10 April 2009

So I've Started Using Ubuntu

And I lost my job. 

Don't worry, there's a fallback, so we'll be fine. 

Anyway, to cure my newfound boredom, I took up installing Ubuntu on my PC to see what all the fuss was about. I've used Linux and Unix based systems before; my N810 uses a Linux-based OS called Maemo and pretty much any OS on a device that isn't a personal computer (phones, DVRs, game consoles besides the Dreamcast, PDAs) has the Linux kernel somewhere in its silicon-based bloodstream. 

So far, I really kind of like it. As long as not too much is asked of it, it basically performs well. My only real gripe about Linux (apart from what I'll get to in a minute) is the absence of a good digital video editing program. Seriously, between iMovie and Windows MovieMaker (along with at least five other similar programs I could name), there's absolutely no reason for their to not be a Linux answer to the challenge. Granted, there are web-based video editors, but the only one that was really worth its salt was JumpCut, which has closed its door possibly to allow its servers and resources to be used to help Flickr store its video uploads (both are Yahoo! companies). Sure, there's Adobe's Remix for Photobucket, but 1) I hate photobucket, and 2) it doesn't allow you uploads of your own audio files, limiting you to preselected soundtracks. I can understand the legal reasons behind this, but it still feels like a slap in the face. 

Back to Ubuntu. For those unfamiliar with Linux-based operating systems, here's a little background information. Linxu operating systems are freely distributable and can be installed on any PC or even Macintosh, either alongside the existing OS, or supplanting it altogether. Applications are available through a kind of open market with apps being developed by small independent (many to the point of homebrew) developers with the technical skill to bring  Linux Operating Systems like RedHat and Suse have come and (mostly) gone due to various issues revolving around technical support and the justifiable overhead required for such support, but Ubuntu is different because its benefactor, Canonical, has hit upon the brilliant business model wherein the OS itself is free but the technical support is a paid service. 

Of course, I don't think I'd ever need their technical support, since most any problems with a PC can be solved by simply turning it off and back on again or, at worst, having to reinstall the whole shebang (which shouldn't even be that big of an issue, because you should be backing up your files anyway). Here's the ultimate boon of Ubuntu: reinstalling the OS (if necessary) is completely and utterly painless, not just because it's free, but because you don't have to worry about serial numbers or registration keys or requesting a boot-up disk from the company or any of those little annoying things that other companies (we'll just use Microsoft as an example) use to stamp out (read: encourage) piracy of an over-priced operating system plagued by more gremlins than every faulty mechanical device in the history of the entire planet put together. Canonical could care less about how many copies of your original boot-up CD you've made; they encourage you to put the OS on anything you can find, be it a CD or even a thumb-drive. 

There are, however, some cons to beat down the pros. As I've said, the operating system is free and produced by independent developers with little or no actual overhead to run a proper support or (more importantly) Quality Assurance department. What this means is that, when you get an application for Linux, you're kind of taking a gamble because chances are, the program was written entirely by as little as one person with as little as absolutely no beta testing. Yes, Microsoft charges an arm and a leg for Microsoft Office, but that's because that price tag is keeping a lot of employees employed and families of employees fed and clothed. Put simply, you get what you pay for. Notable exceptions would include the Open Office suite, which was developed in part by Sun Microsystems, the guardians and protectors of the Java programming language that helps to hold the internet together. In other words, they're good people and you can trust them totally. 

Expanding on the 'justifiable overhead' paradigm, the other inherent problem with Linux is that, without the benefit of a huge market share (Microsoft) or a fervent and dedicated yet eclectic fanbase (Apple), elaborate and complex applications like Digital Video Editors (Final Cut, After Effects, Avid), graphics programs (Maya, Vue3D, or even Terragen), and games (Call of Duty, Oblivion, Command and Conquer) are going to be either very few and far between on Linux, or non-extant altogether. In other words, Linux is going to basically find its core audience in casual users, people who would only want a PC for very basic tasks, like web-browsing, writing papers, making simple presentations for work, storing and managing digital photos, or anything else that wouldn't otherwise require a state-of-the-art graphics card or a lightning-fast processor or more RAM than the Swiss Alps. 

And that leads us to the Catch-22 of becoming a Linux user. The only way to bring Linux to a casual user is to either: 

1) buy a PC with no pre-installed OS, which is practically impossible (because the price tag of every PC includes the operating system, meaning that buying any PC regardless of which OS you intend to use puts money in Bill Gates' or Steve Jobs' respective pockets.) 

Or 2) build a PC from individual components, which casual PC users wouldn't have the mindset to do in the first place (because then they wouldn't be casual; they'd then be a savvy, savvy?). 

Netbooks (small, affordable PCs intended predominately for web-browsing) like the Pepper Pad or the Asus EeePC are a step in the right direction, but it's just not quite enough yet. So, here's hoping....

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