Saturday, January 10, 2009

Very Honest Assessment of Ubuntu, by New York Times

The New York Times had a 3 page piece today on Ubuntu which I believe is the most honest and correct statement that could be made: by most conventional metrics, Ubuntu is a long shot from going mainstream on a level comparible with Microsoft, but of all Microsoft alternatives, Ubuntu has the most promise and just may surprise us all.

(Speaking of honest comments, please don't critique Ubuntu by saying you don't like Linux because you need a GUI and hate command lines. Anyone who has actually used Ubuntu 8.10 and is honest will admit you don't need command lines any more. I have italicised the correct quote below for such people. There's GUIs for everything and it is getting pretty darn user friendly.)

Here are some comments from the article worth sharing:
"THEY’RE either hapless pests or the very people capable of overthrowing Windows. Take your pick... Created just over four years ago, Ubuntu (pronounced oo-BOON-too) has emerged as the fastest-growing and most celebrated version of the Linux operating system, which competes with Windows primarily through its low, low price: $0.

More than 10 million people are estimated to run Ubuntu today, and they represent a threat to Microsoft’s hegemony in developed countries and perhaps even more so in those regions catching up to the technology revolution...

“I think Ubuntu has captured people’s imaginations around the Linux desktop,” said Chris DiBona, the program manager for open-source software at Google. “If there is a hope for the Linux desktop, it would be them.”

Close to half of Google’s 20,000 employees use a slightly modified version of Ubuntu, playfully called Goobuntu.

PEOPLE encountering Ubuntu for the first time will find it very similar to Windows. The operating system has a slick graphical interface, familiar menus and all the common desktop software: a Web browser, an e-mail program, instant-messaging software and a free suite of programs for creating documents, spreadsheets and presentations...

Mainstream technology companies have taken notice of the enthusiasm around Ubuntu. Dell started to sell PCs and desktops with the software in 2007, and I.B.M. more recently began making Ubuntu the basis of a software package that competes against Windows...

The technology research firm IDC estimates that 11 percent of American businesses have systems based on Ubuntu. That said, many of the largest Ubuntu customers have cropped up in Europe, where Microsoft’s dominance has endured intense regulatory and political scrutiny.

The Macedonian education department relies on Ubuntu, providing 180,000 copies of the operating system to children, while the Spanish school system has 195,000 Ubuntu desktops. In France, the National Assembly and the Gendarmerie Nationale, the military police force, rely on Ubuntu for a combined 80,000 PCs. “The word ‘free’ was very important,” said Rudy Salles, vice president of the assembly, noting that it allowed the legislature to abandon Microsoft...

Canonical, based in London, has more than 200 full-time employees, but its total work force stretches well beyond that, through an army of volunteers...Microsoft had an estimated 10,000 people working on Vista, its newest desktop operating system, for five years.

CANONICAL’S model makes turning a profit difficult.

Many open-source companies give away a free version of their software that has some limitations, while selling a full-fledged version along with complementary services for keeping the software up to date. Canonical gives away everything, including its top product, then hopes that companies will still turn to it for services like managing large groups of servers and desktops instead of handling everything themselves with in-house experts.

Canonical also receives revenue from companies like Dell that ship computers with Ubuntu and work with it on software engineering projects like adding Linux-based features to laptops. All told, Canonical’s annual revenue is creeping toward $30 million, Mr. Shuttleworth said.

That figure won’t worry Microsoft.

But Mr. Shuttleworth contends that $30 million a year is self-sustaining revenue, just what he needs to finance regular Ubuntu updates. And a free operating system that pays for itself, he says, could change how people view and use the software they touch everyday...

“Mark is very genuine and fundamentally believes in open source,” said Matt Asay, a commentator on open-source technology and an executive at the software maker Alfresco. “But I think he’s going to have a crisis of faith at some point.”

Mr. Asay wonders if Canonical can sustain its “give everything away” model and “always open” ideology.

Canonical shows no signs of slowing down or changing course anytime soon.


  1. On commend lines, though I stand by what I wrote, I will admit I still use the commend line extensivley. *This has nothing to do with Linux not being user friendly.* When I use a Mac from time to time I stick to command lines there too.

    Once you get good with a command line, it is so hard to go back because it is almost always the fastest and most efficient way, Linux or not.

  2. Also, i will give my usual claim: Linux is really coming a long way, but it is still a year or so away from being ready for most people. (But it is getting very close.)

  3. You still have to address the other issue I brought up in that all the people I try to get to help me with Linux (both Ubuntu and others) assume that I am an expert and know exactly what I am doing just because I am using Linux. This is a social problem rather than a software problem (i.e. it's a problem with the wetware and not the software).

    But of all the operating systems out there I think that Apple is the best (with XP a close second. XP is not first for various reasons). Apple works right out of the box and with no problems.

    One reason why I like XP is because it installs and runs fairly easily. I recently had to reinstall it on my computer and it was a simple, "Would you like to install Windows XP? Y/N The installation will reformat your drive and will erase all personal files, Proceed? Y/N" I clicked yes and it did it and it worked. It took me a second to get the system in order after that (taking off programs that I don't need and installing others that I need), but that is a problem with HP and not XP.

    I can tell that Ubuntu is getting close to that kind of functionality but it is not quite there yet.

  4. "You still have to address the other issue I brought up in that all the people I try to get to help me with Linux (both Ubuntu and others) assume that I am an expert"

    Next time you have a problem with Ubuntu, ask in the "Absolute Beginner Talk" section of the Ubuntu Forums[1] which is in big bright bold letters at the top so that it is impossible to miss. You might be surprised. (Especially if you remind them you are not an expert.)

    [1.] Absolute Beginner Talk

    "I recently had to reinstall it on my computer and it was a simple, "Would you like to install Windows XP? Y/N The installation will reformat your drive and will erase all personal files, Proceed? Y/N" I clicked yes and it did it and it worked."

    I am curious if you have tried to install Ubuntu 8.10. I think you will find it is just that simple as well, pretty much the only difference is it also asks for a user name and password, but if I remember XP eventually does as well.

    *And then XP makes you, at least on my XP CD, register by giving things like your name/address/phone #/email*. That is as much a part of the install as anything and Ubuntu requires nothing like that!

    Then you often have to register other products you need to use as well as sign all the license agreements. etc...

    So again after it is all said and done, there are more tasks and information that has to be given to XP then Ubuntu to have a finalised working system you can use.

  5. Sorry, [1.] should have said:


  6. I have to agree that Mac OS X is the best OS for ease of use, but then again you also pay for it. I think OS X really shines when you work with various projectors. I have seen people with Ubuntu, Windows (XP and Vista), and Red Hat have a significant difficulty getting the system to work properly. From what I can tell, the issue is that the OS and the graphics card don't always play nicely. On Macs, however, the OS is specifically designed for the graphics card (and vice versa), so there is almost never a problem.

    However, when you look at the cost-benefit analysis, I think you just can't beat Ubuntu. Give it 10 years and I think Microsoft and Mac OS will be seriously challenged by Ubuntu because the Open-Source model is simply better than the corporate one.


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