The launch of Ubuntu was first announced in September 2004. Although a relative newcomer to the Linux distribution scene, the project took off like no other before, with its mailing lists soon filled in with discussions by eager users and enthusiastic developers. In the few years that followed, Ubuntu has grown to become the most popular desktop Linux distribution and has greatly contributed towards developing an easy-to-use and free desktop operating system that can compete well with any proprietary ones available on the market. What was the reason for Ubuntu’s stunning success? Firstly, the project was created by Mark Shuttleworth, a charismatic South African multimillionaire, a former Debian developer and the world’s second space tourist, whose company, the Isle of Man-based Canonical Ltd, is currently financing the project. Secondly, Ubuntu had learnt from the mistakes of other similar projects and avoided them from the start – it created an excellent web-based infrastructure with a Wiki-style documentation, creative bug-reporting facility, and professional approach to the end users. And thirdly, thanks to its wealthy founder, Ubuntu has been able to ship free CDs to all interested users, thus contributing to the rapid spread of the distribution.
On the technical side of things, Ubuntu is based on Debian “Sid” (unstable branch), but with some prominent packages, such as GNOME, Firefox and LibreOffice, updated to their latest versions. It has a predictable, 6-month release schedule, with an occasional Long Term Support (LTS) release that is supported with security updates for 3 – 5 years, depending on the edition (non-LTS release are supported for 18 months). Other special features of Ubuntu include an installable live CD, creative artwork and desktop themes, migration assistant for Windows users, support for the latest technologies, such as 3D desktop effects, easy installation of proprietary device drivers for ATI and NVIDIA graphics cards and wireless networking, and on-demand support for non-free or patent-encumbered media codecs.
- Pros: Fixed release cycle and support period; novice-friendly; wealth of documentation, both official and user-contributed
- Cons: Lacks compatibility with Debian; frequent major changes tend to drive some users away
- Software package management: Advanced Package Tool (APT) using DEB packages
- Available editions: Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu (desktop with LXDE), Edubuntu, Ubuntu Studio and Mythbuntu for 32-bit (i386) and 64-bit (x86_64) processors;
- Suggested Ubuntu-based alternatives: Linux Mint (desktop), Ultimate Edition (desktop), Pinguy OS (desktop), Zorin OS (desktop), Trisquel GNU/Linux (free software), Bodhi Linux (desktop with Enlightenment)