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 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?

16 thoughts on “The Good and Bad of Ubuntu Linux

  1. Those negative sides are natural side-effects that take place with anyother operating system. Heck I even heared people ask what kind of windows version I was running while using linux!

    The point is, no mather how much you stress the fact that Ubuntu ain’t Linux, and Linux ain’t Ubuntu, you’ll always have your more than average Joe who doesn’t care.

    And to be honest, lets leave all that to the geeks among us. GNU/Linux! ;)

  2. I can’t agree that Ubuntu is easy to configure. Configuring internet especially ADSL difficult when compared to rpm based distros. I have seen hardware where Ubuntu fails to detect and boot.

    The good thing about Ubuntu is uniformity and marketing. Canonical and Mark Shuttleworth definitely need praising for making Linux popular (and usable).

  3. As far as the command line goes: why? I fail to see what’s so essential about an ability to use the CLI, and yes, I can compile etc. from the CLI when I want or need to. The CLI works just as well in Ubuntu as in any other distro. Generally, however, we like to use the GUI right? Basically, if you have to use the CLI, then the GUI has failed or has functionality gaps, and thus the designers of the distro and other bits have failed. The CLI is for geeks and those who love computers. It’s a geek badge of honor. By having a distro that only works well when the user is handy with the CLI, you are automatically limiting it to those people, which is where gnu/linux has lamentably been at for most of it’s lifetime. Those people can stick with Debian or Slackware if they want to. Ubuntu is supposed to be for normal non-geeks. And it’s probably thanks to this approach of easy linux distros like *buntu and like PCLOS and Mandriva etc that gnu/linux is experiencing a surge of popularity.

    The lament that ‘so many Ubuntu people don’t know their way around the CLI’ is to me an indication that Ubuntu is getting it more right and people are having to spend less time fixing xorg or trying to restart CUPS or whatever is wrong, and they’re just able to use their computers.

  4. Ubuntu is geared for desktop, why is it bad if the user doesn’t know CLI? and what about the future of linux? you ask? you wouldn’t expect the desktop linux users to assume linux development would you? that would be stupid.
    linux development is left for young and future programmers and young kernel hackers that actually masters the command line and learns from the older ones.

  5. The worst thing I see in Ubuntu is repeated hardware issues – “desktop stuttering to a crawl”, a “soundcard [that] isn’t recognized”, “X not starting on my new install”… Ubuntu’s tries to be as universal as Windows on hardware so it is going to have alot of these same issues. Additionally, this is true software wise too. Ubuntu has an enormously exponential task that they are going to have to get better at to for more wide step adoption.

    For the future of Ubuntu, I hope it doesn’t fork from Linux – something I can almost see happening. Ubuntu may want to push the pace while traditional developers want to stay on the standard model. I wonder if this will create a problem.

  6. Ubuntu has come a long way in a short period of time. Its success is success for Linux in general. To use an old adage, any press is good press in that it draws attention to Linux which is not great at promoting itself due to its inherent disorganization and disunity.

    Ubuntu brings about a convergence that is lacking with Redhat’s Linux success. The desktop and server market are getting equal attention and people are starting to notice. Sun, Adobe, Intel, and Google are all starting to champion Linux. This cannot be bad.

  7. “I fail to see what’s so essential about an ability to use the CLI, and yes, I can compile etc.”

    Ooh, so someone can ./configure && make && sudo make install

    care to explain how to use sed, diff, find, cut, cat, grep, $CWD, $PWD……………………

    That’s not what should be taken into context when someone states that Ubuntu users can’t use the command line. It’s meant as saying it’s dumbing down Linux and turning the users into stupid lazy mouse clickers.

    Take a stroll through the Ubuntu forums and count how many questions where asked in the last hour that could have been answered if the user had the intelligence to use goolge or read a man page.

    Microsoft didn’t ruin Windows, stupid lazy mouse clickers did. How did you get that virus, IDK I double clicked on a .bat file sent to me about enlargements. What did you do just before the BSOD? IDK, I uninstalled a program by deleting the Program Files folder.

    How did you get that root kit on Ubuntu? IDK, I double clicked on super sweet leet Ubuntuspinnerwinner screensaver. It needed my password to install so I did. Now my /home directory isn’t there, and my box was turned into a pedo uploading slave bot.

    What’s a wheel group and visudo? Policykit with no timeout FTW >_> <_<

    It will only get worse.

  8. One of the biggest problems I have with Linux is trying to find a solution for a problem that I am having. It seems that the Internet is overloaded with information about Linux, Linux problems and Linux solutions. In fact it’s so overloaded that I have trouble finding the specific problem that I am having. Do a search for “Linux Wireless Networking Problem” and see how many results are returned. Currently Google returns 10 million results. Wow.

  9. People like NotYou above are the reasons why Linux will have a hard time becoming mainstream.

    I’m a Windows user (for now) but have tested Linux here and there. Yes, I know how to use the CLI beyond compiling and installing programs. In fact, I have grep and cat command line programs for Windows on my box now.

