Opinion: "Confessions of an Ubuntu Fanboy" Response

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Just got done reading, "Confessions of an Ubuntu Fanboy". While I'm glad the author has decided to be more practical in his promotion of Linux and Ubuntu, I strongly disagree with some of his conclusions and I'll cover them below.

I have been using Linux for about 15 years now and over the course of that time I've helped more people than I care to count with Linux installs, removals and everything in-between. I've seen people try Linux out for a few days and give up on it. I've seen people tough it out and become valued members of our local Linux community. Linux isn't for everyone and choice is good. I no longer advocate Linux for someone who isn't willing to learn new things. I quit trying to push it on people and now I'm somewhat selective in helping people the second they say they want to try Linux. I state up front that there is a learning curve and that they will need to expect it. If I sense that they don't have patience to learn new things, I don't even bother.

The problem with the article in question is that the author seems to want to try to make Linux for everyone and in doing so, he advocates violating some important tenants. He primarily focuses on Windows users but it could be any proprietary OS or applications.

It IS Easy to Learn, but Unlearning is Hard

Linux is just as easy to use as Windows or Mac OS X especially from the point of view of anyone who has no computer experience. The problem is that so many people do come from other environments and they have spent a lot of time learning those environments... and that knowledge is often a stumbling block to learning something new... in this case Linux. People who have been using Microsoft Windows XP for years seem to forget the learning curve they had to go through at the beginning of that relationship. The truth of the matter is that Windows is NOT intuitive and you actually have to learn your way trial and error... but as with anything, learning pays off and you are rewarded for it.

The gist of Jim the former Ubuntu fanboy seems to be that rather than having people learn something new, we should just give up and make it as much like Windows as possible to the point that they are running application virtualization software so they can run the Windows applications they are used to. While I'm not against using Wine or other virtualization technologies to run Windows or Windows apps when you really have a need to, I do not think abandoning native Linux applications wholesale is something that should be considered.

Don't Fear the Command Line

Jim complains that so much of the Linux help available online uses the command line and that new users are scared of the command line. Sorry Jim, the command line is a FEATURE and not a FAILURE. Microsoft has been enhancing their command line options with each new Windows release and Windows has been growing more like Linux/Unix... while at the same time, Linux has been adding more and more GUI management apps and is growing more like Windows. I think that both of those motions are good. I think users should be taught the command line rather than trying to find a way to completely avoid it. Users are better off if they learn how things work and can troubleshoot them in various ways. I'm not against GUI apps but knowing what config files an application / service uses and being able to modify them with ones preferred text editor is a good thing. Having more than one way to do something, is a good thing. Jim contents that the users are scared of the command line. They are... and why is that? Because they are constantly being told that it is hard. It isn't hard... it is actually quite easy... and much more flexible than any GUI application. If you want a good beginners guide to the command line check out the FLOSS Manuals CLI Guide.

Yes, some effort will be needed to learn the command line BUT such learning will definitely be rewarded. As a new user learns a little bit of the command line hopefully their confidence will grow and they will learn NOT to fear it but to appreciate the power, flexibility and speed it offers. The CLI is something we should be saying good things about, not bad mouthing.

Microsoft Office Can't Do ODF?

Yes OpenOffice.org (and broffice.org for those in Brazil) is fairly compatible with Microsoft Office documents... but yes OOo defaults to ODF document types and no, Microsoft Office can't (currently) read them. I hope Jim wasn't suggesting that OOo should switch to making .doc, .xls, and .ppt the default formats? Do we really want to help propagate proprietary document formats? For heavens sake learn why propriety document formats are bad and why open document formats are good... and rejoice in the ability to use both... with the open formats being the ones you should promote. Does this mean that a user has to understand how to save as or export a document from time to time? Yes... the user has to learn... and again they will be rewarded for that learning. Proprietary documents aren't going away any time soon but open formats are catching on and have a very bright future.

Microsoft Office is a big lock-in piece of software especially for those companies or institutions that use Exchange Server and Outlook. Explaining to users that this lock-in exists, that it is ultimately a bad thing, and that open formats and standards are where they should be moving should be a focus of any Linux advocate. I'm not saying you have to be dogmatic or impractical but there is such a good case for open standards why not talk about them.

If you want to exchange documents with others who might be using proprietary formats still, use PDF. OpenOffice.org does export to PDF and in most cases, shared documents do not have to be editable. The P in PDF stands for portable.

Working with Apple Hardware?

