Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ubuntu With 200 Million Users in 4 Years?

It's been a while since I have written a post about Ubuntu Linux, but this goal is blog worthy I believe.  According to Digitizer:
Delivering the keynote at the Ubuntu Developer Summit at Budapest, Hungary, Canonical Founder, Mark Shuttleworth, has announced that the goal of Canonical is 200 million Ubuntu users in four years.
Whoaa! That is bold.  They currently have 12-15 million users and for this goal to happen they will have to double the number of users they have every year.  Is it possible?  Well, they are the only Linux distribution where numbers like that ever could be possible in the foreseeable future and the author of the article agrees:
I think that 200 million Ubuntu users in four years is certainly achievable - although it will require a lot of hard work.
One thing is for certain: if Ubuntu can generate numbers like that it will certainly change the face of computing!  And personally, I appreciate ambitious goal setting, especially from Shuttleworth, since he has had a proven track record of taking Linux to new heights.  (For those of you who can remember what Linux was like before Ubuntu.)


  1. Yeah, definitely an ambitious goal. I'm fairly skeptical.

    I like linux, and particularly Ubuntu. They have made so many great strides in user interfacing etc. However, I think there are a few MAJOR limitations that will keep them from reaching their goal, and I think they continue to make some missteps.
    First, I think the lack of the most popular windows and mac programs that cater to gamers, music listeners, etc. is a HUGE problem. There needs to be an iTunes equivalent (or perhaps an iTunes port from Apple) that can interface seamlessly with the iPhone, iPod, Blackberries, Android platforms, that works out of the box and that can sync mail, photos, calendar, etc.

    As a bit of a tangent, I don't think a platform like Windows would ever grow in today's computer world. Its only benefit over anything else is that it can leverage its previous success. My suggestion to Canonical would be to take a page out of Apple's playbook and build a platform that just works, even if it means users have to play in a predefined "sandbox." I would rely on the linux backend to allow for maximum flexibility for hard core users. But my complaint with Ubuntu is still the lack of a system that just works. It's getting much closer but...

    And this brings me to my final complaint. I think Canonical is headed in the wrong direction with gimmickey stuff like "unity." I would switch to ubuntu in a heart beat if I had confidence that my laptop would actually work and I wouldn't need to spend hours beating my head against it trying to configure it, get drivers to work, etc. I need drivers for my built in camera, for my solid state drive, my graphics card, my built in mic, built in wireless, etc. etc. Now some of those things will work, probably most of them. But they will likely have outdated drivers (since driver developers don't seem to pay enough attention to Linux). Apple has this problem too at some level, but they have the advantage of creating their own hardware and therefore can write a handful of drivers to make things work.

    As an example of my own issues, here's a list:
    1. My Logitech Marathon mouse. Yes, it will work as long as I don't want to use the extra buttons and as long as it never gets unpaired from my receiver.
    2. My solid state drive. solid state drives rely on special drivers that intelligently allocate writes to the disk in order to minimize the overall number of writes and thereby prolong the life of the drive.
    3. iTunes (yes, there's something on Ubuntu, but I don't want to spend hours and hours massaging my 30GB music library into another music player, and I'd like to buy things from the iTunes store).
    4. In my experience, although MATLAB works on Linux, it's far inferior to Windows and Mac versions. Not sure why, perhaps this is a failing on Mathworks side.
    5. Inability to run a decent flight simulator. Again, popular games and such simulators typically require Windows or Mac.

    It's a chicken and egg problem. Ubuntu needs the attention of developers but it doesn't yet deserve it and it won't until it gets that attention. This is the same problem Apple faced in 2000 when Jobs came back and OS X was introduced. I think Canonical needs to look closely at Apple and take notes.

  2. @43616f0439aa7de97d8a3e3eda506518:disqus ,

    Yeah, you raise some good concerns. We wil have to see. I myself think it is ambitious but I hope for the best.

    The only thing I will argue with you about is "unity". I agree it is sort of a gimmicky thing now, but I personally think Gnome and KDE have proven they will *never* provide a popular-in-mass desktop environment. They are more driven by free-software politics and geeky tendencies than anything else. Canonical in my opinion has to break away from this and do their own thing and Unity as exists now I am convinced should be viewed as no more than the first of many iterations.

    Also, I would think you would enjoy Unity if you think Mac is the best example because they are both headed in the same direction. People have pointed out their similarities to the point of accusing Ubuntu of copying than and furthermore they basically have the same goal: bring a touch-screen iPad-ish type OS to all platforms. Mac OSX Lion from what I can tell will be gettng an overhaul adding the iOS features "back to Mac" and Unity has grown out of the work Ubuntu has done on touch screen netbooks.

    So from what I understand being more like Mac means getting rid of Gnome and KDE and building something like unity. But I think Ubuntu admits it will take a few years to get it right,'

    Their "Ubuntu One" is their attempt to have an iTunes type thing but I admit it has a long way to go to be as functional and useful as iTunes.

    So in a nutshell: I think Ubuntu has a long way to go but to get their in a Mac-ish way I think Unity and Ubuntu One will be the right decisions in the long run. We will see.

