8 Ways Ubuntu Has Changed and Improved Linux
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Ubuntu is the world’s most prominent Linux distribution. Ubuntu and its developer, Canonical, has caught a lot of flack over the years, but the Linux world is much better off thanks to both.

So let’s stop and take a moment to appreciate some of what Canonical and Ubuntu have given the Linux community.

1. Ubuntu Placed a Focus on the Desktop

Ubuntu version 9.10 Karmic Koala
Image Credit: Wikipedia

At the time Ubuntu launched in 2004, Linux was usable on desktop computers and laptops, but it wasn’t exactly a great experience. Canonical pushed Ubuntu as “Linux for human beings” and added features that made Linux easier use as a primary operating system. Such features included easily installed hardware drivers and multimedia codecs.

You could also ask to have an Ubuntu CD shipped to your door.

Canonical went on to create many desktop-oriented initiatives. It tried integrating messaging directly into the desktop, created the Ubuntu One file syncing service and music store, and eventually designed its own Unity interface. Canonical has since pulled the plug on all of these projects, but that willingness to experiment pumped excitement into the Linux desktop.

Linux remains more prevalent on servers than laptops, and Ubuntu arguably isn’t even the easiest or most intuitive option anymore. Plus many developers outside of the Ubuntu community deserve much of the credit for making desktop Linux more stable and pleasant.

Yet the Linux desktop is in a much better place today than a decade and a half ago, and Canonical played a major role in making that happen.

2. Linux Is Now Available on More Hardware

Part of Canonical’s vision to provide a consumer-ready Linux desktop meant offering Ubuntu as an alternative option in stores. The company reached out to hardware manufacturers to make this happen. Over time options grew, both from small businesses such as System76 and multinationals like Dell.

Are you likely to find Ubuntu in a big box store today? No. But Dell isn’t alone among the big corporate supporters. HP also sells Ubuntu machines. There are now many Linux PCs you can buy 5 Awesome Linux Laptops You Can Buy Right Now 5 Awesome Linux Laptops You Can Buy Right Now Think Linux is hard to use? Many laptop makers offer Linux laptops that don't suffer from any driver or software faults. Read More from various companies.

Canonical has long flown the flag of consumer desktop Linux, even if the time has come for younger players, such as System76 with Pop!_OS and Purism with PureOS, to carry the torch.

3. Ubuntu Brought in Millions of Users

Person using a laptop
Image Credit: Christian Hume/Unsplash

Canonical’s focus on the desktop and consumer hardware has paid off. People flocked to Ubuntu, and it now has millions more users than other versions of Linux.

Ubuntu’s name recognition has gotten large enough that you can mention the distro to general computer enthusiasts and expect them to know what you’re talking about.

Many of us began as Ubuntu users but have moved on to other options. This is true for me. I may not use Ubuntu anymore, but I’m grateful Ubuntu gave me an easy place to learn Linux when I first made the switch. Many projects now have developers and contributors who probably wouldn’t be part of the community without Ubuntu.

4. Ubuntu Powers Many of the Most Popular Distros

Ubuntu is not only one of the most popular Linux-based desktops, it’s a critical cog in the infrastructure that powers many of the alternatives What's the Difference Between Ubuntu and Ubuntu-Based Distros? What's the Difference Between Ubuntu and Ubuntu-Based Distros? The distinction between different Linux distros can be confusing. Here's how Ubuntu and Ubuntu-based distros are different. Read More .

When you run Ubuntu, you download apps from a software repository, a server storing all the programs and components that power your on-screen experience. Developers create and maintain this code, which organizations or companies such as Canonical distribute via repositories.

Canonical doesn’t create most of the code in its repositories, but some components, such as the Linux kernel, undergo additional testing and receive added security patches.

Linux Mint, elementaryOS, and Pop!_OS are three prominent Ubuntu alternatives that all rely on Ubuntu’s repositories. Canonical doesn’t charge them or anyone else money for the service. Is the company alone or unique in this regard?

No. But that doesn’t diminish the time and money Canonical employees and the Ubuntu community contribute to the broader Linux ecosystem in this way.

5. Canonical Created a New Universal Package Format

The way developers distribute software on Linux is changing right this moment. Instead of turning to the software repository model, many new apps are coming to our desktops via universal package formats. One of them, the snap package format Flathub vs. Snap Store: The Best Sites for Downloading Linux Apps Flathub vs. Snap Store: The Best Sites for Downloading Linux Apps When you want to download Linux apps, how do Flathub and Snap Store compare? We pit them against each other to find out. Read More , comes from Canonical.

Before now, many developers created software for Ubuntu and didn’t go through the hassle of creating versions that also ran on other versions of Linux. If you used an RPM-based distro, rather than a DEB-based one like Ubuntu, then you couldn’t install a program unless you went through the effort of building the app using source files.

Snaps are distro agnostic. After you’ve followed the straightforward instructions to enable snap support, you can install the snap version of an app regardless of if you run Ubuntu.

