Although Ubuntu has been an enormous success, controversial decisions will prevent it from being named the best Linux desktop distribution in the future.
I’m aware that this article’s headlines are not among the most popular of the day. On the other side, the Internet is overflowing with articles like “Why Ubuntu is the best distribution for…,” which are not valid for one reason. In Linux, there is no such thing as “best.”
But before we go any further, it is essential to note that this post only covers the desktop editions of Ubuntu. The server side of things is an entirely different story that is outside the scope of this article.
So we will start with the following maxim – Ubuntu is a phenomenon. The distribution has risen from 0 to 100 at a rate that no other Linux distribution has ever matched.
Only a few years after its initial version 4.10, “Warty Warthog,” in 2004, Ubuntu rose to the top of the desktop Linux rankings.
In the years that followed, Ubuntu evolved to the point where, to the uninitiated, the terms Linux and Ubuntu meant the same thing. In other words, the distro became synonymous with Linux for a good reason.
It just works out of the box. Everything a traditional desktop Linux user could want: video drivers, hardware support, stability, and reliability.
Unfortunately, Canonical, the parent company, did not capitalize on the created momentum. Instead, controversial distribution development decisions piled on top of one another. Of course, these acts have impacted how more Linux users see the distro today.
Autocracy Instead Community
Dear Ubuntu decision-makers, please do not push your perceptions on users. This is Linux. We believe in open source for one simple reason: freedom of choice.
If I want to use an operating system where things can only happen in a predetermined way, I’ll go to a nearby computer store and get a Windows license or, even better, a Mac Book Pro.
Of course, there is another alternative that is the most reasonable outcome. We use different Linux distributions. But let me explain what this is all about.
Several times, Ubuntu has attempted to force various things on its users. For example, it came with a pre-installed Amazon shop application for a long time. Of course, practically all users were against it, but the company’s commercial interests demanded that it be available.
It got to the point where the distro was taken as spyware. Fortunately, common sense won out, and the software was removed in Ubuntu 20.04, but the bitter taste in the mouth persisted.
However, in its most recent releases, the distribution has decided to re-impose to its users something widely disliked in the Linux community: the Snap format. This is why the following section is entirely devoted to the subject.
First, let’s explain to our readers what Snap is. Simply put, this is an approach to distributing software encapsulated in a Snap package that offers compatibility in its use between various Linux distributions.
So far, so good. However, there are two other players in this area: AppImage and Flatpak. And while AppImage has a modest level of community acceptance, Flatpak is the preferred method for most major Linux distributions.
Of course, Snap is a format developed in-house by Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu. Hence, Canonical’s understandable desire to push its product.
But when on one side we have Mark Shuttleworth’s opinion that Snap is better than Flatpak, and on the other side, almost the entire Linux community prefers Flatpak, things are clear. So with all due respect, Mr. Shuttleworth, I consider the Linux community’s assertion true.
Almost everyone except Canonical agrees that Flatpak is better than Snap: it’s much faster and integrates better with the system (especially theming). In addition, it has more 3rd party support now.
And most likely, this entire section would not exist if the recent Ubuntu 22.04 decision to make the Firefox browser available only as a Snap. Ubuntu’s much-loved and favored model for software distribution.
The year is 2022. Even with modern hardware, the initial launch of Firefox in Ubuntu’s most recent version takes between 15 and 20 seconds. To open your browser. In 2022.
We are moving on to the next section.
When we install a specific version of a desktop environment, we expect to receive only that version, with all its applications and features.
In other words, by installing KDE Plasma 5.25, the Linux user has a valid reason for installing it. For example, wants specific functionality or simply wants to enjoy it fully. In the same way, we want to use the features provided by GNOME 42 by installing it.
But Ubuntu sees things differently. So, again, we’ll use the most recent Ubuntu 22.04 as an example. As we know, the desktop environment there is GNOME.
However, as not every user of this distribution is likely to have realized, the GNOME version in Ubuntu is an organized mess of packages from several versions of GNOME, set up to function together.
Here you will find the GNOME 42 base packages, but you will also find GNOME Calculator 41, for example. Of course, we may go much further with the GNOME Keyring from the GNOME 40 version. And we could keep going for a long time. GNOME is composed of many packages, and the variety of different versions available in Ubuntu is enormous.
