Karmic is still just “Linux for human beings.”

Man I wrote this a long time ago. Resign­ing now to the fact that I won’t fin­ish it.

Even a cou­ple years ago, video edit­ing was­n’t con­sid­ered an essen­tial part of a desk­top, for most users. It was the realm of pro­fes­sion­als and hob­by­ists who could afford the nec­es­sary hard­ware to transcode video in less than an hour.

But after the advent of YouTube, ade­quate proces­sors, and ubiq­ui­tous cam­eras — in phones, mon­i­tors, and now on the iPod nano — every­body feels that it’s their right to add scrolling text and wipes to their lit­tle movies. And right­ly so; video edit­ing soft­ware has long been expen­sive and dif­fi­cult for a rea­son. But it’s almost 2010, and that should­n’t be the case any­more. It’s no longer too much to expect to be able to put a title and a fade-out on a video where you com­plain about your hair, even if it is a triv­ial indul­gence. You don’t need to know HTML to run a blog; why should you need to learn script­ing lan­guages and FFm­peg switch­es to run a vlog?

Steve Jobs was famous­ly mis­tak­en in think­ing that the next step for per­son­al com­put­ing at the turn of the cen­tu­ry was video edit­ing, until it took a back­seat while Nap­ster made dig­i­tal music and the iPod the most promi­nent tech­nolo­gies of this decade. And as all that went on, proces­sors got out­ra­geous­ly fast, and hard dri­ves got out­ra­geous­ly large, even in “low-end” sys­tems. iMovie exist­ed, but has only recent­ly become famil­iar and com­fort­able to large num­bers of peo­ple. Microsoft­’s answer to iMovie, “Microsoft Win­dows Video Edi­tor 1.3” or what­ev­er it must have been called, was fee­ble, bug­gy, and went unused as most PC own­ers had to work hard to derive any­thing of val­ue from it; iMovie, mean­while, prac­ti­cal­ly asked Mac own­ers to use it. It’s my under­stand­ing that Microsoft­’s video edi­tor has improved late­ly, but I don’t know for sure.

Any­way, so here we are, with video edit­ing tak­en for grant­ed by some, and indig­nant­ly demand­ed by oth­ers. And, while we’re at it, a rel­a­tive­ly large migra­tion toward Ubun­tu. 8.10 Intre­pid was a land­mark release, 9.04 fol­lowed suit, and 9.10 is becom­ing unequiv­o­cal­ly the most antic­i­pat­ed Lin­ux dis­tri­b­u­tion by the gen­er­al pop­u­lace ever. Even in its beta form it’s being called “almost per­fect,” and gen­er­al­ly her­ald­ed every­where not only as a tri­umph of open-source, but as a tri­umph of oper­at­ing sys­tems peri­od.

There’s more to life than hard, ster­ile prag­ma­tism, and if you think oth­er­wise, you are cold and dead and nobody will ever love you.

So!, with all these peo­ple work­ing to make Lin­ux acces­si­ble, sure­ly they’ve got some decent video edi­tor up their sleeves? Well — as is a typ­i­cal answer from most Lin­ux users — yes and no. There is Cinel­er­ra, which is very pow­er­ful and enjoys a wide user base, but even its man­u­al admits to its Lin­ux her­itage, that “Cinel­er­ra is not intend­ed for con­sumers.” I can attest to this. In addi­tion to Cinel­er­ra I’ve down­loaded just about every video edi­tor there is for Lin­ux, from Avide­mux to Kden­live to Kino to PiTiVi. All of them either crash in Ubun­tu, are ter­rif­i­cal­ly com­pli­cat­ed, or lam­en­ta­bly sim­ple. Sim­ply put, there is no “iMovie for Lin­ux.”

But this is pre­cise­ly what Mark Shut­tle­worth is shoot­ing for with Ubun­tu. Or, rather, it’s a good metaphor for what he’s shoot­ing for — to make Lin­ux not mere­ly eas­i­er to use than oth­er dis­tros, but to be invit­ing to peo­ple who don’t even know what Lin­ux is. This is why Ubun­tu’s slo­gan — “Lin­ux for human beings” — has become so obso­lete. Of the things that Lin­ux pro­vid­ed when the Ubun­tu project began in 2004, Ubun­tu now pro­vides them in a more acces­si­ble way than they’ve ever been pro­vid­ed, and if a per­son has heard of only one Lin­ux dis­tro, it is like­ly to be Ubun­tu.

Now, how­ev­er, with Shut­tle­worth explic­it­ly tak­ing aim at Apple, Ubun­tu’s slo­gan — not mere­ly for mar­ket­ing pur­pos­es, but for the under­ly­ing vision of the project as a whole — needs to evolve. “Lin­ux for human beings” begins with the premise of Lin­ux, and qual­i­fies it with the promise of ease-of-use. In order to gain the sig­nif­i­cant mar­ket share that Shut­tle­worth wants to see, and to prop­er­ly ori­ent Ubun­tu’s devel­op­ers toward that end, the “Lin­ux” part of Ubun­tu needs to be sec­ondary. What must instead be empha­sized is that it is a pow­er­ful, easy, fun, and free oper­at­ing sys­tem that hap­pens to use a Lin­ux ker­nel.

These things are becom­ing increas­ing­ly true, but, as much as I am impressed by it, I can’t in good con­science say that Karmic ful­fills the ulti­mate­ly desired promise of Ubun­tu. Karmic is still just “Lin­ux for human beings.”

At the same time, nev­er before has this promise been more clear­ly with­in view. Sev­er­al hugehuge — things have hap­pened recent­ly, or are hap­pen­ing, to take Ubun­tu beyond its cur­rent sta­tus as mere­ly the best Lin­ux dis­tro, from an eccen­tric “third-par­ty can­di­date” to a gen­uine com­peti­tor. Aside from its huge­ly increased hard­ware sup­port out-of-the-box (which, bra­vo), I’m tempt­ed to argue that the improved font ren­der­ing in Jaun­ty is the sin­gle most impor­tant step in increas­ing Ubun­tu’s appeal — and fur­ther that any­body who dis­agrees with me is hope­less­ly out of touch with the real world.

Lin­ux users pride them­selves on with­stand­ing the most bru­tal of com­put­ing envi­ron­ments, but it’s that kind of ego­tism that, if unchecked, will pre­vent Lin­ux from ever gain­ing on the desk­top. If you think pret­ty wall­pa­pers are a friv­o­lous waste of your disk space, that’s your pre­rog­a­tive — but if you think that it was a bad deci­sion for Canon­i­cal to include them in Karmic, giv­en all that they’re try­ing to accom­plish, then you’re not pay­ing atten­tion. There’s more to life than hard, ster­ile prag­ma­tism, and if you think oth­er­wise, you are cold and dead and nobody will ever love you.