Ubuntu strikes many people in the western world as an odd name for an operating system. They may not know that in the African languages of Zulu and Xhosa the word means roughly "humanity towards others."It’s a name that sums up the concept behind the Linux distribution known as Ubuntu – especially since it was South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth, one of the key financial backers of its development, who selected it.
The makers of Ubuntu have made it their mission to make an operating system that is as easy to use as possible – and to provide it for free. Version 9.10, also known as Karmic Koala, was recently released. Does it live up to its programmers’ lofty goals?
Unlike Windows or Mac OS, it’s very difficult to determine howmany users are running any given Linux distribution. After all, the software is licensed for free copying and redistribution. A check with Google Trends does show, however, that interest in Ubuntu among internet users has grown significantly in recent years in comparison with other popular Linux variants like Open Suse or Fedora. The system is far ahead of the competition when it comes to that kind of search query.
Why Ubuntu instead of other variants? "The developers are attempting to adapt to the needs of private users as much as possible," explains Kristian Kissling from Ubuntu User magazine. There is also a lively community of users who make their experience and knowledge available to other internet users.
The new Karmic Koala contains more updates than any Ubuntu release in some time, reports German computer magazine c’t. Users will certainly notice one thing from the start: the system boots up much quicker. The reworked design also stands out. While it still features the brown tones for which Ubuntu is known, it also reminds one a bit of the Mac OS interface.
One important feature is the new software centre, Kissling says. A bit of background: modern Linux distributions all possess a so-called package manager. This is a utility to help users install new software not included with Linux itself. Instead of searching through the web for a specific program, the package manager handles the heavy lifting.
Yet sometimes the software is also available from a variety of different sources – which can be highly confusing for lay users. The software centre works to remedy that problem. "Instead of dozens of files, only the three or four that are really needed are displayed," Kissling explains.
There’s been a lot of buzz lately about cloud computing. Google, for example, offers a word processor that doesn’t have to be installed at all on the computer. It is instead accessed directly through the browser. Internet-based storage space has also been drawing attention.
Canonical, a Shuttleworth-owned company that helps finance the development of Ubuntu, is offering the Ubuntu One function, which provides two gigabytes of free online storage to any user who signs up. More storage is available for a fee – which has riled the feathers of some members of the Ubuntu community, Kristian Kissling says. "But no-one is forced to go for the deal."
Ext4 is the name of the file system used by Ubuntu 9.10. It allows for quicker access to files. "The bump in speed is noticeable," Kissling says. The distributions also come with various applications pre-installed. For Ubuntu that includes the Firefox browser as well as photo editing software, chat, office applications, and programs to play back music and videos.
Yet Ubuntu 9.10 remains a sort of interim version: The developers release an "LTS," or Long Term Support, version every two years or so. Each LTS version brings with it an implicit promise from developers that updates will be provided for those software packages for three years (desktop) or five years (servers).
On LTS versions the focus during development is on system stability. The current LTS version remains version 8.04, dubbed Hardy Heron, as released in April 2008. Lucid Lynx, the next LS version of Ubuntu, will reportedly be published in April 2010.