Some Linux users are distribution hoppers. They’re kind of like church hoppers in that they are always upset about something vile this or that development team did. The grass is always greener until you get there. There will always be at least one thing wrong with whatever you’re using now. So when new releases of software come out, I make sure I’ve given them a fair shake before I criticize. And that’s why I’ve stayed with Ubuntu as my preferred Linux distribution since 2004. Sure, it has its problems, but what operating system doesn’t?
Through the years, there have been significant interface changes that were met with varying degrees of applause and boos. Each release breaks something for somebody when they upgrade. It’s just the way of software. Who hasn’t had something break at least once on a system upgrade? For me, Ubuntu upgrades have been relatively painless over the years. And no matter how many other distributions I try, I always find that Ubuntu is the most compatible with the widest variety of hardware and software. It is still the most complete, polished Linux distribution I have used.
However, I have a few thoughts. Even though it is the most convenient, easiest to set up, easiest to use distribution I know of, Ubuntu’s patron company, Canonical, has made some decisions with which I am very disappointed.
First of all, they’re completely focused on mobile, and it seems to be coming at the desktop’s expense. I’m not convinced there’s any better potential in the mobile market than the desktop market. The biggest problem Ubuntu has in this regard is that Linux has already taken over the mobile market through Android. Ubuntu will never unseat Android. Period. As much as I love the idea of having a phone that can become a desktop when I get home, I’m not very confident that the idea will take off. My desktop is far more powerful than my phone or my tablet. I would miss the power if I started using my phone for everything.
Another issue that is being caused by Ubuntu’s mobile aspirations is increased incompatibilities. They’re making quite a few changes to the underlying software that has traditionally been common between distributions. These changes won’t be made upstream (i.e. the official maintainer of the software) because they don’t make sense for anyone else’s purposes except Ubuntu’s. Although this freedom to change and fork code is one of the advertised advantages of open source software, the large amount of deviation in this case is going to make it more difficult for anyone to port their software to Linux. It’s already difficult enough with the variety of desktop environments and graphical toolkits. Now imagine adding completely different underlying display servers to that combination. Writing software for Linux could become a complete nightmare.
But the mobile focus is not the only thing that disappoints me. What’s more disturbing to me is that Canonical has decided to put ads in the desktop search feature. Ads in a Linux distribution? Yep. They show me results from places like Amazon.com when I search my computer. Sure, I can turn it off, but it does it out of the box without my permission. This is decidedly against some of the core values of most other Linux distributions.
So am I leaving Ubuntu in search of greener pastures? Not yet. If their power play with Mir results in most distributions using it, then there’s not much to worry about. But if the rest of the Linux world goes with Wayland, I may have to go wherever the software I use goes. After all, an operating system is only as good as the software available for it. It doesn’t matter how cool, secure or stable it might be. If I can’t do anything with it, there’s no point. So please, Ubuntu, don’t forget the desktop and don’t break compatibility with the rest of the Linux world.