The whole thing gives the impression of inconsistency. It seems that the desktop version of Ubuntu is no longer a priority for the company, in contrast to the server version, which generates most of the company’s revenue.
On top of that, the lack of innovation in Ubuntu’s desktop edition in recent years only confirms this belief.
Certain Linux distributions give the user confidence in the future. He knows what to expect and, more importantly, what not to expect. To avoid being accused of bias, I will not drop names.
However, Ubuntu has a notable propensity to start and then abandon projects. I recall creating an account on Ubuntu One with enthusiasm many years ago. Only to find out shortly that the service was being discontinued. Unfortunately, it did not bring in the expected revenue for the company.
Then Ubuntu started reinventing the wheel by creating its display server, Mir. And this is in the presence of alternatives such as X.org and Wayland.
Of course, those were the years when “convergence” was the sacred word in Canonical. In other words, buy a phone with an Ubuntu operating system, connect it to peripherals and a monitor, and voila! You have a desktop operating system.
When Canonical discovered that such an animal as “convergence” could not exist at that time, the project was abandoned. Mir, farewell.
Unity, Ubuntu’s attempt to develop its desktop environment, met a similar fate. But in this case, both the idea and the end product were excellent. In other words, Unity was a great desktop environment.
However, at some point, Canonical decided that the investment was no longer worthwhile and threw it into the dustbin of history.
Not to mention, of course, Upstart. This is an event-based replacement for the classic init daemon – the system in charge of starting your computer correctly. And here, the story repeats itself: the project was canceled.
On the other hand, something else makes a strong impression, which I’m sure our readers are aware of.
For several years, Ubuntu has tried to replace essential fundamental tools in Linux to impose its own – the boot system, the graphical server, the desktop environment, and, last but not least, the package system with their Snap. And failed at all of them.
These decisions may be driven by company strategy and interests, forcing the regular Linux user to accept the facts. I mean, it’s challenging to be a fan of something while trying to forcefully like the next change of direction.
Meaningless Non-LTS Releases
Is anyone using non-LTS Ubuntu versions these days? I mean, other than those two hours in VirtualBox where we enjoy the wallpaper with yet another animal called unusually?
With a 9-month lifespan, these releases inspire a single thought: a testing ground for the impatient while waiting for the next LTS release.
Outside of pure fun, I can’t imagine a real workstation where I’ll have to cross my fingers every nine months, run an upgrade, and hope for the best.
Even with Fedora, perhaps Ubuntu’s biggest desktop competitor, 15 months of support is guaranteed. I’ll stop making any further comparisons between the two because they all favor Fedora, although I’m one of the last people to advocate Red Hat.
I don’t mean to imply that there’s anything wrong with releasing these intermediate versions of Ubuntu. On the contrary, they provide a lot of material for writing and are undoubtedly entertaining.
If Canonical intends to use these as a testing ground between their main LTS releases, that’s great. The time and effort spent on these are well worth it. However, from a purely practical end-user standpoint, I don’t believe they have much use.
This brings us to the end of the article. I hope our readers understand that the purpose of this post is not to blame Ubuntu but to illustrate why the desktop version of the distribution is no longer the dominant force driving the status quo.
Certainly, Ubuntu will stay one of the most popular and widely used desktop Linux operating systems. However, as controversial as the statistics provided by DistroWatch may be, they indicate how Ubuntu has slipped from first to sixth place in recent years.
The distro has shifted its attention from the Linux community and its desktop version to business users and its server version. But, of course, behind all the slogans and marketing gimmicks, Canonical is a private company that is simply following its business interests. And that’s perfectly normal.
After all, the slogan with which the company first promoted Ubuntu, “Linux for human beings,” today should somewhat be rephrased to “Linux for business beings.”
Yes, only financial results are used to evaluate a product’s success in today’s world. And Ubuntu is a product with its own goal – profit for its makers. And there is nothing wrong with that.
However, when seen in a more naive and idealistic light, akin to the concept of open source, there’s something more significant than numbers for any distro – the points earned in the hearts of those who use it.
Because the existence of any Linux distribution would be worthless and doomed without them, unfortunately, with a number of its moves and decisions, Ubuntu is losing a large number of them.