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.
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 Andover.net 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…
Robin “Roblimo” Miller is a freelance writer and former editor-in-chief at Open Source Technology Group, the company that owned SourceForge, freshmeat, Linux.com, NewsForge, ThinkGeek and Slashdot, and until recently served as a video editor at Slashdot. Now he’s mostly retired, but still works part-time as an editorial consultant for Grid Dynamics, and (obviously) writes for FOSS Force.