Monday, February 19, 2007

Musings on Ubuntu

I remember some years ago, I saw a t-shirt online that said something to the effect of, "Debian: The OS Your Mother Would Use If It Were 20 Times Easier". Imagine my surprise when some few years later, Debian was made 20 times easier and called Ubuntu.

The Debian community has long been known for having one of the most stable and secure, if also less intuitive distributions of Linux available. Those who ventured into that realm generally did so either with immense prior Linux knowledge, or were slapped down by the intensity of that world like a small child biting into its first habanero. If they could handle the heat, then they had an arsenal of raw open source power at their fingertips, and I'm entirely certain that they loved it.

I don't suppose I should have been surprised when I heard rumors of Debian developers at an open source conference wearing t-shirts that said "F*** Ubuntu". Could it be that Debian devs don't like having that power available to the mass public? Perhaps they feel that the Average Joe isn't privileged enough to have access to their previously elite world.

I overheard a discussion in high school between a friend of mine and the school's photography teacher, both shining examples of what was coming to be known as Generation X. The teacher, who looked so much like a skater than few students not in his class knew he was a teacher, was arguing about the elitist Cure fan. The Cure's Wish album had only recently been released, and the teacher argued that die hard cure fans liked to talk about how the Cure had finally sold out, and that Wish was proof positive. The Head on the Door, they argued, was a good album. That was years before Wish, before they so obviously sold out. What these fans were trying to say was not that the Cure were selling out, but that they (the fan) were smart and had authority to call judgement because of their massive knowledge of Old Albums (TM). These same people called The Head on the Door the sellout album when it came out, and noted how superior Three Imaginary Boys was. My friend exclaimed, "hey, but I like The Head on the Door album!" The teacher replied, "sure, you do now because it's an Old Album."

Is this the same mentality that Debian developers have? Are they mad at Ubuntu because it undermines their perceived eliteness? Or are they merely trying to increase their standing with the rest of the Linux community, and perhaps the tech world as a whole? Perhaps they're jealous that Ubuntu has suddenly achieved so much popularity so quickly, and it probably chafes a little that they did so building on the backbone that the Debian community has worked so long and hard to perfect, only to discover that they missed a crucial element: ease of use.

The Ubuntu community has done something that is completely foreign to so many open source developers. They have embraced new users, and even gone so far as to release free CD's to anyone that wants one. Sure, you can download the latest release. But if you don't have the bandwidth for the download or the money to buy blank CD's, they're more than happy to send you out one for free. User groups are popping up all over the place with a new purpose in mind: to help new Ubuntu users become more comfortable with their new environment, and provide the kind of support that normally runs upwards of $90/hr for Windows support.

I've been reading Christer Edwards' blog for several months now, and the guy has managed to post some new tidbit of knowledge just about every day. When I started checking out the Ubuntu Utah group, I was welcomed with open arms. Even though I was kind of a pain sometimes when I had problems, people like Christer, and Aaron Topponce have continuously extended their hand in friendship and invited me to bring my computer to the monthly meetings so that they can make sure I'm headed where I want to be going.

Those are today's musings on Ubuntu. I don't know that I've ever enjoyed a computing environment so much, and I don't think I've ever been so productive on the computer. It's a nice place to be.

UPDATE, Feb 19 @ 5:02pm:
Shortly after posting my musings, somebody far more intelligent and informed on the matter than me decided to post his response. I realized at the time that my comments were likely far more short-sighted than I knew, but Hans' response to them made me glad I posted them anyway. All things considered, reading my post and not his would probably be kind of like only hearing half of a conversation and thinking that was enough.


  1. I'm happy we've been able to help and I hope to see you at all the upcoming meetings! Make sure to set your calendar for April 21 for our Feisty release party!

    Thanks for the good mention bud, glad to have you on the team.

  2. Joesph, you are more than welcome. Glad to have you aboard. Thanks for the kind words. That was very nice of you.

    I have to say, that it's rather unfortunate that these cultures exist. Debian, unfortunately, is not the only Linux distribution who cultivates this attitude. I have seen the same likes from all distros, and it's sad really.

    I have debated making the switch to Debian for personal reasons, but the thing that keeps me coming back to Ubuntu time and time again is the great community that they have built and the wonderful support.

    Luckily, and very fortunately, not all of the Debian developers are this way. Many of them come to the Ubuntu Developer Summits and many develop for Ubuntu itself. What I have noticed, is the ones wearing the F-Ubuntu shirts, are young, immature teenagers, who are lucky to call themselves "developers" at all.

    Anyway, thx for the post. It was a good read.

  3. I don't think it's unfortunate that these cultures exist. It is perhaps unfortunate that not everyone in every geek culture is mature and civil, but what can you do? Far more good comes from these cultures than bad. The Debian culture can be a little rough but look what they've produced. And I speak from experience that if you can ride the rough waves from the few jerks, you will find 100 nice and helpful Debian Developers for each jerk.


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