I love Ubuntu as much as the next person, and I won’t ever say a bad thing about it. (Okay, well, not too many bad things about it.) I cut my teeth on Linux with Ubuntu, and provided it never reneges on its core promises, I doubt I’ll ever be anything other than pretty-pleased with it.
But occasionally I see one unusual side effect of the Ubuntu phenomenon — the sudden press to make everything “newbie-friendly.”
Now before you start to bristle, I was a newbie once and I’m more than willing to admit it. I made any number of exceedingly dumb mistakes two-and-a-half years ago — and I still do. Some of them were classic newbie blunders. Overall I got lucky and had friendly hardware at the start, but if it hadn’t been for that, I’d probably have written off Ubuntu outright.
And to be honest, I was a newbie twice — and my earliest reaction was exactly that: I wrote it off as stupid. As far as I was concerned, Linux was a joke. That was almost eight years ago, so really, I’ve been on the high and the low ends of the Linux newcomer experience.
But pushing every distro to be newbie-friendly and out-of-the-box cookie-cutter-perfect strikes me as a bad idea. There are some very newbie-friendly distros out there, and I think every darn one of them is manna straight from heaven. But in my opinion there’s no need to start warping the intermediate-level distros and the advanced Linux systems to allow ground-level users to start with them.
Everyone finds their own level with Linux. You get essentially the same stuff with each version, and it’s mostly just core tools and packaging utilities that separate one version from another. You can make anything as complicated as you like — you can rewire and recompile your entire Ubuntu installation a la Gentoo and obfuscate things as much as you want. You have that freedom.
On the other hand, there are some distros that are intended for “mature” audiences, and by that I mean more experienced, more advanced users. Pushing Arch or Crux or Gentoo or (god forbid) Exherbo to be “newbie-friendly” sounds counterintuitive — and furthermore a huge waste of time.
Why recast Linux From Scratch to attract Windows emigrants when OpenSuse and PCLinuxOS do such a good job? Why try to prepackage Arch as a newcomer distro when Debian and Fedora already have that cornered?
Like I said, everyone finds their own level with Linux. People asking for a newbie-friendly version of a distro are asking a foreign community to adopt a new culture — one that is more convenient to them. To me, that sounds out of place, and possibly out of line.
If you’re not ready for Arch as it is, then you should stick with what you know. One day your desire will outstrip your ability and you’ll learn a lot of new things. But until gumption exceeds know-how, it’s best to leave other people’s distros the way they are, and learn their customs when you’re ready.