Thank you, Ubuntu

Ubuntu 10.10, the Maverick Meerkat, will be released in just a couple of weeks. That got me reflecting on the fact that I have been a happy user of Ubuntu for what must be over 5 years now. That's a long time!

The GNU/Linux variants are the only OSes I've used where I really have the flexibility to define my own workflow (example). So they are a pleasure to use (ok, most of the time). I use a computer for many, many hours a day nearly every day. And the time spent customizing software and learning it is a drop in the bucket when it's amortized over the months and years I'm going to spend using it. Sure, Windows and Mac OS are a bit more learnable and easier to get started with— but they are much less usable. And for me, and most other people who sit at a computer for a living, that is precisely the wrong optimization to make.

There's plenty more to love about Ubuntu: for starters, that it runs on every piece of hardware you throw at it; how with a modest amount of effort, you can make all the computers you use behave exactly the same; and how great apt is (really, it takes the fear and hassle out of installing software, and it's an experience that no proprietary desktop OS comes close to).

Ubuntu is far from perfect, but it is pretty marvelous, and all the GNU/Linux operating systems have come a long way in the last 5 years. When I step back, I'm a bit astonished that Ubuntu or anything like it even exists at all. It works, it's powerful, it's free of charge, and, with small carve-outs, all of it is free for anyone to do anything they wish with it.

One thing I rarely stop thinking about is how technology can be made to be an instrument of empowerment. And I believe that one necessary step in that direction is ensuring that you are the master of all these amazing devices you carry around with you all the time: that they serve you and carry out your will, and not the other way around. Ubuntu has this vast collection of software you can use as the substrate for doing anything, and the question isn't "Will the creators of this software give you permission to do this?" but rather "Who the hell is going to stop you?".

I find this an incredibly heartening idea, almost a cousin of the concept of Turing's universal machine— the possibility, realizable in software, that you are limited by nothing other than your imagination. Unfettered computation is really a magical thing. And Ubuntu is a wonderful demonstration of that assertion, though by no means the only one.

So, to everyone that helped to make this possible (Canonical; the Ubuntu community; Debian developers; kernel developers; upstream maintainers and contributors of all stripes; and yes, even the folks working on other downstreams, like RH/Fedora— your code makes its way into Ubuntu too):

You have truly helped to make something wonderful, and it's a real gift to humanity. Thank you.


  1. I'm with you in every word man. Sure, it took me a couple of weeks worth of fighting against Gentoo linux to really learn and understand the OS, but even if it was a slow process (though quite enjoyable too), I can now have my computer do anything I want. I don't have to learn the Windows hotkeys, nor adapt to the OSX finder. Whatever I feel my OS should do for me, I can have it.

    And about Ubuntu,... well, I'm out of words. I've tried several other distributions, and I always come back to Ubuntu. The work they do is absolutely amazing! I mean, most big software products don't release two new versions with a lot of enhancements every year, and we're talking about an operating system here. I actually wait for the next Ubuntu eagerly every time! And every time it surprises me!

    Nice article. Regards,

  2. Ubuntu is a nice chick but I prefer her mother (Debian) ;-)

  3. Ubuntu puts a huge amount of effort into making things work like they should. And, the entire free software community makes the software that they work with, let's not forget them! Sometimes I do forget how much I rely upon the fabulous open source/libre software out there, and good golly, I use it every day. Apache, KDE, Kate, Claws Mail, Firefox, GNU Coreutils, ssh, Linux - where would we be without it??

  4. Sorry but I'm going to dissent. I also use computers for my work, every day. I've Mac, Windows and Linux (though not as much, and not Ubuntu). I completely disagree with your assertion that Mac and Windows are much less usable. The Mac is brilliant, ridiculously easy and extremely stable. Can that be said of Ubuntu. Most of the people I work with use Mac. Linux is usually a curiosity. Anyways, remember that Mac and Linux are both based on Unix.

    And I don't know apt, as you describe it, but in Mac installing software is a single drag-and-drop function.