Jim complains that Linux mulitimedia apps only work with older iPods and that Canonical should put in significant effort to improve the apps so they can keep up with Apple hardware. Why do you think newer iPods don't work with Linux? How many times has a software provider figured out how to make their software work with Apple hardware only to have Apple intentionally break third-party software the very next application update or hardware revision? Simply put, Apple DOES NOT want anyone else's software to work with their hardware. And they aren't too fond when application developers write modules that make their apps work with open standards (think ogg support in iTunes).

Sure, Apple hardware is popular but so what.? If we have to bend over backwards to make their hardware work and then Apple intentionally is anti-customer... why is that our problem? iPod owners should be demanding that Apple make their hardware work with third-party apps rather than trying to make Linux distro makers license and adopt patent encumbered codecs. Sure it is a pain to learn something new, but one will be rewarded and it is an easy argument in the best interests of the user.

Using Adobe Apps over Native Linux Apps?

Jim doesn't recommend GIMP anymore. Why not? GIMP is mature and has been around since 1995 and is constantly updated and improved. Does it operate exactly like Photoshop? No it doesn't. Should GIMP be exactly like Photoshop? No it shouldn't. Again, learning something new will reward you. Now you can use an application without a proprietary file format... and share documents with your friends and not worry whether or not they can afford a proprietary app to open the document you've sent them. GIMP is available for Linux, Windows, Mac OS X, as well as about any OS that offers a C compiler. Photoshop? Not so much.

Why would you recommend giving up on mature, native Linux applications and using Wine as a platform for running Windows apps? If you are going to run one or more Windows apps, why not just run Windows? I do realize that there may be use cases where someone needs a particular application for legacy file compatibility... but the sooner you get out of that trap the better.

Yes there still remain some application categories where there is no suitable substitute application so in those cases, ok... use virtualization or Wine... but don't just give up on native Linux applications.

Abandoning Principles for Popularity?

If we as a community have to abandon our principles to gain popularity, what have we gained? The phrase "Year of the Linux Desktop" has been batted around like an indestructible pinata. I've been using Linux as my desktop since 1995 and it has gotten better every year. Do I want to do whatever it takes to get more numbers? No. If I have to lose what is good about Linux for it to become more popular, I'd rather it continue a slow growth rate and be less of a security target.

If Linux grows more rapidly by getting users to abandon other free software, what have we gained? I guess we could hope that eventually users will learn the benefits of open standards, file formats and applications but is enabling better use of closed things the way to do it? I don't think so.

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Comand line is universal

The complaint in the original article about the commandline is ignorant. It leave me wondering if he's used any other variation of Linux besides plain old brown Ubuntu (with gnome). Any real Linux user should know that you can't give point click instructions for Linux because we all have different Desktops or Window Managers. I hate it when I look up how to change some setting and the only instructions I can find are graphical and they assume I am using Gnome. Hello! JWM does not have those menu. Please give me the command line, or tell me to change a line in some config file whatever. Just don't tell me to go to some menu that my interface is not going to have.

Linux or MS$

Wow!..I left my puter at home on this extended trip. So I am using computers at Public Librarys and all are MS$. I am having a heard time learning MS&. And many say that Linux is hard...HA!

Also the security thing getts hotter and hotter. I have been using Linux for over 15 years and have not seen a Linux box compromised yet.

Peace to all...............ed dunagin in the sunny south Brrrr.

Scott Dowdle's picture

Greetings Ed


It is good to hear from you. I hope you are having fun on your trip. Feel free to email us some stories when you get a chance.

TYL, Scott

Just Pointing Out

I would like to point out really quick that the next release of Microsoft Office will in fact support ODF natively. This will make it much easier for us Linux users to interact with everyone that has Windows when it comes to documents, so not to worry there.

Overall, I enjoyed both articles as they both made excellent points about the different types of users, and I particularly liked the point about "Unlearning" in this article. Ubuntu has always struck me as fairly intuitive, but unlearning all of the ways I did things in Windows made it quite a chore at first.

Windows should be more like Linux...

