Ubuntu Is BORING! And I LOVE it!

I have a friend who has a passion for bicycle racing. He has teenage boys who do very well in the sport and have won a lot of races. One of his sons flew to Belgium to compete this last summer. As you can imagine, he was a very proud father. I once casually showed him a magazine ad for a bicycle I was considering buying.

I asked him what he thought of it and he launched into a long diatribe about how the bike I was looking at was all wrong. It was too heavy, the tires were too wide, the seat was too low and the handle bars too high… I let him go on for a minute or two then I gently said that I wasn’t intending to compete with the bike, I just wanted to ride around the park and maybe take it down to the beach to cruise up and down the boardwalk. “Oh,” he said, “Yeah, that’s a good bike for that sort of thing” and moved on to another topic, obviously a little disgruntled that I would even bother to show him anything other than a new high-tech racing bike.

I must admit I felt a little silly, like I had committed some awful faux pas. All of that could have been avoided if he had stopped to think about bicycles from my point of view before answering my question. That seems obvious looking back, doesn’t it? I could have prefaced my question by saying what I wanted to do with the bike, too. We both just had very different ideas of what a bike should be.

Judging a bike’s worth has a lot to do with who will ride it and it’s also just as true to say that judging a Linux distro relevance has much to do with who will be using it. I think those of us who are passionate about Linux need to keep that in mind as Linux becomes more and more mainstream. I realize that I have probably been a bit like my friend when it comes to answering people’s questions about Linux at times. It’s an easy thing to do when you’re very passionate about something. It took me doing something I would never advise anyone to do to figure it out.

As I write this, Canonical is just a few days away from releasing the next incarnation of Ubuntu. I found myself in a situation the other day where I had to reload one of my machines, the laptop that the entire family uses, the one that needs to work and be stable. This little HP EliteBook with its Intel i5 processor and integrated graphics has been running Ubuntu 14.04 for most of its time with us but I wanted to try something new, so I did this totally crazy thing: I installed Ubuntu 15.10 Beta. No, I didn’t test it, I didn’t read the release notes and I didn’t have one single issue with it at all. It just worked. I installed every piece of software I needed on that machine except one that is not out for 15.10 yet. I’m sure that PPA (personal package archive) will come to life in a week or two. It took me less than two hours to totally rebuild it including putting all the data back on it.

Now, I know that there have been many changes to the Ubuntu Base system since 14.04 came along almost two years ago but you sure wouldn’t know it by looking at the new 15.10. From a casual user’s point of view, nothing much has changed at all. It’s still the same old Unity desktop with new backgrounds, pretty much. What’s astonishing is how well everything worked more than a week away from the official release. How many of us more experienced computer nerds have waited a month or two to install a new version of software only to find that there are still bugs needing to fixed? I’m sure there are some issues lurking in Ubuntu 15.10 but they sure didn’t affect my use case, not one bit. I was amazed.

The knee-jerk reaction to the experience I just described above from many in the ever changing world of Linux computing would be to say that Canonical isn’t innovating enough or they might even go as far as to say that Ubuntu is boring and losing its relevance. As a computer nerd who loves to play with new stuff, I can understand that point of view. I was really shocked at how little had actually changed and maybe I was just a tad disappointed. My disappointment faded away fast when I saw my son playing Minecraft on the newly reloaded HP later that afternoon with not so much as a raised eyebrow on his part, though. It just worked and he was happy. That made me happy. That’s when it hit me that boring is good and we should all embrace it.

The fact that Ubuntu has been so consistent for so long is a good thing. No one who upgrades from Ubuntu 14.04 to 15,10 or the upcoming 16.04 LTS is likely to be knocked out of their comfort zone. Now, those who use Ubuntu in an enterprise application as a server or in a network will really find themselves in a different reality unless they have stayed up-to-date with all the changes under the hood. The switch from upstart initialization to systemd alone is going to require a lot of adjustment for enterprise users. The major changes are all under the hood so the average laptop or desktop user at home won’t ever know the difference. Once again, this is a good thing. The enterprise sector will adjust in no time to the base changes but the less computer savvy user would really be thrown for a loop if they had a completely revamped GUI.

Canonical takes a lot of criticism from the more enthusiastic members of the Linux press a lot of the time. I read a lot of Linux news, listen to podcasts and watch a lot of YouTube videos so I’ve heard it all. The main thing I hear again and again is how boring Ubuntu and Linux Mint are compared to more cutting edge Linux distros. Well, that brings us back to the whole point of view discussion because many of these folks who make the blogs, podcasts and videos are very tech smart and love to tinker with their Linux boxes. There is nothing at all wrong with that. Linux is like a big toy box and there’s so much to play with! The more you learn, the more you can really customize a computing experience that exactly fits your vision of what it should be.

I myself have done my share of tinkering and shared my experiences quite freely but the truth of the matter is that most folks simply aren’t that interested in that side of computing. They just wanna surf the web, read e-mail and maybe a few other humdrum tasks on a secure system that will be reliable. That’s all. Those who rant on about how boring Ubuntu and Linux Mint are completely miss that point. I feel they do the entire community a huge disservice when they do, too. What is lacking is a concerted effort to draw average users in by assuring them they will be able to get things done with Linux.

