Why I would be thankful to Ubuntu
It is quite easy to not like Ubuntu. I do not like it, I can not use it anymore. A lot of you here would now expect me to provide a detailed overview as to why I do not like Ubuntu but this is not what this post is about. In a nutshell, allow me to say that the fact that Ubuntu is not a rolling release, it asks me to install *-dev packages if I want to compile software that links against those packages (think about compiling a plasmoid from kde-look.org that is not yet in the repos), the fact that I have to install a basic toolchain on a new install (if I want to compile my own kernel) ticks me off.
Now I take a step back and look again at the grievances that I have with Ubuntu, and the realization that three years ago the sentence above would have been Greek to me suddenly dawns on me. When I was introduced to Linux about three years ago, I had no idea what Linux was. I had never used it before, and had never seen anyone use it. Windows was the only thing that I had ever used (and I started with 3.1) and I was not aware of the alternatives that existed. So when my friend told me it was another operating system (being a computer science student I was interested in the fact that Linux is “just a kernel” and then we have separate distributions) I was interested. He got a Ubuntu Live CD and walked me through an installation. And within an hour I had a working Linux installation – no need of installing drivers – it seemed easier than windows. He told me to just go to the Ubuntu Forums if I have a problem.
Over the next week, I played around with it. Changing the wallpaper, changing the theme (Hey, there are a lot more options than Windows!)and changing the icons (hey, I can do this without installing any third-party apps! Cool!). In between, I learnt about 915resolution so that I could run my Intel 945GM at its native resolution (Intel drivers have come a long way since then). And it was not long before I was installing beryl and compiz, and showing off my transparent cubes, 3-D windows and all the other plugins that were built in with compiz.
Within a year, I came to realize how much I liked to use Linux. I learnt what a rolling release was, I learnt that I could configure my own kernel, and I learnt about building software from source (when a particular package was not available via apt-get). I moved over to Arch via a switched time (my first attempt at a Gentoo install was a failure :P) and soon I switched over to Gentoo where I have remained since then.
My point here is simple. I could not have started with Arch or Gentoo. I had no idea what Linux was, and I would have been lost with those distros. They assume a working knowledge of Linux. I was willing to learn, and Ubuntu was the perfect teacher. It eased my transition towards Linux and no other distro could have done a better job. Even now, no other distro out there can do a better job. And I recommend Ubuntu for any of my friend who is willing to try out Linux – because it is the easiest way to try Linux and yet not be lost.
In short, Ubuntu is like a primary school teacher. We learn the most from her, but then we all start talking about particle physics, nanotechnology, operating systems and haskell and what not; and forget her. But she remains our first teacher.