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One of the nice things about the open source operating system, GNU/Linux, is the breadth of choice available to users, most at  absolutely no cost.   This allows a user to choose the distribution which matches his tastes best.   But, there is one flaw in this gluttony of chocie.   How’s a beginner to choose a distro?   Okay, let’s say you limit the choices to all of the “major” distros, like Fedora, OpenSUSE, Ubuntu, et cetera.   Even then, there’s no easy way for a newbie to pick.   I feel that if we can change this situation, we would be enabling new users to more easily adopt linux as an operating system, as a result spreading free and open source software.

The question then arises, “Which distribution should be the ‘go-to’ distribution for new linux users?”   Well if you read the title for this, you’ll have guessed already…the distribution should be Ubuntu.   Now in all fairness I do use and like Ubuntu, but it isn’t the distro I use most often.   OpenSUSE and Fedora are battling for that prize.   Rather, Ubuntu was the first linux distro that I used.

With that in mind, here are three good reasons why all linux users should support Ubuntu as the linux distro for new linux users.

1:   Ubuntu’s stated goal has always been to make a linux for ordinary people, and it has usually succeeded in making their distro easy for novices to pick up.    For that reason, Ubuntu is already a good distro for new users.

2:   While a generic Wubi is being created to work with any linux distribution, Ubuntu is, now, still the only distro which features the ability to install itself easily onto a windows system and, just as easily, remove itself.   This reduces the upfront cost of time and knowledge necessary to install linux on your computer, so new users will be more likely to try using linux and will encounter fewer road blocks to that goal.

3:   While choice is wonderful, having one distro which every linux user can point to as the distro for people new to linux makes it easier for advocates.   An advocate won’t have to bring up different distros, or explain any complex ideas.  They can simply give them a cd, tell them to choose “install in windows”, and the rest will be self-explanatory.  Hiding the details from new, usually non-technical, users makes the whole experience better for the user, front-to-back, and makes it more likely that they will stick will linux.

That being said, let me know what you think.   Have I gone crazy, or does this seem to be a net benefit for FOSS?

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10 Comments

  1. You forget one simple thing.

    Ubuntu is “a” Linux distro, not “the” Linux distro.

    Catering to Widows users and referring to it as a “newbie” capable distro are fine, if that’s the type of atmosphere on wants to place themselves into.

    There are several very capable distros that work just as as well if not better than Ubuntu that should not be ignored simply because some fans desire uniformity.

    Ubuntu is a good distro overall, but it is not the end all, be all of Linux.

    • I understand what you are saying, but I didn’t, or at least wasn’t, trying to say that Ubuntu should be the only Linux distro. I’m arguing that what Ubuntu does in pushing simplicity is a useful thing for all Linux users. Most people moving to Linux will be moving from Windows, and so it’s not a matter of catering to windows users, as much as it’s a matter of enabling them to start using linux without having to understand gritty details.

      To put it a different way, it’s better to make the learning curve a little longer, and with a shallower grade, than to make it shorter, but with a higher grade. At least for non and less technical users. Even saying that, you are right that there are other distros that are relatively easy to pick up. There isn’t one answer, which is good, but I still believe that Ubuntu is currently the best answer for that situation.

  2. I am sure this will be seen as hating or flame-baiting, but I have serious issues with the Ubuntu bug fixing (or lack thereof), issues with Gnome, and issues with *buntu’s treatment of KDE.

    I much prefer KDE and would prefer to see this powerful desktop succeed more than it currently is, and by pointing non-technical users at a desktop (Gnome) which does nothing to expand a user’s computing skills, but actively seeks to reduce those skills, seems to be a horrible idea. Yet, I cannot recommend Kubuntu because it too gets limited by the *buntu developers.

    So as much credit as Ubuntu deserves for widening the Linux user base, encouraging people to use Gnome or a distribution which has more bugs than it can fix (bugs which its upstream parent, Debian, and many other distros do not have) seems to me the worst way to encourage a computer user to try Linux.

    I started with SuSE 8.1 and when I tried Mepis, I couldn’t believe how easy Debian-based distros were. After a few years of not having my bugs addressed by the *buntu developers, I moved on to a full Debian Testing and I will remain here for a while (as just now the *buntu bug reports from those years ago are being addressed — and closed — without any effort being put into fixing them.)

    • Yea, I pretty much agree 100% about KDE. But, of course, such a distinction is usually lost on new users.

      I came down on the side of Ubuntu as the best distro for new users for a couple reasons, including ease of installation, but it’s not an obvious answer. There’s a lot of room for disagreement, but I still feel that all Linux users should appreciate what Ubuntu has done to help increase Linux use. You might start out with Ubuntu (or Suse or debian or fedora/red hat, etc) but you won’t necessarily stay there.

      Everyone benefits when one distro draws more new users to Linux.

  3. I could be mistaken, but I believe the “al” in “et al” is an abbreviation implying several Latin nouns and, as a consequence, should be followed with a period, e.g. “et al.”

