I am not an Ubuntu old-timer. I remember as far back as 5.10, but certainly there is a smaller circle of true Ubuntu veterans.
And I am definitely not a Linux old-timer. I am a mere babe in the woods, comparatively speaking, and I try my best to remind myself of that fact regularly. There is always someone who knows more than you.
It has been almost five years since I started out with Ubuntu though, and things have changed dramatically since then.
One thing that sticks out in my mind is a rather strong shift that occurred a few years ago, and personally I think it had a direct influence on where Ubuntu is today.
It was Mazza558‘s graph from a day or two ago that makes me think of this now. It shows a considerable upswing in Ubuntu’s popularity from its start in 2004, but it seems to have reached a plateau about three years later.
And the funny thing is, 2007 is about where I see that shift — when Ubuntu became more obsessed with looks and appearances, and stability and reliability took a back seat.
I’m not saying Ubuntu isn’t stable or reliable — if anything, it is both of those. But late 2006 is when Mark Shuttleworth made his epic “Pretty is a feature” blog entry. A year later, Compiz was enabled by default, and the push for glitz had taken center stage.
I’ll apologize if this sounds a bit too old-timey, but yes, I remember a time when there was no push for accelerated graphics by default, or animated splash screens or proprietary drivers automatically installed.
I remember when you incorporated things like Flash manually, and with a considerable measure of effort, and upgraded things like Firefox through persistence and the ten-finger interface.
Things weren’t necessarily better in those days, and I will admit that freely. And I have no proof that the push toward pretty somehow resulted in the plateau shown in the graph.
But I can’t help but wonder if the upward swing would have continued upward, if Ubuntu had focused on working perfectly every time, instead of working prettily most of the time.
This isn’t the first time I have lamented the direction Ubuntu took, and it probably won’t be the last. I am critical of Ubuntu mostly because I am fond of it. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t even think about it.
The only advantage in this position is that Ubuntu can always move upward from here. When people become uninterested with yet another sparkly Compiz plugin, then perhaps the mob will push the project back towards stability and reliability.
It’s not an impossibility. Personally I would prefer that: I think you establish a reputation by being stable and predictable, and you can build onto that with flash and glitz … available on demand.
Because from that plateau there is also a chance to slip back down again, to lose ground with a reputation for being superficial, or useful only on some machines with certain hardware. That too is not an impossibility.