Linux in Government: Linux Desktop Reviews, Part 6 - Ubuntu

In less than a year, this free Linux distribution has become the most popular.

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?"

Readers Meet Ubuntu

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.

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One of the very best Linux Distro around

Andre Proulx's picture

Ubuntu is truly outstanding. Based in Debian and so easy to pilot.
Beautiful article.

On a role

IT-dude's picture

Tom,
Since you're on a role with these articles (I've enjoyed them very much), I suggest you consider looking at Libranet for your evaluation. They just released a new version a few days ago, and judging by the response from the users on the forums, it looks like it might be the ticket.

In addition, they claim on their website, that commercial organizations and educational institutions are using Libranet. Whether there is any truth to those claims is another matter, but an objective evaluation (based on your outlined criteria) can still be made for this promising distribution.

http://www.libranet.com/

Cheers mate.

Great Article - Fantastic Distro

Steve Beamer's picture

I switched to Ubuntu late last year when I purchase a new machine that came with Fedora Core 3. I had been using a very similar distro called Libranet since I switched off of Redhat when their support model changed. I find this the best distribution for the "knowledgable user" and I'm glad to see it's popularity showing that others agree with me.

Ubuntu != Canonical/Mark Shuttleworth

jsg's picture

Sure Ubuntu has gotten pretty popular in the charts lately, but you didn't consider the bit community behind it. Canonical does employ people to develop Ubuntu, but the larger part of it is the Ubuntu community - volunteers to be exact. For Ubuntu to become mainstream, it needs community acceptance just like what happened to Red Hat before they became commercial...

You can't just ignore the community effort. Canonical/Mark Shuttleworth's funding is a good push, but its not all about money to make it No. 1

Ubuntu != Canonical/Mark Shuttleworth

tadelste's picture

I don't understand the tone of your comment. Did I miss something?

We didn't mention Mark or Canonical Ltd. - in fact, the article discusses the community. I haven't seen the kind of excitement Ubuntu has generated in the Linux community for years -- and I have worked in this community for years.

IMHO, when the mainstream Linux distributions went commercial, the excitement in the community seemed to wane. I'm glad to have Ubuntu because of the excitement. I filed my first bug report last weekend and got several emails about it within an hour.

I haven't seen that in a long, long time.

I think we acknowledged the community here. I also don't believe any open source product has enterprise viability without vibrant and supportive community involvement.

Having read several of Shuttl

Anonymous's picture

Having read several of Shuttleworth's list postings, I feel certain that he would agree with you. Ubuntu has done well in a short time and the members of the Ubuntu community should be proud, as should the developers of the Free Software distributed by Ubuntu. That reminds me, I need to send in my small donation for the wonderful system that they have given me. Thanks, to all you wonderful Free Software people!

ubuntu fails to boot from external USB 2.0 hard drive

Anonymous's picture

I could install ubuntu 5.04 just fine on external usb 2.0 hard drive. But at boot time it gave kernel panic. FYI, from same drive, I can boot mandrake 10.1 without any problem.

ubuntu fails to boot from external USB 2.0 hard drive

Anonymous's picture

Linux Journal is not the appropriate place to post issues that are normally handled by a comunity mailing list or forum.

ubuntu fails to boot from external USB 2.0 hard drive

Anonymous's picture

Yep. Trolling's best handled at /. You're a Mandrake fanboy taking a shot. Do it somewhere else.

I don't think he was trolling

Anonymous's picture

I don't think he was trolling; I think he was mistaken about where to post problems.

Ubuntu looks good, but missing proactive security defenses

David A. Wheeler's picture

Ubuntu looks good in many ways. However, it doesn't seem to include many proactive security defense mechanisms that deal with imperfect applications. Sadly, it doesn't appear that perfect code is available this year, so operating systems need to include mechanisms that detect and counter common vulnerabilities caused by common errors in applications. For example, ExecShield (included in Red Hat's Fedora Core and Enterprise Linux) protects against buffer overflow attacks. Of the 16 secuirty issues published by CVE that were more grave than a denial of service, and for which there was an exploit available, 75% of them were countered ExecShield.
Temporary file races, double-frees, and other security-relevant errors in applications can often be detected and countered by the operating system. I don't think it'd be too hard for Ubuntu to add this, but they should do so for safe use by an Enterprise.

ExecShield

Ralph's picture

Howdy,
At the risk of being characterized as a self appointed guru, I don't think Ubuntu is quite ready for the Enterprise market, either. It is a real fun little distro and has come along quickly. If they set their sights on the Enterprise market they could be competitors before long. In addition to the proactive defense mechanisms you mention, they need a way to manage and deploy client. They will get there, I bet and it is a nice hobbyist distro for now.
Good day

proactive security defenses

tadelste's picture

David,

Thank you for your well regarded remark and suggestion. Also, thank you for the kind way you expressed yourself. I hope everyone will read the link on ExecShield in your post. You passed along extremely valuable information and I hope it doesn't get missed because of the nice manner in which you stated it.

