Ubuntu, you blew your chance to go mainstream

Mayank Sharma asks why Ubuntu can't market itself properly

Mayank Sharma

Obviously, I've spent a good amount of time trying to think of a suitable intro to this column. But I couldn't find anything appropriate to express my disgust and disappointment at Ubuntu's missed opportunity. So I'll state it plainly – Ubuntu, you got us this far and then, just when it mattered, you blew it for all of us.

Unlike many, I'm not ranting about Karmic Koala's technical glitches. In fact, it's still one of the best options for the desktop, and it's technically superior to the new Windows OS that its release coincided with.

But this is where it hurts. For the first time ever, the mainstream tech press mentioned an upcoming Linux release in a Windows preview article. And what did Ubuntu do to capitalise on this new-found exposure? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Fiesty Fawn, which was released four months after Vista's launch, was a missed opportunity. Despite being technically superior to the new OS with features such as a 3D desktop and a restricted drivers manager, it came too late to create inroads into the desktop market.

But Karmic Koala was different. Coming on the heels of Windows 7's release, it was built up as something to look at before making your desktop OS choice, along with Apple's minor update to OS X, Snow Leopard.

Moans and groans

Yet on release day, all we heard from the community were moans and groans. It's not that Windows 7 users are entirely happy or that Snow Leopard is being overwhelmingly positively received. No. But their users' disappointment is cleverly camouflaged by positive campaigns from the marketing departments of the two companies. Where's Ubuntu's?

Were it Slackware or Debian, I wouldn't complain about the lack of promotion. But Ubuntu is different. Mark Shuttleworth has stated many times that he wants Ubuntu to take on Windows and OS X. But if you want to take on the world's two most recognisable computing brands in a fight, you need mainstream visibility. And Karmic Koala is a flop in this regard.

If technical superiority could make you numero uno, Karmic Koala would be right up there. Windows 7 is no more secure than Windows has ever been. You could try upgrading Vista to Windows 7 but – as usual with Microsoft – the process can take up to 20 hours.

And although it doesn't force hardware upgrades, Windows 7 wouldn't run on my Celeron laptop – which happily runs Koala after I upgraded from Jaunty Jackalope.

While we're comparing the competition technically, let me do my bit to dispel the delusion that Linux only supports a limited set of peripherals. Windows refuses to see my Linksys USB adaptor or my Nvidia card without a driver, while Koala puts them to work straight out of the box.

Lack of marketing

So where's the marketing that's screaming this fact to potential users? Why does the Ubuntu 9.10 feature tour page only talk about the software? Where's the video showing Ubuntu making full use of the MacBook's multitouch screen?

Forget Windows-style 'hosting your party' adverts; all I want is a proper guided tour. Ubuntu has excellent video production skills, as proven when the company produced a 13-episode TV series called Go Open back in 2004.

Now, while I'm sure airtime in the UK is far more expensive than prime time on South African TV, a little online show with the Ubuntu crew talking about their favourite features would be well worth watching. Also consider that some of Ubuntu's employees have a celebrity-like appeal.

Besides Shuttleworth himself, there's Jono Bacon, Matt Zimmerman, Lars Wirzenius and others. The company is based in London, with offices in a popular skyscraper that hosts high-profile events and has even starred in a Doctor Who episode. So what's stopping them from organising a media day and giving some journalists from the top brass an insight into why Ubuntu can honestly compete with the big guns?

And how about some press-friendly shenanigans – if the Internet Explorer team can send Mozilla a cake on Firefox 3 launch day, why can't Ubuntu send one to Microsoft?

One thing I'd really like to see is people queuing outside Best Buy to grab their boxed edition of Ubuntu. On release day you'll find scores of people on the forums cursing Ubuntu for making them miss school or work because they want to grab the distro as soon as it's released. Tell them they can acquire a boxed set from their local Best Buy, and I'm sure you'll see a queue.

It won't be as long as the queues we saw outside Apple stores on the iPhone's release day, but it'll be long enough for a photo-op in a local daily.

Why Ubuntu continues to ignore the benefits of marketing their ware to non-Linux users really baffles me. But if they continue to do so, they'll soon lose the momentum that has brought us all this far.


First published in PC Plus Issue 290

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