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January 19th, 2017

The Many, the Humble, the Ubuntu Users

The proverbial “better mousetrap” isn’t one that takes a certified biologist to use. Like Ubuntu, it just needs to do its job extremely well and with little fuss.

Roblimo’s Hideaway

Ubuntu Unity

I have never been much of a leading-edge computing person. In fact, I first got mildly famous online writing a weekly column titled “This Old PC” for Time/Life about making do with used gear — often by installing Linux on it — and after that an essentially identical column for titled “Cheap Computing,” which was also about saving money in a world where most online computing columns seemed to be about getting you to spend until you had no money left to spend on food.

Most of the early Linux adopters I knew were infatuated with their computers and the software that made them useful. They loved poring over source code and making minor changes. They were, for the most part, computer science students or worked as IT people. Their computers and computer networks fascinated them, as they should have.

I was (and still am) a writer, not a computer science guy. For me, computers have always been tools. I want them to sit quietly until I tell them to do something, then follow my orders with the minimum possible fuss and bother. I like a GUI, since I don’t administer my PC or network often enough to memorize long command strings. Sure, I can look them up and type them in, but I’d really rather be at the beach.

There was a time when, in Linux circles, mere users were rare. “What do you mean, you just want to use your computer to type articles and maybe add a little HTML to them?” the developer and admin types seemed to ask, as if all fields of endeavor other than coding were inferior to what they did.

But despite the sneers, I kept hammering a theme in speech after speech and conversation after conversation that went sort of like this: “Instead of scratching only your own itches, why not scratch your girlfriend’s itch? How about your coworkers? And people who work at your favorite restaurant? And what about your doctor? Don’t you want him to spend his time doctoring, not worrying about apt get this and grep that?”

So yes, since I wanted easy-to-use Linux, I was an early Mandrake user. And today, I am a happy Ubuntu user.

Why Ubuntu? Hey! Why not?! It’s the Toyota Camry (or maybe Honda Civic) of Linux distros. Plain-jane. So popular that support is easy to find on IRC, Linux Questions, and Ubuntu’s own extensive forums, and many other places.

Sure, it’s cooler to use Debian or Fedora, and Mint looks jazzier out of the box, but I’m still mostly interested in writing stories and adding a little HTML to them, along with reading this and that in my browser, editing work in Google Docs for a corporate client or two, keeping up with my email, doing this or that with a picture now and then…. all basic computer user stuff.

And with all this going on, the appearance of my desktop is meaningless. I can’t see it! It’s covered with application windows! And I’m talking two monitors, not just one. I have, let’s see…. 17 Chrome tabs open in two windows. And GIMP running. And Bluefish, which I’m using right now, to type this essay.

So for me Ubuntu is the path of least resistance. Mint may be a little cuter, but when you come right down to it, and strip away the trim, isn’t it really Ubuntu? So if I use the same few programs over and over, which I do, and can’t see the desktop anyway, who cares if it’s brown?

Some studies say Mint is more popular. Others say Debian. But they all show Ubuntu in the top few, year after year.

So call me mass-average. Call me boring. Call me one of the many, the humble, the Ubuntu users — at least for now…

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Robin "Roblimo" Miller

Robin "Roblimo" Miller is a freelance writer and former editor-in-chief at Open Source Technology Group, the company that owned SourceForge, freshmeat,, NewsForge, ThinkGeek and Slashdot, and until recently served as a video editor at Slashdot. He also publishes the blog Robin ‘Roblimo’ Miller’s Personal Site. @robinAKAroblimo

21 comments to The Many, the Humble, the Ubuntu Users

  • tracyanne

    I’ve been using Ubuntu since I bought my new computer, it came with Ubuntu, and I couldn’t be bothered installing Mint over the top of it. All I’ve done is replace Nautilus with Nemo and configure 9 virtual desktops, other than that it’s standard Ubuntu Unity.

  • soocki

    For me it was and still is to learn and use Arch GNU-Linux. The main reason is that I can make use of the Arch Wiki, the best resource of useful information about practical linux, besides KISS philosophy is very close to my heart. Arch all the way.

  • tracyanne

    Mandrake 7.2 with KDE was my first Linux as well. I loved it.

  • Michael Adamson

    Yes Robin! I let out a little cheer when you said ” the appearance of my desktop is meaningless. I can’t see it!”

    Ubuntu is the distribution with the best, fastest security updates (and updates of all sorts) which is what I want. And Ubuntu gives me the freedom to choose the desktop that works for me. That is not Unity. It’s XFCE. But didn’t just say I couldn’t see it?

    XFCE gives me the freedom to create launchers for apps,files and URLs. And to dock those launchers in a panel which I can specify. It’s not the desktop I see… it’s the panel. While all those windows and tabs are open on the desktop, the panel is always there (or if I prefer, it pops up with a mouseover). About 90% of what I do can be achieved by a single click on one of the 50 or so icons on my panel. So far, we could also be talking about Mate. But XFCE has another great feature which is the Panel Switcher, which lets me store the configuration of any panel and import it to another computer with no fuss.

    And it’s not Xubuntu I want, because that is a separately ,and less well, maintained distribution. No, it’s just plain old Ubuntu and even plainer XFCE that gets the job done.

