Ubuntu Linux is the most well-known Linux OS, and it's presented as the user-friendly, free alternative to Windows that doesn't need a powerhouse machine. It's the Linux that, they say, is supposed to provide a nice transition away from Windows and into the peace, love, and understanding of the Free Software world. Well no, Ubuntu. I'm done with you.
The number of people who still regularly use netbooks is probably tiny. They were a trendy item among early adopters, and I suspect those are the same people who've moved on to tablets for their small-mostly-entertainment-but-really-mostly-sitting-in-a-drawer-machine needs. But I like desktop machines, and I don't want to buy any more little computers. So I keep my netbook (which was already a low-end netbook when I reviewed it two years ago) running and up to date for when I want something I can move around.
It shipped with some commercial Linux on it that I didn't care for. I tried a few different Linux distributions before settling on Ubuntu (specifically the "netbook remix") for a long time. I don't really follow Linux versions—the constant upgrades to eight million different components, not all of which are in every distribution, are just too much for me to care about. So when Ubuntu gave me popups about upgrades, I said sure, do whatever you want. That worked fine at first, but the netbook's tiny (4GB) SSD was awfully full with nothing but Ubuntu installed, so eventually I had to delete some things (like OpenOffice, included in Ubuntu) to make room to let the updates finish. Then a couple of major version updates weren't even close to fitting, and I just did full OS installs of the new versions rather than bother with updates.
These reinstalls didn't take too long and weren't too much of a hassle, because all of my documents are stored on an SD card instead of the netbook's SSD. I just had to add a few programs and remove a few others. When the netbook asked me to upgrade to Ubuntu 11.04 last week then said I was over a gigabyte short of space, I figured I do that same again. I dutifully download the 650MB or so ISO and prepared my installation media. A few minutes into the installation, however, I was told that I needed 4.4GB of hard drive space to have a good Ubuntu experience. That was it. There was no apparent way to proceed, or to not install unnecessary applications, or anything else. So I gave up on Ubuntu.
My best guess as to why 4GB isn't enough anymore is that it has something to do with discontinuing a separate netbook version of Ubuntu. When I was trying to install 11.04, it was the full, real Ubuntu. And guess what? The full, real Ubuntu won't run on a machine that easily meets the installation requirements for what is still the world's most popular version of Windows. From the Microsoft page "System requirements for Windows XP operating systems" I see these requirements:
· Pentium 233-megahertz (MHz) processor or faster (300 MHz is recommended)
· At least 64 megabytes (MB) of RAM (128 MB is recommended)
· At least 1.5 gigabytes (GB) of available space on the hard disk
And from the Ubuntu page "InstallationSystemRequirements":
· 1 GHz x86 processor
· 1 Gb of system memory (RAM)
· 8 Gb of hard-drive space
That latter page also says, "A good 'rule of thumb' is that machines that could run XP, Vista, Windows 7 or x86 OS X will almost always be a lot faster with Ubuntu even if they are lower-spec than described below." Good thing they say "almost always."
I think the clear lesson from my experience with Ubuntu is that someone who isn't interested in tinkering with a computer, who wants security updates, and who wants a simple, low-maintenance OS on a low-end machine should avoid Ubuntu, and probably Linux altogether—I'd have had a much more "it just works" experience over the years if I'd paid a few extra dollars for a Windows XP machine.
Luckily, I don't mind a little tinkering, and I grew up in the time when you had to know how to do some relatively complex stuff in DOS if you wanted to play computer games. So I can handle a command line, or command-line-like, experience. I've moved my netbook over to Crunchbang Linux. It's everything that I think Linux should be. It's small—I still have 1.5GB of free space on the netbook's SSD. It's lightweight—CPU usage by the OS is low and there's plenty of power left to do what little a netbook needs to do (web browsing and media playback mostly). I've had to dig into it a little bit—installing Java gave me a couple of weird problems—but I've finally got my netbook set up so that I have a regularly-updated OS that won't require regular reinstallations.
My point with this screed is that Ubuntu Linux doesn't seem to know what it is, and doesn't seem to fulfill a niche. It's not all that easy to use for those who aren't technically inclined—both Windows and Mac seem at least as intuitive to me. It's not especially technologically advanced—different Linux distributions provide much better bang for your hardware buck. Sure, it's free, but just try buying a new computer that doesn't come with a Windows license—you're paying for it anyway, might as well use it. So I guess the target audience for Ubuntu is people who have machines that are nearly, but not quite, powerful enough to run Windows 7, but who don't have a Windows license already, and who aren't comfortable enough tinkering with computers to use a different Linux OS. Seems like a tiny audience to me.
I'd love to be corrected—Canonical really does give the impression that it wants to give the world a beautiful computing experience and is trying its best. I just can't think of a situation where I'd recommend Ubuntu to anyone.