  4. Wholeheartedly agree with this post. Linux – all Linux, all distros, all users – will continue suffer from second class citizen status. Driver problems, lack of adequate apps in many segments, lack of multimedia access to commercial channels, etc. It’s crucial that Linux user base be expanded, not to overtake MS or Apple, but to be more than a blip on the radar. Without a much larger user base – at least 4-5% market share – the present situation will persist. All the knocks on Ubuntu, which are quite meaningless to someone outside the Linux sphere, pale in comparison to the advantages of having a very user friendly system, number one, and, number two, having a clear go-to distro that you can recommend to a newbie. Without such a distro, there is absolutely zero chance that Linux will ever get beyond 1% market penetration. Absolutely zero.

    • I completely agree. Except that we ought to aim to have as many users as possible. Linux is a “species” so even if Linux occupies 10-15% market share, that’ll be split between multiple distros, allowing for the kind of choice not available within either apple or microsoft.

      There’s nothing wrong with aiming high as long as you don’t sell out your principles in order to achieve it. At least in my opinion.

  5. I generally agree with the position taken here. After all, I am an Ubuntu user, but I would extend the idea to include other distros.

    Friendly rivalry is one thing, but some of the all out attacks are uncalled for. Ubuntu has never pretended to be Linux. Canonical and Mark Shuttleworth have tried to provide leadership and to try to work with other distros. That does not mean they want to take over. Initiative should not be confused with ambition.

    People like to take shots at Ubuntu and to try to pigeon hole it as a newbie distro. It can be, but it isn’t just for newbies. It tries to give the user choice and make it accessible to a wide range of users.

    No distro is above criticism, but we need to be fair and make sure that our criticisms are helpful. By this I mean, helps the developers to serve users better. However, much criticism seems to be based on jealousy and serves no purpose but to try to rain on someone else’s parade.

    This kind of criticism reflects poorly on the community at large and we need to remember that distros represent communities and so when we dump on a distro we are dumping on people and their efforts.

    The need to stick together applies to all distros. We need to support each other because we are all fighting an uphill battle against great odds. If it is not your intent to improve the distro and strengthen the community then it is better to stay silent.

    We need to be supportive of each other. Criticism has its place, but so does trying to work together. This is not and should not be a competition. There is no prize for coming in first place.

    I disagree with the idea that we need to succeed against Windows. Linux is a success as it is. Changing to be like Windows would be the kiss of death. Who wants to become bland so that you can win broad acceptance?

    Do we care if we get beyond 1%? I think not. We only care that Linux works for us and that we can have ownership and control over our own computers. It is about freedom and choice. Isn’t that our reason for existence in the first place?

    • We’re all Linux and free and open source software users first. Usually when one succeeds, we all succeed. As users we all share, at least nominally, the goal of improving and spreading FOSS.

      Perhaps I worded my argument badly, because what I meant by making Linux easier for Windows users is to enable, as much as possible, people to be able to try out Linux easily and with a minimum of hardware issues. Live cds and things like wubi offer all users the ability to try out a distro with little to no upfront cost. It’s a convenience issue which doesn’t sound big until you want your friend/girl friend/family member to try Linux and discover, hypothetically speaking, “oh I have to partition my drive” or “oh I have to make room on my disk” in order for them to even be able to try Linux out. These tools, by reducing the upfront cost in terms of time and effort, make trying and moving to Linux easier. We all benefit from that. Wubi, specifically, is targeted at Windows users. Ubuntu isn’t forced to act like Windows, but every windows user can easily install Ubuntu on their machine with very little effort. The easier it is, the more likely someone will do it. Hardware issues are, of course, important to all distros. But the reason I include it is because it’s really the second half of the deal. It doesn’t matter how easy a distro is to install if you’re hardware doesn’t work. I felt as though Ubuntu has done a great job on both these issues, which is why I wrote this post.

      As far as market share, I cannot say that I’ve ever worried about it either. I do, however, feel that Linux, and FOSS in general, are great and deserve being evangelized, if you will. Most people don’t know about Linux. So, I feel that if you like Linux, you ought to tell others and get them interested. No, Linux isn’t for everyone. I like that. But Linux is right for more people than 1% of computer users.

      We all use Linux for different reasons. I’d like to think the free and open source philosophies are part of those reasons. If we believe these freedoms are important, then we ought to convince others of their importance. Everyone deserves these freedoms, not just a few, and we ought to do what we can to enable the people we know and interact with to be able to enjoy those very same freedoms. I know this will seem rather high brow or idealistic, but we ought to care about how many people use Linux not to win some market battle, but because we ought to care how many people have access to the freedoms inherent in FOSS. Linux is a great operating system and it has many pragmatic reasons why we should encourage others to use it. But I feel it’s important to remember the freedoms it grants to it’s users, and I’ll bet that you agree. The freedom and choice is the reason for us to use Linux, and for us to encourage others to use Linux.

  6. very nice subject
    Tutos linux


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