The other day, I was trying to explain to my wife why I wanted to install Ubuntu on my Eee PC in place of Xandros. She is not tech-stupid. She’s quite tech-savvy actually. She just isn’t that Linux-savvy. I found myself spewing out a whole bunch of words I knew she wouldn’t understand. Why would any normal person know what a distro or a repository is? What’s a kernel? What’s sudo? Well, the sudo thing she got, because she’s a Mac user and has used OS X’s terminal before.
Explaining the switch to someone who isn’t Linux-savvy forced me to think about what’s important to me as a computer user and to realize that I’m a little geekier than I thought I was. Sure, I’m no programmer. I’m not a system administrator or even help desk (except as a volunteer on the Ubuntu Forums). But here I was with Xandros, a Linux version customized to work flawlessly with the Eee PC, and I was ditching it. The boot time on Xandros is about 24 seconds from the time I press the power button to having a usable desktop with a wirelessly-connected Firefox session.
That’s not enough for me. Apparently, I also want security. The fact that you cannot have sudo in Xandros prompt you for a password without rendering your system unbootable makes Xandros, as my wife puts it, “no better than Windows.” For almost all intents and purposes, you are running as root (the total administrative with all privileges). There are software packages you can’t remove without removing essential components, and you can’t even get Xandros to not have a “What do you want to do?” prompt every time you plug in a USB device.
Most importantly, though, Xandros’ software repositories are weak. There are workarounds, but they are all flawed – mixing and matching various repositories, keeping multiple versions of the same libraries, pinning sources. It’s too convoluted and risky. I had to explain to my wife the idea of a software repository as different from Windows and Mac. In Windows and Mac, if you want to install software, you launch your web browser and search for a program, download it, and install it. In Linux, there are software repositories that have collections of software and software package managers that take a look at what’s in the repositories and download and install whatever you want from what’s available. It’s a bit like online shopping… “like Amazon,” I said. The package manager checks what’s in stock, you put things in your shopping cart, and then you check out, and the package manager installs things for you. “Installing software in Ubuntu is like shopping on Amazon, where you can get just about anything, and installing software in Xandros is like….” I was trying to figure out how to bring Xandros into the picture here, when she stepped in, “shopping at 7-11?” Yes, that was it exactly.
In Ubuntu, you just need to click a few times to add several vast repositories of software with lots available and very few conflicting packages. In Xandros, you have to use limited user-maintained extra repositories or mix and match with Debian repositories (which are only partially compatible with Xandros), and then you sometimes have to force the package manager to install an older version of MPlayer to get certain functionality or manually “install” a newer GTK library to install the latest version of Firefox.
Don’t get me wrong, Asus has created a wonderful internet appliance with the Xandros Eee PC, but I think an internet appliance-like Linux operating system can also be created that allows people to easily tweak it without worrying about breaking things. Ubuntu gives me that freedom, and that’s why I’m using eeeXubuntu on my Eee PC… even if it does take me 56 seconds to boot.