When people hear Ubuntu Linux, the reactions vary greatly. Some folks hiss and spit like a cornered cat, some cheer, and some just tilt their head in confusion. But from my perspective as a long-time Linux user and a supporter of what Canonical and Ubuntu are doing, one word comes to mind: Future. What do I mean? Simple. Ubuntu Linux holds the key to mass acceptance of Linux on the desktop.
Of course, Canonical and Ubuntu aren't perfect. They have made some missteps and isolated a good portion of the Linux community. Even so, the Ubuntu distribution still offers the best chance. Let's look at why.
1: Mobile platform
Canonical saw the future of computing and it was in the hands of the users — literally. In both smartphone and tablet form, Ubuntu will be the first to deliver Linux to mobile devices. And having the power of Ubuntu available on a mobile device should bring a huge win for the Linux platform. Although the Ubuntu phone and tablet have yet to be released, they are already starting to cause a stir. Will either of these displace IOS or Android devices? Most likely not. But they will introduce even more users to the Linux platform.
2: Unification of devices
With the release of the Ubuntu Phone and Tablet, one of the goals Mark Shuttleworth set out to achieve was a unification of devices. This means that every kind of machine, from server to smartphone, can enjoy the same interface. This unification will go a long way toward stripping away the stigma that Linux is too hard. On top of erasing the current negativity surrounding Linux, it will also make supporting the platform that much easier — one interface to rule them all.
3: Developing for the masses
Ubuntu is truly the first Linux distribution whose primary focus is the average computer user. Where most distributions preach to an already baptized choir, Canonical is focusing its energy on the rest of the world. If any distribution (or managing company) can get Linux into the hands of the masses, it's Canonical and Ubuntu. Nearly every other distribution seems to be content with targeting users who are already familiar with Linux and open source.
4: An eye for business
Red Hat is the only company to make any serious inroads with big business. Small to midsize businesses, on the other hand, have been a mystery. Canonical has given Ubuntu Linux a spit shine perfectly suited for SMBs. This applies to everything. From the Ubuntu.com website to the graphics used on the desktop (and all points in between), Ubuntu has the right level of polish necessary to win over the hearts and minds of business. And with the mobile initiative in place, it becomes clear that Canonical has its eyes on a significant prize no other desktop distribution has been able to win over.
5: Beauty and simplicity
Now that Ubuntu 13.04 is here, users should notice subtle differences that help to bring the ever-improving Ubuntu Unity to levels of function and form unseen on the Linux desktop. Yes, the past has been rife with grumblings about Unity. But after only a short few releases, Unity has become an incredibly solid and usable desktop. With the latest iteration, the levels of beauty and simplicity outshine nearly every desktop on the market. And unlike Windows 8, Ubuntu Unity was designed with users and work in mind (not social networking and only the multi-touch interface).
Do the names Dell, Lenovo, ASUS, HP, and ARM mean anything to you? They should. Canonical has done a phenomenal job partnering with OEMs that can enable Linux to reach the masses. Canonical has already worked with Lenovo to certify that Ubuntu works on more than 100 devices. My guess is that once the Phone and Tablet have arrived (along with Unity Next and Mir), that number will increase dramatically. Add that to smaller partnerships like System76 and Ubuntu could easily have every market and niche covered.
7: Global thinking
China recently announced that it is working with Canonical to create Ubuntu Kyrin. This version of Ubuntu will serve as a reference point for local hardware and software developers. The goal is to wean its IT sector off Western (closed) software. That means no more Windows or OS X platforms. This will be a major move from Windows to Linux, which might not have been possible without Canonical and Ubuntu.
8: Innovation with purpose
When Windows 8 arrived, it seemed Microsoft made major changes without thinking of how it would affect end users. Not everyone had or planned to have a touch screen. Canonical went a completely different route and made major changes, while keeping an eye on how they would affect end users. Most users fear change, but Ubuntu didn't create an interface that seemed clearly designed for a different skill set and hardware platform.
9: Smart Scopes
If you haven't experienced Smart Scopes, I suggest you check out my How to Preview Unity Smart Scopes post. Smart Scopes takes the place of the Unity lens system and makes desktop searching faster and more powerful than it has ever been. But Smart Scopes isn't just about searching with a broad brush. You can also filter your results and search well beyond your desktop to nearly 100 sources! That is the kind of searching end users can really sink their teeth into.
10: Not Richard Stallman's Linux
If Richard Stallman had his way, Linux would still be stuck in the '90s, being used by only CompSci majors and developers. I fully respect GNU and FOSS — but when a camp is demanding 100% GPL software, and that demand gets in the way of evolution and adoption, something is wrong with that camp's vision. Linux has needed to reach well beyond the uber geeks and developers for a long time. It's had the power, stability, and user-friendliness for a while now. And with Canonical and Ubuntu leading the charge away from the all-or-none mindset, Linux truly has a chance to break free of the shackles of obscurity.
I'm not proclaiming Canonical to be the savior of Linux. Nor am I saying it (or Ubuntu) is perfect. Canonical has worked some darker magic in its climb to the top. But its goal is admirable and one that must succeed. Linux is close to major success, and with Canonical managing the climb, I am confident that success is within reach.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.