Back in 1999, Mark Shuttleworth funded a team of developers (after dredging through a massive Debian mailing list archive for developers) to focus on Linux. It took nearly five years after inception, but Ubuntu 4.10 was released in 2004. That iteration of Ubuntu was dubbed Warty Warthog.
I remember it well. Prior to 2004, I was a staunch advocate of Red Hat Linux and then (after Red Hat stopped focusing on the desktop) "Fedora Core." What brought about the switch was simple — I was growing tired of jumping through hoops to get multimedia to work with Fedora. Every time an installation was complete, the nightmare of managing MP3s, video, and web browser plugins was ever looming. I decided it was time to find a new distribution. I went through a few (Mandrake, Lindows, SuSE, and Xandros), only nothing seemed to get everything just right. I went back to Fedora and installed Enlightenment as my desktop. Still, the experience felt incomplete.
But then came Ubuntu and an ease of use unheard of in the land of Linux. Working with the GNOME desktop and a set of tools that offered unparalleled simplicity, Ubuntu shot up the rankings on Distrowatch to become one of the single most popular Linux distributions ever. For the first time, Linux had a distribution that new users could hang their hat on. Users tired of the Microsoft way could transition to something altogether different without feeling like they had to learn a completely "different language" in doing so.
Ubuntu opened up a gateway to the masses for Linux. It also raced into a perfect storm of criticism. For various reasons, factions within the Linux community sought to tear down Ubuntu. To those, and all else, I would say this:
Imagine the world without Ubuntu. What if Mark Shuttleworth never risked putting together a company focused on developing a user-friendly Linux distribution?
- There would be no Linux Mint
- There would be no Elementary OS
- There would be no Lubuntu/Kubuntu/Edubuntu/Mythbuntu
- There would be no Bodhi Linux
- There would be no Deepin
- There would be no Ubuntu Kylin
- There would be no Ubuntu Studio
- There would be no Ubuntu Phone
You see where this is going, right? The truth of the matter is that Ubuntu not only opened up the floodgates for new users, it also opened a gateway for other distributions to be easily created and maintained.
To simplify, Ubuntu made it easy for Linux to be Linux. No matter how loud the voices of the nay sayers become, what can't be denied is that Ubuntu has done more to move Linux forward on the desktop than any other distribution.
One of the chief contributors to the detractors is Ubuntu Unity. Never before has there been such a polarizing Linux desktop. No matter where you stand on the Unity fence, it can't be denied that Unity has gone a very long way to prove that the Linux community can produce an incredibly modern desktop and be a worldwide leader in innovation.
I remember ordering and receiving my first Ubuntu disks (remember Cheapbytes), my first Ubuntu t-shirt. Although I'd been using Linux for some time at that point, it was the first instance I felt inclined to purchase merch. It was like following my favorite band and wanting their latest CD and concert tee.
Linux had become a bit rock-and-roll. It had a swagger. No other distribution could bring that to the table like Ubuntu.
Is it perfect? No. Has it managed to yank Windows from the cold, dead hands of the masses? No. Has it reached critical mass? Not even close. Ubuntu has a long way to go, but it also has the momentum to carry it forward faster and farther than any other distribution. And no matter if you are a Ubuntu user or fan, you should take a moment to give thanks to the distribution that has made so much possible for Linux in the server room, the desktop, and the court of public opinion.
Happy 10th anniversary, Ubuntu. I can't wait to look back on your 20th anniversary and see how things have evolved. Bravo!
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.