30 days with Ubuntu Linux: What I learned

Today is the final day of the 30 Days With Ubuntu Linux project and I reflect on what I learned

Ubuntu Linux was a pleasant surprise. If I had to sum up my 30 Days With Ubuntu Linux in a sentence, it would be "Ubuntu Linux is more than capable of being the primary desktop OS for most users, but the learning curve will have some bumps."

The installation was a breeze. Actually--I installed it over Windows using Wubi, and on an external USB drive, and dual-boot with Windows on its own partition on the local hard drive, and all three installations were simple and straightforward.

I had used Linux in the past--the way past. I used Red Hat before there was a Fedora. I carried Knoppix on a USB thumb drive when I was doing IT admin duties. Linux as an OS has matured since then, and Ubuntu Linux is a much more polished OS than what I used in the past.

Ubuntu Linux isn't Windows, and it shouldn't try to be Windows. But, when competing with Windows and Mac OS X, it does need to provide similar functionality and capabilities, and do so in a way that is intuitive enough for average users to navigate and use. Ubuntu Linux, and the Unity interface, are different enough to establish a unique identity and user experience, but familiar enough for a user of Windows--particularly Windows 7--to find their way around.

As capable as I found Ubuntu, I also felt like it took more effort than it should. Granted, most of that is just part of that initial learning curve of getting things set up. After a week or two you would reach some sort of equilibrium and not need to swim upstream every day. For users with that 'hacker' mentality, who like to get in under the hood and understand what makes things tick, Linux is a dream OS. But, average users don't want to put that kind of effort in--they just want to hit Start and have things work.

That said, what do most users really need? Write a letter? Send an email? Surf the Web? Connect with friends on Facebook? Play music? Ubuntu Linux has a capable office productivity suite, and email client installed by default. It can handle Web browsing just fine. It can play music, edit photos, create and edit movies. The bottom line is that Ubuntu Linux can easily handle the needs of average users--and most of those needs are addressed out-of-the-box so to speak just using tools installed by default with the OS.

So, why is the Linux market share so small after two decades? Linux has an identity crisis. It seems that Linux doesn't even really know what Linux wants to be. If you have a debate about operating systems, Windows means Windows, Mac means Mac OS X, and Linux...well, that's a whole firestorm of zealotry to itself. Which is the best Linux? After you choose between the various flavors--Ubuntu, Fedora, Mint, etc.--then you have to choose which version, and which desktop interface to use.

The fact that there is diversity, and options is a strength of the Linux platform, and one of the factors that draws people to the operating system in the first place, but when it comes to mainstream adoption, the lack of agreement and solidarity over which Linux is the right Linux is a handicap.

Am I an Ubuntu Linux convert? From a purely pragmatic and logical perspective, I need to operate in a Windows world. Why? Because 90 percent of the world does. But, as a tech writer I also have some obligation to be familiar with a comprehensive array of platforms and technologies.

I own and use an iPhone--but I should have an Android, and Windows Phone 7 smartphone as well. I own an iPad--but I should also be versed in the ways of the Android tablets, the TouchPad, the PlayBook, and others. I use Windows 7--but I should also know my way around Mac OS X and Linux.

So, I will revert to using Windows 7 as my primary OS after today, but I plan to leave my Ubuntu Linux installation right where it is (although I did switch the default OS at boot to be Windows 7). I also plan to purchase a MacBook Air when the new models hit the shelf (look for that in a future 30 Days With... project). If I pick up any new tricks or tips, I'll let you know.

So, don't be sad. Goodbye is not forever.

Read the last "30 Days" Series: 30 Days with Google Docs

Day 29: Five Things I Like Most About Ubuntu Linux

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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