Chapter 1. About Ubuntu

Some people say South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth is a very lucky man. Others say he’s an astute businessman and talented software engineer. But whichever way you look at it, there’s no denying that he has twice helped steer the course of technological development throughout the world.

In 1995, he founded Thawte, the first company outside the United States to produce a fully encrypted, commercially available web server, and a leading provider of server certification, that he sold for a cool half billion dollars just four years later.

Using the proceeds, not only did Shuttleworth achieve his ambition of blasting into space on a Russian Soyuz and spending over a week in the International Space Station, he also funded the development of Ubuntu, now the largest Linux distribution by a long way.

Since its release in 2004, Ubuntu has consistently topped the chart of the most popular Linux distributions, and it currently accounts for over a third of all installations. In 2009, according to Dimensional Research/KACE, Ubuntu was the second most likely operating system companies intended to deploy in place of Windows Vista or 7. And if it continues its phenomenal growth, 2010 should see Ubuntu knock OS X out of first place in that poll.

So this book is about Mark Shuttleworth’s second major technology hit because, with an estimated 10 million users and growing, a hit it surely is. But to understand what Ubuntu is you need to know a little of its development because it’s the result of combining many different unique parts, whose roots can be traced back over 25 years.

Why Ubuntu?

The one question I am most asked is, “Why Ubuntu?” There’s no single answer to this. Instead, I offer a selection of reasons depending on the asker’s computing requirements. So here, in no particular order, are my reasons why you should choose Ubuntu as your operating system.

Its development is open

The whole philosophy behind the GNU project of which Linux is a part (and Ubuntu is a flavor of Linux) is that “software should be free.” Although that often means the software is free of charge (not always, as you can see in the successful marketing of Red Hat products and Novell’s SUSE products, both based on Linux), it means more importantly that all development is visible and shared.

Downloads and upgrades are free

So whether you are a personal user running Ubuntu at home or one of hundreds of people in a company running Ubuntu, you pay nothing for the software. People around the world, of every economic class, so long as they have access to a computer, can use everything offered as part of Ubuntu. And not only is the original download free but so is every upgrade that follows.

It’s quick to install

If you haven’t installed Ubuntu before but have installed an operating system such as Windows XP, Vista, or 7, you’ll be amazed at how quick and easy Ubuntu is to install.

Upgrading is easy

Whenever a new version is released, Ubuntu will tell you and offer to upgrade automatically, at no cost, as long as you have an Internet connection.

Support is readily available

For home and private users, a wealth of support is available at the Ubuntu website and in forums across the Internet. If you have a problem, you can usually get an answer within hours (if not minutes). This is because Ubuntu is written by volunteers all around the globe who maintain contact with each other via these forums, and they are always happy to help out if they can.

Enterprise support is priced modestly

Although free support is available, businesses will probably find it much more convenient to take out a multi-installation license for a Long Term Support version of Ubuntu (such as 10.04). This brings a whole new level of assistance to the enterprise user, while still keeping the overall running costs of Ubuntu far cheaper than proprietary operating systems such as Windows.

You can modify it

If you have programmers who are familiar with Linux in your organization, they can obtain the Ubuntu source code totally free of charge and can then modify it in any way necessary, as long as they release the new code under the same terms. This can drastically speed up a company’s development cycle by relying on software that’s already been written. This is, in fact, how new features often get added to Linux, and how parts of the operating system are improved.

It’s portable

You can run Ubuntu from a CD-ROM or USB thumb drive without installing it.

It comes with office applications

Ubuntu comes with preinstalled so that you can get up and running straight away, writing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, and your files will be compatible with Microsoft Office.

Of course, there are many other reasons, but these are probably the main ones.

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