Linux in Government: Linux Desktop Reviews, Part 6 - Ubuntu
In case you have not followed this series of articles on the Linux desktop (see Resources for Parts 1-5), we have been discussing the suitability of different distributions for enterprise use. So far, we have covered the Xandros Business Edition, Novell's Linux Desktop, Red Hat's Enterprise Desktop, Sun's Java Desktop System and Linspire. We evaluated those claiming to be ready for enterprise deployment against a set of modified criteria originating from Bernard Golden's Succeeding with Open Source and the Open Source Maturity Model. Specifically, we asked the following questions:
What kind of support organization does the desktop distribution have related to users? If a user runs into a problem, can she or he contact someone for help? How, over the phone or by e-mail? How big is the desktop distribution's support organization? Does the company out-source its support?
Does the desktop distribution have a professional services organization? If someone wants to buy a large number of desktops, how would the desktop distribution handle a big order?
Does the desktop distribution offers documentation for the user>? How about technical documentation; is there anything for the administrator?
What kind of solution-provider ecosystem exists? Does the desktop distribution have resellers? How robust is that reseller organization?
What is the desktop distribution's server strategy? Does the company provide back office functionality and identity management?
What tools exist for rolling out and managing the desktops?
Does the company offer on-site training?
How can administrators and help-desk people learn to provide desk-side support in their own companies? Does curriculum exist?
In addition, we wanted to know if the distribution has an active community of interest. Could users go to a forum or a mailing list to find answers or workarounds to common problems?
The first four articles in the series dealt with organizations that claimed they had a place in large enterprises, including governments, global telephone companies, manufacturers, health care companies and colleges, universities and schools. If their claims are valid, a CIO then could look at our criteria and evaluate the distribution's suitability for his or her company's needs.
Last week we covered Michael Robertson's Linspire Linux distribution. We said emphatically that Linspire did not claim enterprise suitability. So, we stressed the need for an organization to use an on-site Linux system administrator if it wanted to deploy that distribution in the enterprise.
This week, I turned my attention to Ubuntu. Ubuntu software also does not claim to be suitable for big government or big enterprise needs, but it does claim to be a desktop suitable for use in numerous contexts. In the United States, a vicious vendor lobby would attack Ubuntu and establish a bias against it. CIOs would avoid the use of Ubuntu, out of an unwillingness to go beyond initial impressions even though the software merits attention.
Although such a bias often proves unfair, CIOs of American organizations have proven to be more cautious about using open-source software than are their counterparts in other parts of the world. The scope of CIOs in US Federal government also is limited by procurement protocols as well as by Microsoft's Windows lobbyists.
For the rest of the world's governments as well as for schools, emerging businesses and the established Linux user population, Ubuntu recaptures the excitement of open-source innovation. It provides a remarkably stable environment, and it takes from the best of open source and works for new users as well as for veterans.
While other distributions can cost upwards of $250 for a single desktop, Ubuntu comes free of charge. The company even mails copies to people without asking for shipping and handling reimbursements. One might ask, then, "what's the gimmick?"
If a reader asks, "what's the gimmick?", that question might be proof that he or she lives in an enculturated world, where everyone seems to have a gimmick. History has shown us, however, rare cases of individuals who discovered that giving provided a greater reward than did accumulating. As for Ubuntu, the Ubuntu Linux Web site provides a clue to it motivations:
"Ubuntu" is an ancient African word meaning "humanity to others". Ubuntu also means "I am what I am because of who we all are". The Ubuntu Linux distribution brings the spirit of Ubuntu to the software world.
You should visit the distribution's Web site in order to learn more about Ubuntu's philosophy. If you do not, though, you still should know that:
Ubuntu is suitable for both desktop and server use. The current Ubuntu release supports Intel x86 (IBM-compatible PC), AMD64 (Hammer) and PowerPC (Apple iBook and Powerbook, G4 and G5) architectures.
Ubuntu includes more than 1,000 pieces of software, starting with the Linux kernel version 2.6 and GNOME 2.10, and covering every standard desktop application from word processing and spreadsheet applications to internet access applications, web server software, email software, programming languages and tools and of course several games.
In less than a year since the initial release, Ubuntu has become the top-ranked Linux distribution by Distrowatch. Considering that the first release of Ubuntu occurred on October 10, 2004, one has to see Ubuntu as one of those rare instant successes.