All the best

Tom

A green light for Ubuntu in the Enterprise...

Curtis's picture

Your review seems to indicate a green light for Ubuntu in the Enterprise. I noted an interesting trend last year in some of the corporations using Linux. There were a number of stories about large companies that had been using Red Hat or other "Enterprise Ready" distros changing to Debian. Having worked at two Linux companies before, I had seen this same migration happen within the engineering staff in both companies. (Even with a policy to use a given distro.)

Having started using HJ Lu's linux floppys years ago (This would be the year 1 B.D. (Before Distributions)) and having migrated through many distros I have ended up using Debian most of the time. I must say it is interesting to note the mind share that all the Debian based distros have when combined.

The fact is that if you have an IT staff that is familiar with Linux you will get more out of a Debian based distro then any other distro and with less effort. (The reverse may be true (in some instances) for newcomers to Unix/Linux.) Thus we see the experienced making the migration.

Ubuntu is an absolutly great addition to the Debian family of distros. They are removing the (small) newcomer learning curve barriers to using Debian.

Having helped a number of people through the learning curve I would highly recommend either Ubuntu or Debian for setting up computer systems to solve real world problems.

I'd also encorage participation in both projects and to say thanks to the Debian and Ubuntu developers.

P.S.
(Debian is fine if you have used Unix before, have good HW knowledge (know what an MBR and boot record are), or have a helper who uses Debian.) In fact there have been instances on some machine that I could not install Red Hat or Madrake but Debian worked fine. That can be the price of trying to simplify for some lowest common denominator. A process that required a little HW knowledge also allows working around minor problems or oddities.

Ubuntu is great, but...

Ashland's picture

I like Ubuntu and use Kubuntu (KDE version) for some of my systems. I like the philosophy and the Debian roots.
but...
I love Libranet 3.0
It is not free, but has been so well debugged that it will save me money in time not wasted. It uses pure Debian, so all the Debian sources work and has the easiest install I have ever seen in any OS. Everything just works.

Wish you would consider trying a Desktop Review on Libranet.

http://www.libranet.com

Ubuntu is great, but...

Anonymous's picture

You might consider writing a comment like this to the editor rather than as a comment to article. Libranet as a software product is one thing, as an organization it's quite another.

Since I've been reading this series, Tom keeps reiterating that this is about enterprise desktops or distributions capable of providing desktops for the enterprise. He even reiterated it here.

You can go get exact clones of Red Hat Enterprise Linux from a number of places, but that's not the same thing as getting Red Hat's enterprise package. Software is one thing but delivering it to a large organization such as a school district (my case) is a totally different proposition.

I'd go with Ubuntu because it is free, developed with historically underprivileged organizations and countries in mind. You can pass out the disks and it's exciting. My 2 cents.

Yoohoo for Ubuntu

Ralph's picture

It was good to see this distro reviewed. It is the best new Linux distro I have seen in the last 2 years, at least. With the Debian hackers they have attracted and the support that Canonical is giving it, I think the author is right when he says:
"I anticipate that Ubuntu will become the mainstream Linux distribution globally"

Hoary has been better than Warty for me, except for some kind of problem in the sound system. I have noticed, when playing videos, that the sound gets out of sync. I did not have that problem with Warty and I do hope they get it resolved.

And I want to point you to two useful resources for Ubuntu
http://www.ubuntulinux.org/wiki/FrontPage/recentchanges
http://www.ubuntuforums.org/

I enjoyed the review.

Ubuntu is the first Linux I r

Anonymous's picture

Ubuntu is the first Linux I really feel attached to. Its been working so perfect for me :). I cannot see using anything else...

ubuntu

Anonymous's picture

dito, i have been a linux boy for ~7 years now & have rolled out linux distros on the desktop in 2 enterprises. ubuntu is the best that i have ever seen.

in the last 2 months, i have use, fedora, mandarake, suse, knoppix, pure deb (sarge), kanotix & ubuntu. i'm on the road a lot & in need a distro on my notebook that 1) won't fall over 2) detects all my new hardware & it has to be multi-lingual japanese, chinese, korean, spanish, french, & i don't want to pay a cent for it, though i don't mind paying for service. While there are some bugs in ubuntu, out of the distros I have tried (& I think i have covered most of them) this is the only distro that is delivering a fast, stable, everything working multi-lingual environment for free.

Perhaps you should all take a

Anonymous's picture

Perhaps you should all take a look at Mepis. (www.mepis.org), it is far easier than Ubuntu to deal with and install.
I used to use Ubuntu, but found that even with Universe enabled, their repository is still a bit limited. Add to that the have added Xorg to the mix and you will find that you don't have a lot of backwards compatibility with the Debian repositories.

Will see

Anonymous's picture

I'll surely check out mepis.. but how can it be more easy than Ubuntu?

Anyways, i think ubuntu will become most popular of all and will gather the largest development community.

Ubuntu and another

William Roddy's picture

I'm impressed with Ubuntu. The small-repository-selection is a red herring. It's a great distribution with a great future.

