Linux Journal Readers' Choice Awards: Ubuntu Weak, Unity Shunned

The Linux Journal Readers' Choice Awards are out with the current issue. Let's talk about some of them.

The number one distribution was, as usual Ubuntu. But, Ubuntu only got 16 percent, with Debian coming in second at 14.1 percent. So, one could say that Debian is strong since Ubuntu is based on Debian. One could also say that Ubuntu is surprisingly weak. One would think it would be higher. One possibility is that Linux Journal readers are pretty hard core, and might often eschew Ubuntu for other distributions that cause more pain. Face it. Real Linux users like to wear hair shirts.

I myself voted for Ubuntu when the poll came around even though at the time I was following Shawn Powers dangerous advice and had installed one of the original Unix desktops on my laptop. I totally messed up the workings of my computer and managed to simulate a recurring hardware glitch that was really just a software conflict involving the power management system. I fixed that by putting Ubuntu with Unity on a fresh install and things have been working fine since then. It was a fun trip, though, totally worth it.

The point is, I don't like Unity, I'm unhappy with Ubuntu, but Ubuntu is the system that first got me to have a working Linux box (all prior efforts failed) and even if the Unity interface and Ubuntu's business model compete with each other for Most Annoying Thing in the Universe I still think Ubuntu is the distribution that keeps Linux afloat at the moment. Based on Debian.

The nature of the Linux Journal Reader is revealed by examining the next few distributions in line that have numbers nearly as strong as the first two: Arch Linux at 10.8%, Linux Mint at 10.5%, Fedora at 6.9% and openSuse at 5.2 %. Remembering that Debian is pretty pure geek (I'd love to know what percentage of users compiled their own kernel) this is a list that seems to demonstrate the duality of Linux at the cutting edge. Love-hate Ubuntu, favor and use other more geeked--out distributions but there are so many Ubuntu rises to the top by default. There are, by the way, 30 distributions on the list.

Linux Journal didn't used to give the full list of candidates and percentages, but we can look back at some old issues and see how things have changed.

During the late middle ages, in 2003, the top three distributions were, in order, something called "Debian GNU/Linux" (that's Debian spelled PC), Mandrakelinux (one word) and Gentoo. The first incarnation of Ubuntu was 2004, and the 2005 awards have it on top already, with CentOS and Fedora Core in second and third. By 2009 Ubuntu was number one with 45%, with Debian getting an honorable mention at 10%. So, in that year, Ubuntu was far ahead of the pack with all other distributions coming in at or below 10%. That's interesting

I don't have the percentages for 2010 (I think you can get them somewhere) but Ubuntu is selected as best distro, with honorable mention/runner up being PCLinuxOS, with third, fourth and fifth place going to Debian, Fedora and Pardus. The following year (2011) it was Ubuntu with Debian as the runner-up. In 2012 we have the first all-data listing and that year has Ubuntu at 30.1 percent, with Debian at 14.7 followed by Mint, Arc, Fedora and so on with only Debian and Mint getting above 10%.

That looks like a big change, from 2012 to 2013, but it is partly a matter of how the counting is done. The 2012 number for Ubuntu includes all flavors, but the 2013 numbers break them down. So, Ubuntu-presumably-with-Unity gets 16, Kubuntu 2.8, Xubunto 2, Server 1.6 adding up to 23.9%

So it has been a complex horse race among various distributions post-dating 2004, with Ubuntu always on top and generally with a strong lead and other distros moving around in the lower slots. However, despite methodological changes in the polling, it does seem that Ubuntu is weakening. A separate category for best distro for netbooks or other baby hardware put Ubuntu with Unity on top with Android second, but by a nose (10.6 vs 10.4%)

Now, skipping past all the categories that I am not interested in...

The best distribution for high performa computing award is an interesting category, especially because I was thinking about doing some of that. I'm not completely sure what it is but it sounds cool. The top distros with percentages are CentOS (11.4), Other (8.6), Gentoo (7.3), Mint (7.2) and so on. This sounds like a lot of people randomly guessing to me. In any event, I'm sure the best distribution for high performance computing is the one where you compile the kernel yourself. Right?

There is a category for best desktop (as opposed to overall) distro and it runs like this: Ubuntu (23.3), Mint (16), Fedora (8.6), Debian (8.1), and so on.

