Gee, I dunno….. the Ubuntu operating system is becoming more and more intriguing every time I hear about it. In the above video, Ubuntu creator Mark Shuttleworth talks about why he’s dedicating time and energy to the Ubuntu operating system. Watching this video, I learned a lot more about the project. Didn’t know that Mark himself was South African. (Not that it makes a difference, but it explains where the name came from.) Also didn’t know that there’s some support for it within Google. (Not sure what percentage of workstations within Google are actually running it.) The reporting style is somewhat typical, as the journalists are focusing on the fact that Windows and OS X are competing products. Personally I feel like focusing on the competitive landscape cheapens this effort. I may not decide to use the OS, but I admire the effort.
Stepping away from the video a bit, after I watched it, I sat and thought a bit about why I still don’t consider Ubuntu an option for myself. Why is there a big part of me that feels as if this would never be my primary platform for computing? Aside from the obvious problems of compatibility issues, lack of hardware drivers and simply not being able to run software for the more popular Windows platform, why am I less acceptable to this OS than even OS X? A couple of things came to mind.
First, I recall my early computing days using the Commodore Amiga and the Commodore 64 before it. During that time, that the 80286 processor was increasing in popularity. More and more of the already small computing user base were adopting IBMs as their computer of choice. I felt the swoosh of the pendulum as seemingly everyone I knew was using an IBM-AT clone. The major problem with having such a small community is that getting support was a nightmare. And I’m not talking about “my computer is broken” support — I’m talking support in the form of a peer group that shares the latest trends, best applications to use, shortcuts, etc. Also, third-party software was steadily growing scarce. There’s a part of me that never wants to be in that isolated user community again.
The interesting thing that makes my Commodore experience unique (and probably one that I’ll never have to worry about again) is that there was no Internet back then. I think my time might have been more enjoyable if I had more resources than just me and my best friend looking through European computer magazines in his basement. (No offense – those were some of the best times of my life growing up.) When I reflect on my path towards embracing OS X, I’m certain that I’d still be a supporter if my “support group” was limited to magazines. (Mac Addict is pretty good.) But it’s the community on message boards and in chat rooms that becomes the biggest and most important support team. (So I guess the Commodore thing isn’t really an excuse.)
I think the issue with me moving to a platform like Ubuntu as even a 2nd or alternate platform comes down to one thing — innovation. Having read the Wikipedia article about Ubuntu and the homepage where they talk about their motives behind the platform, it seems clear that they’re creating an OS that’s an alternative. Perhaps I’d need to speak to some others who actually use the OS, but it seems as if most of the apps bundled are bundled as alternatives to “stuff people are already doing”. What you don’t necessarily get when you compute on an Open Source platform like Ubuntu is the team of 50 and 60 engineers who are working in a lab trying to find ways of tweaking the user experience or adding functionality. OS X and Windows have teams of folks who are analyzing how we use machines and trying to create features to address shortcomings. I don’t see this as the focus right now of the Ubuntu project.
Looking at other open source ventures that I do support (like Firefox and Thunderbird), there are a few differences. For one, supporting a single piece of software (even one used as frequently as a web browser) isn’t quite the same thing as moving your entire operating to a new OS. As much as I like OS X, running both OSes does pose a challenge. Most importantly, the Mozilla team that created Firefox and Thunderbird appear to be innovating. I listened to a podcast where some folks from the Mozilla project were interviewed over on Leo Laporte’s TwiT.tv site and those guys sound like they’re totally creating new functionality and trying to improve the user experience. Until an OS project reaches the point where it has that level of foresight and is thinking about doing new and creative things to enhance the user experience, I probably won’t consider it.
Thinking ahead towards some of the virtualization software packages as well as the new features that come built-in with the new Intel Core2Due processors, perhaps I’d use Parallels or another virtualization software package and run all 3 OSes on the same machine? Supposedly the Core2Duos will allow for dedicating a finite amount of system resources to one of the processor cores. Interesting thought. Perhaps using Ubuntu to browse the web would decrease the possibility of spyware or adware? Perhaps I’d consider it. (That is, if and only if the user experience is as good as it is in XP or OS X.)
Regardless of what my future computing plans are, clearly lots of folks are considering Ubuntu. And more power to them. I like the spirit of the project and I will definitely be keeping my eyes on these folks as time moves on. Who knows — maybe I’ll change my mind about this one day.