- 23 Oct 09, 13:15 GMT
On Wednesday morning I was on BBC Breakfast talking about Windows 7, and each time I was on air I mentioned Ubuntu, the most popular version of the Linux operating system.
So were its devoted fans pleased?
Quite the opposite, because in my second broadcast I committed an unpardonable sin.
In a rather clumsily phrased sentence - my only excuse is that it came in the middle of a rather stressful live technology demo - I suggested that Ubuntu was a minority sport only for dedicated enthusiasts.
RCJ: "There's something called 'Ubuntu' which is launched next week. It's a whole sort of little community of enthusiasts building operating systems for absolutely nothing and trying to persuade us that we don't need to be in with the big boys but actually most computer users frankly they don't want to bother with that sort of stuff they want something that's there..."
BT: "...that everyone else uses.."
Now I do know - as plenty of angry messages pointed out - that Ubuntu has been around for a long time and what launches next week is an update. But I should have also made it clear that Linux is not an amateur cottage industry, but a pretty substantial affair supporting a lot of firms that market the systems and teach customers to install and use them.
So when I was contacted by one such company, Canonical, I was glad to take up their offer to try out Ubuntu. They sent over a Dell Inspiron Mini, loaded with "Karmic Koala", as Ubuntu 9.10 is nicknamed.
Now we are going to have a fuller exploration of the system on this site next week, but in the 24 hours I've had the Dell, I've gathered some early impressions.
The first is that it starts up pretty rapidly - I timed it at 40 seconds compared with the 55 seconds the top of the range Sony Vaio X takes to boot Windows 7 - and that the desktop has a pleasingly simple look to it, especially once you've replaced the offensively brown background with something more attractive.
The left hand side of the screen has a strip fulfilling the same purpose as the taskbar in Windows or the dock in Mac OS X, with quick access to key applications. You are provided with a range of open source software, from Firefox to Open Office, and can go online to the Ubuntu Software Centre to seek out other applications.
Getting connected to my home network proved reasonably simple - though I struggled to see other machines and devices on my network.
I installed a few applications - including Skype, and a social networking application called Gwibber.
But when I tried to install a free open-source audio editing program, Audacity, it appeared more complex to get hold of an Ubuntu version than the one I've used on a Mac.
I also gave up on attempting to use the music streaming service Spotify, after a warning that, as there was no Linux version, I would first need to get hold of something called Wine which allows you to run Windows apps. Too much bother...
Navigating around an unfamiliar system was fine once I'd worked out that the Ubuntu logo in the top left hand corner of the screen took me home, and for all my simple computing needs - from word processing to e-mail to web browsing - I found Ubuntu pretty satisfactory.
But, even after some help from a Canonical advisor who came and installed a few add-ons such as Flash, I struggled to work out how I would organise photos, music and video with this system.
So would I actively seek to install Ubuntu or any other Linux variant on a machine I already owned?
To be frank, no, because it would not make my computing life any simpler and more pleasurable than it is now.
But getting a small cheap netbook would be another matter entirely, and the big hope for the Linux community is that more companies will follow Dell's lead in selling computers with Ubuntu pre-installed.
Mind you, some netbook manufacturers who've already found a degree of resistance to Linux netbooks have reverted to XP and are now more likely to look at Windows 7 than anything else.
Faced with such consumer inertia it's hard to see Linux making much progress in boosting its miniscule market share. But remember, the future of computing is mobile - and in that new market for operating systems everything is still to play for.
Risking another pasting from its supporters, I'll predict that Ubuntu will remain a very niche product - but it's Google's Android which could bring open-source to the mass consumer market.
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