I think that I’m in a really good position to talk about Ubuntu and elementary. I’m not a programmer nor a developer. I moved from Windows to Ubuntu on the desktop because I disagree with the idea of proprietary software and I don’t feel comfortable using software that is not open source, although I understand that right now I can’t do everything that I do on my notebook using only open source software (I still need Flash, proprietary codecs and fonts, etc.). It will be a long text, I’m warning you. I have never written about this before so I’m going to put out anything that I think about it.
For regular users there’s really only Ubuntu and elementary
So, I moved from Windows 7. After that I could notice how Ubuntu is just a better OS than Windows ever will be, for reasons that I’m assuming we all agree, like stability, how easy it is to search and install new apps, the system is secure, etc. I installed Ubuntu 12.04 (the community recommended me to use only LTS releases) and was happy with it. In my time using Linux I tested a lot of distributions, mainly Ubuntu-based ones, that tried to achieve the same thing: be an operating system easy to use so my parents could move to open source. But before elementary, Ubuntu was the only Linux-based desktop OS that I could recommend to Windows users without feeling embarrassed. Linux people love to recommend things like SolydK or Mint to new users, but I really think, and I say this as someone who’s the target audience of those ‘easy-to-use’ distributions, that Ubuntu and elementary are the only ones that cares about providing a good experience to those users, and the fact that elementary achieved this with only their second release is amazing. I used my family as lab rats and made them use Mint for the past six months. The overall opinion isn’t good. Mint looks like something from the 90’s made by a bunch of amateurs, not a system that my father can trust to work on or that my sister feels comfortable using for simple tasks like browsing the web, watching TV shows and managing photos. You will always find a Linux nerd saying that his grandfather can use a Debian or Arch box and never had a problem with it, but that’s not what we should want if we want open source to be popular on the desktop. We should want systems that are easy enough so that the grandfather can walk into a store, buy a desktop and use it without asking the grandson for help. And right now, only Ubuntu gives me that.
At least here in Brasil it’s quite easy to buy Dell notebooks with Ubuntu LTS. I don’t know how it works in the rest of the world.
Dang it, elementary is great!
I like good design and that’s one of the main reasons that made me move to elementary when Luna was released. I agree that most open source apps never really cared about it and I don’t feel like Canonical encourage the development of good-looking third-party apps like elementary does. The fact that Audacity will look terrible on elementary is not an elementary problem. It’s an open source problem. Audacity looks terrible anywhere, not just in elementary. At least they provide the tools so that developers can improve their applications. The guys at elementary really care about the little details in a way that I’ve never seen on the open source world. But I’m not sure if I will keep using it for another six months.
What the hell is a regular user?
I’m a regular user. Or at least I think I am. I use Firefox to browse the web everyday, I search and download new apps using the Ubuntu Software Center, I watch TV shows and movies (be it torrents or DVDs), I listen to my music collection and I play games from Steam and Humble Bundle. But I’m also graduating in Journalism, so I edit photos with GIMP, I edit some audio with Audacity, I make newspapers and magazines with Scribus (at least I’m trying to, but it’s being difficult to replace Adobe InDesign), I use Transcribe to transcript interviews, I use OpenShot to edit TV reports, I use Writer and Impress and it’s not hard to have four or five documents opened at the same time. And yes, I’m a regular user. I hate the Terminal and people who tell me that I must learn to use it if want to “truly use my computer”, I’m not a fan of customization that’s not provided by the developers and I don’t understand why people follow ‘update your kernel guides’ just to later complain that everything is broking. I just want to use my computer. I have the same workflow of any journalist and I do the same things that my all college classmates do on Windows.
Do we all agree here? Because I feel like elementary considers me a power user. There’s no easy access to my recent documents and working with more than five apps at the same time it’s a big pain in the ass. I need to Alt+Tab if I want to change between documents because there’s no smart way to handle apps that requires more than one window for everything (and even elementary apps disrespect this). Auto-hiding the dock looks nice, but it’s terrible if you need to constantly change between apps and tweaking it to be on the top all the time wastes a lot of screen space on my already tiny monitor. Don’t get me wrong. I love elementary and, as I already said, it’s the only OS besides Ubuntu that I would recommend to someone, but I really think that some design decisions (in fact, a lot of them) are made with people who use only one or two apps at a time in mind. Ubuntu seriously needs to put their design team to work on Unity for the desktops, but for the most part, Unity seems handles my workflow much better than Pantheon.
That being said, there’s a lot of things that Ubuntu should learn with elementary and vice-versa. Unity’s Dash can be confusing and it requires a lot of clicks just to show my installed applications. But at the same time has a great search. Slingshot shows me all my apps but the system lacks a good search functionality and a better file management. At the same time, the new Ubuntu webapps completely sucks while the Midori implementation in elementary is just what I want. This is great. There’s always room for improvement and open source and software livre allows us to work together in order to improve.
I’m happy to see that there are two open source desktop operating systems that wants me as a user and they’re both great, but that’s not our problem anymore. We now have a bigger problem. We need better third-party apps, better App Centers with great software in it. We need a sound recorder that fits really well with the desktop, not one built for KDE that looks like crap but nobody develops a new one because people start to say that ‘we don’t need yet another sound recorder’. We always need new apps and we need them to be stable and developed with an OS in mind. The people at elementary realized that, but they still don’t have the community to provide this app ecosystem. Ubuntu have this community, but it doesn’t look like Canonical is working in this area. Or maybe we’ll see a lot of new things in the next cycle, I don’t know. But this shows what’s the biggest problem with Linux for the desktop and it isn’t Unity, Mir or a bunch of people my age making another Ubuntu-based distribution. The problem is that users don’t care about the desktop shell or the display server. They want a stable system, that it’s well-designed and has a lot of good apps. And to provide that, my only hopes are with elementary and Ubuntu.
PS: My Android 2.2 phone is dying so please Canonical put Brasil in your plans, because Ubuntu is looking awesome on the phone.