Is Ubuntu Becoming a Poor Man's OS X?

Monday Oct 17th 2011 by Matt Hartley
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Ubuntu allows users to save cash on both hardware and software.

Since its creation, I've watched Ubuntu grow and develop into something quite impressive.

And despite this article’s title, my goal isn't to belittle Ubuntu or OS X in any way. Instead, I’d like to talk about how Ubuntu might serve as an alternative to users attempting to emulate some aspects of OS X while still using their existing hardware.

This is widely considered to be the goal with the Unity interface on Ubuntu. The idea was that OS X made things "pretty" and Ubuntu wanted to emulate this idea in spirit.

Your hardware instead of Apple's

Ubuntu has the advantage of using the same fantastic hardware detection provided by its developers as the developers behind the Linux kernel. It has been my experience that most hardware just works with Ubuntu.

Therefore if you don’t want to buy a whole new computer setup, Ubuntu (as does any Linux distribution) makes a lot of sense.

The fact is, a new Mac running the latest OS X will cost you money. You will not be able to run (legally) OS X Lion on your PC.

At this point, I suspect there will be a number of people leaving me scathing comments because they feel the above statement is unfair. Regardless of public sentiment, the fact is using existing hardware instead of buying new hardware is indeed cheaper.

And using a Linux distribution sponsored by someone who has shared his views on OS X's aesthetic aspects (Mark Shuttleworth) seems like a pretty good option for the would-be Apple fan.

Even older Macs running with the incredibly dated PowerPC (PPC) processor can run a PPC architecture specific release of Ubuntu.

Apple, however, doesn't even offer a current OS for these old Macs. This is understandable, as Apple is a hardware company that only recently embraced its fullest potential to become a software company.

Software is the name of the game

I've been told that OS X enthusiasts believe the new app store for their Mac is the latest and greatest concept from Apple. In truth though, this concept was at best, borrowed from the various package managers offered with desktop Linux distributions.

Even proprietary software access in a marketplace format was readily available, thanks to the now defunct Linspire, long before any OS X app store even existed. I do believe that Apple shined here with their efforts because they offered a better catalog of software titles. At least this appears to be the consensus according to many of their users.

Moving beyond what Linspire first inspired, today Ubuntu offers an app store of their own called the Software Center. If Ubuntu is able to deliver software in a way that works for their user base, then I think that's fantastic.

But I would ask everyone to remember that the Linspire v5.x Click-n-Run (CNR) concept was not only faster and easier to use than Ubuntu's current software center, it was also years ahead of its time back in 2005.

Still think that Ubuntu did something original here? Not so fast.

Canonical actually hired the people behind the original concept of CNR to help them develop a similar marketplace. It's great to see that everything worked out and that this software marketplace legacy was able to find a new home.

Given the above history lesson, I hope that Ubuntu is able to offer their users an experience that's pleasing to their targeted users. Thus far, I think they've done pretty well, give or take a few mistakes.

They've even managed to begin attracting some limited proprietary software titles as well for their new software center! But as I've said in other articles, for Ubuntu to attract most of their desired new users, they will need more impressive proprietary titles in their software center.

You and I might be just fine without proprietary software, however a significant number of the potential users Canonical is looking to attract won't be as tolerant by the absence of Photoshop and Microsoft Office.

Allow me to reiterating my statement once again: I am not suggesting that we must have these applications for Linux to be successful. Instead I'm pointing out that for Canonical to take Ubuntu in the direction they envision, the need for these software titles is unavoidable.

Power users, however, are quite content using existing open source alternatives to popular proprietary software applications.

OS marketing hoopla

Within the tech space, I'd found that Ubuntu has received a lot more press in recent years than other distributions of Linux. For example, a fair percentage of the time you're reading about Ubuntu, it's being reviewed by someone who's never tried Linux for longer than 15 minutes in their lifetime.

The other half of the time, the Ubuntu ravings in the media are just regurgitating what was written in the updated features list. The entire situation is really sad if you stop to think about it.

At least when writers such as myself rip into it from time to time, the views shared are presented after years of working with the distribution on a full-time basis. Agree or not with my opinions, I've earned the right to formulate my educated view on how Ubuntu works in my daily life.

On the OS X side of the fence, I imagine there are some shared similarities. There are those people who write about what the latest OS X release has to offer and then there are articles pointing out that running OS X requires you to own a Mac.

Both stances on OS X are logical, as both the OS and the hardware come from the same company. But despite the perceived fairness given here, I've found that more so than in years past, OS X receives a greater pass for its own misgivings than Ubuntu.

Understand that this view is simply based on my exposure to the TV media, print ads, online reviews and so forth. Perhaps there are harsher OS X critics out there besides those people with vested interest in Microsoft technologies?

Outside of that possibility, I have yet to discover much fairness when comparing Ubuntu to OS X. Maybe because the two platforms are so different from one another?

My guess is that Ubuntu will see the bulk of its sustained growth in a very different demographic than Apple does with OS X adoption. I suspect that most adopters will use Ubuntu as a stepping stone to get rid of or perhaps expand on their existing Windows PC experience.

For OS X usage, on the other hand, the entire appeal appears to be the "end to end experience." AppleCare, "(InsertAppleNameHere)" type devices that offer a uniform, tightly experience on a heavily controlled platform.

Ubuntu, however, will continue seeing growth in areas where saving money by using existing resources and being in full control over how their operating system works is important. It will not be sought after by those seeking something "new and shiny." And still others users will be trying Ubuntu out of curiosity.

Use what works best for you

Once you get past the "software holy wars" taking place all over the Web, it doesn't take long to realize the only person you need to convince of a particular platform's merits is yourself.

At the risk of sounding too obvious, if OS X meets your needs, fantastic – use it.

However if you have existing PC hardware and would prefer to avoid buying a whole new computing setup, try one of the popular Linux distributions out there. For many of you, this may mean choosing Ubuntu due to its push to attract new non-Linux users. For others, it may be helpful to try a number of different Linux distributions before settling on what best fit your needs.

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