Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ubuntu Day and understanding operating systems through the metaphor of automobiles

It is ridiculous how much I look forward to days like today. They only come around a couple of times a year and I honestly look forward to them like I do for a movie that I heard was being made two years before its release date. Yes, today is Ubuntu Day, the day the latest release of Ubuntu hits the streets and my computing life is filled with optimism.

Much has been written about Gutsy Gibbon and all the new features it supposedly contains. I have high hopes myself that this latest release will solve some of the most annoying problems that I have blogged about in this space. I think most of all though I look forward to Ubuntu release days because they each show such progress toward a final admirable goal. My cousin once told me about a mix tape his friend had made and titled "approaching perfection". This to me sums up nicely the work attitude of the folks at Canonical and in the Ubuntu community (of which I try to do my small part within) and each release day just serves as a tangible example of how everyone's efforts come together to further that elusive goal.

This may seem hard for some people to understand but I think the best way I can explain it is to use an automobile as a metaphor. Imagine that you are shopping for a car and basically you have two choices. The first car is extremely popular but unreliable and kind of boring although it does come with a myriad of options and add-ons. The real problem with this car though is that thieves are constantly trying to break into it no matter where you go. This means that you are forced to take all kinds of precautionary measures which not only add to the expense of the car but also hinder its aerodynamics and cause the car to travel far slower than it might otherwise. Then, every five years or so a new version of the car comes out, except the same problems persist and the new version not only requires you to pay for the new car, but also give up the old one.

The second type of car is very stylish and highly reliable but not much else. Aside from being much more expensive than the first type of car the second type is almost completely uncustomizable. It comes in only a couple of colors with scant options and almost no third party add-ons are supported although add-ons that are made by the car company work flawlessly and even color-coordinate. If you are a mechanic, this car is the worst because if it breaks you must buy parts from the manufacturer and it is practically impossible to trick out the car to any degree.

Then, as you are shopping you come across a third car. This car has at least as many problems as the other two, the main one being that it is far more difficult to drive than the other two, practically requiring a different license if you intend to use it on certain roads. It also only works with certain add-ons which frequently require help from a mechanic to install. But it's reliable, isn't attractive to thieves, comes in lots of colors with lots of options and has one big advantage over the other two cars: its free.

So you "buy" the third car and within a few weeks start wondering if you've made the wrong decision. You start running into problems you know wouldn't have been an issue with the other two cars and start tallying up the hours you spend fixing your car against the money you saved by buying it. Then, six months to the day after you bought the car the manufacturer comes to your house and drops off a brand new car! This new car still has problems, but not as many as the other car did and you feel like the time you spent fixing the other one helps you to drive this new one even better. You're feeling good about your purchase and happy with how things are going when, six months later, the manufacturer drops off another new car! This one is even better than the second one they gave you and fixes almost all the problems you hated about the first one. There are still some annoying things you don't like, but you know that in six months you'll get another new car and just the thought of that day arriving makes you feel positive and hopeful.

That's the best I can do to describe what Ubuntu Day is for me. It represents new hope and new possibilities. I guess all there is to do now is find out what's wrong with it. Upgraaaaade....GO! -joe

1 comment:

Stephen Walder said...

Good analogy Mr Hartman! I think I'll take the new car for a test drive first! lol

One of the biggest issues that I've yet to overcome is the flash/sound issue. (i'll post more on my blog)

It's very annoying but as I'm aware there is still no fix in the latest release! Fortunately I'm a pretty good mechanic, so once I've got round this one i'll be sure to post an HOWTO on my blog and show the world!

Let us all know how you get on with the new release!