Ubuntu Under Attack on Multiple Fronts

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Over the past few years, Ubuntu has slowly emerged as the champion among Linux distros – having great application support, a huge and active community and having begun making major inroads in the netbook/laptop market through the deal with Dell, UNR / Easy-Peasy remix and through an announced effort to integrate with Moblin. The only other netbook competitor being the aged Windows XP, and other Linux distros. However, Ubuntu’s gains are now under attack on all fronts from some really big names in the computer industry.  Ubuntu runs the risk of being squeezed out of its current spot in the tech and linux world.

From the right, we have Windows 7, which, if tech-pundits are to be believed, is better than Vista and quite capable on running on a netbook. What does Windows have that Ubuntu doesn’t? Since 90% + of people still use windows as their primary OS, there is a certain comfort level associated with the trademark. Add to this the fact that Microsoft has longstanding relationships with retailers, and I expect this to be the option we see most on store shelves. Canonical needs to start marketing if it expects to ever be more than hobbyist OS in this arena. They need to really push/emphasize their partnership with Dell and develop many similar relationships with other manufactures. People need to hear the Ubuntu name. Hopefully, this brings in some $ for Canoncial in the form of subscription services like Ubuntu-One (hopefully there is more to come) and other support services and maybe enterprise desktops soon.

On the left side, a couple months ago we started hearing about companies shipping netbooks with Google’s Android pre-installed. I just got a G1 phone with android and love it. Because it is Linux-based and open-source, it integrates well with the current Ubuntu Linux desktop through applications like Banshee and Amarok. It has a great app store with tons of useful programs. But, I am not really pleased to see it hitting netbooks. The problem? It is not at all clear if developer efforts to write netbook apps for android will be transferable into any benefit for the greater Linux eco-system because Android is not based on the typical X.org – GTK/QT model. Sure, some Ubuntu developers have gotten Android apps to run, but it is basically an emulation that the lacks the typical Linux look and feel. So, if Android becomes too popular on the netbook front it might just end up pulling resources away from the typical Linux distros like Ubuntu. What Ubuntu needs to do to stop the Android threat is implement an app store and implement it quick. Synaptic is basically 90% there already. They just need to quickly add a way to sell proprietary apps (something like click-n-run integration). Synaptics free-software repos with the addition of an app store that contains things like World of Goo, Cedega, Codeweavers etc.. would be amazing – and would take away one of Android’s biggest advantages.

Finally, if Android is attacking from the Left and Windows 7 from the right, just yesterday we got news that Google was sending a second attack right up the center. Google is not stopping with just one OS – they are creating a second Linux based OS designed for hardware from netbooks up to desktops centered around their Chrome browser. It is not clear exactly what Linux components this OS will have, but I hope, at least, that apps written for Chrome-OS will be natively supported by Ubuntu and vice versa (i.e. they use the same components like X.org / GTK/QT etc. that other distros can use). With the name recognition of Google, Chrome-OS could quickly divert a lot of attention away from Ubuntu and further fracture the Linux eco-system. It is too soon to tell how compatible Chrome-OS will be with other Linux distros. For now, let’s hope they become a good partner in the Linux world instead of a divider.

Edit:  Works With U has a nice article about why Chrome-OS may be a good thing for Ubuntu: http://www.workswithu.com/2009/07/10/how-chrome-os-will-help-ubuntu/

19 thoughts on “Ubuntu Under Attack on Multiple Fronts

  1. All good comments. I too hope Google shines the spotlight on Linux with cross-distro compatibility, instead of dividing it with proprietary software and an incompatible platform. It is in their best interest as well as other Linux distros for that compatibility to be there.


  2. Hi Jack. This is some interesting analysis, but I think this is the wrong approach. Let’s take a step back and look at Open Source vs. commercial software.

    The 90% Windows numbers are not homogenous either. There are many old machines running Windows that can’t run Vista. Every win for GNU/Linux, is a small loss for commercial software.

    You will not see an Ubuntu commercial installer for software. http://www.ubuntu.com clearly promises “Ubuntu will always be free of charge, including enterprise releases and security updates.” I have proposed on the Ubuntu marketing mail list that at least Canonical spend the relatively small amount of money to get their press releases distributed to the US media which I don’t think they have done yet. The Ubuntu community relies on volunteers to get the word out right now as there is such a small US Canonical presence.

    Google’s second step into the Open Source product development world will be something to watch closely. Their announcement leaves two major holes of interest in my mind: why aren’t their partners willing to talk about their work with Google (a few journalists got no comment from them) and what kind of new window system they are talking about. As the code should be available by January we’ll know better what this new system really will be like. Every corporate entity that approaches the commercialization of Open Source does things differently. IBM and others were leaders. We’ll see what evolves from Google soon enough. The brand awareness alone and the similarities and differences Google has compared to Microsoft will make their efforts significant indeed.


