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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
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 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
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.
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, 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, 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
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.