Linux For The Masses: Are We There Yet?

LinuxHaxor recently wrote a blog post discussing how every year hundreds of writers come out of the woodwork to discuss how “this is the year for Linux” or that Linux is finally ready for the masses.

Every year, every major Linux development, every major distribution release sparks a volley of so-called expert opinion of this being finally the year of the Linux. As they provide arguments and counter-arguments over certain news of Dell/HP/IBM/Asus releasing pre-installed Linux computer; and how this will single-handedly fix every problems and finally allow Linux to take over the world.

I agree that these “expert opinions” do always contain the suggestion that this could finally be the year Linux launches into a much higher stratosphere and knocks out major competition.  However, most of these “expert opinion” articles that I read every year, or every major release, mainly focus on how Linux is getting closer to becoming a much better operating system than the competition has to offer.  Isn’t that all that really matters?

As another year is coming to an end, and another major distribution is around the corner; this might be a good time to remind everyone how next year will not be much different from this year. It took years and years of dedication and innovation for MacOS to finally reach 8% market share. Depending on your level of cynicism, Linux Desktop market share is at somewhere around 1%-5% (being generous).

Sure, lets stop looking at every single Linux advancement or breakthrough with the “this is it! we’ve done it” mentality, I can agree with that.  But really, if you look at the facts, 2008 was a great year for Linux.  In fact, the past five years have been “the year of the Linux“.  Linux will continue to grow over time.  After all, Linux is an open source operating system.  Anyone can contribute, anytime, and the number of contributors continues to grow every year.  Eventually these developers will have worked out all the pesky kinks that stop most users from switching to Linux. It’s really only a matter of time before the mainstream users decide to make the switch to the Linux operating system they keep hearing more and more about.

In a mailing list post dated September 8th, Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth announced plans for Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope, scheduled for release in April, 2009.

Shuttleworth starts out by making a bold statement that we can expect Ubuntu to be shipping on millions of devices by next year, thus setting the bar very high for Ubuntu in order to compete with the major players, Microsoft and Apple.

Goals of Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope

Mark also lays out two specific goals that Jaunty Jackalope will have.  The first being faster boot time and faster resume time.  I really think this is a great area for Ubuntu 9.04 to address.  Boot time can certainly be improved and would make the experience of Ubuntu that much better.  The second goal will be to work towards blurring web services and desktop applications.  “Is it a deer? Is it a bunny? Or is it a weblication – a desktop application that seamlessly integrates the web!”

This release looks promising and I really can’t wait to start testing the beta versions.

As for now, Ubuntu 8.10 is scheduled to be released next month, so I’m looking forward to the Intrepid Ibex for now.

After visiting LinuxWorld in San Francisco, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols took away a common theme with the panels he sat in on, “What does Linux need to do to compete more successfully on the desktop?”  What he came up with was three specific things that Linux needs to do in order to beat Windows on the desktop.

In short, the three points are

  1. Better power management.  This goes far beyond ACPI.
  2. Applications.  Wine, virtualization, or alternative software.
  3. Device drivers.

I agree with Steven in that these three areas should be at the top of the list for Linux developers.  There is no excuse for Linux being behind in any of these areas and we should be doing everything we can to make sure Linux at least can compete with Windows and Mac in these three simple areas.

Read more here.

The Best Way To Learn Linux

Dan Craciun posted a nice article on his blog titled What is the best way to learn linux? that got me thinking just what some of the best ways to learn Linux are.  Dan and I agree that reading documentation is one of the best ways to learn Linux in general.

Dan uses the famous quote “give a man a fish and he will have food for one day, teach the same man how to fish and he will have food for his entire life” which really does make sense in relation to learning Linux.  A lot of new Linux users will ask a question on a forum or in an IRC chat room and demand or expect a direct answer.  However, a lot of times what they end up getting is a way to solve their problem, not exactly how to do it.  There is a general consensus among old time and advanced Linux users that it’s important to read documentation and manuals if you want answers.

Here are some of the best ways to learn Linux:

  • Start off on the command line to learn the true way of Linux before you start on the desktop and use GUI tools to do everything for you.  Remember each GUI tool you use is just a front end for command line tools that can accomplish the same thing.
  • Read manuals and ask a lot of questions.  Be sure you’re asking the right questions though. Research before you ask.  Don’t bother to ask questions to something that you could easily find by spending 5 minutes searching Google.
  • Subscribe to Linux blogs and participate in Linux forums.
  • Explore your options by trying different Linux distributions.