  3. Grant, I don’t see why Ubuntus promise “Ubuntu will always be free of charge, including enterprise releases and security updates” prohibits it from shipping with a tool that makes it easy to install both free and proprietary third party software. It is not a “commercial installer for software” that I am advocating but a “free software tool to aid in the management of proprietary software.” The truth is, there is some good proprietary software available for Linux (particularly in the gaming realm), but it is much harder to manage this software because it isn’t included in synaptic. I for one would be glad to see World of Goo or Cedega make it into the repos with a price on them. I.e. I don’t think it hurts Ubuntu’s stance on open-source software development to play nice with other models. This does not mean I like (or Ubuntu would prefer) the proprietary development model better, it just means I recognise there are some good tools/games that can only be had currently under a more relaxed approach.

    Your comments about Google/Windows are well taken an accepted. I await more information on Chrome-OS before passing judgement.🙂


  4. Google Chrome OS is bigger rival to Windows than to Ubuntu. We all know that netconnection based Chrome OS can’t move Linux-users to Google-Army. But Google is wellknown amoug Windows-users, they trust it and that’s why Redmond is really scared of it.

    Ubuntu’s bigger rival is of course – another Linux-distro (e.g Linux Mint, Fedora, SUSE, Debian…)


  5. But mantias.. windows users may trust google for their web presence, but this has not necessarily spread to the desktop. As an example – Google Chrome still has a relatively poor uptake in the windows world after many months, even against the likes of Firefox. And you can also look at their Google desktop search tool, which has yet to gain much traction.

    One of the reasons I switched to ubuntu a few years ago, was that most of the applications that I found I was using daily on Windows, all were more flexible, and ran faster and more efficiently on Linux, which was continuing to expand and implement exciting new ideas. So I thought “why bother with Windows, so many things are starting to annoy me with the underlying o/s”. This the angle Ubuntu and the like needs to take judiciously, creating the killer applications that are later ported to Windows.. eventually giving the impression to regular users who frankly don’t care too much about what o/s they are running “if you want the latest, and most innovative software, it is available on Linux first”. This will help drive users to the o/s more so than simply what sits underneath.

    Well paid software competitions to drive new ideas, and even encouraging a possibly more competitive environment amongst the open souce world could do some wonders here.


  6. Ubuntu has its place among Linux distros, but it’s place is not on any of my computers! Having tried several versions of both Ubuntu (sorry, I do not like Gnome) and Kubuntu, I have to say they are not for me. I do not consider myself to be a Linux guru, or any kind of expert, but I had outgrown the *buntus and their limitations before I had tried them. Also, the *buntus have long standing bugs that haven’t been fixed yet, and they contribute very little back to Debian, without which they wouldn’t exist. Ubuntu only has large numbers of users because it has the backing of a rich guy, and because (like Windows users) most Ubuntu users don’t know that there are better distros out there.

    For new Linux users, I recommend Mepis. For more experienced users who want a bleeding edge distro, try sidux. Both are far superior to the *buntus!


  7. Ubuntu’s a piece of junk. Its like playing with matchbox cars instead of real cars. And I absolutely hate ubuntu’s forums. A bunch of newb idiots helping other newb idiots. No help at all. I install Mandriva on all the machines I sell and build, and on almost every machine I upgrade. At least over at the Mandriva forums you can get some real support without spending hours weeding through garbage. And all you hear from the ubuntu drones is release cyle, eye candy, long term support, bla bla… What real linux distro doesn’t have that. Mandriva’s powerful enough for reals users, easily dumbed down for new users, all the eye candy, twice a year release, long term support and on and on and on. Not to mention ubuntus horrible hardware detection and support. Ive never had so much trouble installing a linux os. Its one thing to dumb down an os for new users, its another to make the OS dumb


  8. “newb idiots”? For those of you calling people just starting with Linux “newb idiots,” are the idiots yourselves. First if it wasn’t for those newbs, there wouldn’t be any Linux users new or otherwise. Secondly, those of you taking the stance of a “newb” is idiot, also gives Linux a bad name and does not encourage other people to want to try Linux. If Linux is every going to become a major player in the desktop and server markets, Linux needs to lose the pompous A.holes i.e. jessica, jake, etc.

    As to the article: I enjoyed reading it, and it will be interesting whether ChromeOS becomes a “win win” for Linux or a “win lose”.



