The problem is not that Ubuntu or Unity aren’t good enough. The real issue here is that Canonical is moving a little further from the open-source community values with every update. Instead of taking advantage of the community to work together for the greater good (better standard software for everyone) they are working on their own. They are still developing great software, but missing the point that makes Linux such a powerful concept and losing the input of hundreds of developers who would help them for free to make their OS better. It doesn’t make sense to close that door, and I understand how that might feel when you are a respected developer in the open-source community. Just look at Linux Mint, which is basically what the larger community came up starting at Ubuntu and working all together to make it better.
Although I think Canonical’s strength and Ubuntu’s popularity are still a great push for Linux and open-source systems, I believe they are drawing an important line between the community and their own company. And that line will hurt Canonical more than it may hurt the open-source community, which as always will find its own ways to create great things… because it’s just easier when you have thousands of people working together.
I’m pretty excited about Firefox OS. I believe in open-source projects, plus Mozilla has a good record on creating awesome software and keep it open and free. And I think they are an example on following those standards that make life easier for developers and designers. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m really happy with Android (specially since I moved away from manufacturer’s versions of Android and started using custom ROMs), but Google’s shadow is quite big and still growing… and I really hate their contacts management system!
I’m also looking forward to play with Ubuntu for Android, but I have the feeling Firefox OS is a very different concept: while Canonical is trying to give a big and interesting step on personal computing with a phone able to run a whole PC at the same time, it seems that Mozilla is putting its money on simplicity. Which sounds much better when they tell you that the smartphones running Firefox OS will cost around $100. That means you can get up to six fully functional phones at the price of an iPhone or a high-end Android device.
But even though I love the concept (open-source, free, simple, based on standards… how not to?) I think there are a few challenges they have to overcome if they want to get a piece of the cake in the big markets other than the obvious (being user-friendly, having a long battery life and a good touch screen response, or simply being fast):
Migration. High in the “to-do” lists they should have the creation of apps to migrate your contacts and text messages from Android and iOS (although I don’t really see many fanboys changing to FirefoxOS in the short-term…). The easier it is to move to the new phone the more attractive it becomes.
Top apps. Who is going to get a smart phone that doesn’t have Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, and AngryBirds? They just have to integrate those popular apps that we just can’t live without anymore, or rather get those companies to develop those apps (which shouldn’t be that hard, being the whole system standard HTML5).
Maps/Navigation. By definition they should go with open-source projects, even if that means putting some work to develop their own apps or help the existing projects. That doesn’t mean they have to block a possible GoogleMaps app, just make sure they have fully working open alternatives.
Security. Mozilla has announced that Firefox OS’ app store will be open for anybody who wants to share/sell an app. Although I think that’s way to go (I don’t like anyone telling me what can I install or not on my computer) I see the risks of it. So the same way they have to make sure Firefox doesn’t have any security breaks that allow hackers to break into your computer and potentially access your private stuff or steal your money, Firefox OS should be a bunker unless you open the door on your own.
Devices. The main reason of Android’s popularity is that it works in many different devices, while iOS is meant to be used only in iPhone. Firefox OS should be easy to install in any device (in a similar way you can install a custom Android ROM from the recovery mode), and able to run smoothly in even the lower-end smart phones.
I hate manufacturers versions of operative systems. I hated it back when I had Windows, and any new computer would come with a lot of pre-installed crappy and useless software instead of coming with a brand new and clean install. But it’s even worse when it comes to smartphones running Android, or at least that is my personal experience with Samsung and Motorola.
My first Android phone was a Motorola Milestone (the European version of Motorola Droid). It was a high-end device and came with Android 2.1, which was pretty cool at the moment. But a few months later Android Froyo was out there and I was stuck with the older version. I waited for a good year until Motorola finally released the official Froyo update for my phone, and it was just horrible: the whole phone was terrible slow, the interface design was already out of date and it didn’t seem to bring any improvement, so I searched the Internet for alternatives and found CyanogenMod. A few days later, and after a long time of being a good boy, I rooted the Milestone and installed CyanogenMod 7.1.
It was a pain to get it working. At some point I thought I had no phone anymore, and when I finally found my way (three days later) through it I had lost all my SMS and contacts. Thankfully I still had my old SIM card and most of my contacts where there safe and sound. But it was so worthy: CM7 was already based on Android 2.3 (one version ahead of what Mororola was offering me), but everything worked smoothly and fast, so the phone should have been able to run even faster with Froyo, so shame on Motorola’s developers. Plus I now had total control over my phone instead of the limitations of the manufacturer, which is something I really enjoy.
