Linux in Government: Linux Desktop Reviews, Part 6 - Ubuntu
In the United States, Ubuntu fits what some self-appointed gurus call the hobbyist market. Those of us familiar with Linux find Ubuntu an acceptable, refreshing and long-awaited version of our favorite operating system. It's not a clone of Microsoft Windows, so users do not see fancy splash screens on boot-up. Instead, users see Linux booting up. Users also find a cleverly modified desktop that uses native GNOME icons and toolbars. It fits Linux guys needs and preferences like a glove.
In addition, Ubuntu works in the home market, where it fits in with other operating systems, including Mac and Windows. Experienced Linux users should find that Ubuntu also is a nice fit for laptops, especially older ones. You can bring your laptop home and become part of the home network with wireless or wired connectivity.
If you have a Linux system administrator or a contractor on staff, Ubuntu also works in small- to medium-sized business environments. Municipal governments, schools, government-sponsored agencies, call centers and so on should find Ubuntu to be a suitable platform. This distribution provides large repositories of applications for users to download. The developers thoughtfully gave Ubuntu the advantage of having to turn on the repositories.
With Ubuntu, the package manager restricts access to two large repositories, Universe and Multiverse. In Figure 1, you can see that the restricted repositories can be added easily by the administrator. One simply checks the boxes to the left of the Community Maintained and Non-Free selections. Otherwise, the user has a limit on the applications available to him or her.
In Figure 2, you can see a screenshot of the Add/Remove Programs (the Synaptic Package Manager) the user sees if Universe and Multiverse have not become part of the users choices.
Overall, the restrictions on a user's ability to download programs gives more control to the system administrator.
For users who install and configure their own Ubuntu workstations, they can access configuration tools by setting up the administrator's password. This provides a compromise for the consumer market and the enterprise.
Now, let's continue our discussion of where Ubuntu fits. In addition to the markets discussed above, Ubuntu fits enterprises in emerging nations around the globe. The global market should have less of a knee-jerk reaction to the African name of the distribution than some Americans might have.
Eventually, Ubuntu should appeal to the market segment beyond the innovator/early adopter class we discussed in Part 5 (see Resources) and also appeal to mainstream users in the US. If a company called Yahoo can gain acceptance in the starched-shirt world of Wall Street, Ubuntu likewise can become acceptable to a vast number of users looking for a fun Linux distribution.
A friend suggested Ubuntu to me several months ago at a Linux users group (LUG) meeting. I did not take advantage of the opportunity to try the distribution at that time. However, I did listen to my friend's description of Ubuntu, and based on his enthusiastic manner of speaking, I later downloaded and tried it.
The Ubuntu distribution uses Debian as its base, as does Xandros and Linspire. Debian-based distributions have not impressed me in the past. However, Ubuntu combines the stability of Debian with the leading-edge features of RPM-based distributions such as JDS, Red Hat and SUSE. Therefore, I see Ubuntu as the best of both worlds.
I put the distribution through some tough tests and found that I had to do less customizing with this desktop than any of the others I have tested. Figure 3 is a screenshot of CrossOver Office 4.2 installing a Win32 application I find useful.
The installation of CrossOver Office went smoothly. I installed it from the command line with a simple dpkg -i command, after which the Crossover menu came up without a problem.
Although I have access to any pricey distribution I want, I have started using Ubuntu as my standard desktop. I installed Skype and several other programs I use regularly. Overall, this distro performs well.
Part of my work day involves using a Linux desktop as a window manager on which I can open multiple terminals and use the command line. Ubuntu allows me to use multiple desktop workspaces correctly. I can switch between virtual workspaces without having to see every application open on the system.
At other times, I use OpenOffice.org's word processor, The GIMP, Evolution and Firefox. For all of these, Ubuntu opens applications quickly and has a pleasing look and feel. It fits my needs as writer and author.
As a system administrator, I would deploy and use Ubuntu. Although the enterprise tools I have written about in past articles are not yet available for Ubuntu, they will arrive in the near future. Ubuntu's sponsor, Canonical Ltd., has the necessary funding and a history of succeeding quickly and efficiently.
I anticipate that Ubuntu will become the mainstream Linux distribution globally. As the saying goes, though, only time will tell. However, if you do your due diligence on the company, the sponsor, the spirit of innovation and success of the Ubuntu people, you probably will come to the same conclusion. All the elements have gone into play for rapid success. As they say in my part of the country, this dog can hunt. In addition, it can point and win a show or two if need be.
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