Wednesday, 22 October 2008

7 Reasons to Pick Ubuntu and When Not to Choose It

Today I was not in the mood for testing applications and making some review, and although the new Flock 2.0 would deserve my attention, I think I'll cover it tomorrow. So instead of a review or a tutorial, I decided to write something more like a lecture, so you won't need any technical knowledge to read it. Surfing on the web got me an idea: how about an article to pick up a Linux distribution? And, to be more precise, what about an article to explain why Ubuntu or Debian? Since these are also the only two distributions I'm familiar with, here I am, writing this.

I guess most of the readers are already familiar with Ubuntu, but I'm also writing this for new users, which use Linux for the first time. I use Debian for over a year now, but I used both Ubuntu and Kubuntu in the past (especially Dapper Drake and Edgy Eft) and also 8.04 and 8.10 Beta.

To be a little off-topic: regarding Kubuntu, I remember there was a time when I really appreciated this distribution, back in the 6.06 'Dapper Drake' days. And although I'm a KDE user and fan, I don't recommend Kubuntu for those who want a KDE-based distribution: with no disregard to the developers, my personal opinion is that Kubuntu (at least 8.04 with KDE 3.5.9) is the worst choice. Packages taken from Debian have exactly the same bugs which were already filed against them on, additions to applications are awefully done, and despite all the talking (including the conference from about two years ago when Mark Shuttleworth said they will focus more on KDE), Kubuntu receives next to no attention lately. But that's just my opinion, maybe yours differs. However, I recommend using Debian Lenny if you want a stable KDE 3.5.9. I'll look forward to see how Kubuntu 8.10 with KDE 4.1 will behave, although something tells me I shouldn't even bother.

Back to our topic. Why pick Ubuntu and when to pick it?

Well, first of all, the already classic, well-known characteristics which define Ubuntu:

1. It has a release cycle of 6 months, the version numbering having the form YEAR.MONTH_NUMBER (8.10 'Intrepid Ibex' is the next version which will be released in the end of October - 8 stands for the year, 2008, while 10 stands for the month number)
2. It's one of the most user-friendly distributions out there; most of the applications are already configured to work out of the box
3. Each release is bleeding-edge and pretty stable
4. It has a great hardware detection system and usually you won't have to install any other drivers after a complete installation
5. It comes with desktop effects enabled by default on Intel graphics card; if you have a powerful nVIDIA you'll have to install the driver graphically, very easy
6. Ubuntu uses the powerful packaging system used by Debian: APT (Advanced Packaging Tool), which is very powerful and easy to use, either using a GUI frontend like Synaptic or via command-line
7. You can enable only the repositories containing free software, or you can use third-party repositories like, which include closed-source, patented software too

If you want a different desktop environment than GNOME, I recommend Debian (or some other distribution, I heard SuSE is very good with KDE, Fedora both KDE and GNOME). I think packages in Ubuntu other than the ones which come installed by default sometimes have nasty unfixed bugs. Not once I saw an application which doesn't even start, and not because of some misconfiguration, but because it wasn't even tested well enough to see how it behaves in different situations.

If you want a stable server, I think it's best to go with the LTS - Long Term Release, Dapper or Hardy are both fit, but you can choose Debian too, which is famous for releasing well-tested software.


Anonymous said...

I primarily choose to use and support Ubuntu not because of technical reasons, but of its goals. It has goals, it is aiming higher than other distros, Mark has big dreams for Ubuntu and opensource, and as a user of Ubuntu/Linux I have big dreams too. And Mark and many other are doing the hardslog of making it known. I want it to be a clear threat to Microsoft/Apple on the desktop and in business. Very few distros (if any) have these lofty dreams and are willing to try. Oh, Ubuntu is based off Debian, a most remarkable project (if thats the right word). And I think Ubuntu has been good for Debian.

Dan Craciun said...

I agree with you. In fact, Ubuntu was and still is a project that has been good not only to Debian, but to the entire Linux community by bringing more and more users from Windows, and I guess the reason for it was not the brown theme or the goals, but the simple fact that in most of the cases it detects hardware perfectly and installs the proper drivers. Most of the people who never tried Linux before are surprised to see they don't have to install any drivers like they were used to be.

Anonymous said...

I used Kubuntu until very recently, and I have to agree with your comments. Canonical concentrates on Ubuntu almost exclusively, and regards the "others" as seperate projects. Since I much prefer KDE to Gnome, I decided that I'd have to try a more KDE-centric distro. So right now I have Mandriva 2009.0 with KDE 4.1.1 on my laptop and it seems pretty good. The main drawback is that it's RPM based and I love .debs and apt! I still regard the Ubuntu project very favorably, because of their goals. Unfortunately, Kubuntu is not up to other KDE-centric distros.

Dan Craciun said...

Yeah, APT is one of the very strong points of both Debian and Ubuntu. I use it since I made the switch to Linux and I think I'll never be able to get used to another packaging system. Not because of the commands, because it's not hard to learn a couple more, but just because it doesn't feel right.

