Hmmm, what was Mark thinking when he wrote this?
The warrior rabbit is our talisman as we move into a year where we can reasonably expect Ubuntu to ship on several million devices, to consumers who can reasonably expect the software experience to be comparable to those of the traditional big [software vendors]: Microsoft and Apple.
The bar is set very high, and we have been given the opportunity to leap over it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to shine, and we want to make sure that the very best thinking across the whole open-source ecosystem is reflected in Ubuntu, because many people will judge free software as a whole by what we do.
Right. Is it a golden opportunity? Absolutely.
What about catching up to the competition? I’d say that Mac OS X is around three years ahead of Ubuntu in terms of friendliness, ease of use, consistency, multimedia support, APIs. Ubuntu today is — almost, but not quite — what Panther was in late-2003: promising, but not quite there. Not even close. That’s three years at Apple’s development pace. A focused, organised, commercial company. Contrast that with Canonical, a company that, until now, has contributed less than every other corporate entity supporting popular linux distributions and whose typical contribution has primarily been taking Debian, applying some patches and packaging it.
I’d think that, other things being equal, at the pace Ubuntu improves, it could very well take twice that to reach a point when it’d be comparable to OS X. And that’s without any of the regressions that keep appearing just after every new release — countless things that you’d think should’ve been long solved years ago keep breaking. That is six years, then. To get where OS X is today.
Of course, I’m exaggerating. Things are not that bad. If you know what you’re doing, if you enjoy using the terminal for menial tasks that should be autoconfigured or — at worst — easily configurable through UIs, if you’re willing to put up with nonsensical, mystical regressions that keep breaking stuff, if you’re willing to put up with inadequate graphics acceleration (ATi/AMD anyone?), immature and largely broken multimedia support (PulseAudio/ALSA), a chaotic set of APIs, none of which provides anything close to the elegance of Cocoa (or .Net or Java), an ageing set of libraries that need massive rewrites to compete with the state of the art (GTK+, QT) and two competing desktop environments, neither of which has struck the right balance between usability and functionality (KDE 4.x still seems like a bad developer preview, not a finished product. GNOME has not substantially improved for years) and with a general lack of what could be considered a minimum required level of æsthetics and consistency to actually ship usable software, well then Ubuntu is great and could have a shot at OS X. That, or knowing someone who knows and likes the above.
Mark announced that Canonical would hire developers to work on the kernel, basic platform libraries such as Xorg and GTK, and significantly increase their contribution. That’s amazing news.
Yet, if Mark Shuttleworth expects to have something comparable to OS X (or even the kludge that is Windows) in six months from now, he’s either hiding something and is merely waiting before revealing a massive development effort that started years ago and is due to finish before 9.04 comes out, or he’s simply just deluded.
People that want something to Just Work, people that use and enjoy the OS X experience would — in their majority — find Ubuntu to be too hard, too demanding. Configuring Ubuntu is still a mess, as is the case with all other linux distributions. Lack of commercial applications is also a problem for some. Lack of consistency and a next-generation comprehensive platform upon which the wider community, but also the industry, could build is also missing. In terms of development, linux is still a mess. All linux distributions still suffer from the same stale approach to building desktop systems that inflicted the community for more than a decade.
If Mark was serious about taking on the leaders he should, in my opinion, attempt to stop the nonsense and focus on the creation of a new virtual platform, Ubuntu, that would settle on a single application platform (say QT or GTK), it would prioritise every single long-standing problem with linux (e.g. easy configurability, ease of use, consistency, æsthetics) over new features and would break compatibility with ‘linux’. Something akin to what Google did with Android. It’s not linux you’re running; it’s Android. In my opinion, Ubuntu should be the same. We should be running Ubuntu, not linux.
Now, as far as linux goes, Ubuntu is awesome. I use it, I promote it, I’ve installed it on dozens of people’s machines; people that wanted to get away from Windows. I truly love Ubuntu and hope it gets better. I probably use it 80% of the time — the other 20% goes to OS X. Yet, Ubuntu it is not OS X and it’s so far behind in so many aspects pertaining to desktop use, that the comparison would actually be funny if it weren’t coming from Shuttleworth himself. Parity, given a huge number of assumptions by 2012? Maybe. By April next year? Dream on.