For those of you who need a proven enterprise solution, why not use the one that's on thousands of machines, x86 and 64, at the top physics research facilities throughout the world (Fermilabs, CERN, Cambridge, Johns-Hopkins, Los Alamos, MIT, the University of Kansas, Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati in Italy, and so many, many more, it's hard to keep track).

Scientific Linux is Red Hat EL4, rewritten from the source, scrutinized by the best programmers in the world, and used by the most important scientists. It is stripped of vendor ID, perfectly legal, has a history that goes back almost a decade, and yet no one knows about it. If ERRATA is needed, that, too, is thoroughly scrutinized before it is sent out into the field.

Scientific Linux will work in any environment Red Hat would, and even better. www.scientificlinux.org. It's a work of art and genius, and in the filed of high-energy physics, if this Linux didn't work, it wouldn't be used.

Yet it is useful to anyone. If you demand stability and security, you will not do better. It will always be there and it will always be free.

Ubuntu and another

William Roddy's picture

I'm impressed with Ubuntu. The small-repository-selection is a red herring. It's a great distribution with a great future.

For those of you who need a proven enterprise solution, why not use the one that's on thousands of machines, x86 and 64, at the top physics research facilities throughout the world (Fermilabs, CERN, Cambridge, Johns-Hopkins, Los Alamos, MIT, the University of Kansas, Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati in Italy, and so many, many more, it's hard to keep track).

Scientific Linux is Red Hat EL4, rewritten from the source, scrutinized by the best programmers in the world, and used by the most important scientists. It is stripped of vendor ID, perfectly legal, has a history that goes back almost a decade, and yet no one knows about it. If ERRATA is needed, that, too, is thoroughly scrutinized before it is sent out into the field.

Scientific Linux will work in any environment Red Hat would, and even better. www.scientificlinux.org. It's a work of art and genius, and in the filed of high-energy physics, if this Linux didn't work, it wouldn't be used.

Yet it is useful to anyone. If you demand stability and security, you will not do better. It will always be there and it will always be free.

Ubuntu and another

William Roddy's picture

I'm impressed with Ubuntu. The small-repository-selection is a red herring. It's a great distribution with a great future.

For those of you who need a proven enterprise solution, why not use the one that's on thousands of machines, x86 and 64, at the top physics research facilities throughout the world (Fermilabs, CERN, Cambridge, Johns-Hopkins, Los Alamos, MIT, the University of Kansas, Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati in Italy, and so many, many more, it's hard to keep track).

Scientific Linux is Red Hat EL4, rewritten from the source, scrutinized by the best programmers in the world, and used by the most important scientists. It is stripped of vendor ID, perfectly legal, has a history that goes back almost a decade, and yet no one knows about it. If ERRATA is needed, that, too, is thoroughly scrutinized before it is sent out into the field.

Scientific Linux will work in any environment Red Hat would, and even better. www.scientificlinux.org. It's a work of art and genius, and in the filed of high-energy physics, if this Linux didn't work, it wouldn't be used.

Yet it is useful to anyone. If you demand stability and security, you will not do better. It will always be there and it will always be free.

Ubuntu and another

Anonymous's picture

The small repository exists by design. Ubuntu users can enable universe and multiverse repositories and obtain the largest set of applications on the planet.

Saying that "Scientific Linux is Red Hat EL4, rewritten from the source, scrutinized by the best programmers in the world, and used by the most important scientists" is a fraudulent statement. It is not Red Hat EL4. Who says its programmers are the "best" in the world?

Whatever value it had, you have tainted it by misrepresentations.

Seasoned Linux professionals would not attempt to suggest RHEL 4 to the general user as it is complicated and requires training.

I agree on Scientific

Anonymous's picture

I agree on Scientific Linux.
Note that there are 2 main versions of Scientific Linux:
1. Scientific Linux 3/4 - with homepage at https://www.scientificlinux.org
and
Scientific Linux CERN 3/4 - with homepage at http://linux.web.cern.ch/linux/

Although they sound so similar and have similar roots...they are not exactly the same. And the CERN edition of Scientifi Linux is the one that is most deployed in CERN and it's subsequent middleware (SLC) - like LCG and other GRIDs, note that SLC uses apt-get for high level package management ( deps tracking etc. )

Another aspect is: SL is NOT RHEL, so you won't have any RH support whistles, you are on your own.

Those above are great distributions: they give you Enterprise Linux, for free.

but, Ubuntu has nothing to do with them. the moment Ubuntu declares it has an installation selection for enterprise server - then we shall compare them.

By the way, there's a new version of ubuntu already out, 5.10, and thanks to it my laptop (LG LS50A) can suspend to RAM smoothly. I only have to get the driver for SD cards reader, then I can declare it is FULLY supported.

Cheers.

It is fascinating how Ubuntu

JanD's picture

It is fascinating how Ubuntu in less than a year has become the most popular linux distro. Check out this Ubuntu community as well, good site for Ubuntu beginners.

You got me convinced.

lennart's picture

ok you got me. I will check out ubuntu. :)

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