About 10 years ago I was talking to a friend of mine who used Windows, and were discussing Linux.
Back then the Linux desktop was for hobbyists or geeks who didn’t have anything better to do with their weekend other than hacking their system.

I didn’t use Windows at all then, not even as dual boot. I was straight up hardcore.
But my friend made a funny statement which I rub in his face whenever I get the chance.
He asked me why I was concentrating on Linux when it isn’t going anywhere.
Now I must be honest here and tell you that eventhough I felt Linux would grow, I did not expect it to become a part of the general public’s consciousness.

Now we are 10 years further and a lot has changed since then, so I decided it would be fun to have a look at what has changed since then and how the community has changed, and where I personally see it going.

Let us begin by looking at what Linux itself was like exactly 10 years ago.

The top 3 Linux distrobutions at that time were Mandrake (which later became Mandriva), RedHat and Gentoo.
RedHat was at that time a free OS (as in beer) and in my opinion the best of the lot.
Whilst Gentoo was not for the faint hearted.
Gentoo worked by building packages specific to your system.
Whilst this was fantastic in the way of getting the most optimal system ever possible, it could take a very long time to compile everything. And I am not talking about a few hours either.
And Mandrake was a fairly easy distribution based on RedHat without being too professional.

In those 10 years you might be mistaken in thinking they have all gone away or become very unpopular.
RedHat decided a few years ago to go the commercial direction, aiming their distribution at businesses.
But they didn’t leave their fans in the dark and created a community edition which was also made by the community which they initially called the Fedora Core Project, and later dropped the ‘Core’ part of the name. A distribution which is still with us to this day and has a very loyal following.
Gentoo is still there much the same as it always has been, but their followers are much like Arch users, they are hackers, rather than users.
Unfortunately though, Mandrake was not so fortunate.
After Ubuntu came into the equation and the landscape following radically changed, Mandrake struggled to move forward.
Their quality was rather lacking, and their fans started to dwindle, although much like any distribution, there was also a number of fans who would never leave.
After a long struggle, they made some changes and continued under their new name ‘Mandriva’.
A french distribution who also attempted to sell their OS (I bought a copy of Mandriva 2010).
I must say, I quite liked Mandriva, but it didn’t stand out for me.
Eventually the black hole of Linux distribution death sucked them into the abyss.
But wait, remember what I said about a cult following?
Mandriva had just that, when in 2010 a community edition appeared under the name Mageia.
A distribution which is highly rated today.

Now it would be extremely bold to suggest that Ubuntu changed the landscape of Linux because they were there at the right time, in the right place, with the right product. Nothing more, nothing less.
What you have to realise is that Linux pre-2003 was very much a hackers OS (don’t get hacker confused with cracker by the way).
I’ll spare you the history of Linux but needless to say, it was created by hackers for hackers.
It’s quite obvious if you look very carefully.
Take RedHat, one of the daddy’s of modern Linux.
Their name suggests exactly what I mentioned. The red hat suggests a type of hacker, just like a black hat is a person who hacks for the sake of destruction, and a white hat hacks to improve a system, and a gray hat hacks a system destructively to point out the problems to the system administrator.
And as a side-note, I hear a lot of people today who try and gain some reputation by using Arch, but may I remind you, Slackware was first.

What Ubuntu did bring to the table was a new concept and a very optimistic idea, one which was seemed almost impossible to all Linux users.
Ubuntu had a vision of one-day seeing ordinary people with no IT background using Linux. With their motto: ‘Linux for human beings’.

The way they aimed to achieve this, was by providing what ordinary people would need to use Linux, together with trying to make it just work without having to have a batchelor degree just to get to a Graphical interface.
Now they may have come up with the ambition, but they were far from the best at it.
In fact, just basing it on pure looks, an average user would have had trouble distinguishing the difference between early Ubuntu and RedHat at that time, except for backgrounds, icons and colours.
But the stage was set.
Linux was growing up, it shook off it’s rebel clothing and started wearing a suit.
The issue was that this caused a big rift, right through the middle.
Many big distributions went the same way and became ‘easy’ to use, whilst others refused to do that.
And we still see that to this day.

