Ubuntu 16.10 is here… and it isn’t all that different from 16.04. For that matter, the most recent long-term support release wasn’t all that different from the last one. You could return to Ubuntu now after having last used 12.04 and find an experience that is largely the same. For a long time now, the Ubuntu desktop has been more in maintenance mode than under active development.
With so many exciting developments occurring in the Linux world, ranging from new features in GNOME Shell to the release of Plasma 5 and the cool stuff going on with Elementary OS, why do you stick with Ubuntu? I may have an idea.
1. People Know What You’re Talking About
There’s two kinds of mainstream. Ubuntu may be a funny word to people who think Windows and PC are two ways to refer to the same thing, but your nerd friends know what it is. They’ve come across it on a tech blog, saw some artist mention it on DeviantArt, and may have even played around with it over summer break, or after work.
When you pull out your laptop around them, there’s little confusion. Your peers may think you’re a little quirky or bold for making the switch, but you don’t have to waste time explaining what’s on your screen. They recognize the name. They’ve seen screenshots. It’s fine. It’s not like you’re running openSUSE, Gentoo, or some other made up name.
2. There’s Excellent Software Support
When you’re browsing the web as a Windows user, you don’t give much thought to whether an application is available for your computer. Unless you’ve stumbled into Mac land, the answer is yes. Most developers make software for Windows, since that’s what most people run on their PCs.
In the Linux world, the story is different. We regularly have to do without commercial software that’s offered on Windows or Mac. And because there are countless distros to pick from, knowing that a program supports Linux doesn’t necessarily mean that you can run it.
But if you run Ubuntu, you’re probably in the clear. Ubuntu is the Windows of the Linux landscape, with developers sometimes only releasing software in the DEB format.
3. Ubuntu Is Easy to Troubleshoot
What do you do when you have a computer problem? You could ask someone you know, but as a Linux user, you’re more likely to turn to the web. The thing is, what do you search for? With Linux being so fractured, who knows where to start?
This is where Ubuntu’s popularity is a big help. With so many users, there’s a good chance someone else has already encountered the same issue. You can enter “Ubuntu” as one of your search terms and expect to get results. Given the relative popularity of Ubuntu, articles on the subject are more likely to pop up. Then there are the dedicated forums. You may even find something on YouTube.
Even if you use another distro, searching for a fix that works under Ubuntu may be the quickest nudge in the right direction.
4. More Computers Have Ubuntu Pre-Installed
Most people don’t install their own operating system. They don’t have any idea what one even is! The idea of them knowing what to do with a Linux ISO is ludicrous, even if you give it to them already burned to a flash drive.
That’s why it’s a big deal that you can buy computers that come with Linux. Ubuntu makes this easier than most other distributions. If you have a non-technical friend who wants to run Ubuntu, point them to System76. The website gives Ubuntu the gold star treatment. Instead of a hobbyist distro, Ubuntu looks more like a consumer-ready product.
Sure, you can buy laptops running other distros. ZaReason and Think Penguin will both pre-install whichever one you like. But you can get Ubuntu from a manufacturer as well-known as Dell without going through a third party. That tells regular folks that it’s okay.
5. You Like Unity
Ubuntu used to ship a largely vanilla version of the GNOME desktop environment. That changed in 2010 and 2011, when Canonical started shipping its own user interface instead. It’s called Unity, and these days it’s synonymous with Ubuntu.
The Unity interface is different from most other Linux interfaces. It’s minimalist and not very customizable, with the latter being a major sticking point for many long-time Ubuntu users. This keeps things simple for newcomers who aren’t as interested in tweaking their desktop.
Unity keeps the focus on applications, whose icons line the left side of the screen. This is a familiar concept to people moving over from macOS or Windows 10. At the same time, the look is unique to Ubuntu, which is a distinguishing characteristic that helps Canonical make inroads with companies that make and sell PCs.
6. You Can’t Function Without the HUD
You can accomplish a lot in Ubuntu by hitting the meta (Windows) key and typing. This lets you launch apps and search for files. But that’s just the beginning.
Ubuntu’s Heads-Up Display goes beyond launching programs. By tapping the Alt key, you can search through the various options in the current application’s menubar. That means you can tweak many settings by pressing Alt and typing Preferences. Or you can close the active window by pressing Alt and typing Close.
GNOME Shell and KDE both offer their own ways of launching apps or running commands, but neither comes with something quite like Ubuntu’s HUD out of the box.
7. Ubuntu Is on Phones and Tablets
These days it’s passé to only target one platform. Microsoft, Apple, and Google aren’t content to make the operating system on your PC. They want you running their OSes on your phones and tablets too.
Most Linux distros don’t have the finances and staff necessary to compete on this level. Many open source developers don’t even see a point. But with the industry moving in this direction, many users are approaching computing with new expectations.
Canonical is actively working to expand Ubuntu from PCs to mobile devices. Ubuntu Touch has been in development for years, and while I can’t yet buy a product here in the US, Ubuntu phones are on sale in other parts of the world. Canonical has also released an Ubuntu-powered tablet.
None of these gadgets have been big commercial successes, but they exist, and they’re the closest we can get these days to running traditional Linux on a mobile device.
8. You Want Your Phone to Be Your PC
Today’s smartphones are more powerful than yesterday’s PCs. Tomorrow’s smartphones might end up being our PCs.
With the right phone or tablet, you can do this with Windows 10. Microsoft calls this “Continuum”.
What do we have in the Linux world? Canonical has long worked towards this vision, which it calls “Convergence”. The ability to run a full desktop environment from your Ubuntu Phone is a built-in part of the experience. This may not be commonplace yet, but here’s the thing — you can do it today.
What Keeps You Coming Back to Ubuntu?
Let’s be honest: Ubuntu isn’t perfect. As Canonical has taken on developing more of its own software and maintaining patches, Ubuntu has picked up more than a few bugs and quirks here or there. You could say that Elementary OS is prettier, Linux Mint is better for first-time Linux users, and even Fedora is pretty easy to figure out these days. openSUSE doesn’t pick favorites when it comes to desktop environments, while Arch Linux gives you complete freedom and newer software.
But there’s a reason you and millions of other people continue turning to Ubuntu. If you have a reason I didn’t hit above, add it to the list via the comments below!
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