Honestly, I find it, and believe everyone would find it that way, that after using Linux long enough, users will wish a lot of what Linux does should be emulated in Windows. Let's start with real administrator/user accounts...the folder hierarchy which seems cryptic at first but ends up making sense after all...the .rc and .conf files that written in near plain english so that you can actually make enough sense of them to make changes to them if you have to...how the user preferences are kept in the user's home directory, which makes complete sense...how when an application acts up, and you can determine it's a problem in the user account only, that you can delete the hidden folder and have the application rebuild it with default settings to get it working correctly again... The number of features that Linux has that simply makes Windows look cryptic and archaic is just mind boggling. Don't even get me started on choice. I mean, the selection between Gnome, KDE, XFCE, LXDE, Afterstep, Fluxbox, Windowmaker, IceWM, and other desktop environments, not to mention that I can have it just as a Curses or text frontend only. I can use two different environments on different distros and feel like I'm using completely different OS's, when in reality it's still just good old Linux. What's not to love about Linux?

The original writer has a point, though. My girlfriend doesn't know much about computers and really doesn't care. It works. She would never get a Mac or use Linux because it's too much work to learn something new. What she has does the job.

But here is my opinion: Personally, I don't care if any more new users come to Linux. Let them use what they want. I don't want dumb users that can't understand that their computer needs the OS fixed and they don't need to buy a new computer when it acts up. I don't want people doing stupid things like opening files they shouldn't and having worms/viruses/trojans/malware/spyware proliferate around my OS. Let Microsoft keep catering to the truly computer illiterate. If people are too lazy to learn what they hell they are doing, then they deserve to have the problems they do. Linux, IMO, needs about 10 - 15% marketshare. At that point, OEM's can't ignore it any longer, but it's not widespread enough to attract people who wish to write stuff to bring it down so much. Nothing is impenetrable, and I don't want to even come close to finding out how secure Linux really is.

I generally agree with you,

I generally agree with you, with the exception of the GIMP.

Old != Mature

I'm sure it is a very capable program, and I'm sure people who have spent years learning it can do great things with it.

But it still has one of the worst user interfaces of all time. I've tried, TRIED to use it... But every time I end up in a fit of rage. (Yeah, maybe I should switch to decaf...)

Even the most simple tasks are difficult to figure out. Drawing a circle, for example.

The GIMP devs do not understand basic UI design, or the concept of screen real estate. Three separate windows that overlap? W___I___D___E toolbars?

I'm still praying they'll be able to port Paint.NET soon, or at least come up with a suitable alternative. In the mean time, I'm still using windows apps in WINE or a VM. Bleh.

gimp interface.

The gimp gui looks fine and does not overlap at all on a sufficiently sized monitor. in fact it looks very nice(with the theming set nicely). With my monitor I can have GIMP running with tons of little dialogs open and still no overlap. Also the entire GIMP gui menu can be remapped on the keyboard by simply highlighting the command with your mouse then pressing a key to remap the command voile` the user interface is then customized. Without having to go into any preferences menus and so on.

GIMP is not a drafting program

"I want to draw three concentric circles 5 cm, 6 cm, 7 cm in radius. How to do that in GIMP?"

GIMP is a tremendously powerful, ridiculously capable tool for image creation and editing. While Drawing concentric circles might sound like a simple or trivial task in some programs, it actually isn't- go draw a three perfectly concentric circles in Paint and let me know how that works out. That said, how are the techniques in the thread any more or less difficult than Illustrator, Photoshop, or Fireworks?

The GIMP is different, yes. Your complaint about multiple windows is, imho, moot, as most Photoshop users I see have ripped their control panels off onto a second desktop anyway, so they have the main desktop with a single window with their images, and guess what, it looks a lot like GIMP. Could you send a screenshot of your W___I___D___E toolbars? That sounds like a bug in a subtle combination of GIMP and Gnome settings, and would be interesting to track down.

To end with an analogy: don't use a framing nail gun to assemble a balsa-wood model.

Scott Dowdle's picture

GIMP is just fine

What you mean by wide menus, I have no idea. I just double checked and GIMP's menus are spaced exacly like all other apps on my system.

Ok, drawing a circle is a little bit obfuscated and that definitely could be improved. Being a complex app, it does take a little bit getting used to but I don't think the GIMP is any more difficult than any other image editing program. It would probably benefit by having some "wizards" for more complex multi-step operations.

I did say GIMP was old but I also said it is constantly updated and improved. Some people seem excited about the mockups for the next release that show GIMP with a MID type interface where there is a master window and all of the other windows fall within it. I think some people will respect it more after that change is made but as I said, it has been very usable to me for over ten years and I've used it for all of my graphics work assuming I was allowed to pick for myself what tool to use.


I have faced similar questions and doubts from my friends with whom I tried to talk about Linux as a viable alternative. However, on the bright side, many have move over quite happily -- especially since Vista!

