What Is Ubuntu?

Ubuntu is a completely free, easy-to-use, and extremely popular Linux distribution that is geared toward the desktop user. It is one of the hottest Linux distros in the marketplace today. It is also one of the few Linux distros with what could be described as a social agenda behind it.

Ubuntu was the brainchild of South African millionaire entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth, who is probably better known for being one of the first space tourists—the first African in space, to be exact. Shuttleworth invested over $10 million starting up the Ubuntu Foundation based on his belief in free software and in order to fix what he describes as “bug #1”—Microsoft’s dominance of the desktop PC marketplace.

As Shuttleworth states in his blog (available at wiki.ubuntu.com/MarkShuttleworth):

I believe that free software brings us into a new era of technology, and holds the promise of universal access to the tools of the digital era. I drive Ubuntu because I would like to see that promise delivered as reality.

As you can see, it’s a vision thing.

Befitting the nationality and goals of the man who brought it into being, the word ubuntu comes from the Zulu and Xhosa languages. Ubuntu, according to Wikipedia, is a concept meaning something along the lines of humanity toward others or I am because we are.

If you’re interested, the 2005 film In My Country, starring Juliette Binoche and Samuel L. Jackson, although not one of the greatest films ever produced, is on many levels a 100-minute examination of the concept of ubuntu.

With so many distros out there, you may wonder why you should opt for Ubuntu. Well, as they say, numbers don’t lie, and Ubuntu’s popularity is not without good cause. These traits are especially crowd pleasing:

  • Easy to install - It’s fair to say that most Linux distributions these days are pretty easy to install (and definitely easier and faster to install than Windows). Ubuntu is right in line with these improvements, and the fact that you can install it with only a few mouse clicks while running the live CD means it is pretty much ready to go whenever you are.
  • Easy to use - Ubuntu is easy to use in that it is very Windows-like in operation, and yet it’s more Linux-like than other Windows user–oriented distributions.
  • DEB based - Ubuntu is based on the Debian distribution, which means that it utilizes Debian’s very convenient DEB package system for application handling and installation. The two preconfigured, graphical package installers that come with Ubuntu make installing applications even easier. There are so many packages available for Debian systems like Ubuntu that you are likely to find more software out there than you’ll ever know what to do with.
  • Up to date - Some distros are updated at a snail’s pace, while others strive to be so cutting edge that they are often plagued with bugs. Ubuntu, with its reasonable six-month release cycle, tries to stay as up-to-date as possible, while at the same time making sure that things are not released before they are ready for prime time. In this way, you are ensured of having an up-to-date yet less buggy distro at your disposal.
  • Dependable and robust - I know these terms come across as mere hype, but after you smack Ubuntu around a bit, you come to understand what they mean. Knock things down and around, and they bounce right back—this is very important for beginners who often have a knack for screwing things up. Nothing turns a new user off more than a twitchy system that has to be velvet gloved all the time.
  • Desktop user–oriented - A lot of Linux distributions, although quite capable in the desktop arena, cater more to geeks and developers, taking up valuable disk space with a lot of junk you’ll probably never use. Ubuntu’s purpose is to grab desktop market share from the Redmond folks, so the needs of the common end user are always in mind. The result is that Ubuntu’s GNOME desktop environment is a very comfy place for the average desktop user to be.