RTFM and Stop Wasting Everybody’s Time
Making Linux usable by the “general public” was eschewed by the Linux community for years. Like teenage girls and fashion trends, hardcore Linux fans wanted to maintain the purity and, yes, the unrelenting geekiness, of their beloved operating system. Similarly, I cringe when I hear the melody Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony defiled by elementary school brass bands. Those not versed in the black arts of kernel programming were chastised when seeking Linux help on the internet. Ubuntu changed everything not by inventing new technology, but by introducing a new attitude. When I first tried Hoary Hedgehog in high school (2005), I had been seriously studying software development for three years, but had only spent a few hours using Linux. Trying to learn a new technology from such an insular community (at the time) was daunting. Back then, there were a few things that just weren’t feasible on Linux: using an ATI graphics card or an Intel wireless card, watching Flash videos, and using the “Sleep” function on your laptop. You couldn’t find drivers for your printer, but you could skin your menu bars to look like OS X. Like a popular xkcd comic points out, you could accommodate massively parallel computing (indeed, I built a CFD compute cluster using Fedora in 2007), but full-screen Flash video was unattainable. I once asked a question about my xorg.conf file when trying to set up multiple monitors in Dapper Drake (2006). The response from an expert was, in essence, RTFM and stop wasting everybody’s time. No wonder nobody used Linux. Following instructions from Linux geeks feels like trying to read Charles Dickens while having a stroke, and asking for help was even more painful. Sorry, I haven’t read Chapter 46: Mastering the Dark Arts of X Configuration.
If at first you do not succeed, Shamelessly Increment the Version Number
Ubuntu religiously releases a new version every six months. For years, following each release, a Slashdot pundit would herald in a new era of Linux in which the layperson could use Linux without help from an expert. That it Just Works™. Yet in trying each release, I continued to feel as if I were either too simple-minded to be a professional computer scientist, or that these people were using some magical computers that had been baptized by the Linux gods. Admittedly, each successive release was better, and compared to the pre-Ubuntu Linux dark ages of yore, the newest Ubuntu release was always cause for celebration. You mean I don’t have to re-compile my kernel in order for me to use a webcam? Sweet! Inevitably, however, there would be a show-stopper. Somehow from the 12,783 bugs that were fixed for this release, I still cannot scale my resolution past 640×480. I cannot use my laptop for school if my wireless network card card isn’t supported by your puritanical non-proprietary driver database. It isn’t my fault that my laptop was cursed with a Broadcom chipset at manufacture. However, more and more of these problems faded away with each release. Not only did configuration become easier, more stuff began to work out of the box. Now — finally — almost everything does.
Ubuntu is finally out of beta, and Version 1.0 is finally here. The Ubuntu folks are calling it 11.10, but we all know what it really is: the first version that is competitive with Windows and OSX. Version 1.0. I know this because I replaced Windows 7 on my laptop with Ubuntu 11.10 and, since everything works, I don’t have to revert back to Windows like I have so many times before. Maybe next time, though, Canonical will bless its harbinger of mass-appeal with a an animal adjective that isn’t flagged by my browser’s spellcheck, and that the average person can pronounce. Luckily, the name “Oneiric Ocelot” will be replaced six months hence.
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