Linuxgruven > Thoughts > Linux > Ubuntu Linux

Ubuntu Linux

2007.03.17

I've seen the future of Linux and it's brown.

These days, for both server and desktop, my Linux distribution of choice is Ubuntu Linux.  While I was less than blown-away with the initial release in October of 2004, every release since has improved in subtle but essential ways.  Ubuntu was the first distribution that I felt comfortable installing for a non-techie friend.  He used Breezy (5.10) to replace Windows 98 on an older PC and has been running it ever since and no longer needs to worry about the viruses and spyware that had plagued him before.

In my opinion, Dapper Drake (Ubuntu 6.06) was the defining release of Ubuntu. This version will be patched for three years on the desktop and five years on the server, bringing it in line with corporate Linux offerings like Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SuSE Enterprise Linux.  6.06 is very solid and stable.   I have moved most of the servers that I maintain from Debian Woody to Dapper.  The upgrade, even in complex setups, is quite straightforward if you have experience maintaining a Debian machine.  The benefits are huge: A solid release with relatively current packages that will be maintained until 2011 but has a clean, clear upgrade path at any time along the release cycle.

Ubuntu Linux was founded by Mark Shuttleworth, a South African dot-com millionaire. I've read much of what he's written and think that he's on the right track to bringing Linux to mainstream users.  Mark treats this endeavour as part speculative investment and part philanthropic gesture.  I feel that his deep investment and care in Linux is timed perfectly and is exactly what Linux needed.

Linux isn't Mac OSX, it isn't Windows.  It isn't even Solaris.  Before Ubuntu, Linux distributions started as one or two person off-shoots of Red Hat or Debian and as they grew in popularity, they would diverge and eventually try to compete head-on with other commercial operating systems.  This is fine, but they would do this on the traditional operating systems terms, adding false limitations to sell more expensive versions of basically the same software to customers following a Windows-style product line.  This has left us with Red Hat Workstation, SLED and SLES, but what do these differences really mean to the basics of what Linux actually is?  Nothing.  Take RH Workstation and add Apache or an NFS server and now suddenly you're breaking the license agreement and running something closer to Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server.  Why?  For the addition of a couple of packages.  These artificial limitations have always rubbed me the wrong way.  Linux is fundamentally different than Windows or Mac OSX and should be treated as such.  Simply aping their behaviours frustrates me, as it runs counter to the Free Software roots that Linux was built on.  Enter Ubuntu.  It's as slick as an "enterprise-grade" operating system without the artificial limitations imposed by other Linux distributions.

Red Hat has Fedora Core, SUSE has OpenSUSE.  Both of these offerings are pure-Open Source "community projects."  According to the companies, they are suitable for hobbyists but business customers are strongly encouraged to buy licenses and follow the same rules that they are used to following with traditional closed-source offerings.  Not so with Ubuntu.  There is no experimental Fedora Core-like release.  Just solid, predictable upgrades with occasional releases designated for Long Term Support.  In my opinion, this gives all of the benefits of an "Enterprise grade" operating system but without the artificial limitations.  Is this sustainable?  Is it profitable?  Perhaps not yet, but Ubuntu has gained major mind-share and market share in an incredibly short amount of time.  At this point, I would even argue that if Cannonical (the company founded by Shuttleworth to back the Ubuntu project) folded, the distribution has enough support and backing to continue on without further financial aid.

I may have cut my teeth on Red Hat Linux ten years ago but when I delved into Debian that was it for me.  People looking to move to Linux keep trying to find a distribution that suits them.  This is one of the joys and frustrations of Linux: There's simply no end of choice.  Until Ubuntu hit the scene in late 2004, I was flipping between Debian and other Debian-derived distributions such as Corel Linux, Storm Linux, Progeny Linux, Xandros, Lindows, and finally Mepis.  Through all of this, I was able to migrate away from each of these to pure Debian if or when I needed to.  This is because all of these distributions were built on Debian's base.  While this is also true of Ubuntu, in my opinion, Ubuntu is Debian done right.  I've been tracking and using it since the beginning and am now confident that in time, it and Red Hat will emerge as the two main Linux distributions of choice.