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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

An Update to my open letter to Ubuntu

The following was posted on the Ubuntu blog - Launchpad - as question 149330


Ref: My blog post titled "An Open Letter to Canonical and the Ubuntu Team."
(Please read and comment)

Ubuntu's Claim to Fame - and what has lifted it to the top of the popularity list for Linux distributions - was it's primary emphasis on usability instead of the Latest and Greatest whizz-bang features.

The Linux community is both broad and vast - there is a distribution for just about every taste imaginable - from the micro-Linux to the monolithic "everything but the kitchen-sink" monster distro's; from the most experimental "bleeding edge" distributions for the most daring Uber Geek, to those distributions that focus on usability.

I have tried many different Linux distributions for varying reasons over the years and I settled on Ubuntu for one simple reason:  I have a job to do - and it's often difficult enough to do what is needed without having to jump through the roadblocks and hoops imposed by those distributions who don't know better, or just don't care.

Until recently, Ubuntu has been my favorite distribution because "it just works".   Period.  In fact, I praised Ubuntu in a previous posting on my blog as the *ONLY* Linux distribution that I would be willing to install on my wife's computer - or even the computer run by my sainted mother of 70+ years.

And why?  Like I said before, it just works.  You didn't have to be an uber geek to use it.  Of course, if you wanted to get your hands dirty and poke around under the hood, that was available too.

Unfortunately, in their latest distributions Ubuntu has sadly fallen away from this high standard of excellence.  In fact, perusing the various blogs and posts, I have noticed an increasing disdain toward "dumbing down" Ubuntu.

There seems to be an increasing emphasis on moving toward a more "edgy" (bad pun !) distribution model, sacrificing the usability that has been Ubuntu's hall-mark for years.

I have a number of beefs with Ubuntu, but I will place at the Ubuntu Community's feet the two that I think are the worst of the bunch:   Grub2, and the new GUI interface.

Note that I am referring to my own installed distribution - 10.04 LTS.


Back when Men were Men, and Linux was Linux, we had LILO as the primary boot-loader.  It was difficult, annoying, and a pain in the tush, but it was what we had; so we sucked-it-up and did the best we could with a bad situation.

Then, in a Stroke of Genius, someone came up with the Grub boot loader.  Not only was it a miracle of simplicity compared to the abomination that was LILO, it was a miracle of simplicity in it's own right.  Edits and configuration changes were as simple as editing a few lines in the menu.list file.

It's basic simplicity and ease-of-use resulted in virtually Every Distribution Known To Man immediately depreciating LILO and switching en masse to Grub.

In fact, over 99.9999999(. . . . .)99999% of the existing distributions *STILL* use Grub for just that reason.  Even the most experimental and Bleeding Edge distro's still use Grub.

Unique among all distributions, Ubuntu and Ubuntu alone, has decided to switch to Grub2 despite the fact that Grub2 is probably one of the most difficult boot-loaders I have ever had the misfortune to come across.

It resurrects everything that was Universally Hated and Despised about LILO, and it does it with a vengeance!

Not only does one have to go edit obscure files located in remote parts of the file-system, one has to edit - or pay attention to - several different files located in different places, presumably doing different tasks in different ways.  And one cannot edit simple menu lists, one has to create entire shell scripts to add a single boot entry.  Even LILO wasn't that gawd-awful.

It is so bizarre that even the foremost author on Grub, Dedoimedo - the author of the definitive Grub tutorial - mentions in his tutorial on Grub2:
Warning!  GRUB 2 is still beta software.  Although it already ships with Ubuntu flavors, it is not yet production quality per se.
When discussing the question of migrating to Grub2, he says:
Currently, GRUB legacy is doing fine and will continue for many more years.  Given the long-term support by companies like RedHat and Novell for their server distributions, GRUB legacy is going to remain the key player. . . . .
And to put the cherry on top of the icing, on top of the cake, he says:
Just remember that GRUB 2 is still beta. . . . so, you must exercise caution.  What's more, the contents and relevance of contents in this tutorial might yet change as GRUB 2 makes [it] into. . . production.
(Ref: http://www.dedoimedo.com/computers/grub-2.html )

This is oh, so true!  Even the existing Ubuntu tutorials on Grub2 don't match current, shipping configurations - which makes attempts to edit Grub2's boot configuration more difficult - even for seasoned pro's at configuration edits.

Why, oh why, did Ubuntu have such an absolutely asinine brainstorm is totally beyond me.

The new GUI:

The ultimate goal of any Linux distribution - especially Ubuntu - is to encourage cross-over adoption by users of other - proprietary - operating systems.  And when we talk about cross-over adoption from other operating systems there are only two others of significance: Windows and Mac.

Mac users don't see their platform as a computer or an operating system; to them it is virtually a religion - with the rest of us being the poor, pitied, un-saved heathen that we are.  Expecting them to drop Salvation according to Jobs in favor of Linux is just silly.  Especially now that they can crow that they have their own 'nix O/S.

So, the best and most obvious choice for cross-over adoption are those users who use the various flavors of Windows.

Microsoft's licensing and activation paradigms have become so onerous and expensive that entire national governments as well as several states here in the US, (ex. Massachusetts for one), have completely abandoned Windows in favor of Open Source solutions.

"It is intuitively obvious. . . .", (as my Calculus professor used to say), that Ubuntu should be in a position to garner the lion's share of these cross-over users, right?  And the obvious move to encourage this would be to make the target interface as friendly and familiar as possible.   Right?

So - what does Ubuntu do to encourage Windows user cross-over?  They have gone to great lengths to make their user interface as Mac-like as they possibly can, short of being sued by Apple!  As if Mac-izing the GUI will cause legions of Apple users to abandon The True Faith and jump on the Ubuntu bandwagon. . . . .

Brilliant move Ubuntu!  Encourage Windows cross-overs by plopping them into a completely alien user interface!

In Summary:

Ubuntu's original claim to fame was the attempt to de-mystify Linux and make it increasingly usable by heretofore non-Linux users.  Canonical and the move by Ubuntu's leadership away from these ideals is, in my humble opinion, a huge mistake with potentially disastrous consequences for both Ubuntu in particular and Linux as a whole.

What say ye?

1 comment:

  1. hey I just read the introduction of this post, but I think I better go to the Ubuntu forum to read that first as a background information to leave a more appropriate comment, so see you later!


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