As subscribers to my YouTube channel know, I test a lot of distributions. From time to time (OK, maybe more frequently than that) I also change my main desktop…you know, the one where I’m trying to get real work done. I’ve flip-flopped many times over the years: Fedora, Korora, Opensuse, Mageia, Manjaro and even “proper” Arch (and for the Arch fans out there, yes, I’ve done a traditional Arch install). But in the end, I always end up back on Ubuntu. Yes, the whipping post of the Linux world, the distro for noobs, the OS everyone loves to hate, that’s my daily driver.
Note: Just a point of clarification, I mainly use official Ubuntu distros (such as Xubuntu, and Ubuntu Gnome), but rarely “regular” Ubuntu (or as many call it Ubuntu Unity). I don’t have the hatred for Unity that many of it’s detractors seem to posses (if you know how to use it, Unity is a very effective desktop environment), but I prefer the other desktop environments just a bit more.
So what is it about Ubuntu that brings me back for more? Is it the cool logo, or Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu’s self-appointed benevolent dictator for life? Hardly. My reasons for sticking with Old Orange are far more practical, as I will outline below.
IT JUST WORKS
Last week I wanted to check out the development of Ubuntu 16.04, so I downloaded the daily build, burned it to USB and installed it on a spare partition. This is the bleeding edge of Ubuntu development, so there must have been quite a few bugs, right. Nope, everything worked. No glitches, no crashes, software applications ran fine.
While some of the official spins have had teething problems with the release of new desktop features (such as Kubuntu with the release of plasma 5), but the Ubuntu core is rock solid stable. Yes, it may not have the latest kernel or the newest version of xorg, but I know the code base is tried, true and tested.
PROPRIETARY VIDEO DRIVERS
Proprietary video drivers from AMD and Nvidia can improve graphic performance by leaps and bounds. However, many distros don’t have an easy way to install them. (Anyone who has installed AMD catalyst drivers in Fedora knows what I’m talking about.) Ubuntu offers proprietary drivers for many graphics cards through its handy-dandy “additional drivers” tool. Simply open the tool, give it a minute to search for available drivers, select the driver and click apply changes…it’s that easy.
To be fair, there are non-Ubuntu distributions that have a proprietary driver tool. But unlike many of those other distros, proprietary drivers on Ubuntu actually improve performance. Ever try using AMD Catalyst on an Arch-based distro? Massive screen tearing, laggy performance, desktop freezes…you’re far better off with the open sourced driver. On Ubuntu, the performance of my AMD card skyrockets.
HUGE USER BASE AND COMMUNITY
I’m not a Linux expert (nor do I claim to be), and my knowledge is ever growing. On a daily basis, I’m on the net search for answers to my questions. Many distributions have community forums, but the sheer size of the Ubuntu user base means there’s a lot of questions being asked and answered. Nine times out of ten, I can find an answer to my question in the Ubuntu forums.
Since the Ubuntu user base ranges from new Linux converts to cosmic tech geeks, there tends to be much less attitude toward beginner questions in the forums. Not that there isn’t the occasional Neanderthal who has to prove his self worth by belittling noob questions, but it is far less common than in communities that are made up of (mostly) experienced users. (This has been one of my greatest criticisms of the Arch community. While the Wiki is excellent, a huge chunk of the user base is very demeaning to those trying to learn about Arch. While not all Arch users are this way, I’ve been on the receiving end of quite a few disparaging comments at the hands of the Arch G+ community and the Arch forums.)
FAST AND EASY TO INSTALL
I love a custom, one-of-a-kind installation on your computer. Nothing in the world screams “me” more than painstakingly putting your stamp of approval on every setting and line of code. It’s also something that’s very time consuming, and unfortunately, my spare time is minimal at best. Ubuntu based distros are easy to install; about five minutes for the setup, maybe another ten for the actual install. So after fifteen minutes, you’re ready to go. Yes, you may want to customize (I always do), and add some extra software and so on, but you’re essentially ready to go.
VAST SELECTION OF SOFTWARE
Yes, Ubuntu installs with far more software than I use. But nearly everything I need for my daily work flow is available by default through the official repositories (the two exceptions are
SimpleScreenRecorder and Google Chrome). And for times when you need to install something not in the official repos, chances are it’s available through a launchpad ppa or as a .deb package. It is a rare, rare thing to have to compile from source because a software title isn’t available any other way.
I’m not a huge gamer by any means, but I do like to kick back and play games now and then, and I typically do this through steam. While lots of distros make Steam available, Steam simply runs better on Ubuntu and other Debian based distributions (which makes sense since Steam OS uses Debian as its base). In fact, the Steam website only lists Ubuntu as officially supported.
To be fair, some distros have attempted to patch core libraries for better Steam compatibility. While this does improve performance, for many games the performance still lags way behind Ubuntu.
Over the years, Ubuntu has done plenty to draw criticism. From it’s decision to go with the Mir display server, to its questionable privacy decisions with Unity, it managed to draw the ire of Linux users far and wide. Despite that, Ubuntu offers me a desktop experience I simply can’t find anywhere else. Stability, a vast selection of software, ease of installation and use…what more could I ask for?