Last night we kicked off the new season of our little Ubuntu Podcast with some new segments. We thought we’d have a little debate between the presenters, with live listeners able to tune in and give their opinion and feedback. The motion chosen was “Unity is the best choice for the future of Ubuntu”.
I was up for this idea and said I’d be happy to argue on either side of any debate, playing devils advocate if necessary. As it turned out Tony suggested we talk about Unity and Mark wanted to take the ‘against’ stance so that left me with the ‘pro’ stance. Works for me. So here’s the prepared text that I read out on the show. It’s a bit long but I managed to rattle it off in just under 4 minutes – the allotted time.
Edit: This does read a bit like a giant advert for Ubuntu, I appreciate that. I did originally have some content in here addressing some specific Unity issues, and comparisons with other desktops, but cut them due to the time constraints.
With well over 20 million users worldwide, Ubuntu is the most popular Linux desktop. In the 8 years since its first conception the number of Linux users has grown and Ubuntu has been at the head of that growth curve. All kinds of people use Ubuntu from artists, bee-keepers and clerics to dentists, engineers and farmers. People use Ubuntu for lots different reasons. For many it’s an alternative to tried and untrusted Windows, or the cheaper and more open option to Apple. People come for the experience and stay for the free software.
Ever since Ubuntu started, Canonical has been instrumental in shepherding the distribution through the creation of 16 releases of Ubuntu. Canonical has played a major part in the community, providing support, development resources, security updates, sponsorship and help to Ubuntu users and developers around the world.
20 Million users is great but it’s not a massive dent in the global desktop market. Most conservative estimates suggest Linux as a whole has no more than one percent of that segment, probably significantly less. Mark Shuttleworth has repeatedly articulated that he wants to take a chunk of that market, and wants to do it by having desireable products which are better than the competition, not just an also-ran or low-quality alternative-to the main players.
In the early days it was common to manually edit your xorg configuration in a console & you’d sometimes download and compile applications and their dependencies yourself, and even build your own kernel. And there was no way of knowing whether a PC or peripheral would work until you went out and bought one, or you knew someone in your Linux User Group who already had one.
Some people, people like us, enjoy all that, most people however don’t. Most “normal” people want to use a computer as a tool, and no matter how much geeks protest, and cajole them into learning more about the underlying infrastructure, they just won’t want or need to. These days they want to communicate, create, consume and be entertained.
Running “configure, make, make install” isn’t a feature for them, it’s a chore.
Over the years since Warty was released many of the problems associated with running a linux desktop have been removed or mitigated. We now have software which automatically gets network and video drivers for you and automatic codec detection and download, automated crash reporting, and a display system which bring up a GUI without asking you arcane questions about horizontal refresh rates first. We have automatic printer and scanner detection for a huge range of consumer devices, and support for installing all kinds of proprietary products people actually use. For the most part, for most people on most setups, Ubuntu “Just Works”. That’s a massive ‘win’ for everyone involved.
So it’s game over right, we won?
Well, no. We need Ubuntu to be on devices that people buy in bricks and mortar shops and online. We need to be pre-installed on any shape and size of device, right out of the factory, if we’re going to stand any chance of appealing to customers. And before we can appeal to customers, we need to appeal to the device manufacturers. They have to want to put our software on their hardware. They won’t want to sell a sub-standard, partly-working solution. They want it to work and to look great.
I believe Unity is the user interface to get us to that goal. Unity was designed with the user in mind and with consideration for mainstream hardware vendors. I believe that Unity can be pre-installed on millions of new computers and shipped to those ‘normal’ people where they can use it to do all the low-tech stuff they need it for, as well as the high performance creative and consumptive tasks that great swathes of users want too.
It’s beautiful, easy to use, expandable, and more importantly, it’s Free Software.