When I moved to Canada a few months ago I had to change my phone, since the Milestone wouldn’t work with my network of choice (or so I was told, and I wasn’t able to make it work). So I bought a new phone taking advantage of the offers from the company, ending up with a Samsung Galaxy Ace running Android 2.3. Except for the weight of the device, I missed my old Milestone. At first I thought it was mainly because of the physical keyboard, but then I realized there was other thing: I really didn’t like the operative system. It wasn’t slow or anything, but it had some really annoying features like the worst messaging app ever or a very limited desktop. Plus since it wasn’t rooted I couldn’t install some apps and change things to make it better, or just delete useless crappy apps like the “Samsung Market”. So I looked again for my beloved CyanogenMod.
This time I found that I could install CyanogenMod 9 (based on Android4 already!!) thanks to the Galaxy ICS Project. I went again through a painful process during which my phone was literally done for a few hours, until I managed to get the Recovery System updated and then I was able to install the ROM. It was cool (Android4 is by itself really cool), but this was a beta version and many things didn’t work well, plus it seemed to me that Ice Cream Sandwich was too much for this not-so-amazing phone, so I changed it for CM7.2. And I’m delighted: the whole phone is superfast, the interface is cool and full of customizable options, I have total control over everything on my device and I would say the battery lasts longer. I have even noticed that it was Samsung’s on-screen poorly designed keyboard what made me misspell so many words, not that my thumbs where fatter or I was stupider.
I think this gaves a really bad image to the manufacturers. In Motorola’s case, they weren’t able to keep their OS up to date, and after a year working on it their release wasn’t even decent. In Samsung’s case, and considering that CyanogenMod 7 is based on Android 2.3 (same version the phone had when I first got it), it shows that the open community is able to develop a much better OS than one of the biggest companies in the market, making it faster, cleaner and in terms of privacy and control much better for the final user.
So if you have an Android phone and really want to enjoy the experience of it, get rid of your manufacturers ROM and its limitations and look for something open and better. CyanogenMod works for me and the devices I have had, but you might find some other interesting ROMs out there that can rock your phone.
Going through Linux forums and talking to the hardcore Linux supporters in there I always get the same impression: they hate Ubuntu. Is not that they never liked it, since according to DistroWatch this was the most popular Linux distribution for a couple of years (now Mint is topping the charts, after a really fast growth); it’s more like every step Canonical takes brings Ubuntu farther from Linux fans.
Let’s look at Unity, for example: it’s just a dock that gives you quick access to your favorite applications. Actually it’s quite similar to MacOS’ Dock. But while everybody admires Apple’s design, most Linux users have acidly criticized Unity. Even though it works fine (I haven’t had problems with it) and the interface is great looking, they dislike it and leave Ubuntu because they say Canonical is “focussing in just adding fireworks to the system instead of making it faster and better”.
I understand that, for someone used to control everything from the Terminal, developing or even using Unity is a waste of time and computer resources. And they might be right: if we could all learn to do everything through plain text and command lines the world would be a much better place. But let’s be realistic here: if we want Linux to get bigger, we need it to be somehow accessible for most users. My parents are not going to learn the sudo line to run an specific program, they need colorful icons and organized folders. If they want to play music, they want to browse to My Music folder and double click on the song’s file, not open the terminal and type some understandable line that they have to look up at Google every time because it’s hard to remember and writing the wrong thing might break the whole system. I like Linux, but I still want things to be easy and look nice.
I think that’s what Linux users can’t get over about Ubuntu. Not that long ago using Linux would proof that you were good with computers, that you were a real geek. But now these Linux lovers can’t stand that when someone looks over their shoulder and sees their desktop they say something like “oh!, Is that your Linux thing? It doesn’t look that different from Windows or Apple!”. The fact that everyone, even their parents, can just install Linux from a CD and use it for everything they need, makes Ubuntu not cool anymore.
And they have their good reasons: in order to become a real alternative to Windows and MacOS, Ubuntu is getting similar to them in terms of interface and design. Is that a bad thing? In terms of efficiency, yes. But in general terms, I think is good: it makes it easier for everybody to star playing around with Linux, and it helps to spread the word of open-software. There are a lot of Linux distributions out there, but right now Ubuntu is probably the best one to start with for the average users. I believe Ubuntu is making Linux accessible to the masses, and I can only thank Canonical (and the huge Ubuntu community, of course) for it.