A week ago, on April 29, Linux distro Canonical released Ubuntu 10.04 LTS (Lucid Lynx) in Desktop, Server and Netbook editions. It featured a new look that some rate more attractive and up-to-date than Snow Leopard’s. “Lucid Lynx’s” new graphics card drivers and other consumer-oriented innovations front a Linux-based operating system package containing all the essential productivity applications you need, all for free: a web browser, office suite, media apps, instant messaging and much more, and is being pitched as an open-source alternative to Windows and Office or Mac OS X and the iApps. Ubuntu’s core applications are all free and open source.
The Register’s Gavin Clarke reported last week that with Lucid Lynx, Canonical is hoping to entice Mac and Windows users to switch, quoting the company’s COO and blogger Matt Asay asserting that changes in the consumer-oriented Ubuntu 10.04 LTS edition will cause “Apple fanbois” to reconsider their love for Steve Jobs, while “milk-fed Windows users” will be less inclined to run screaming to their retailer to return their Ubuntu PCs.
Given Apple’s increasingly evident distractedness from Mac OS development as it concentrates more and more on the mobile space with the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch, some are also suggesting that Ubuntu captures the traditional “Mac” spirit and vision better than the actual Mac OS does these days.
In an April 28 essay anticipating the imminent Ubuntu 10.04 release, ServerWatch’s Paul Rubens said that Apple is fading from relevance in the computing space as it focuses more and more on phones, web tablets and other consumer gadgets, and that if you’re an old-style Apple fan (by which he means a fan of real Apple Mac computers, not so much the new Apples-R-Us toys and games company), there’s no need to fret because while Apple may not “get” it anymore, it seems Canonical does. He asserts that during the past 12 months Ubuntu has evolved into something that’s powerful, easy to use, and far more stylish than Snow Leopard, which he thinks is not really that surprising when you consider that Apple is far too busy with its iPhone OS to bother much with updating OS X. Rubens says that Ubuntu is innovative, forward-looking, stylish and fun, and rapidly becoming everything that OS X might’ve been had Apple not decided to turn its back on it and become fixated with iPhone OS — “except for being overpriced and closed.”
The concept of desktop Linux possibly better capturing the early-days essence of Mac culture isn’t entirely new. A decade ago I reported on another user-friendly Linux GUI project by a startup called Eazel. The Eazel team was spearheaded by a who’s who of Macintosh alumni. Staffers included Mike Boich — former head of Macintosh evangelism for Apple Computer; Andy Hertzfeld — lead programmer for original Mac OS development in the early ’80s who wrote much of the code that became the iconic Macintosh GUI; Susan Kare who did the graphic design for the original Mac OS Finder icons; Darin Adler who had been technical lead for System 7 development at Apple; and Bud Tribble — first software architect on the Macintosh project and manager of the original Macintosh software team. Mac people all from way back. Arguably, that bunch had a more purebred Macintosh “pedigree” than the folks who were developing OS X at the time.
I suggested back in 2000 that there was a case to be made that the thinking behind Eazel may well be truer to the original Mac essence than OS X itself. I wondered whether OS X would retain enough distinct classic Mac-ness, that je ne sais quois that made the Mac a Mac for many of us veteran users, to sustain the dogged loyalty that had characterized the Mac community through thick and thin for 16 years up to that point? Or would it be so NeXT like, or much, much worse, Windows-like, that hitherto Mac loyalists might be tempted to stray into other pastures? As it turned out, the Eazel project eventually withered on the vine, as it were, and we Mac OS fans adapted to OS X, which turned out to be a very decent computing environment, but lately there are rumblings that Apple is losing interest in the Mac OS with its focus shifting primarily to the mobile space.
Indeed, in his April 29 philippic against Adobe Flash, Steve Jobs appeared to refer to “the PC era” in the past tense, “implying that the computer and mouse paradigm is passé, with the mobile era being about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards (notwithstanding that ironically the iPhone OS environment is anything but ‘open’).”
Not so with Ubuntu, which is committed to traditional desktop and laptop computing, and where the ‘free’ in ‘free software’ is used primarily in reference to freedom, and not to price — although the company says it’s committed to not charging for Ubuntu, and that the most important thing about Ubuntu is that it confers rights of software freedom on the people who install and use it, freedoms that will enable the Ubuntu community to grow, continue to share its collective experience and expertise to improve Ubuntu and make it suitable for use in new countries and new industries.
What do you think? Does Canonical with Ubuntu have a realistic shot at convincing significant numbers of Mac OS and Windows users to switch?