubuntu and easier on the eyes too. It’s the first GNU/Linux I have used that I would actually consider paying for.

  3. in a perfect world you could buy this on a store shelf

    You do know about right (accessible as a link off of the main Ubuntu page)? From the website: “ShipIt lets you request Ubuntu 6.06 LTS (Dapper Drake) CDs that will be posted to you free of charge.”

    Unless you want the instant gratification of getting it off a shelf, this seems even better than buying it…

  4. While I find the example of a “rough edge” a little odd, there is something in heriantly good about this article that points out a REALLY good feature of Ubuntu.. and I quote

    “and I have complete confidence that my Mom could use it.”

    This important statement sums up WHY its a MS killer. Everyone will come to a point where they are faced with BUYING a new OS or getting the OS free…. what a decision, and if options are avaliable that even Mom could figure out, then I see a crack in the MS armor.

  5. While I agree that a VERY important part of any OS is usability, I disagree about everyone eventually being faced with buying an OS. As long as Ubuntu (or any other Linux Distro) is not in an OS selection box at,, or other major vendor… it will be difficult to break the Micro$oft foothold.

    In my experience with users (I’m a Systems Administrator for the Government), people tend to flock to what they know. They know “Windows”. Unless there is a large grass roots movement to Open Source operating systems, it’s difficult to bring them to market.

    I digress… I’m glad you installed it. I’m more excited that you took the time to write about it!

    Any chance, Deane, that you could do a more indepth review? Your insight from a web developer perspective would be fantastic to hear.

  6. i believe that ubuntu is starting to mature at just the right time… ubuntu has some rough edges: fonts are a drag for one and not having the latest macromedia flash player makes navigation and use of some websites darn near impossible.

    but i installed ubuntu on an old dell laptop direct from the live CD. laptops were problematic for virtually all linux distros until just recently and the ease with which the ubuntu distro figured out what hardware i had was nothing short of amazing. and better than that, it comes with lots of stuff pre-installed (OO,browsers,multimedia,…)

    i believe that the time is ripe for a decent desktop linux because people are going to get grumpy when vista gets shoved down their throats. vista demands more hardware than ever before and will break most applications. somehow i don’t see everyone just blindly trotting down to the local bix box to re-buy all of their applications! worse vista promises a lot of new DRM layers — if it is anything like microsoft’s hideous zune device people will be gacking in the streets — and i really believe that will drive people away if the truth can get out and heard.

    for myself, i am already actively planning that xp will be the very last microsoft o/s i buy. it came with my systems and it has been ok but vista looks like it will take away freedoms i have. that won’t fly with me. right now, ubuntu is the leading contender — i’d be there right now IF there was an up to date flash player…

  7. There are some minor issues with a fresh Ubuntu install. Most of these have to do with functionality that is prevented by patents or copyright problems from being installed automatically.

    The big ones are:

    • No Flash (MM flash is commercially licensed)
    • No MS Fonts (commercial license – Deane’s ‘web page looks funny’ problem)
    • Many video codecs aren’t installed (WMV, Real, Quicktime)
    • No 3D on cutting-edge hardware (commercial license).
    • No playing of commercial DVD’s (Illegal in US due to DMCA)

    Running EasyUbuntu solves all of these in about 5 minutes. It goes like this:

    1. From your Ubuntu machine, click the EasyUbuntu Dowload
    2. When Firefox asks, say you want to open the download using the GDebi Package Installer (this is the default action).
    3. Click ‘Install Package’ when the installer loads. This will ask you to grant administrative rights (click Grant), and probably to enter your password.
    4. Close the installer and click ‘Applications menu->System Tools->EasyUbuntu’
    5. A tabbed dialog pops up with check boxes for all of the things you’d want to do. Check off the ones you want (like Flash, Java, Video codecs, fonts, and etc). Hit OK
    6. The installer will then run and install anything you asked for. You may be asked for your password, or to verify that you know you’re installing Flash or java, which have non-free licenses.

    In a few minutes, your Ubuntu machine will have all of the things you’ve been missing.

    Keep in mind that reading commercial DVDs using linux is technically illegal in the US, thanks to the DMCA. Despite the fact that installing it lets you insert a DVD and have it start playing perfectly, just as it would on a DVD player. Or so I’ve heard. Living in the US, of course, I wouldn’t know.

    In the next few months, I expect that we’ll see installs of Ubuntu that ship with OpenGL-accelerated desktops enabled by default, just like SUSE 10. In my opinion, Ubuntu with an OpenGL desktop truly is a Windows & Mac killer.

  8. Dang it Deane; I was going to write this post! I set up an Ubuntu machine at work for data entry (browser-based interface for SQL database), email, internet, etc… It was far easier to install & set up than XP, loads cheaper, and feels much snappier than XP on older hardware.

    I have been totally impressed with the entire experience. Very much Mac-like, in my opinion. The only gripe I have with it is that I haven’t figured out how to add the machine to a Windows domain (how’s that for irony, coming from a Mac guy) but it’s not much of an issue for the user on that particular machine. Plus I’ve found documentation on that on the Ubuntu community, so it’s just a matter of getting to it. I’ll be adding data collection machines in several locations around the manufacturing plant, and am planning on using Ubuntu there as well. I might even try Kman’s suggestion of SUSE if I can ever get the blasted thing downloaded!

    It’s interesting to note that Dell is even making a token gesture towards the Open Source crowd; token in that the machines you can spec in that section usually end up more expensive than a comparable machine bundled with XP Home. But I would expect that at some point you’ll be able to click a checkbox on the Dell order form for “No OS” and get some sort of discount for it. Microsoft will make it painful for them, but Dell is savvy enough that it will happen. Eventually.

    I’d have to agree with Joe & Deane that would pass the “Mom” test. For some people it’d be a great alternative to Windows or Mac OS, but in businesses there will likely be some app that must be run on one or the other, making Linux a non-option.

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