One of my friends was actually surprised (pleasantly) when his Sony Handycam worked with Linux via firewire interface so that he could download his videos on to the hdd. It had refused to work with Vista/Windows. So, another argument that should go the way of the dinosaurs is that Linux does not have enough device drivers.

You're who Jim's talking about

You wrote: "The problem with the article in question is that the author seems to want to try to make Linux for everyone and in doing so, he advocates violating some important tenants."

No, he isn't "violating" anything. He is acknowledging the realities of inertia-challenged users. The article shouldn't be "in question," as nothing Jim has written is untrue of many users who are adopting desktop Linux full-time, and for the first time. I also administer Linux to new users (who ask for it - no fanboyism) and have experienced the learning curves that he has pointed out. I found everything in his article extremely accurate for some users, and many of these users should (of course) stay with Windows. I understand your "principles," but for some users popularity and familiarity trumps the evangelism and politics of free software. Perhaps you are the fanboy type that Jim is talking about.

I agree with some of what you've written here, Scott. But if you've worked with as many people coming from proprietary operating systems as I have, you would understand that Jim's experiences are very real in some cases, however unfortunate they may be.

Scott Dowdle's picture

I'm practical to a point

I didn't say that Jim's experiences weren't real... I was just saying that the solution isn't always to buckle under to the pressure. Hey, I'm pragmatic too... although in my commentary I was being devil's advocate. I use Flash and several proprietary formats mainly because they are almost impossible to avoid... but at the same time I do try to promote the use of open standards, file formats, and protocols... for both the free software reasons and the open source reasons.

I'm just saying if someone isn't going to be happy unless Linux is more like Windows, maybe they should stick with Windows.

My wife uses Windows and I wouldn't dream of trying to force Linux on her. :)


I'm not a native English speaker, but this post is exactly what I would respond... Good work...
I love this :
"Sorry Jim, the command line is a FEATURE and not a FAILURE." --- Very true, one of the best things in Linux is CLI...
"Why not? GIMP is mature and has been around since 1995 and is constantly updated and improved." --- My brother is photo addict and he favors GIMP over PS, even mocks to PS users :)
Very good article, keep up with good work...

Couldn't agree more

If bringing the masses to Linux means giving up on everything that's good about it, then the masses can stay put as far as I'm concerned. If someone is willing to make some effort and learn a new system, we should do our best to help. No more and no less.


I am a fanboy of Ubuntu, Mac OS X, iPhone, and Windows. How does this work?

For daily use I use Ubuntu Linux. A relative of mine gave me an older Mac that has a PowerPC processor. It makes a great print server allowing my other computers to print to a common printer. If I could afford a new Mac I would buy one.

I love taking my iPod Touch to doctor's offices where I almost always have to wait. I play games or read books. Quite likely I will get an iPad when they come out in a few weeks.

Okay, now what about Windows? First of all I keep a copy of iTunes on a Windows box to update my Touch firmware. Ubuntu can't do that. I suppose the old Mac could, but if it dies of old age, I'd have a problem.

Second, I make a little pocket money cleaning up neighbor's Windows machines after a Windows malware attack. Linux allows me to look into those machines and fix the OS.

So yes, I compute on four platforms and love them all for different reasons.

Thanks for the response

Hey, thanks for responding to my post. Like I said, I still LOVE Ubuntu and think Linux is the best OS out there. I just think we should be more practical and less fanatical.

Scott Dowdle's picture

I'm a fanboy too


Thanks for the response. I'm a fanboy too but for Red Hat and Fedora... which isn't to say that I don't see and acknowledge faults... there are plenty of them.

I think my negative reaction to your article was caused by the accumulation of giving in to one thing after another. I'm not as dogmatic as RMS is but I certainly understand his position and have a lot of respect for it. Without folks like him we never would have gotten as far as we have... and by sticking to it as much as possible, we'll get even further.

I think a good strategy is to introduce free software onto Windows boxes and get the users used to using it... and then if and when they have the desire to switch to Linux, they'll be familiar with the apps and it'll be less traumatic. If someone is on Windows using a lot of closed apps, getting them to use the same closed apps on top of Linux isn't much of a gain.

The GMIP isn't that bad really. I've been using it for much of its 15 years and whenever I have to use Photoshop (at one job I did)... I ask myself, why isn't Photoshop like GIMP? Then I got over it and learned enough Photoshop to be useful with it.

I'm guessing I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.

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