  • YOM

    … all it needs now is some good quality comercials…

    yeah, like not comercial stuff needs some comercials too…

  • Thong N

    Very nice article, you are so right. In the end its the program(s) you are using the most that occupies the screen real estate.

    Linux CentOS for server, Ubuntu for desktops apps.
    Windows for games and 4K video editting (hope Linux get better over time with this)
    Mainframe MVS – cause that what 1 of my client uses.

  • Buddy1

    I really agree. Mandrake was my first, but Ubuntu captured my heart, and, let’s face it Unity is simple and utilitarian and easy to get around in and I like it. I mostly use Libre Office, Chrome, Firefox, and Thunderbird. Occasionally Darktable and Synaptic. I really, really love the Libre Office family. Oh, and I use my Chromebook a fair amount too.

  • Eddie G.

    I started my Linux life with Fedora 12. And while I love Ubuntu, Mint, and Debian, it’s the CEntOS/Red Hat/Fedora family I have become accustomed to. I like ALL the desktop environments out there, and have installed most of the “major players” for family and friends, they’ve all come to me later on down the line thanking me for helping them leave the world of Microsoft (and one Apple Mac user as well!) but Gnome is my favorite, for while most others have one desktop and a lot of minimized windows, I have multiple desktops that I can be used for each app! I love Thunderbird, and Firefox, I also use LibreOffice constantly, both the word processor (Writer) for my “hopefully-one-day-to-be-published” writings, and the spreadsheet (Calc) as well for a customized, repeatedly printable grocery list, finance & tax calculations and itemized lists of things. I have used Unity extensively as well, and Ubuntu for over two years on my laptop, while my powerhouse desktop runs Fedora (now up to 25!…its been one heck of a wild ride!) As far as I see it? The REAL beauty of Linux is: it can be whatever YOU want it to be and it can look and behave however YOU tell it to behave, not some suit behind a desk worried about fiscal earnings, but by YOU! All Hail The Linux Community!…LoL!

  • soocki

    Hail God of GNU/Linux, praise our guru Richard Stallman and our leader Linus Torwalds!

  • Stefan

    I largely agree, but I think I’ll soon replace my current Ubuntu 16.04 with Linux Mint 18.x. I’m not unhappy with Ubuntu, but I find that other users (that I provide support for) tend to find Mint Mate Edition easier to work with.

    Also, I have problems mounting a 4TB usb drive on the Ubuntu machine (it sort of works, but the performance is dismal). I am sure the problem could be solved (somehow) but when I connected it to a laptop running Linux Mint 18.1 it ran perfectly right off. So now I backup the Ubuntu machine over the network rather than directly to the drive using usb 3.

  • donate what you can or pay zero.

  • So, if I’ve understood this correctly, all those people were wrong except Robin. I don’t know if Ubuntu will appreciate this faint praise delivered in such a defensive manner.

  • Mike

    What’s with the elementary spam?

  • tracyanne

    @Jim Bowering

    >>>So, if I’ve understood this correctly, all those people were wrong except Robin

    What people? and wrong about what?

  • Jeffrey Daniel Rollin-Jones

    I loved Mandrake too. I’ve used a lot of them including a long spell (about a year) using Manjaro. Nowadays I use Ubuntu MATE. It’s excellent.

  • Jim

    I am a big fan of Ubuntu. It has gotten so easy to install that it’s just routine- and I don’t really like the menu bar because I feel like it takes up too much screen real estate- but Ubuntu just works!!!

  • YOM

    … people are slaves to habits, they stick to something they know, because:
    *it is more easy to stay than to start all over again,
    *because they feel more cool if they buy some products,
    *because they think it is still terminal for Linux,

    And so many other reasons. The good start would be convey some survey and stuff, you know MS is still around, but not for long, now is good time, they ask people to switch from Win 7 to something else….

    … So, the question
    ” Why Desktop Linux Still Hasn’t Taken Over the World ” could be changed into when Linux Desktop will ….

    Somehow till real stuff is done, it will stay like this… so if you have a friend, neighbor, caffe you like, etc engage conversation about Linux and help people at least add one more operating system on their PC….

  • soocki

    Arch – no reason to re-install for 5 years straight, still going strong and it will until death do us apart.

  • pépé

    For the first time in Gnu/Linux world, a distro is made for ordinary people like me: a no-power user. So, a lot of thanks to Canonical and Ubuntu. Without them i should stay with windows, what a pity !

  • win street

    WHAT really hurts is you people are probably right it may be a better system. i do not know. I brought a refurbish laptop and this thing takes forever to come on. When it does it keeps kicking off the internet…it came with a piece a paper and some lessons installed that first got to keep the damn thing on before i can read. Oh yes turn on then turn off an on again if not first working…something else may be wrong. but from what i can tell you all are so great in your use you belittle to the point rocket science would be you have beginner pages where a person do not have to feel like the idiot i am ..I do not care no more with this is no use to me…But man some of you are just plan mean you so full of yourself. but then I just came from the closed comments.i just wish you had one that had people that could really make you want to ask a question. What happen to those people? Are their any left? thank you if you read this just a thought as for me i am done with this.. i think it at least have to stay on before i can figure it out. maybe as your previous page suggest i can donate it to a ten year old. One love