But how has this affected the community?

Well, when I first started using Linux, I never really encountered users much.
I found the articles online on how to install the kernel, compiling some packages and starting X.
Perhaps it was my fault for not looking for them, but one thing that was present in all articles was helpfulness.
A feeling of helping your fellow hacker.

You used to see a lot of ‘Microshaft/Micro$oft/MicroCrap/etc etc’ much like you do today.
However, people were enthousiastic about new software, and often complimented developers with their efforts even if they weren’t all that good.
But keeping in theme with open-source philosophy, when they weren’t too happy with it, they were given the source code and made it better.
Getting a straight answer out of the earlieish Linux users wasn’t always easy though, since human English was not a language they spoke.
You were more or less expected to understand about computers, but they would help if they could.
Now there were a few rotten apples in the community, but it was because they felt Linux was made for those who understood what it was all about.

Fast forward 10 years and what do we have now?

To be blunt with you, I am disgraced with a lot of the community, especially Ubuntu.
Mostly in the last couple of years it seems like it’s gone completely wrong.
As Linux has become mainstream or at least more acknowledged, it seems like it has attracted the wrong people.
The issue I feel is to do with ease of use and the reputation it has for a time that has gone.
Like I explained earlier, Linux never used to be as easy as it is today.
You used to have to watch the boot messages fly down the screen instead of a splash screen, only to be greeted by a black console to login.
Once that was done and you were logged in, providing you had a DE like Gnome or KDE, you typed ‘startx’ and then you were ready to go relatively easily.
That reputation should be long gone and buried, but no, people still hold this idea that Linux is a difficult OS.
But the reality is that Ubuntu is far from difficult, in fact it is rediculously easy to use.
So when some new users are able to use it with ease and think it should be difficult, they think they are Linux hardcore.

I have nothing against it, but it leads to an unhelpful community.
Where users used to improve software, they now just moan about it.
And where they used to happily help and welcome new users and those with a problem they didn’t understand, they now help them whilst making them feel dumb.

A perfect example of this is something I came across just today, when Ubuntu announced some new additions to Unity in Ubuntu 13.04.
Their idea is obviously to create somewhat of a Google inside your OS, and you may or may not agree with it. But I am impressed by the idea of it, after all, it has never been done before in Linux, Windows or Mac.
However, all I came across was negative opinions and the overused ‘I’m switching’.
Then there are those who had to throw in the comment ‘Arch doesn’t have this ;)’.

Whilst everyone was hoping for Linux to become mainstream years ago, I hoped it didn’t, because I felt this could happen.

So looking at the past, what will the future be like?

Because Linux is becoming more and more integrated into society, whether through smart-phones, computers, or car stereos, I feel like there will be more focus on it.
As we have seen with Valve, I believe that more and more software will be produced for Linux.
But the question is how big Linux distributions will respond.
If Canonical for instance continue the way they are, they will get more attention and more and more users.
But then again, it might be too late for the desktop.
Whilst I feel like the tablet will never replace the computer, I will be open for that chance and in that case, Ubuntu MUST create a distribution specifically for that and very soon as the market is getting full.
It will most likely be a few years before big named games and software could port to Linux though.
However, it could potentially mean the death of Linux as we know it.
Sounds strange?
Let me explain, Ubuntu is a Linux distribution, and Linux is a kernel but for the sake of argument we will call it to mean the general OS.
Right now we have 100s of distributions, but they are drifting apart.
Of the top of my head I can only think of about 5 distributions I would even look at, where it would have been 10s years ago.
If Ubuntu leads the way and developers target Ubuntu, it could decide the fate for the rest.
All other distributions will be left behind and all the general public know of Linux is…Ubuntu.

And the community, what will happen with that?

Well, I think it’s only going to get worse and worse.
Ubuntu is an OS for the new users, it’s simple and well supported.
Those who are going to use it are going to be people who don’t want to hack around.
This will lead to those who have no idea where Linux comes from.

 

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