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Penguins March for Free Software
Ubuntu Linux ranks as one of the best 'distro' to date
Roberto Spiezio (seong)     Print Article 
Published 2006-01-31 20:15 (KST)   
American director James Cameron made one of the biggest "colossal" films of our times, the sumptuous Titanic with Leonardo Di Caprio and the lovely Kate Winslet in 1997.

Penguin Logo
©2006 lewing@isc.tamu.edu
Last year, Dreamworks produced Madagascar, an entertaining and amazing cartoon in which some funny animals escape from a New York City zoo and end up in Africa.

The special effects we all could admire in those movies had something in common. They were made by using Linux.

Free and Open-Source, this operating system has drawn the interest of many major IT companies, such as IBM and Sun Microsystems, and it will become a common alternative to Windows and Mac OS.

Not bad at all for a program that came into being as a hobby of a Finnish student, Linus Torvalds, back in the early 1990s.

Due to its basic feature, the "Penguin" -- as it is sometimes named after the mascot representing it -- has been adapted by many communities of developers, who, either as a hobby or as a job, manipulated the source code to create new "distributions," also known as "distros," that are versions of the program.

The most popular among the newbies are the American "Fedora Core" and the French "Mandriva" distros, that are emerging because of their user-friendliness and nice appearance.

Recently a new version of Linux has been climbing the rankings of users' preferences: Ubuntu. Promoted and supported by Canonical Ltd., it is named after an ancient African word, meaning "humanity to others."

Ubuntu Linux Desktop
©2006 R.Spiezio
The basic philosophy of this distro is that the Ubuntu project is built on the ideas enshrined in the Ubuntu manifesto: that software should be available free of charge, that software tools should be usable by people in their local language, and that people should have the freedom to customize and alter their software in whatever way they need.

Therefore, Ubuntu is and will remain free, and it will only contain free software. At the moment, there are three parallel projects ongoing, aimed at different types of users: Ubuntu, Kubuntu and Edubuntu. [See box]

I tested Ubuntu Linux version 5.10, codenamed "Breezy Badger."

1. Installation

Which Ubuntu is Right for You?

There are three parallel Ubuntu projects :

1. Ubuntu Linux is the main one, based on the graphic environment GNOME, a good distro both for clients and servers.

2. Kubuntu Linux is another project, based on the graphic environment KDE.

3. Edubuntu Linux, specifically aimed at kids, contains a series of programs and applications to help with the study of mathematics, languages, geography among the others.
In its packaged edition, Ubuntu Linux comes with two CD's: One is a "live" version, so that people can test it without installing it, and the other contains the OS. Once inserted and the computer is rebooted, Ubuntu will take care of every single aspect of the installation, from the detection and configuration of hardware to the partitioning of the disk space to make room for itself. My peripherals were easily recognized. I only had a problem with an old printer, which I resolved by setting it up manually in a matter of five minutes.

At this stage, the intervention of the user is quite limited, and this adds value to Ubuntu, since in the past other versions of Linux were more difficult to install without a decent knowledge of computers and operating systems.

It's possible to choose whether to start the system directly from the hard disk or from a floppy disk, which is useful when your hard disk is shared with Windows or another OS.

2. Loading and Desktop

Once installed, Ubuntu loads reasonably fast, showing the user the processes and the tasks it's performing. The default login screen is similar to hyper-secure computer systems shown in the film Mission Impossible.

The desktop may look quite plain at first. There is only an upper bar showing all the relevant areas of the system and a clock, and a lower taskbar similar to the Windows one. But many will appreciate the clean and tidy screen without useless and often confusing applets and icons.

The Image Editing Program GIMP Under Ubuntu
©2006 R.Spiezio

3. Features and general performance

In its basic version, Ubuntu comes with a great deal of applications that fulfill every users' basic needs, from writing a document with OpenOffice to browsing the Web with Mozilla Firefox, from changing the desktop look and feel to detecting and configuring the hardware of their machines.

To people used to formatting their hard drives every few months because of the native instability of their systems, this will stand apart as it is solid and stable.

There are users who have been running a Linux system for ages without ever crashing. When a guy confessed he formatted his hard drive, I asked why. He told me, "Because I wanted to do it, but it wasn't really necessary." All this can also have a negative side: You can't blame the OS if something goes wrong.

After my test, made with a Pentium 2.4 GHz with 512 Mb of Ram memory, I was satisfied by the speed of running any application, even for the most resource-demanding like OpenOffice. This is probably due to the fact that Ubuntu's file system, ext3,(*) is quite high-performing and powerful, and less subject to the defragmentation problems of Fat32 and NTFS, the native Windows file systems.

4. Security

Linux is famous among experts because it has been designed and developed with security in mind.

Less exposed to viruses that often devastate other operating systems, it's also more secure when browsing the Internet. Without installing a firewall, Ubuntu already closes and protects the most important "ports," or the channels through which a computer exchanges data streams. This way the system is more difficult to attack.

5. Support

If you are used to other operating systems, Linux is probably difficult to understand at first. But the strongest point aspect of the Penguin is the worldwide community born and grown around it.

Whatever your problem might be, someone in the community would know the solution. Regarding Ubuntu, the users' community can be contacted via several channels, including a precious IRC chat that saved me from an electronic tragedy right after installing the program.

I recommend Ubuntu to all those who are somehow sick and tired of reinstalling their operating systems every now and then. It's secure, stable and free. And it finally gives you control of your computers.
(*) Ammended.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Roberto Spiezio

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