Why I Use Ubuntu
If you are reading this it is because I finally got around to taking Scott up on his request for Ubuntu content. I am not a well versed Linux user and over the years have had a love/hate relationship with Linux and the open source community. My beef is not with proprietary software as much as it is with outrageous pricing and no access to the code to make it work for you. I don’t believe Microsoft or Apple are 100% evil nor do I think that Linux or open source are always the best solution for the job - nor do I think Microsoft or Apple are always the best solution. I am just a basic user.
I have an older slim desktop that runs Ubuntu server with a SAMBA share for my personal content storage. Aside from that I dual boot my Vista laptop with 32-bit Ubuntu. So why Ubuntu on my desktop? Well, for that we need to go back in time a bit.
My first introduction to Linux, back in the 90’s, was by a friend who helped me set up an early RedHat install and then attempted to help me learn how to use it. It didn’t take long for me to hate it. It was during the early days of RPM’s, and although I saw the potential, I was still annoyed that it was not as easy as a windows .exe file. My experience with RPM’s was that there were always dependencies that you never discovered until you were trying to install. It seemed to me that I had to uncompress files twice and then compile the application and it was more than I could just easily do/remember. Add to that the constant frustration of not knowing how to do stuff or how to fix the things that would not work and for a non-engineer Linux newbie, it was the beginning of my love/hate relationship with Linux.
After awhile I started wanting to play with Linux again, a pattern that would continue to repeat itself over the years. I don’t know when it was, but the same friend that first attempted to help me with RedHat had mentioned some “apt-get” system that would check to see if you needed any dependencies before attempting to install the application. Not only that, but it would ask you if you wanted them installed (DUH!) and would install them prior to the application install if you wanted. This sounded much better than the RPM hell I had experienced. At some point I remember trying Debian - again with said friends help. About the only thing I remember was that the installer was not that friendly and there was something like 7 freaking install disks! I don’t remember at what point in my Linux journey I tried Debian, but I do seem to believe it was short lived. Not because of “apt-get” but again because of my usage frustrations of not being able to fix or move around from a lack of understanding. To be honest, there really was not a good desktop Linux installation available.
Somewhere along the way I developed a friendship with a couple of LAN gamers who were into Linux as well and through them I was introduced to SUSE Linux. I think my love/hate SUSE journey spanned versions 6 - 8, maybe even 5. Using SUSE Linux was probably a better experience than I had ever had before but it was also a whole new hell that ultimately caused me to stop using it. I would read or stumble upon some cool sounding application and want to use it but couldn't find a SUSE specific installer or who ever had been maintaining the SUSE package had stopped. I think the final “straw” was when I wanted to try GnuCash. I had read some really cool things about it and wanted to try some of the features but the newer version was not being maintained for SUSE and since I did not know how to compile it from source I gave up in frustration. It also seems to me that OpenOffice.org was another issue. It came pre-installed, but I always seemed to have problems updating to the most recent versions.
I remember along the way (maybe even before SUSE) looking at and even forcing a hard drive install of Knoppix which was interesting and being reintroduced to “apt-get” gave me the warm fuzzies again. But like all the other times before, I gave up out of frustration.
Then I started hearing about Ubuntu. I liked that it was based on Debian and I was told they were desktop focused. Although I am not sure, I “think” I started trying Ubuntu around version 5 or 6. What I initially liked was that most things just worked. With the exception of cheap laptop wireless cards most hardware was not a problem. In fairness, this could have been as much a product of time as Debian, Ubuntu or kernel driver smarts. All I know was that for the first time I saw something that wasn’t bad for a desktop. Today it is uncommon to find a computer that Ubuntu won’t run on and wireless card issues seem to be something of the past. I even prefer the Ubuntu live cd to a Knoppix live cd for tech work. I have had more problems booting a computer from Knoppix then I ever have from an Ubuntu disk. This “working out of the box” experience has been largely responsible for my Linux satisfaction level. Especially once cheap (broadcom) wireless adapters worked out of the box.
So why Ubuntu? Well for me it just seems to install and work on just about any computer I install it on. I have the comfort of using “apt-get”, my wireless adapter works and I don’t feel like I need to be a computer engineer to install or use Linux. But am I an Ubuntu fanboy? I’m not so sure anymore. Lately it seems to me that Ubuntu is feeling more bloated and a bit more buggy. I am especially frustrated with how “beta” like the most recent LTS (Long Term Support) version is. It just seems to me that LTS implies something that should be rock solid, very stable but I guess that's just my desired reality. Truth be told even I realize that LTS just means Ubutu will provide a longer time of support. As a result, I have started looking at other distributions and may consider switching. But I don’t see myself switching to a non-Debian based distro. Fair or not fair, I just hate RPM’s and still like to install my updates using “apt-get”.
So maybe the title of this post should really be “Why I use Debian based distro’s”.