Again, snaps are not the only universal package format for Linux. But Canonical has gone out of its way to attract developer interest and hold their hands through the process of bundling software. This outreach has increased snap adoption among people or companies who might not have bothered figuring out one of the alternatives on their own.

Speaking of which…

6. Ubuntu Attracts Third-Party Commercial Software

One of Ubuntu’s strengths, relative to other distros, is attracting third-party development. Specifically, Ubuntu brings in more cross-platform, commercial, proprietary software that already exists on Windows or macOS.

As I’ve mentioned, this hasn’t always benefited the broader Linux ecosystem. But in some cases, such as with Steam How to Play Almost Any Windows Game on Linux with Steam Play How to Play Almost Any Windows Game on Linux with Steam Play A new age of Linux gaming has dawned. Here's how to get your favorite Windows games running on Linux with Steam Play. Read More , programs that come to Ubuntu quickly spread to other distros. This changes the landscape for gamers or professionals who are tied into using particular apps. Now Linux is much more viable.

With the snap format, a program now rarely comes out just for Ubuntu. Apps available in the snap store are now more accessible to us all.

7. Canonical Adapted GNU/Linux to Phones

Android phones use the Linux kernel, but that’s about all that they have in common with the version of Linux that you can install on your computer. That’s because most of the components aside from the kernel are not the same.

With Ubuntu Touch, Canonical sought to bring a version of Linux comparable to the Ubuntu desktop to mobile devices. And the company succeeded! Sure, these devices had limitations. Updates were hard to distribute, and the handsets were only available in a few markets.

Ultimately, Canonical did not see enough success to continue investing in the project.

Nonetheless, the Ubuntu Touch interface continues to live on via the UBports project. Thanks to the open source nature of Ubuntu Touch, community members have been able to continue where Canonical left off. Ubuntu Touch is one of the options available for the PinePhone, and it may be possible to get it up and running on the Librem 5 as well.

It’s also an aftermarket option on a number of Android phones.

8. Launchpad Has Been Home to Many Projects

Canonical's Launchpad service for open source software

Launchpad is a software collaboration hub for thousands of free and open source apps. It’s like Github, without the ties to Microsoft.

Launchpad began as a proprietary project to make revenue for Canonical, which the company could then use to support further Ubuntu development. Following criticism, Canonical gradually released variants parts of the site under open source licenses until all of Launchpad became open source in 2009.

For the past decade, Launchpad has served as open source infrastructure projects can use to share source code, track bugs, engage in discussion, and send out communications related to their apps or other creations.

Linux Mint, elementaryOS, Inkscape, and Exaile have all found a home in Launchpad at some point over their lives.

How Has Ubuntu Put a Smile on Your Face?

Ubuntu is a great Linux-based operating system. Absent other options, I’d gladly use it over Windows and macOS. Canonical and the broader community have done such great work over the years. What are some contributions you love that I haven’t mentioned above?

As for why Canonical catches a lot of flack, well, if you’re new to the Linux landscape, here are some of the more common Ubuntu criticisms Why Use a Linux Operating System Other Than Ubuntu? Why Use a Linux Operating System Other Than Ubuntu? There are hundreds of Linux operating systems (distributions) but you're probably using Ubuntu. Here's why you might want to switch to one of the Ubuntu alternatives. Read More .

Explore more about: Linux Distro, Ubuntu.

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  1. Erwan
    October 30, 2019 at 3:49 pm

    Ubuntu played a big part in making a Linux OS available to the general public. Thanks to Ubuntu, I converted my mum and my sister to Linux. They are both happy Linux users now.

  2. Dennis
    October 30, 2019 at 10:30 am

    There will no doubt be plenty of off topic "don't like Ubuntu" thoughts shared but I appreciate the specific focused historical review of the project. It seems like each point is both important and on relevant. Linux users are spoiled for choice, but as someone who has been trying Linux since the early 2000's and using it daily since early 2008 I can't imagine some of the current usability being possible without Ubuntu pushing in these 8 areas. Even if you don't like their particular implementation, I think it is likely that your tech was influenced or aided by work in conjunction with, or in contrast to Ubuntu.

  3. Neffscape
    October 17, 2019 at 8:22 am

    Back in the days, when ubuntu warty showed up, it was way more difficult to find a distro that actually worked. I was a frustrated windows xp user and I desperately wanted to change OS, but nothing worked 100% with my crappy laptop. Ubuntu was the first option fully supporting my old PCMCIA wifi card, and made possbile for me to finally erase my xp partition and fully migrate to Linux.

    Furthermore, I loved the fact that ubuntu proudly shipped with just plain GNOME and a good selection of popular GNOME software that made possible to be productive from day 1. Having a coherent, good default environment made switching easier and saved many newbies like me from difficult choices (which I made afterwards) such as "which DE should I use?". Most distros back in the days where basically DE agnostics, and installed both KDE and GNOME at the same time. This was very confusing and made difficult the in depth exploration of both environments. Many users like me ended up using KDE applications in GNOME or GNOME apps in KDE, resulting in ugly and not coherent UIs.