  3. @43616f0439aa7de97d8a3e3eda506518

    Lest thing. As for the drivers problem, I am convinced Canonical can't fix this problem by spending their time making better drivers. There's just too much hardware.

    I think the best approach to this problem, and the one they are taking, is to make an awesome OS that hardware makers will want to support by providing drivers themselves. This is the game Microsoft plays. Microsoft just writes the OS and leaves it to the hardware manufacturers to provide their own drivers so Windows is fully supported on their hardware.

    So I think there are only 2 viable approaches to the driver problem that Canonical can take:

    1. The Microsoft Approach: make an awesome OS that hardware manufactures will want to support by providing drivers so that the OS is fully supported. This I believe is the approach that Ubuntu and Google with Android are taking. (Google developers don't write every driver for every cell-phone that exists.)

    2. The Apple Way: make their own hardware and not worry about anything else. If people want to use your OS, they have to buy your hardware. This works for Apple but I don't know that it will work for Ubuntu.

  4. Yes, you bring up some good points.
    "Also, I would think you would enjoy Unity if you think Mac is the best example because they are both headed in the same direction."
    Actually, I don't particularly like that Apple is doing this. When talking about Apple, I'm mostly talking about the paradigms under which they operate (i.e. controlling the entire platform, building a complete system that works). I do think bringing touch support to Macs/Ubuntu is an interesting development, but from Ubuntu's perspective there are other things that need more attention in my view.

    For example, my wife has been using Ubuntu for about 2 months. Overall she's happy. But there are deal breakers. For example, getting an additional font in Open Office. My wife needed a particular font for a class she was taking. Google searches revealed a complex process merely to install said font. Seriously, Canonical, why should it take a CS major to install a font?

    It's these kinds of things I think Canonical should put more attention into. I know they don't control Open Office, but hey, it's open source, they could certainly address such fundamental productivity issues and spare us the gimmicks.

  5. Yep, this is the problem. Personally, I think the Apple model is the only one that works in our modern society. The ONLY reason I think Microsoft is successful today is legacy. I do NOT think they would succeed if they were in Ubuntu's place. The reason is simple - computers and operating systems are VASTLY more complex than they were in the early 90's when Microsoft actually innovated. Hardware is orders of magnitude more complex and more numerous. The "one OS for all hardware" model is doomed to achieve only marginal success, like Android. The only reason it works for Microsoft is that they're already big enough.
    Ubuntu will always be popular with geeks and those more open to alternatives. But I don't think they will ever get Apple style appeal and acceptance unless they address the issues associated with drivers and hardware. Perhaps they don't need to actually make their own hardware. They could partner with a hardware vendor (HP, Dell, etc.) and produce a rock solid "it just works" system. And I'll tell you what...I'd buy one! And I'd be ecstatic that I wouldn't have to pay Apple or Microsoft for an OS!!

  6. @43616f0439aa7de97d8a3e3eda506518:disqus

    You are absolutely right. Examples like these pose major problems. I read an article the other day where Ubuntu found a bunch of people who have never used Linux before and asked them to do things that should be simple. (Like install a new font.) It turns out post people failed being able to accomplish many of these basic tasks in the hour or so they are alloted. (Though I think most people still gave Ubuntu favorable reviews since in their mind any computer Ubuntu or not causes them problems. My mom still has trouble emailing on her Window's computer.)

    Anyways, one way to look at this is to say "Linux is therefore appalling". But I personally think the fact that Ubuntu is doing this and making the results public and asking the community to chip in and address these issues means that Canonical is finally taking such usability things seriously.

    I've never seen Fedora or Suse or Debian or .... spend a lot of time doing such usability surveys with people who have never used Linux a day in their life. Let's just hope Canonical turns these results into something fruitful. I still have my fingers crossed.

  7. Yeah, partnering in this way to make a rock-solid system might be a great idea. (I'd probably buy one too. :) )

  8. @43616f0439aa7de97d8a3e3eda506518

    Actually, I have been meaning to ask you a question: Is MATLAB the "aero-space engineer" industry standard coding environment or do you just personally like it? There are some nice things about MATLAB but for some reason I don't see as many physicists using it as other languages. Though some do use it an BYU sings praises to its name. (Bye the way, everything is better than IDL which astronomers use a lot, possibly even FORTRAN 77 by the way... okay maybe IDL isn't quite that bad)

  9. As someone who uses IDL almst everyday, I couldn't agree more. IDL's plotting environment is so bad that I have actually started to do all text, legends, etc. on my IDL plots in GIMP. But we have ~5 person-years of work in our IDL analysis code, so for now I'm stuck.

  10. Disclaimer: Currently Ubuntu is my home OS for everything including remote work. In the office I have to use Win.

    Love Ubuntu, have been using it for the last 2 years. Yet I'm quite skeptical about 200 mil. 
    Reason is simple - lack of mainstream apps support. Namely:

    - MS Office documents compatibility (to and from)
    - iTunes (though it is of a lesser issue now)
    - Games

    I hope that Unity + Wayland will fix the games issue eventually. But until MS Office compatibility is addressed I doubt that Ubuntu will take off as the mainstream OS.


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