Anonymous said...

The reasons for choosing Ubuntu, unless you are confusing Ubuntu with Linux, and think they are one and the same thing, are the same reasons one might choose say Mandriva Linux, or PCLinuxOS, or any one of a Number of Desktop oriented Linux Distributions.


Anonymous said...

To anonymous Kubuntu/KDE user: Hang in there.
Give Mepis or Mint-KDE edition a try - I've found both a better KDE deb/apt experience than Kubuntu.

Eats Wombats said...

Don't forget another important feature of Ubuntu: the community. It's arguably the most friendly to new users of Linux.

I think it would be an interesting experiment to take a few questions and, using different user IDs, compare the different communities' responsiveness. My feeling is that Ubuntu would win by some margin, but I could be wrong.

Anonymous said...

most of the software in medibuntu is NOT closed source, but patented, which is not the same.

i mean, the licenses are free / open source, but the formats they implement are covered by patents.

Robert said...

Try sidux instead, if you like your Linux that's cutting edge, yet reasonably stable.

Sidux is based on debian sid and uses apt, and the dev team and user community are very helpful to people who encounter issues installing/using/updating sidux.

To learn more about sidux go here:

Alejandro Moreno said...

I use Ubuntu because of those reasons, and also because Mark Shuttleworth has a lot of money and seems very interested on constantly improving it. Basically, I don't think Shuttleworth will let the Ubuntu ship sink anytime soon.

That said, here's an interesting post from a friend about what he learned from two years of no-Windows, all-Ubuntu Linux: Lessons from 2 years without Windows

tracyanne said...

I think it would be an interesting experiment to take a few questions and, using different user IDs, compare the different communities' responsiveness. My feeling is that Ubuntu would win by some margin, but I could be wrong.

You would be wrong. The Mandriva Linux Community is verry responsive, and usually manages to provide an answer to the problem, even when one has done a dummy spit.

John said...

Ubuntu has been simply THE best Linux experience I have ever had. I have tried MANY other distros...and no other Linux has combined simplicity, elegance, features, support, and mass appeal. For the record, I personally prefer GNOME. It is more polished and has better "eye candy" than KDE does.

Comparing Ubuntu 8.04 to the latest Debian, I still prefer Ubuntu. Last weekend, I loaded Debian onto a test machine here. While it had the obvious similarities, Ubuntu is still easier to navigate and understand.

Anonymous said...

Ubuntu is the best ONLY if you are a Gnome user. For KDE users, the best is Mandriva, followed by Suse. I would say that Mandriva is to KDE as Ubuntu is to Gnome, in terms of user experience.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you on every point, except nr. 3:

>3. Each release is bleeding-edge
>and pretty stable

If you are used to Debian type stability, Ubuntu is aweful and things do break frequently. Having kernel panics is also a thing that happens. I have never seen that in a stable distro of Debian.
Sometimes I think that Canonical aims too high, too many new features while to little time is spent fixing known bugs. Ubuntu is perfect for desktops, because of the mentioned advantages, but after dictating a memo in Audacity on my laptop and having audacity crash on me, losing 30 minues of work, I was fed up and am running Debian even my most important laptops. If you are all dead serious on getting work done and prefer your applications to work, ALWAYS, instead of having tons of new features, you will find Debian a better companion. There is a lot more configuring to do on Deb though, but once the machine is running, it does not desert you anymore. I have had the strangest of problems on Ubuntu, that remind me much of Windows: sound problems that appear or disappear depending how many times you restart your computer.
I am also a KDE Advocate, a choice to configure the GUI is not an option for me, but a must. Kubuntu is unfortunately second choice and lags behind in many things compared to Gnome. I think KDE will probably be the most used windows manager that gets disregarded and ignored the most.
I personally don't understand people that instist that it is a good answer to give to a question "can this be changed, can it be configured differntly?"
"no, it cannot! intentionally"


tracyanne said...

Where I live no one has ever heard of Ubuntu. But they do know what Mandriva is.

quote::Very few distros (if any) have these lofty dreams and are willing to try.

Clearly Mandriva are directly confronting Microsoft in many areas, especially in Europe, Africa (see, South/CentralAmerica and China - The United States of America is not the whole world.

Anonymous said...

I came to Linux about three years ago as a user of Kanotix. When that forked, I migrated to Sidux. I wouldn't look at another Distro now because Sidux is everything I want. It's very stable and user-friendly so that even I, as a virtual stranger to command line, can use it. It's bleeding edge and extremely customisable too.

I've tried Ubuntu but find it too restrictive and hard to configure but I do applaud it for being what it intends to be: a great way to wean people off Windows.

Wu Shi said...

After years as a Red Hat and then Fedora user, I really have been enjoying Ubuntu, I am new, since 7.10 and now running 8.04 and I love it.

Yes I am one of the fools that subscribes to mandriva, but no more, Ubuntu gives me everything I need for my multimedia desktop. The hardware support and community are really what make this a great distro.