The Good and Bad of Ubuntu Linux


Theres always the question of whether a popular, mildly mainstream Linux distribution like Ubuntu serves the overall GNU/Linux community well. It’s my belief that there are two sides to the debate regarding Ubuntu; the Good, and the Bad. Some people have stated that Ubuntu is becoming the generic Linux distro, while others agree that Linux in the mainstream is great for the growth of Linux. With every widely used and increasingly popular entity comes both good and bad. Let’s go over a few of the good and bad points Ubuntu brings to the Linux community in general.

Ubuntu is good for the Linux community

There are a lot of great things that Canonical and Ubuntu have brought to the Linux desktop. Here are a few.

Easy, straightforward Installation

Theres no question that Ubuntu has redefined the Linux installation process as a whole. It used to take a lot more knowledge for someone to be able to successfully install Linux. Not only that, but once you had Linux installed, you most likely had one or two pieces of hardware that went unrecognized, forcing you to recompile the kernel, or search endlessly for a way to make it work. No doubt this used to turn people away from Linux. Now, an Ubuntu installation usually grabs everything and configures it correctly during the installation process allowing a painless Linux install.

Easy Setup and Configuration

Apart from the straightforward Ubuntu install is the fact that once the installation is complete, you’re placed at the Gnome desktop and most likely ready to do whatever you want. Painless X.org configuration, easy installation of additional packages, even warnings if your device drivers are not open source. Ubuntu has done a lot of good for the configuration and initial setup of the desktop.

Easy Migration from Windows to Linux

Ubuntu has always attempted to make a migration from Windows to Ubuntu Linux as seamless and easy as possible. Now, with the upcoming release of Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron, Windows users will be able to install Ubuntu in a dual-boot like mode right from the Windows desktop using Wubi and umenu. It’s obvious that Ubuntu has a goal of getting users away from Windows and onto the Ubuntu Linux desktop.

Allowing for Mainstream Acceptance

With the Dell announcement in May 2007, and Sun hardware certified and supported on Ubuntu, Canonical is definitely opening the Linux desktop and server environments to a wider audience with Ubuntu. However, it’s not only in a business sense that Ubuntu has opened doors for a wider mainstream acceptance. Ubuntu is also leading the way for Linux becoming more mainstream with computer users in general. Ubuntu has been ranked #1 on Distrowatch for quiet a long time, and it’s no question most new comers to Linux are being recommended to install Ubuntu first.

Ubuntu is bad for the Linux community

Now for a few bad things Ubuntu may be doing to harm the Linux community and reputation.

What is the Command Line Interface?

There are so many Ubuntu users out there that have no clue how operate on the Linux command line. Ubuntu has done well in making their distribution a user friendly, point and click environment. However, as a long time Linux user who started out on the command line, I strongly believe that every Linux user should be able to operate on the CLI if need be, without the use of a GUI application that does everything for you.

Ubuntu *IS* Linux

Adrian Kingsly says it best here. He believes that an increasing number of Linux newbies seem to think that Ubuntu is Linux and Linux is Ubuntu.

What about the Future of Linux?

Now, this may be a bit far-fetched but let’s be hypothetical for a moment. Let’s say Ubuntu becomes *the* Linux distribution. Everyone becomes accustomed to the point and click mentality of Linux, and general audiences (mom, dad, grandmother, sister, neighbor) in middle of main stream America use Ubuntu Linux. Where will Linux go? The whole original idea behind open source and Linux is that we as a community are the ones who are responsible for building onto the project as a whole. If every child, parent, and grandchild ran Linux without the technological knowledge most Linux users today have, would Linux still grow at a decent pace? Who will be our future programmers and kernel hackers if nobody is even introduced to the command line, let alone a programming language? Ubuntu allows users to become ignorant of the technical side of Linux.

I can see both sides

In general, I’m not on either side of thinking Ubuntu is good or bad for Linux as a whole. I can see both sides. I use Ubuntu on my work desktop and laptop and I love the ease of use Ubuntu brings to the desktop. However, I’ve also been waist-deep in command line mess well before Ubuntu was spawned from Debian, so I feel I have a greater appreciation for the ease of Ubuntu administration, configuration and maintenance. I wouldn’t mind seeing Ubuntu Linux rocket to the top of the desktop Operating System chart. I just don’t want Ubuntu to overshadow the roots and original philosophy of GNU/Linux.

Can you think of any other good and bad points of Ubuntu?