Five More Essential Ubuntu Features

Christopher Tozzi, Contributing Editor

February 2, 2010

4 Min Read
Five More Essential Ubuntu Features

A few weeks ago, I wrote about five features that make Ubuntu so much more enjoyable to use than certain less-Free operating systems. The comments on that post got me thinking about several other great features that I didn’t mention. So to give those their due, here’s a second list of five things Ubuntu does that I couldn’t live without.

Of course, I should preface this post, as I did the previous one, with the caveat that Ubuntu is far from perfect, and Windows far from useless. They’re both good at certain things. But Ubuntu wins hands-down on some counts, namely those below (among others).

Less cluttered system tray

This is my system tray on Ubuntu:

Ubuntu system tray

Ubuntu system tray

It’s neat and compact, and only shows information I care about. I wish I could get rid of the ugly and minimally useful DropBox icon, but life’s not perfect, especially when proprietary software like DropBox is involved (if only UbuntuOne worked properly so I could leave DropBox’s ugliness behind, I’d be well pleased…although UbuntuOne is equally proprietary).

In comparison, here’s a system tray on Windows XP:

Windows System Tray

Windows System Tray

This gives me a huge headache, and has the potential to give my CPU a huge heart attack.

Admittedly, the system tray in Vista and Windows 7 may be a bit less aesthetically grotesque. Nonetheless, these operating systems still suffer from the obsession of every application with injecting an ugly and useless icon into the system tray in order to provide a minimally functional interface for a superfluous system process or application. Stuff like this drives me mad whenever I have to use Windows.

Unified interface

A lot of the clutter in the Windows system tray, of course, results from the tendency of Windows applications to be redundant. Instead of having one utility for managing wireless connections, Windows systems often have several, because each hardware vendor feels a need to provide its own. Similarly, rather than allowing display properties to be managed from one centralized location, you have to have different ones for different video cards. The list goes on.

On Ubuntu, the utilities for managing hardware and software settings are all accessible from the same place, and are all more or less consistent in their interfaces. Moreover, they tend to remain the same across Ubuntu releases and hardware configurations.  Unless you use Windows regularly, it’s easy to forget how great this all is.

Centralized updates

A commenter writing under the name Bobxnc aptly pointed out in my previous post on great Ubuntu features that Ubuntu allows all installed software to be updated in one click. This is hugely convenient, not to mention much more efficient and safer.

A lot of Windows applications don’t have any mechanism for updating themselves. And some of those that do, like iTunes, interpret “updating” as “sneakily installing additional applications that no one asked for.” I love not having to think about such nonsense while using Ubuntu.

Better window management

One of the Windows 7 features that Microsoft has its fanboys high on is Aero Snap, which brings to Windows a tiny fraction of the window-management functionality that Compiz has offered on Ubuntu for years. And even before Compiz, Ubuntu’s window managers provided features that Windows still lacks, like virtual desktops and the ability to snap windows into place.

Better community

Last but not least, Ubuntu beats Windows many times over when it comes to having an engaging, knowledgeable, friendly community.

Windows doesn’t have an organic community as much as it has a business model. Sure, there are some people who have been tricked into believing using Windows is a transcendental experience, but for most people, it’s just a product. There’s no soul to the community besides a cold financial one.

In many respects, Ubuntu is also just a product–after all, like Windows, it’s owned by a for-profit corporation. But more than Windows, Ubuntu possesses an embedded social element that makes the community inseparable from the code. Using Windows just doesn’t feel the same and never will, no matter how much cash Microsoft throws at social networking in the hopes of making its customers feel like more than petty consumers.

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About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Contributing Editor

Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.

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