The next category of interest is important. This is the best desktop environment. In some ways it is hard to separate this category from best distro because some of the distros are distinct because of their desktop (i.e, Kubuntu vs. Ubuntu with Unity). But it is a distinct category, of course. To me the most important question is where is Unity on this list. Turns out KDE is first at 17.9% with Unity running close behind at 12.9%

But there's a catch. The third place desktop is KDE Plasma with 12.7 percent, and then, the next named desktops on the list are mostly variants of old fashioned Gnome, including Xfce, Gnome 3, Cinnamon and Gnome 2. In other words, even though Ubuntu's Unity (which is billed as though it only runs on Ubuntu, which is funny) is just a tiny bit behind KDE, combining the desktops realistically gives us this:

KDE: 30.6
Gnomish Not Unity or KDE: 25.2
Gnome 3 cuz it's not Unity even though it looks like Unity: 14.1
Unity: 12.9

(Other had 4.5 percent and I'll bet you dollars to donuts that "other" would fit into "Gnomish Not Unity" bringing it nearly tied with KDE.)

The Raspberry Pi was, naturally, the best gadget with nearly 70% and nobody cares about the other gadgets mainly because many of them, like the Amazon Kindle or the Roku, are not gadgets. System 76 came in as the best Linux Laptop Vender. I'd like one of those. Lenovo held second place by a tiny margin.

The best Linux Friendly hardware vendor is a strange category because what the heck is a hardware vendor? First place is Intel, second place Raspberry, third place System76 (which makes desktops and laptops), third place AMD, fourth place, Lenovo, etc. This category is a bit like the "Best Vehicle" category where number one is a Leer jet, number two is a Subaru, number three is a company that makes mountain bikes and number four is NASA's Space Shuttle division. This category may need some reworking.

For web browsers, Firefox came in first place at 52.8 while Chrome/Chromium took second with 35.4 percent and all other browsers maxed out below 5% each. So there are two Linux browsers. Firefox is the default browser on many desktop distros, so that probably helps keep it in the lead. I stopped using Firefox years ago and I've not checked it out. I wonder if it still sucks compared to Chrome?

This is one worth going into the past for. In 2004, the top browser was "Mozilla" which you can think of as Firefox if you want. Second and third were Konqueror and Opera. In 2005 one and two were Mozilla Firefox and Konqueror. So, the one that was default in Gnome was first and the one that was default with KDE was second, in the old days.

Firefox ("Mozilla" label dropped) had an amazing 87% of the vote in 2009, was number one with "Chrome" in second place in 2010. The editors note that

We suggested last year that by awards time in 2010, you should “look for an inevitable battle royale if Google can deliver a polished Chrome for Linux in time for you to give it a test-drive”. Well, folks, that battle has ensued, and the era of unchallenged Firefox supremacy is over. Chrome leaped from a barely perceptible 0.35% of the vote in 2009 to 24% this year.

By 2012 Firefox had 50.3% of the votes and Chromium had 40.8%. So we seem to have reached a two year long equilibrium. Or, maybe, Firefox has improved a little and I haven't noticed that but others have. I'll probably build a version from source for my High Performance Computing Machine and see how it flies.

It is interesting to see LibreOffice holding supreme in the Office Suit area at 71.8%. Google drive is 11.8 percent. That makes sense. What doesn't make sense is that Apache is only at 6.7%, even though I get the impression Apache has more current and quicker updates. LibreOffice surpassed OpenOffice in 2011, probably because of a perception that OpenOffice had gone evil. But I'm pretty sure the Evil Empire thing is over now and it is OK to use OpenOffice. If you can get LibreOffice uninstalled from your Ubuntu distribution, that is. Good luck with that... it is installed using unholy links so you may need a priest. Another one to build from scratch for my new supercomputer.

Interestingly Nvidia took a strong first place for best video chipset, despite this:

For the cloud, Dropbox came in with a strong first at 35.5% and Ubuntu One at a weak 7.1% Your doing it wrong, Ubuntu, though I'm not sure what it is your are doing wrong exactly. I do know that the one time I tried to install Ubuntu One it simply didn't work, and the first time I tried to install Dropbox it did.

The best package management tool was voted as apt-get with 38.5%, second best as Synaptic at 13.7. You know this is a lie, in a way. Synaptic is a graphical-ish front end for apt-get and probably gets more use. But, the truth is, you use apt-get when you want to do it quick and dirty, and either one of two things applies: You totally know exactly what you want or you totally have no clue what you want. You can use apt-get to specify the installation of a particular package you know about, or you can just guess that there might be a package out there that does a certain thing and has a certain name!

Git killed Subversion 78.3 to 11.8.

One of the most important of categories is, of course, best text editor. This is the number one thing I do on any computer. In some ways it is more important than the operating system. Here's how that one broke down. 90.4% of those polled are going to hell. 9.6% are true believers.

What I'm waiting for is a Linux Port of BBEdit. I'll pay for it.

File systems are important. Best Journaling Filesystem went to ext4, by a large margin. I would say don't bother with anything else. I will be using it with my new high-powered supercomputer.

