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March 30th, 2012

Is Ubuntu Ashamed of Tux?

Maybe the reason why we can’t get any traction with desktop Linux is because so many of the people using it don’t even know it. For example, Android users hardly ever know their smartphone or tablet runs on top of the Linux kernel, they just know they’re using Android. Tell them it’s Linux and the only reply you’ll get is a deer-in-the-headlights stare.

That never bothered me much because I figure that mobile users aren’t very likely to want to mimic their mobile experience on their laptops or desktops anyway. I can also understand why Google doesn’t do handstands to associate their OS with Tux, since Linux has an outdated reputation as a hard to use operating system that’s best left in the hands of geeks. The average shopper at the Verizon store is just looking for an easy to use phone with lots of useful apps available. Besides, Android doesn’t look or act like any other flavor of Linux, since there’s nothing GNU there (pun intended).

On Wednesday Dissociated Press reported that the most popular Linux distro ever is distancing itself from Tux. That would be Ubuntu, of course. The release notes for their latest beta release state that ““Beta-1 includes the 3.2.0-17.27 Ubuntu kernel which is based on the v3.2.6 upstream stable kernel.”

The Ubuntu kernel? Really?

According to the article, there’s more to this than a mere re-branding of the kernel:

“Lest you wonder whether this was an intentional naming decision, it does seem to be that Canonical is deliberately avoiding using the L word. The release notes were imported by Canonical’s Kate Stewart (release manager) with the ‘Ubuntu kernel’ language. From skimming the rest of the release notes brings up only one mention of ‘Linux.’ This is to mention that on PowerPC if Ubuntu is installed ‘along side linux, the system does not automatically boot into the newly installed system.’ So Canonical clearly seems to be trying to distance itself from Linux, here.”

Note that Ubuntu wants you to know that it can be installed alongside Linus – not alongside another Linux distro. Sweet, eh?

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that this doesn’t mean a thing. That Ubuntu users are just as likely as the user of any distro to try another Linux flavor on for size, right?

If that’s what you think, then you would evidently be wrong. According to Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols at ZDNet, the folks at Canonical have surveyed 17,000 of their users. Most interesting was the results to the question, “What other operating system do you use?”

“Beyond Ubuntu, Canonical found that the most popular other operating system Ubuntu fans used was, wait for it, Windows, with 76.9%. Even in hardcore Linux circles it’s hard to get away from Windows. …”

Image courtesy Canonical

I’m reasonably certain that the folks at Canonical are distancing themselves from the L-word because they figure the general public is more afraid of Linux than they are of trying a new “easy-to-use” operating system – again, because they perceive Linux to be something that can only be used by rocket scientists.

It seems obvious that Shuttleworth’s game plan with Ubuntu for Android is less about bringing Ubuntu to Android devices and more about bringing Android users to desktop Ubuntu. That won’t happen, he figures, if people find out that Ubuntu has penguin blood. It appears as if people are afraid of penguins.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

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