Well, it's time to stick my head up from the clouds of my new job, learning my current new working environment, and the accompanying new systems funk, and take a look at the latest trends. Because of my tunnel vision during this period, I admit to having missed the recent release of Ubuntu on the 13th of this month, Ubuntu 11.10. Having recovered and checked it today, I guess two weeks is not that far off, but I'm usually on top of the latest release, and this time, I got my butt handed to me. Talk about getting scooped.
As my long time readers know, I moved over to the Linux Mint distro, because Mint runs the Gnome 2 interface that I have used for awhile. I wanted to escape the buggy Unity desktop of Ubuntu. Mint is due out for a new release in a couple of weeks, however, after reading the much better reviews of the Unity desktop this time around, I am tempted to cut a DVD, and check it out for myself. It seems like Ubuntu has tweaked the Unity desktop enough on this release to get rid of a lot of the previous bugs, and make it a much more pleasant experience.
What this means, though, is that Linux users are facing an array of desktop choices for their desktop experience. Three of these desktops are relatively new, bringing in snazzy 3d effects and improved interfaces, the new KDE 4.7 is out, Gnome3 has a new interface with improved graphics and 3d effects, from its original Gnome 2's 2d interface, and then there's Canonical's 3d Unity.
The difference between 2d and 3d is basically better graphics, and three dimensional effects, at the cost of performance, and perhaps needing a better video card. 3d makes it look more like the latest Windows desktop with transparency and widgets.
I wonder why more users don't start using Linux, instead of putting up with Microsoft's increasingly domineering approach in their Windows environment; see my recent articles on Microsoft annoyances. The problem that I believe has kept mass defections from Windows to Linux, is the problem it has always had, too many cooks in the kitchen, too many choices. What Microsoft and Apple are smart about, and who knows, they may have gained this knowledge by watching Linux's struggles for acceptance, is that they stick to one interface, and you don't get any other choices. As a new user, how would I know which Linux desktop to use?
Canonical is betting that newbie's to Linux will love Unity, so much so, that they don't give you the easy choice to go back to Gnome in this release. You can still use Gnome, but you have to load it yourself. At the risk of gross generalization, you're asking a relatively unsophisticated Window's user to know what desktop they want to use, and which Linux distro to pick from a list of 80 or so. A tall order for a newbie. The choices are overwhelming, just go to distrowatch.com to see what I mean. As a new user, I would not want to go through loading and playing with each desktop on a different distro to make up my mind.
If you step back, what this effectively does is make for a much clearer separation of Linux distros. If you load Ubuntu, you get Unity. If you load Linux Mint, you get Gnome 2. If you load Fedora, you get Gnome 3. KDE is available from all three providers as a different distro. So maybe this is a good thing.
In this environment, for a new user, the most popular wins. If a lot of people are using a distro, a new user feels safer going with the popular distro. At the moment, we're in a horse race between Ubuntu, Mint and Fedora in that order.
Just to make myself clear, and I'm tempted to say crystal, in thinking of Jack Nicholson in the 1992 movie, "A Few Good Men." I believe you get better performance, faster boot up, just as many polished applications, more security, less malware, less viruses, more stability, and far less annoyances, with Linux, regardless of which distro or desktop you use. Linux, at this point in time, hands down, is a much better operating system with sophisticated, free applications. Are you listening, Window's readers?
If you want to try Linux, I would have Ubuntu or Mint send you a cd, or cut your own, see my article on doing this. Put the DVD in your DVD drive, and reboot your computer. You don't have to install Linux to try it out, and if you don't install it, it won't interfere with your Window's installation. Poke around the desktop, and you'll see you have everything you have in Windows, granted you may have to learn a slightly different interface, but you'd have to do that with Apple also. If you don 't like it, keep the DVD, and use it to restore corrupted Windows files sometime in the future. The Linux file system reads all your Windows files, that you may not be granted access to if your Windows system becomes corrupted, see me article on "Saving Your Windows Data with a Linux CD."
In the end, it doesn't really matter which distro or desktop you use, they all have the same functionality and the same operating system under the hood. All that changes is the interface on top. At least give it a look see, it may save you some money, and who knows, you may get to like it.