Why Xubuntu – Another Reason That Might Surprise You

I have written about a lot of Linux distros, and they’re all great in their own way and for a whole bunch of varied reasons. Sometimes I would try one out just to try something new. More often I would “distro hop” (change my Linux operating system from one distribution to a different one) because of other Linux users (hereafter “‘Nixers”) reviews and opinions. Sometimes I hopped to get away from systemd, which other ‘Nixers have written horrible stuff about, like “they’re watching, they’re spying, they’re gathering info, and systemd will eventually become Skynet and wipe out humanity!” I’m already scared of technology by nature, but all the fuss over systemd (used in most Linux distros now by people a lot smarter than I kinda freaked me out and I binged on distros that aligned against the coming takeover of human society by the Robotic Overlords.

I have already described why I love this distro, Xubuntu. But in this post I want to go beyond the user experience, and explore another compelling reason that I have settled on Xubuntu and expect to stick with it.

Sometimes I read blogs from other ‘Nixers who railed against Linux distributions made by corporations hoping to profit from free and open-source software (FOSS). How dare they! Profit is evil! The pursuit of money leads to all kinds of evil, exploitation, and ecological disaster! Red Hat, IBM, Oracle, and Canonical among others, all create and give away great Linux operating systems for desktops and servers. There’s nothing in the GNU license, under which Linux is offered, that forbids anyone from copying, modifying, selling, and mixing up Linux any way they please. Yet many ‘Nixers seem to be awash in anti-corporate and anti-capitalist sentiment. They insist that any decent Linux OS must be created and maintained by volunteers supported by donations from users, period. Yet look at what many of these volunteers supported by donations are building on: Corporate Linux! How many Ubuntu-based spinoffs are there, all asking for donations to “improve” Ubuntu with some unique software and shiny wallpaper? How many from Fedora, same thing? It seems so hypocritical. Using Ubuntu as a base and relying on Ubuntu’s software repositories, these spin-offs claim some higher morality? Pfffft. Use Debian as a base, then. Use Arch as a base, or Slackware or any other “non-corporate” distro to improve upon and release as a “new” distro (or “distrolet,” as I call many of them).

Now consider why Ubuntu is far and away the most popular “base to build a new distro on.” There’s always Debian, from which Ubuntu is based, and it’s not an evil profit-seeking corporation. But noooooo, they build their distro on Ubuntu. Why? Because Ubuntu has vastly improved upon Debian, from the easiest installation software ever devised to whatever “non-free blobs” they have added to make Ubuntu “just work” on a huge variety of hardware. The “evil profit-seeking corporation” that developed and maintains Ubuntu has done a heckuvalot to improve on Debian, and it’s so very much easier to build a new distro on than Debian is.

So: Why Xubuntu instead of Debian, Slackware, Arch, or Mandriva? Because of the amazing work and innovations of the corporation behind it, for one thing. Also because it is officially supported by that corporation, yet community-developed at the same time. It’s not going to disappear when it’s “lead developer” gets sick, dies in a car crash, or has a stroke and can’t work anymore (like almost every other non-corporate Linux distro). And because it is built from Debian, great grand daddy of distros, which is also backed by a large community and not just one guy or one small group.

The Lead developer of Xubuntu at present is also a developer of the wonderful Xfce desktop! Both projects benefit from sharing developers. Under the hood (or bonnet, for you chaps on the other side of the pond), it’s Ubuntu. But only minimally so. Updates are far less frequent on Xubu than on it’s flagship Gnome-desktop counterpart, and updates don’t seem to break things on Xubu. I’m using a well-broken in Long Term Support release of Xubu, so it’s far less prone to having an update break anything.

So if you’re a ‘Nixer because you’re an anti-capitalist left-leaning FOSS zealot, you’ll hate this post, and you might hate me for writing it. But if you’re a ‘Nixer because the locked single-vendor system of Microsoft or Apple has let you down, try Xubuntu.

Are Linux Users Anti-Capitalist?

I’ve seen a lot of stuff in Linux forums and blogs to make me think so, in spite of the existence of for-profit Linux companies like Red Hat, Novell, and Canonical. During my very brief membership in Diaspora, the free and open-source social network that bills itself as an alternative to Facebook, I found no other members there who believe in good old fashioned free market capitalism. Diaspora attracts many Linux/FOSS users. There were hundreds of posts from Diaspora community members equating profit with greed, as though it is somehow unethical to reap the rewards of one’s own hard work. For all I could tell, I may have been the only one in the whole network with an opposing point of view.

Now comes another rant from Richard Stallman, the rabid FOSS advocate who sees all other software as inherently evil because it may have a profit motive. In his most recent anti-capitalist rant, the Bearded One rails against Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Linux, the most popular and most widely used desktop Linux distribution in history. He urges Linux users to abandon Ubuntu because of an advertized feature of it’s innovative Unity desktop interface (here). He claims that the “shopping lens” in the desktop “dash” (think of “dashboard” – that Unity desktop is pretty cool, and is designed with a view towards touch screens and such – the future!) is a “sneaky” invasion of the user’s privacy with an eeeeevil profit motive.

First of all, the shopping lens is an advertized feature of Ubuntu, so there’s nothing “sneaky” about it. And users can easily opt out if they don’t want to use it. Secondly, it takes money to fund development of Ubuntu’s innovations, which they then provide for free to their users. Canonical’s deal with Amazon helps provide some of that funding while preserving the user’s privacy by not collecting any “user-identifiable” information. What expectation of privacy does any online shopper have anyway? Gimme a break! If Canonical can get enough profit from deals with companies like Dell, Amazon, and Google to continue funding their awesome and innovative operating system and then give that operating system away for free, how can that be considered greedy and selfish?

It’s only considered “greedy” by anarchists, communists, and others who believe that the rewards of one’s own hard work should not be retained by those who earn those rewards. “Share the wealth,” we are told by those who would remove any incentive to work at all, much less invest in the work of others. The Linux and Free and Open Source Software communities have more than their fair share of such rabid anti-capitalists who think they are entitled to all the benefits of other people’s work. What about their own volunteer contributions to the Free Software Foundation? How is that different from any Ubuntu user who wants to use Ubuntu’s cool search feature or shopping feature to support their favorite Linux/FOSS project? Answer: It’s no different at all. It’s just easier than writing a check to support the Bearded One’s favorite Linux/FOSS projects – or more accurately, to support the Bearded One himself.

Shut up, Stallman. Quit begging and bitching and get a real job. I bet if you did, you would come to resent the efforts of other socialists and anarchists to confiscate your wages in order to “share the wealth” with other bums like you.