    This level of condescension is NOT NEEDED for Linux. There are “stupid mouse clickers” that are many times smarter than NotYou. Face the facts, the GUI is many many times better than any command line interface for 99.99% of the tasks people use everyday. That’s one of the reasons even Linux have incorporated a GUI from its early days of CLI only. Get it yet? GUI is better and the obvious next step for computer user interface.

    Do the entire Linux community a huge favor and get over yourself.

  10. @”Not You”

    I agree about the “mouseclicker’s” being a threat to “dumbing” down linux.

    I am glad to say I am one of these “dumb” people. I have finally fully shed M$ fully.
    Yes I may not be a guru, but I am not a novice. No I cannot compile a kernel yet, but I am able to $PATH, compile from source, grep, find, top, meh meh meh.
    CLI is not a threat to me, nor can I survive 100% via the command line, but why shoudl we be the lesser for wanting to shed the commercial and embrace this community? Are only the technically predisposed allowed to sink their feet into the world of *nix?

    My real question is this: Why bash what helps the transition?

    I helped my brother in law install ubuntu on his dualcore, and the first thing he said was “Wow, it’s FAST!”

    He is an aspiring programmer and a graphic artist. The point and click of the ease is good for those who want it to “just work”.
    I come from the general thought of I want the PC to work for me, not rule me.
    Am I alone?
    Those who are guru’s, be praised!
    Those who are noobs, be welcome!
    THe rest of us will do what is best for us :)


  11. I’m a long time Linux user, and one of the things I really like about Linux is choices. Let the options be available.

    I like CLI, but if someone doesn’t know how to use it, let there be a GUI choice for the operation. Isn’t Linux about freedom? Let there be freedom of choice.

  12. This is the idiotic way *I* see it.

    There will *always* be “Joe Sixpack” who straddles a computer seat and doesn’t know any better than point-and-click. Thank-you GUIs. So this aspect to PC use is “here to stay”, regardless of the mud we sling at GUIs (not just Windows or Mac OS).

    But there are those who will “open the hood” occasionally and get their hands dirty with a little bit of grease. They might pride themselves that they actually typed ‘ls’, hit Enter and saw a list of files. Woot! Let’s not squelch first steps.

    Then there are those who will see answers to complex problems that can only be found in the CLI in forums. It will dawn on them that there’s something huge and powerful “under the hood” that’s accessible to anyone.

    And of course… there are the basement geeks that’ll tell you to the Nth degree what a single GNU command will do and how to tinker with its switches, much to his delight.

    I find that I learn best when a problem appears before me. Then the solution becomes oh so much more important and worth remembering. Slogging through a billion CLI commands and their switches is perfect for helping me get to sleep.

    I would almost say that whining about “Joe SIxpack” not using the Terminal or CLI with Ubuntu is… heehee… a back-handed compliment. If this distribution of Linux helps him get his work done (though he’ll never understand or even care about Linux’s nervous system), don’t we prefer this be done by Joe in Ubuntu instead of Vista?

    Ubuntu has ensured GNU/Linux will never return to the status of basement nerd’s hobby project. But I’m fully confident that a large number of nerds/geeks/gurus will forever be lurking there learning the CLI, tweaking, adjusting, boasting of greater stability and so forth. Source code must always be there.

  13. Where is the command line? Type “Ctl-Alt-F#”, where # is a number from 1 to 6, and you’re at the command line. That’s assuming you don’t want to use gnome-terminal or konsole for some reason.

    The command line is powerful and useful, and readily available. I cannot fathom why this question even arises, however. It is no more difficult to find it using Ubuntu, than any other GUI-based distribution.

    I agree with Phuocle, there is a certain arrogance among some Linux users, as though anyone who doesn’t want to hack the kernel is an idiot. In fact, most people just want to use their computers without having to become computer scientists, and there is nothing wrong with this attitude. You don’t ask people to become electronics engineers to use a television. Why must they know about their operating system just to use their computers for e-mail, browsing, word processing, and so on? There is no reason at all for this. This attitude is a form of “machismo”, which does much to drive people away.

    In my opinion, Linux is about choice. If you like, you can *choose* to hack the kernel, rewrite gcc, tweak your desktop environment, or do whatever you want. You can live entirely in the command line, browse the Internet using lynx or emacs, or write the next killer app using nano and a sharpened stick if you like.

    But now you can also just insert the installation disk, install Ubuntu, and within thirty minutes start using your computer without worrying about all those pesky details.

    The vast majority of people aren’t going to bother learning the inner workings of Linux, and there is no reason for them to do so. Those who wish for Linux to garner more than a few die-hard fans need to understand that it will never happen if users cannot make things “just work”. Ubuntu does this, most of the time. Insulting people because they just want to *use* their computers does nothing to help matters.

  14. Paul Stamets made the point really well when he said that the internet was an invention of Mother Nature as a means to get it’s operating system (humankind) working together. Fact remains that a) all Life is code, and b) computers were made for computing. How this gets done is mostly irrellevant. The fact that it gets done is all that matters.

  15. I had a very good laugh the day that Steve Ballmer said that Linux was a cancer; that Linux was communism.

    His laughable hyperbole is not needed.

    The attitude that would engender posts like the one from “Not You’, have continued to insure that Linux usershare will remain under 1%.

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