You see, I feel very strongly that Linux is approaching a tipping point. Windows 10 refugees are searching for alternatives right now. Some will just go plunk down huge wads of cash for a Mac but many more are looking seriously at Linux and they are just about ready to take the plunge. Linux doesn’t have any big advertising agencies pushing ads out to mainstream media. It’s mostly word of mouth in the form of blog posts, YouTube videos and podcasts that spread the good word about Open Source and Linux.

Linux also doesn’t get much serious coverage from mainstream tech journalists. It is most often portrayed as being difficult to work with and really only good for running servers. Most who say this are those that haven’t taken a good look at Linux in years. Add to that the fact that there are hundreds of distros and several desktops added in with millions of opinions on what Linux should be and these new folks coming to Linux could get very confused. Is it really a good thing for them to see a bunch of people putting down the distros that will most likely work best for them? No, I don’t think so.

Some see Linux as an exclusive club reserved for the few who can install it from scratch at a command line. These are the same folks who post rants about Ubuntu and Linux Mint being boring and irrelevant. These are also the same folks who tend to give snarky, snobby and sarcastic answers to questions they find to be below them if some poor newbie should happen to ask. I have taken a new tactic when it comes to dealing with these people. I simply ignore them and keep on going. I see the endless flaming and bickering as being counterproductive. It’s usually not worth the energy to engage them in any kind of discussion and many times it feeds the fire. There is so much positive energy around Linux and I choose to focus on that.

It has become more and more apparent to me that we, as a community, would benefit from a little bit of marketing 101 training since it’s up to us to be the ambassadors to Open Source and Free computing. It would also do a lot of us a lot of good to stop and think about the average user and what he wants from his or her computer before we launch off into a long-winded sermon about the pitfalls and joys of distro hopping. Keep it simple, offer limited choices at first and, above all, be positive!

Linux may not be for everyone but I see no reason at all why it can’t become a major player in the consumer desktop market. I don’t subscribe to the commonly-asserted idea that everyone will be using smartphones and tablets in the not too distant future and desktop and laptop computers are going to go away. People will always want real computers and while the market may have shrunk somewhat, there are many indications that the tablet bubble has already burst. Big companies like Dell and HP are starting to look at Linux, plus more smaller OEMs are shipping PC’s preloaded with Linux all the time. Most of those come loaded with Ubuntu. I wish them more and more success. I have even gone so far as to tell potential EzeeLinux clients that they might be better off to buy one of these than paying me to reload their old hardware. Whatever it takes to get them into Linux with a solid install that they can use everyday and learn from is alright by me.

Steve Jobs once gave a speech in which he chided himself for making the mistake of putting technology first and the people who were to use it second. He explained that he had come to realize that one should start with the user experience and work back from there. I think many pundits and developers in the Linux world are guilty of putting technology and principles before the user experience. I have done so at times myself when trying to convince someone that Linux is the bee’s knees. My feeling is that it won’t matter much because I see the rise of Open Source computing as being an inevitable thing.

Economics alone are enough to drive the movement forward but folks are getting hip to all of the dangers lurking in the cloud and they’re looking for safer platforms to manage their online realities. Still, our approach to new users can either speed this process up or impede it. What some might call boring may be the best place for these folks to start. Keep that in mind the next time you hear someone saying Ubuntu is boring remember: boring means stability, reliability, familiarity and that’s just what new users are looking for. There will always be room for innovation and customization in Linux and I don’t see that ever going away. We will all benefit as the user base grows and if Ubuntu leads the way, so be it.

Joe Collins
Joe Collins worked in radio and TV stations for over 20 years where he installed, maintained and programmed computer automation systems. Joe also worked for Gateway Computer for a short time as a Senior Technical Support Professional in the early 2000’s and has offered freelance home computer technical support and repair for over a decade.

Joe is a fan of Ubuntu Linux and Open Source software and recently started offering Ubuntu installation and support for those just starting out with Linux through EzeeLinux.com. The goal of EzeeLinux is to make Linux easy and start them on the right foot so they can have the best experience possible.

Joe lives in historic Portsmouth, VA in a hundred year old house with three cats, three kids and a network of computers built from scrounged parts, all happily running Linux.


  1. I agree with all you say, except that I think that Linux can be for everybody and anybody! :p I’ll bore anyone who’ll listen long enough with that headline!

    I’m an Ubuntu convert, and not much of a techie. I tutu around a bit to make things as I want them, but basically, I just want to be able to use the OS, and Canonical makes that easy. And I’m grateful to the people at Canonical, and the wider Open Source community, every day, for the contributions they make.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. The distro wars people are very irrational when you talk to them about suggesting Ubuntu to people. I find it very sad. I have grown to love how boring and stable Ubuntu is. I can rely on it and I think companies can as well. Of course you could say that about Debian, but you miss I think a lot of support and community that is geared specifically for new and inexperienced users.