  5. I would just like to add my thanks as well. I've been an Ubuntu user for 3 years, a linux user for a little longer than that. I owned a mac for a large part of those 3 years, yet the usability (and I think that is a great word to describe it) of Ubuntu overshadowed the polish and "just works" of OS X and I always ended up installing Ubuntu on the mac.

  6. A chain of bad experiences (you can read Linux Is a Time Killer, but treat it as a momentary rant, I was quite upset then) made me ditch Ubuntu for Arch Linux (after two years, more or less). All in all, I am very happy with the change. I would have switched to Debian/Unstable if someone didn't point Arch to me in the comments to that post (that post, again, take with a pinch of salt).



  7. I've used Ubuntu in the past, and it's the most usable Linux I found. But since I got a mac, there is no going back for me.

    I still use Windows and Linux in a virtualized environment for development purposes, but as far as desktop user (IM, Skype, Email, Music, Video etc), I have to stay with mac. It has the best of both worlds, great usability and the power of unix-like CLI and utilities.

  8. Haha! It is ironic that you advocate Ubuntu and title says "Life is too short for proprietary software" :-) (yes, I'm pointing at Ubuntu One, Ubuntu Music Store, Ubuntu Software Store, etc.)

  9. There must be something about Ubuntu that makes it the top Linux distribution.

    I am using Lubuntu, which makes me part of the Ubuntu world and I love it.

    To each his own. Use whatever suits your needs and expectations.

  10. I run Windows with Linux in a VM.

    That way I get Windows compatibility plus I can dick around with the Linux CLI to make myself feel like a bad ass.

  11. I've been using Xubuntu (simply Ubuntu with Xfce) for about 2 years now because it's the only OS I've found that I can say works. Windows had a zillion little flaws and limitations. Debian didn't seem to offer a choice between software that was way out of date or so new it still had plenty of bus. Arch wouldn't even install and their "support" was laughable. Ubuntu is the only OS I've used that meets my needs without a huge number of flaws. (and most problems it does have are caused by proprietary drivers... go figure.)

  12. ...plenty of bugs. Whoops. (Speaking of bugs?)

  13. I wish to also give great thanks to the Ubuntu team, and of course the Debian team. It has now been 7 years since Windows was left behind.

    What a great relief not to be concerned about viruses and malware.

    And how sweet are the fruits of the Free World...amazing.

  14. To say OS X is less usable than Linux is a pretty silly statement. It's far easier to find apps that don't just work but are awesome. The OS X dev community is huge and the OS is both polished and powerful.

    I think Ubunutu is a fine choice indeed, but you are going to either have to use another word than usability, or redefine the term to meet your presumptions.

  15. I use Kubuntu and sometimes Ubuntu daily. I've used Fedora 12 and 13, openSuSE, Mandriva, Sidux (now aptosid), Debian, PCLinuxOS, Mint and SimplyMEPIS this year and Ubuntu wins hands down when it comes to usability. People like to take shots at Ubuntu, but other distros need to take a page from their manual. The way to win people over is to make it a pleasant experience from installation to everyday use. You don't get new users without doing something to earn it.

    Some distros will only be niche players because that is the market that they play to. That is all well and good, but they should not feel jealous of Ubuntu's success.

    Ubuntu is one of the few distros that does not try to raid the user base of other distros, but instead concentrates enlarging the pie. In all of the years that I've been active in the community I have never heard them criticise another distribution, but you hear it of Ubuntu all of the time for users of other distros.

    They deserve the success that they currently have and unfortunately a few distros deserve their lack of success. It isn't just hard work. You need to embrace change and lead the way.

  16. I'd rather deal with bugs rather than viruses any day!!! Fixing bugs helps make me a smarter computer user. Dealing with viruses is simply a pain in the ass. Long Live Ubuntu!!!

  17. Thanks for your comments, all. I've made a new post which is a follow-up on some of these points.

  18. Just downloaded Ubuntu 12.04 side by side on my Win Vista PC, everything works wonderfully, now I can switch back and forth between the 2 OS no problems what a great OS, might just boot the Vista right out the door.