Ubuntu 11.10 and the Oddly Oneiric ‘Countdown’

It’s often the case that anticipating a thing is just as pleasurable as the thing itself, and that seemed to be more true than ever with the latest Ubuntu release.

Yes, Ubuntu 11.10, or “Oneiric Ocelot,” made its long-awaited debut exactly a week ago, apparently — though not unanimously — bringing considerable pleasure to users far and wide.

At least equally intriguing, however, was the so-called “countdown” that was launched ahead of time, presumably to mark the days until the big release.

‘This Is the Countdown’

First it was This Is the Countdown; then This Isn’t the Countdown; and then This Is the Final Countdown appeared on the scene.

It wasn’t clear how they worked or why they generally seemed to be on a different clock from the rest of us; lengthy discussions sprung up as Linux fans tried to figure it out.

Turned out it was essentially a game, but the net result was a considerable bit of extra buzz for an operating system that doesn’t normally get much in the way of marketing. At least in principle, Linux Girl was impressed.

On the streets of the blogosphere, however, reactions were more of a mixed bag.

‘An OS Does Not Need a Soundtrack’

“The countdown site did nothing for me,” Roberto Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor, told Linux Girl. “It would not convince me to use Ubuntu if I was not using it. Worse, it was at least four hours wrong — Ubuntu final was out before the countdown hit zero.”

Similarly, “I felt the site was a big waste of time and effort,” agreed Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza.

Moreover, “an operating system does not need a soundtrack,” opined Espinoza, referring to the musical selections for Ubuntu now available on the countdown site.

‘The Perfect Product to Rally Behind’

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet took a similar view.

“I just got to look at the countdown and….wow is that REALLY dumb!” hairyfeet exclaimed. “Did they learn anything from those moronic house parties MSFT had? If you want to generate buzz that sure isn’t the way to do it. Is there ANY non Ubuntu user that would be impressed?”

Linux is “the perfect product to rally behind,” but the community is too focused on trying to beat Windows and Mac on the desktop, hairyfeet asserted. Instead, it should add value to Windows machines by way of SplashTop and Expressgate, he suggested.

“It’s fast, it is snappy, it doesn’t need tweaking, it is as simple as a ‘push button for Linux to give you the web NOW’ button, and it is frankly the future IF the community rallies behind it, writes plenty of apps for it, and pushes OEMs to INCLUDE it,” hairyfeet said.

“THAT is how you gain share, not with stupid countdowns or lame stunts,” he concluded. “Embrace a new, user-centric way of getting Linux to the masses, NOT by getting rid of Windows but giving the user a simple way to run Linux WITH Windows and installed by default.”

‘Marketing Is Seriously Neglected’

On the other hand, “marketing GNU/Linux is seriously neglected,” blogger Robert Pogson told Linux Girl. “A few OEMs have advertised GNU/Linux, but half-heartedly, as if they only wanted a better deal from their real ‘partner,’ M$.”

Because Linux costs so little, “there is no natural channel for advertising,” Pogson added. “That is why Android/Linux is taking off and GNU/Linux is going much slower. Both are growing, but because more money can be made from the early adopters of smart thingies than the mature technology on which GNU/Linux usually runs, there are huge resources available for advertising Android/Linux.”

Eventually, “OEMs will see FLOSS increases their margins and more will be willing to produce and advertise GNU/Linux systems,” Pogson predicted. “It’s happening, but slowly.”

‘A Pretty Nice Release’

As for Oneiric Ocelot itself?

“I think that 11.10 looks like a pretty nice release,” Espinoza said. “It reminds me a lot of a mac, but with more of an actual Unix sensibility.”

Similarly, “while I don’t really like Unity (I use the Gnome 3.2 shell on Ubuntu 11.10), they did a good job making Unity more responsive with this release,” Lim agreed. “They also made it easy to install the Gnome 3.2 shell.

“I still think Unity is a Mac OSX rip-off,” Lim added. “Actually, I prefer multitasking on OSX.”

Indeed, “Ubuntu’s move to Unity leaves me wondering what I’m going to recommend to my less technically minded friends who want to try Linux,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack mused. “I wish I could recommend what I use, but my distro is not so newbie-friendly, so I guess it’s time to start experimenting with distros again to see what to suggest.”

‘Doesn’t Make a Jot of Difference’

Finally, for Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site, Ubuntu has bigger problems to worry about than just Unity.

Namely, Unity aside, “this latest Ubuntu doesn’t make a jot of difference to the world because it doesn’t add to the list of programs that Windows or OSX users can now use in Linux,” Hudson told Linux Girl.

In fact, “this same mis-directed effort is also why the year of the Linux desktop won’t happen,” Hudson asserted. “None of the distros, including Ubuntu, are trying to meet the No. 1 demand of the majority of users: to run their existing programs.”

‘You’re Not Growing the User Base’

Most users have at least one application that doesn’t have a decent equivalent under Linux, “either open or proprietary,” she explained. “Until that changes, ‘fixing’ the user interface or adding a music store will remain as useful as adding more cowbell. You’re not growing the user base, just competing for more scraps from a tiny, stagnant market.

“Free software? For more than 99 percent of the world, Ubuntu is just another word for, ‘I can’t run your program,'” Hudson added. “The latest Ubuntu doesn’t fix that, and neither will the next one, nor the one after it.”

So, “until this fundamental weakness is addressed, you won’t be able to sell most users on Ubuntu,” she predicted. “Heck, you already pretty much can’t even give it away to them for free.

“It’s a shame that the future of linux in the consumer space is to toil away in obscurity, with products like Android getting all the credit,” Hudson concluded. “It’s also telling that when Novell took the first small steps to correcting this, they were roundly pilloried by the community.”

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter.


  • And that is one of the big reasons (along with the frankly horrible driver breakage) why I don’t offer Linux as an option anymore in my shop. There is ALWAYS one ‘mission critical’ app that WILL NOT RUN and to the user that makes FOSS ‘free as in worthless’ because nobody wants to mess with that dual boot nonsense and if they already have Windows installed why shouldn’t they use it?

    For the home users its the software that came with their gadgets, their cams, their printers, their PMPs. anybody who has just grabbed a device at random without research and tried to just plug and play with linux knows how well that doesn’t work, and folks LIKE the software that comes with their stuff. heck i had one lady that kept the same camera software through 4 different cameras because she liked it so much.

    On the business side Quickbooks and Quicken is God and rightly so, because with it one QB girl (and its ALWAYS a girl, you’d think they had a union or something) can run the whole business from her desk. the supply chain, invoices, taxes, its all easy peasy for the QB girl and there is NO Linux software that comes close.

    So I’d say the only real shot linux has if it doesn’t work on a free "XP Mode" style VM for running all those Windows apps is mobile. Folks are already conditioned to think the software that worked in phone foo won’t work with phone bar so you don’t have to run previous apps.

    But there is A REASON why MSFT kills themselves maintaining backwards compatibility, and it is because THAT is what makes it valuable to users. not the bling, not the UI, its the apps. and sadly while Linux has a billion text editors and other programmer toys the apps the daily folks use, QB/Quicken, Photoshop/PS Pro, and all those little specialty apps like medical billing and warehouse inventory and all the rest? Often there is NO application to even replace them with. so there really needs to be a concerted effort as Barbara said to build a "its easy’ VM style way for running windows apps. Maybe ReactOS will get it right?

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