Ubuntu sliding in popularity

Figures from Distro-watch show that the popular front of Linux, Ubuntu, is sliding in popularity.

While the distro is still tops, it is starting to look like others are eating into its user base faster than Homer Simpson at an all you can eat penguin steak buffet.

It is jolly easy to pin most of Ubuntu’s woes on one thing – Unity. Unity was Mark Shuttleworth’s attempt to make a more user friendly GUI for Ubuntu which has always looked a little too much like a Windows XP clone.

Unfortunately, he miffed a lot of people who want Ubuntu because it looked like a Windows XP clone and they didn’t want to learn a new skill set. The other problem with Unity was that it took out all the things that allowed Linux fanboys to tinker.

It meant that setting up Linux on a laptop from hell turned out a lot more problematic than it would have been in the past. Once it was set up, it was an arse to find things like command lines. It runs ok, but it was clunky and buggy.

When users have a huge number of Linux distros to choose from and they find one does not perform like they hoped, they will go somewhere else.

Ubuntu people will point out to you that you can choose to use the old Gnome interface if you want, but that requires a few more steps in the set-up and that sort of defeats the whole Ubuntu premise. Ubuntu is supposed to be as easy to install as Windows. If you have to flip GUI then it simply is not,

Looking at the Distro-watch figures,  they are going to Mint and Fedora. Mint is very similar to Ubuntu. In fact when it was recently upgraded it was thought that it might run Unity. The distributors made a good call on that one and it looks like a lot of people might have shuttled away from Ubuntu towards it.

Fedora was always Ubuntu for grown ups. Fedora also has a vibrant community of programmers dedicated to it. Like the latest version of Ubuntu, Fedora 13 got mixed reviews mostly because it lacked easy access to the basic bundled software. It also growled at you if you wanted to use things like Flash.

Ubuntu users tend to fall into three camps. There are those who don’t want to run Windows and Ubuntu gives them the same stuff cheaper. There are those who just want a simple computer to do web browsing and a basic office package. Then there are those who want an introduction to Linux which they can tinker around with.

Unity made the last group walk, leaving the other two groups wondering how to set everything up. Ok, we are being simplistic here, but the same people who don’t like Unity generally don’t like some other things that Cannonical has done lately.

Unity was about Shuttleworth making a desperate move towards making Ubuntu the default standard on the desktop. He reasoned that Ubuntu was not able to capitalise on Microsoft’s Vista fail was because Linux had a GUI which was not pretty or user friendly enough.

There is some truth to that, but the reason that Linux was unable to capitalise on Vista was more to do with the fact that Linux still suffers from driver and software shortages.

True, you might have a free app store packed with goodies, but that is useless to you if you can’t run things like Photoshop. Anyone who has tried to use Gimp and says it is just as good has never used Photoshop.

But to push through his Unity idea, Shuttleworth had to hack off a lot of Open Saucers who wrote his code. The Open Source community works in its own mysterious way, and many felt railroaded by Shuttleworth’s insistence about how things should be.

What is sad is that Shuttleworth’s GUI gambit does not appear to have paid off. Not only had it failed to put Ubuntu onto more desktops, it has alienated a lot of people who were propping things up.

Unlike some, I don’t think Ubuntu is on its way out. But Cannonical will have to move fast to improve things, or they will lose the image of being the user-friendly Linux distro.