    I was waiting for someone to take offense at the statement: “Over the past few years, Ubuntu has slowly emerged as the champion among Linux distros” –🙂

    That sentence is a statement that Ubuntu has emerged as the most popular distro with the most software packaged for it. Particularly from developers’ who are just getting into Linux. The truth is, I consistently run and try new Linux distros all the time. I have a particular soft-spot for Fedora because Red Hat was my first distro and the Fedora project is always pushing the frontier of desktop Linux forward with their integration of new projects. I have also been playing with a lot of source based distros these days. In general, I think the current Linux eco-system is very healthy. There are a lot of distro choices, but what is good for one is basically good for all because they share more or less the same components. In this way, Ubuntu is not threatened by current distros, nor are those distros threatened by Ubuntu. It is quite the opposite in fact.

    On the other hand, Android doesn’t have many of the components of a typical distro. So, any effort towards making sweet Android apps for netbooks won’t benefit the other distros much (or at all). This can have the effect of of squeezing down the Ubuntu (and other Linux distro) marketshare on these devices. This of course only really matters if you care about Linux marketshare etc… And, truthfully, maybe we shouldn’t – as wise people always point out to me: developer time is not a zero sum game.

    Given that in the current eco-systems all distros generally benefit from eachother, I don’t really think the comments from jake, nonya and jessica are fair. Ubuntu may not be for all Linux users, but it is certainly not junk. It satisfies the needs of many people and provides a fairly easy/robust Linux experience. And, please, there is nothing wrong with newbs. What any community needs is a consistent cycle of newbs to keep things fresh.


  10. I agree the ubuntu’s are garbage. It may just be a broken Debian clone, but its a choice non the less.

    If Linux is every going to become a major player in the desktop and server markets…

    Why do we even care. I was quite happy 10 years ago with my slackware, happily using linux, without all the hype, trash talk, ect..

    All these pompous A.holes are probably long time linux users that are just plain fed up with all the hype and all the distro clones out there. I know I am.


  11. I really enjoyed reading your post jdeslip.

    As I am currently using Android for a project on an embedded system and as I am an Ubuntu user, this post really got me thinking.

    The beauty of the Android toolchain is that it gets developers going without any fear of the API and encourages Java Developers to try their skills on a embedded platform. Any developer who worked with Swing will appreciate the API for Androids User Interface as it is very easy to understand and has a transparent model behind it.
    This is what I miss about GTK/Qt (and yes it is not really fair to compare any of those window managers named) and encourages me of getting my applications to run on an Android system.

    I don’t see developers leaving their favorite distro (or project) in order to switch to Android; I rather see Android bringing new developers to the open source world and taking them a step towards free software.

    As far as it goes for Ubuntu I think the distro has nothing to fear at all. Their model is brilliant; their target is show the world that people can use Linux without having a degree in engineering or in computer science. And yeah, it just feels right🙂

    You see I don’t have the time to set up and maintain a distro like Gentoo (which I find awesome). I need to have my tools ready when I need them and I feel Ubuntu accomplishes exactly that.

    Thanks for the post, I really enjoyed reading it🙂


  12. I recently moved from Windows to Ubuntu (first came over on Intrepid Ibex) and love it. All of the issues I have had so far (albeit trivial) have been quickly remedied by help on the forums. Am I an idiot for this? Would I be more or less an idiot to you all going to Windows 7 then?


  13. Who really cares what other people think of the distro a person likes or doesnt like. I use Ubuntu …it just works and I LIKE IT….I dont care what distro another person uses or if they call me a noob blah blah blah they dont mean squat to me,or even if they use windows…DON’T CARE. I like having no virus checkers, spyware checkers and enjoy my old computer ..1 gig ram 2 gig cpu 256 mg vid card. I couldnt care less if windows blows up, or linux gets 90% market share……really what do most people give a rats ass if linux gets market share…does that butter their bread…no they are just users nothing more. Long live Linux and the choice to use whatever friggin distro ……………


  14. Well more market share would mean more applications. I am interested in getting more people into Linux for that reason. But this type of elitist attitude held by so many is what will ensure that the Linux kernel will stay marginalised for generations to come.

    Besides, what did Shuttleworth do so wrong anyway? Spending his own money to market Debian? Big deal. Ubuntu gives credit to Debian and follows the GNU Public License so far as I can tell. People should be happy someone stepped up to the plate to market Linux and spread the word. That’s what it needs.

    Unless you are one of those users who wants few people as possible using the OS because it somehow makes you feel cool, and if that’s the case, you have no reason to complain.


  15. There was a complaint from a commenter that the Ubuntu os was most difficult to install. I installed Ubuntu on my old t42 Ibm Thinkpad. My impression was that Ubuntu installed easily and seemingly despite my keyboard blundering. Not knowing anything about any other Linux distro, I am grateful that, thanks to Jack, Grant and the others at Berkeley LUG, I was able to escape from the Windows prison. There is a huge industry devoted entirely to keep Windows from crashing or being infected, despite excessive amounts of ram and virus preventers.


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