Ubuntu and the Temple of Doom

Honestly, why has Ubuntu become the love of the linux community? What I see is a nicely polished distro with virtually no consistent admin tools and a lot of hype. Yes you can configure your desktop, but try set up an ip route with 2 internal network cards without using a single line in the console. I can in SUSE, I can in mandriva. In fact YaST and Mandriva Control Center make having linux on your pc user friendly. The biggest complaint still about linux is you need to be a developer. My arguement against that is that with a good distro, you dont. Fine, I am a software developer. But being able to change all your system settings with a single graphical tool like YaST or MCC makes life for anyone easier.

What is good about Ubuntu?

  • NOT ease of use: In my opinion that is related to Gnome and ubuntu cannot take any credit for it. I am a KDE user, which in my opinion is easier, and Kubuntu is a very second rate usage of KDE. No wonder the kde live cd's are openSUSE based. Ok fine, it has some stuff like pick up my commercial hardware and the binary drivers now, or install codec support. Try this: http://opensuse-community.org/Multimedia and note the little one click installs for both KDE and Gnome! And this http://en.opensuse.org/Hardware will give you links to hardware items and can list some one click installs for drivers that are obscure. In fact getting a new Logitech webcam to work was so easy, I just went there, did the one click install, and plugged in. Thats it.
  • NOT software instalation: Maybe in days before zypper and yast meta package support, was apt-get more amazing than the rpm based distro's, but not anymore. It has long been on par, and now with Novell's one click install, that makes life so easy! software.opensuse.org/search containts most of what anyone needs, with latest version too. Just browse and click. Why would you want to open synaptic package manager or pull up a terminal and type sudo apt-get?
  • NOT prettiness: Fine, the unique brown branding is as good as brown can look. But most of the prettiness is related to the desktop manager Gnome, which is available on every distro. What's more, its easier to have multiple desktop managers on other distro's, and you can even install all of ubuntu's brown branding if you really needed that brown 80s look.
  • NOT release cycle: Yes they're conistent, but so are other distros.
  • Marketing: This is where ubuntu succeeds. They lambast Novell and, their new best friends, Linspire for a Microsoft deal, purely to try and poach users and developers. Nice marketing! They call it Linux for Human Beings. Well call me an alien. Human beings are obviously far more soficsticated and terminal savvy than Chamelions or Penguins huh??
  • Community: This is something I actually like about ubuntu. Half of the once off obscure issues I run into while trying to do something I should be doing are listed on ubuntu forums. The amount of problems I have solved because of this is pretty amazing. But if Ubuntu wasn't there, there would be another community like it, so I guess that this is not really a valid point?

Well at least thats my take on Ubuntu. I dont like it. Its good for linux as a whole, purely due to its popularity and good marketing, but i think Novell and Mandriva have much better products. Ubuntu feels to me to be more like a toy that the coders are playing with at the moment, which keeps linux cool for developers. That is what i feel is holding linux back, people who don't want it to be cool, and would prefer it to stay in the realm of geeks. You can reply as angrily as you want to this, since it seems a lot of ubuntu users do, but I'd rather look into things like incorporating Wine into a linux kernel module, than putting ubuntu on every desktop. Novell are doing so much to get drivers written for linux, and its working! This is what I care about. Moonlight 2.0 was released recently, and wow, its fantastic. Although it came to be out of a deal with Microsoft, it has brought better Silverlight and .net support for linux than native flash has ever done for flash support. If the developers want something to jump onto, get a top IDE ported, or fix up monodevelop ( the number of times 1.0 crashed on me while just trying to make a GUI, GRRRR ) or make code blocks ( What an IDE!!! ) some cross language support, that would be of greater benefit to coders than having a new toy OS.



Today I had another conversation with a few friends at work about internet browsers. Actually it was about apps in general, and which apps we prefer for certain tasks, but it started with browsers. I do a bit of freelance web dev, and getting sites to work in certain uber commercial browsers is nasty. The Mrs and I spent a whole day just getting a layout to look the same in that one browser as it does in Firefox and Opera. So this is what I was telling my friends. Then we veered off into a conversation about Opera, and why it is the best browser but is virtually unheard of outside of mobile standings.

Its fair to say that Internet Explorer and Safari are well known because of being bundled with the OS. But why Firefox???? I hate it. Ok, its not as bad as the other two, and if you move from IE6 to Firefox (ff), you'll be in heaven. But honestly, why not Opera??? I can't use another browser anymore. My friends arguement about why he uses ff is that he likes the amount of extensions. And fair enough, ff owns the extensions market in browser land, but the fact that half of the extensions you install are just to bring it up to the functionality of Opera makes it rubbish.

I cannot browse anymore without mouse gestures. In all fairness at first I was sceptical, as I'm sure most ppl are. But once you learn a few basics, you cannot go back. Its impossible. The gestures such as close tab, forward and backward are life savers. Everytime I sit at a pc with ff on it ( or fsm save me single page per window ie 6 ), I end up moving the mouse around out of habbit and getting confused about why a menu is popping up. Yes there is an ff extension for it, but not everyone uses it, so it's much easier to sit at another pc with Opera on and have gestures without needing to install something.

Then there is bookmark syncing. In all fairness Opera does a lot more than sync bookmarks, but to me this is the most useful so far of what it does sync ( i heard somewhere that session management syncing is in the pipes, that would be amazing. ) With ff 2, you have to dl some extension for it. But with Opera, I sit at my wifes pc, type in my username and pass, and there are my bookmarks. Easy. No hassles.

The Opera 9.50 beta that I have been using has an awesome feature, namely the indexing of text in pages! So you can just type in the address bar some key words from an article you read recently, and there you have it, a list of all pages you have read recently that contain those words!! Its awesome!

The Trash Can. I've never been a fan of the concept of recycle bins, but this one is amazing. It took me years to work out what it does, but once you use it, you miss not having it. The little bin icon next to your tabs keeps a list of reccently closed tabs and opera windows!! Accidently close a tab/window, just Ctrl+z, orpop open the bin, and select it from the list. It is a handy feature even though you might not realise how often you would use it.

Stable as a horse. Firefox 2 crashes. I don't care what anyone says, but the Opera 9.50 beta 1 was more stable than any Firefox I have ever run. Every browser breaks. My mom ( a 50 odd year old woman with no computer knowledge ) has been converted to using Firefox ( on Linux ), and everytime she uses IE on a friends pc she complains about how unstable it is. Opera is even better. The fact that I have been using a beta for months now across 3 pc's and never thought twice is huge credit to the programmers at Opera.

Speed!!!!!! After using Opera for a few weeks you will not be able to stand how slow other browsers are in rendering a page. I don't know how or why, but they have something in Opera that makes it the fastest html rendering engine around. By a long shot. 

One other kewl thing with Opera is the availability of the browser on mobiles and the Wii. Although this might be unfair that other browsers do not enter this market, it really does serve as a great way to hype the popularity of the browser, and may very well be what makes them succeed in the long run. Everyone I know who browses the net on their phones uses Opera mini. The fact that I can sync my bookmarks to it too is amazing, nevermind the outstanding mobile browser technology!

All in all, the only reason I can see that people are not using Opera is because people are still building websites for browsers that are not standards compliant. So this is a plea to all developers out there to just make sure their sites look and work well in Opera. Its free, and clearly superior. Go now. Fix your site.