  3. I’d like to point out that people always talk about how Ubuntu does not innovate, but when they do innovate the same people criticize them for it. People even go as far as accusing them of trying to hijack the Linux ecosystem just because they write some of their own code instead of using a “boxed” solution from upstream. Unity, Ubuntu Software Center, Mir, and the list goes on. If they keep going they will eventually rewrite the majority of the OS. But hey the don’t innovate. It’s all boils down to an unjustified hate of Ubuntu. Hipsters who don’t want someone else using their “unique” Operating System. Don’t get me wrong as an advanced user I like some of the other Linux OSes, but all the hate is just not needed.

  4. Ubuntu has reached the point where t is better and easier to use then Windows for someone that couldn’t be bothered to fiddle about with the computer. This happened about two years ago. A lot of Windows users have been spooked by how clunky and crap Windows is and how belittling the experience is that the thought of going to a completely new operating system just terrifies them.

  5. I did exactly what you said. I waited until Windows 10 released and heard all the questionable things surrounding it. I went to YouTube and started researching Linux and discovered Linux mint. That is what I am using at the moment. I now have two software hard drives. One with Windows 7 and the other with Linux. Your videos were very helpful by the way Joe. Thanks for that

  6. I’m glad to see someone finally understands “the other side” of the user population. I am no linux expert but I’ve been using various versions for several years. Recently when my mothers laptop was rendered useless by the Windows 10 update I pulled out my thumb drive that I had loaded Peppermint 6 onto for a test drive. I loaded it and now she’s able to use her machine just as she wants to. Cruise the internet, pay bills, look at pictures on facebook, etc….
    When I go to visit in a couple of weeks I’ll likely install something like Ubuntu or Mint.
    Why? Because I know their stable and won’t make drastic changes that will confuse my mother.

    And If my 80 year old mother can “use” linux…………..

  7. I’m totally agree with you. This flame war is useless and pointless (except for Linux antagonist). There isn’t any good in divided community. We aren’t enemies. By the way there is a very big demand of freedom of choice (at least for me).

    I had a very huge disappointment in Canonical when it introduced Unity DE (this was a big waste of desktop surface and “menu-stupidity” with Apple-style) and default Amazon search results. In my opinion this was a “sold your soul to Satan” type of event. I decided that I won’t use Canonical product. I appreciate the value of development of Canonical (and “ship-it” idea) but I can’t accept it’s philosophy. I rather don’t recommend any official Ubuntu distro in my circle but Ubuntu/Debian-based ones (e.g. Mint, Elementary, LXLE).

    You’re right about boring subject. It could be very helpful for a new comer or an average user. I think there are 3 essential aspects when someone want to choose a distro: desktop environment (how use the OS), package management (for support) and goal of usage (with specific needs). I miss a community to help in decision in these aspects. How can I figure out what I really want?

    We aren’t same that’s why I disagree to recommend Ubuntu for everyone (and because of my subjective opinion). Zorin OS make a very good option to change the look without any further installation. Canonical made a very big mistake about separation between DE’s (you can find only “link to main-Ubuntu site” on their other websites without any option to route back). You can’t find any official flavour without collected information (e.g. DistroWatch). It should follow sample of Mint, Makulu, Manjaro or Antergos. They are very proud of support of many DE.

  8. Although I too am an Open Source enthusiast, I learned a long time ago….(when Fedora was still on its 10th release!) that you will never be able to help someone “cross over’ until you tone it down a bit. As you’ve stated in your article most people react to wide-eyed madmen (and women!) screaming about the corruption of MS and the joys of Linux with their fingers poised over the 9-1-1 speed dial button. Instead I usually end p having conversations with people in passing while at the local Starbucks’ sipping on a latte’ and checking e-mail through Thunderbird (all decked out with customization and themes!). It almost always happens now, someone will sit a ways off intently looking at my desktop (GNome 3 – Fedora!) eventually it becomes someone asking me what version of “Windows” I’m using,…(LOL!!!) in which case I tell them its not Windows at all. I don’t go off the deep end, just drop off tidbits here and there about all it can do. I make sure to always leave the “…oh…and its all free!..” until the end of my presentation, and believe me it IS a presentation!…i have LibreOffice slides…..spreadsheets, and word documents (sorry i meant WRITER documents!) all stored on my machine and ready. By the time I’m done I usually have like 6 or 7 people lingering around my little table and the person who made the initial inquiry sitting next ot me asking me questions about security, privacy, customization, and ease of use. Indeed the days of being the “geeky lunatic down the block” are done. We are now accountants, engineers, customer service reps, architects, and a host of other professional positions that can open the way for us to tell others of Linux and it’s benefits over Windows without embodying the role of the town loony. I for one have helped 90% of my family make the switch, and we now all converse and help each other out when one of ’em has a problem…….

    In regards to those who seem to enjoy building a division between the various camps of Linux users and would-be users….eventually like a dying ember in a torched building, they’ll sputter and then extinguish, because the ruling majority will see them for what they are, and will chose to take your stance and ignore them. And THAT’S when Linux will rise to the peak of being the ultimate OS. That is when businesses will realize they need to have this OS in their server closets, in their conference rooms, and on their desktops!

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