Linux file managers reached a peak with an earlier version of Nautilus and have been ruined since then. I'm seriously thinking of giving up GUI file manager totally. Anyway, Dolphin won with Nautilus close behind. But check this out:bash had 10.4% (and took third place), the Command line got 10.34 percent, Midnight Commander got 7.9% and Emacs got 1.4 %. Clearly, the majority of Linux Journal readers are unhappy with GUI file management systems in Linux at this time. But is anyone listening? ARE THEY?

The best Linux Journal Column was Shaw Powers' "The Open-Source Classroom," and that's appropriate. The best Linux/OSS advocate was Linus Torvalds followed by a fair margin by a piece of software and with Richard Stallman in third place. For some reason I am not on that list.

The Worst Idea Ever award went to Gnome 3, naturally. Second, "Creating a new distro instead of a new application" and fourth Mir. Not the space station, but rather, the esoteric inner working of the computer system thingie. But since "Ubuntu going it alone" and "Ubuntu" (just by itself) adds up to a greater amount, Ubuntu is actually in third place in this important category . The LibreOffice fork is on the list, by the way. Just sayin'

Sadly, Raspberry Pi won the best new open source project for the year. Why is this sad? Because "Open Source Project" should be software and there should be a separate category for "Open Source Hardware Project." Also sad because there is hardly anything new going on in the software area. Firefox came in second and a bunch of other stuff I never heard of is on the list.

The "Product of the Year" went to Raspberry Pi, which is perfect, then a thing called Jolla/Sailfish which is a phone, then Firefox, then a bunch of other stuff. The Roku is on that list, which I think is legit.

Beyond that the only thing I'm really interested in is the graphics stuff, and I do think this category should be broken down more. Gimp came in first with Inkscape second and Blender third, but those three applications are entirely different and do entirely different, mostly unrelated things.

Go check it out. There are a gazillion other categories that I did not mention but that you will want to know about.


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I use both Firefox and Chrome and it the only difference for me are a few extensions on each that are't available for the other. But, yes, it is a very 'happening" browser for me. Automatic, regular updates are keeping it competitive with Chrome. One big advantage that Chrome has over Firefox is when I sign into Google on a new install all of my bookmarks and settings are retrieved. Firefox is not so very good about that.

By Michael R Haubrich (not verified) on 06 Dec 2013 #permalink

I'm still using Ubuntu 10.04 LTR. I switched to 12.04 but I hated it, so I switched back.

By Charles Sullivan (not verified) on 06 Dec 2013 #permalink

Love the 'hair shit'. Just squeezed past your spellchecker...!

By Tim Goodwin (not verified) on 07 Dec 2013 #permalink

My two Must Haves: Font rendering quality and the ability to move between windows on different workspaces with a single mouse click.

Currently running Fedora Gnome with the Infinality font patches. Also like the new Linux Mint 16 Mate.

I have little interest in the culture war surrounding Ubuntu. I ignore Unity's lenses, HUD, etc., so, for me, it's a dock-based system with an especially intractable dock.

Can't warm up to KDE. Works fine, but I disable so much it becomes just another panel-based interface. I'd rather use Mate for that.

I trick out Gnome Shell with the DashToDock extension and it works well for me.

Joncr, exactly how would switching to a alloworksoace window look? Images in a worksoace switcher?

Yeah, me tendency is ghost stare with KDE and disable lots of stuff, or start with Xfce or something and add stuff. My super computer will focus on crunching numbers so I'll just need several monitors and a graphical shell running screen.

Charles, it gets better with 13.

I also still run 10.04 LTS (even though they are killing off all the ppa's and stuff)
I have tried all the updates on Ubuntu and all are still getting worse teenie bopper phone garbage...
Mint is trying not to be, but, have not been happy with any.

I am looking for a way away from Google... harder every day.

By the old rang (not verified) on 07 Dec 2013 #permalink

Mint and/or Cinnamon's new version is supposed to be a step up according to one review I saw on a podcast. There may be hope along those lines.

Nice article, thank you. I ran to Arch with the advent of Unity and havn't looked back since, however I recently installed Saucy on my father's machine and I was floored by how slick and easy everything was. I was and remain very impressed. I now have it in a VM to play with. In a non-geek target market, I can see Ubuntu doing very well, actually. Or in other words, that "Linux for the masses" thing. My personal feeling is that is how it should be viewed. Given that my father and also my wife cannot tell the difference between Google, the desktop, the web browser and the Internet, I have to look at these things slightly more open mindedly.

Nemo blows Nautilus away but given (the presumed) Ubuntu target market, I don't think it's much of an issue. I now run Nemo in Arch, previously it was SpaceFM.

I moved back to Firefox a while ago having flirted with Chromium - FF was pushed to improve and responded well. It's worth taking another look.

