I’ve been a Linux user for a long time, eight years in fact. Now I’m not trying to toot my horn, I merely am pointing out that I’ve been around long enough to see a lot of changes and a number of flash-in-the-pan distributions come and go. Most of the time the short lived distributions were simply repackaged and re-branded versions of an existing Linux project like Red Hat or whatever and they were pretty easy to pick up. Everything looked and felt like a Red Hat system but this “new” distribution focused on a certain aspect. Mandrake Linux or Linux Mandrake as it might been more commonly called back then, was in fact based on Red Hat but with an experience more focused on KDE and ease of use. Today of course Mandrake is known as Mandriva and you can no longer say that it is simply a repackaged Red Hat (or Fedora) distribution.
Now like I said, I’ve been using Linux as a desktop or server OS since about 1999, probably longer than a lot of people. During that time I pretty much have used Red Hat (or Fedora Core) exclusively and I’ve grown accustomed to it’s inner workings. I don’t have to reference anything to know how to install packages, what packages are called, manage services, edit config files or what have you, it’s all just familiar territory. Much like walking around my house in the dark, there are no surprises anymore.
In the last few years I’ve grown to be a bit less willing to muck around with Linux and well, computers in general. I was increasingly getting frustrated with Fedora Core and felt there was never any real progress anymore. Each release would bring with it the latest software, but nothing was ever done to broaden what the distribution did outside of what you got when you compiled each software package. What I mean is, nobody is working any harder than they have to. They’re not adding in new functionality that makes the system as a whole easier to use.
Some other distributions try to actually improve upon the software they’re including by going beyond what the included project does by default. Some of these distributions have been doing this for a long time but they never really caught my eye because although they made some improvements, the improvements by and large seemed to render the whole distribution less stable or less compatible with other projects. This in turn would make the distribution some kind of one off that saw less support from the community at large.
Ubuntu on the other hand seems to done something most of the others just never could, make things a bit easier and more enjoyable for the user and gain enough market share quickly enough to matter. Ubuntu is said to be one of the leading Linux desktop systems out there.
But here’s the rub. While Ubuntu is seen to be easy to use by a large number of people, I no doubt imagine there are more people out there like me who actually find it difficult! At least at first. The difficulty in Ubuntu for me is simply getting over how Red Hat type systems have operated for years as well as how packages are named. A long time Debian user would have the same type of initial shock if they suddenly started using Fedora Core instead. Managing services, run levels, installing packages, they’re all slightly different in Ubuntu and installing a set of packages takes longer than it should for me simply because they’re named differently than I’m used to.
I’m not really complaining and I’m not suggesting they change the names of their packages for all of us Red Hat old timers, I’m merely pointing out that although most people find Ubuntu easy to use, an old timer will initially run into some problems. Thankfully, between the Ubuntu community, apt’s quickness and multiple tutorials on the net the learning curve is short.