    Ubuntu and canonical had a clear vision of linux on the desktop and were corageous enough to take bold decisions. Most of these decisions were actually good ones. Others not so much, but at least they tried and many other distros greatly beneficiated from their ideas.

    To tell the truth, I miss the old "desktop focused" ubuntu project...

  4. Ibrahim Shaame
    October 12, 2019 at 12:52 pm

    You forgot to mention Slackware. Maybe you have not heard of it. It is one of the oldest distributions, and which really makes you enjoy your Linux experience. You have full control of your Linux box

    • Friar Tux
      October 16, 2019 at 4:57 pm

      I think you misread the title, "8 Ways UBUNTU Has Changed And Improved Linux". While I realize other Linux distros may also have contributed, this article is about Ubuntu's contributions. Actually, Ibrahim, I would be very interested in what Slackware contributed to the Linux desktop over the years, considering it is one of the oldest distros in the lot.

      • Jim
        December 2, 2019 at 11:23 am

        You can't ever have an article about just one Linux OS, without some Linux user mentioning their favorite OS. Love Ubuntu or hate it, it has done a lot for Linux development and adoption, which is the point of the article.

  5. JeffJ
    October 8, 2019 at 7:00 am

    Good

  6. Syates
    October 8, 2019 at 4:46 am

    I have installed Ubuntu on older systems just to play around with them and I really enjoyed it. I am a big fan of open source and this would normally be right up my alley, but as a graphic designer I live in Adobe CC all day, every day. Until they make a Linux version, I have to stick to Windows.

    Yes, I know there are some decent alternatives to Photoshop, but I would need to find and learn alternatives to illustrator, InDesign and Lightroom. Just a bit too much.

  7. dragonmouth
    October 7, 2019 at 4:24 pm

    "8 Ways Ubuntu Has Changed and Improved Linux"
    If you say so.

    "2. Linux Is Now Available on More Hardware"
    Not only because of Ubuntu. The developers of many other distros besides *buntus have made that possible.

    "4. Ubuntu Powers Many of the Most Popular Distros"
    Those distros are nothing more than Ubuntu with different cosmetics. There are no basic differences between Ubuntu-based distros as there are between, let's say, Arch and Debian and Gentoo.

    "5. Canonical Created a New Universal Package Format"
    Big, Fat, Hairy Deal! There already was a Universal Package Format in existence, AppImage. Canonical created Snap format just so THEY can control it, just as they created Mir, Unity and other proprietary apps that only they could control. Snap is "universal" only among the *buntus. No other developers want any part of it.

    "7. Canonical Adapted GNU/Linux to Phones"
    And where has that gone?! How popular are those phones? Is any company other than Canonical using UBports?

    "8. Launchpad Has Been Home to Many Projects"
    While Launchpad does not have ties to Microsoft, it has ties to Canonical which just as bad. Canonical is trying very hard to force its vision of Linux on the community and become the Microsoft of the Linux world.

    "How Has Ubuntu Put a Smile on Your Face?"
    It definitely has not. *buntus work, as long they are used as installed by default. Once you try to uninstall any default packages you do not want/need, you are told that 'ubuntu-minimal' will be uninstalled. With that package gone, your system is no longer usable.

    "Absent other options"
    But there ARE at least 500 or 600 non-Ubuntu based options.

    *buntus may be a very good choice as the first distro for Linux newbies. However, as soon as they become comfortable with a *buntu, they should switch to a less restrictive distro.

    • Kit
      October 7, 2019 at 7:50 pm

      You must be a blast at parties

      • sec
        October 10, 2019 at 8:17 am

        He is just a typical linux weirdo. He probably is a Red Hat fanboy or a btw Arch user. Don't pay attention to them, they are nothing more than a loud minority. We Ubuntu users have learned to ignore these weirdos.

        • DragonTooth
          October 14, 2019 at 7:55 am

          @Sec
          Agreed. Loud minorities that just try to get attention and cause trouble rather than constructively helping the Linux community as a whole. Fortunately most Linux users are extremely helpful regardless of distro and while most have a specific distro they use/like, are often able to troubleshoot most others.

        • dragonmouth
          November 2, 2019 at 5:01 pm

          "He is just a typical linux weirdo."
          Just because I do not share your love of Ubuntu? I'm sorry I farted in your church. If you are such a loyal Ubuntu user, please disprove the points I made with facts, not an ad hominem attack..

          "He probably is a Red Hat fanboy or a btw Arch user."
          Not guilty on either count. Over the years I have used many distros, including a bunch of *buntus, so I can compare them based on their features. Have you used any distro other than Ubuntu?

    • Merlin
      October 8, 2019 at 1:06 pm

      Obviously you're a HUGE Ubuntu fan.