Cinnamon is very nice I must say but I think it will never break out beyond us more contemporary Linux users. This, I believe, is what Canonical saw with *any* desktop from very early on and went down the technology convergence route and from where I stand, I think that they're going to actually pull it off.

Just a recurrent typo, it's LibreOffice not LibraOffice. And you should definitely give another try to Firefox

Not interested in giving Google (and NSA) any information at all by using Chrome. Besides Firefox is indeed getting better and better. It has always been better with multimedia websites.
Try to play Dropbox MOV-videos with Chromium. It's pure misery. Another good example why Firefox is still my default browser in Linux-platform.

I recommend all newbies to try first Linux Mint instead of Ubuntu or other Linux distributions. Mint: easy to install, easy to learn, easy to use. Nice OS.

hey, Greg! just because you quit using Firefox who-knows-when it doesn't mean it sucks - hm, your journalism skills suck!

Ha! I'm not a journalist. As a commenter in a blog, you job is not to tell me that I'm supposed to be a journalist. Your job is to make the case for your preferred software! Let's have it. Why is Firefox better?

Just don't try to tell me that vim is better than emacs...

"What doesn’t make sense is that Apache is only at 6.7%, even though I get the impression Apache has more current and quicker updates."

With regards to LibreOffice, your impression is wrong. They release every 6 months a major release and every month a point release. Since 2011, they had a dozen of releases. Apache OpenOffice just had 3 releases since 2011, if I calculated correctly.

Aldo, glad to hear that. When I installed a distro several weeks ago LO was ahead of OO and I got the opposite impression. I'll need to check on the OO release schedule I'm not sure that sounds right.

Last four releases:
Apache OpenOffice 4.0.1 (Oct. 1st, 2013)
Apache OpenOffice 4.0.0 (Juli 23rd, 2013)
Apache OpenOffice 3.4.1 (August 23rd, 2012)
Apache OpenOffice 3.4.0 (May 8th 2012)

You bring up a good point. Debian was the first Linux distro that I was able to get going too so very appreciative of a distro like that. Thanks to Debian I now am able to user Arch and I configure every single aspect of my installation. Control freak I know but I love it.

I too have Firefox but almost never use it. With chromium I can
install a Linux desktop and add Chromium which allows me to keep all my bookmarks and stuff. That's a biggy for me as I'm a distro hopper who changes Linux distros regularly..

By Stephen Green (not verified) on 11 Dec 2013 #permalink

So Firefox doesn't have that feature? That's the main reason I use Chromium. I quit firefox because it was relatively slow and clunky, but I assume that sort of thing gets better and worse with different releases so a given browser will move ahead or behind others over time. But the ability to have a master bookmark thingie is major.

Call me old fashioned but I just copy and paste the dot file with everything in it. Sometimes I even remember to clear the cache beforehand as well!

But FF has a sync option (which I don't use) and you can export bookmarks to HTML or as JSON.

I haven't used Chromium in an age, but when I reverted back to FF, FF was quicker, or at least with my setup it was. I think that was circa Chrome/Chromium builds 10 - 13. Maybe that's a bit prehistoric now...

Just a minor point - it's Raspberry - not Rasberry (as (mis)printed several times in the article and comments -)

By Iain Robertson (not verified) on 11 Dec 2013 #permalink

On the subject of best text editor, still holding out for this:

“The emacs philosophy is deeply flawed and needs to be overhauled. I’m working on a post that follows up on that rather tendentious statement, and don’t worry, I’ll make good on it.”

To assuage my fear that I may be coming off as trying to light a fire under your bridge to editing nirvana, let me just say that I agree with you on the importance of text and that I don't have a particular bias for change, or status quo for that matter. Just curious what your analysis is. Though something tells me this is not what you have in mind:
Had to check if it was April when I first tripped over that!

Happy New Year!

By Tim Schafer (not verified) on 03 Jan 2014 #permalink

eamacs makes an excellent word processor. You just need a function that sends your mark-down text to any one of several possible servers including LaTeX or markdown or whatever. For a long time that's what I did. I still do that but I also use similar tools. I hardly ever use a word processor.

The basic flaw, to make a long story short, is the idea that you a) make a wonderfully configurable system then b) ignore the configurations almost everyone almost always does when they install the system as though messing with the original configuration or advancing the development of the system was bad. And it can be bad. But it would be very very easy to create a few modes that mirror existing major modes but provide commonly used sets of alternative. Such as:




and so on.

Mr. Laden,
A trifle, I know, but, IMHO a TRUE LINUX GEEK would not be caught compiling in anything but a barbwire shirt. Hair shirts are so BSD.

By Howard Gray (not verified) on 14 Feb 2014 #permalink