April 23, 2005
While it's true that I've had many good things to say about both Linspire
lately, my distribution of choice for myself and most of my CS friends and coleagues is Ubuntu Linux. Specifically, 5.04, or "Hoary Hedgehog." Bad release names aside, Ubuntu is a breath of fresh air on the Linux scene. Funded by Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu is a well-funded, well-guided Debian-derivative that is gaining both mindshare and marketshare faster than any distribution I've seen in recent memory. It's fast, it's easy to use and install, it looks great, it's free, it's well supported both by the parent company and a surprisingly large community. While other distributions may be better at certain aspects of a Linux desktop, overall Ubuntu is and continues to be second to none.
Ubuntuguide.org and ubuntuforums.org are both key to a truly pleasant Ubuntu experience. The forums, now officially supported by Cononical, are an invaluable resource, offering excellent support. Meanwhile, Ubuntuguide.org exists to answer all of the details of all of the little questions that pop up to new users. Want to know how to add the nvidia driver, play encrypted DVDs or view PDF files? Check out the guide. The guide is very practical, but it answers questions in a way that makes it impossible to support directly. Playing encrypted DVDs is at best quasi-legal. For this reason, Canonical can't really sponsor the site. However, to my knowledge, it hasn't done anything to shut it down. Realistically, that's good enough for me.
Ubuntu is based on Debian Sarge but lacks the politics that mire Debian proper. There are many examples of this: For one, Ubuntu only focuses on three architectures: x86, AMD64 and PowerPC while Debian includes support for Sparc, Mips, ARM and many other lesser known architectures. This is certainly one of Debian's great strengths, but for 99% of Linux users out there, x86, AMD64 and PPC is good enough. By targetting multiple architectures, Ubuntu keeps their work cross-platform enough to easily take on extra architectures, but it doesn't worry about having to catch all variations out there. This allows Ubuntu to focus on higher-level goals, such as the inclusion of X.org rather than Debian's XFree86. Ubuntu also packages a very slick and fine-tuned Gnome desktop. Ubuntu's is the first Gnome installation that I have liked since Helix Code's original release back in 2000.
Ubuntu stays focused on the things that most end-users care about: Great USB device support, excellent hardware detection, a slick desktop and fast bootup. 5.04 boots in about 30 seconds. Sure, it doesn't use a fnacy graphical boot screen, but you're up and running in Gnome before Fedora loads up the X11 server used by their boot screen. I know which I'd rather have.
Ubuntu is very aggressive with it's release schedule and the software it includes. 5.04 shipped Gnome 2.10.1 days after it had been released. Similarly fresh KDE, Mozilla, kernel and X.org packages were included. This is because the next beta release begins as the previous release is deemed stable. They are constantly testing new software as it is released. The result is a release that has the advantages of a mix of Testing, Unstable an Experimental with security patches like Debian Stable.
Ubuntu also ships with binary Nvidia and ATI video drivers, making quality 3D an out-of-the-box reality. You can also easily install Macromedia's Flash plugin, Adobe's new Reader 7 and Sun's 1.5 JDK. These are things that, for political reasons, simply could not be with Debian. This isn't to say that Ubuntu is a brilliant multimedia distribution. Like Red Hat, they don't ship with MP3 or encrypted DVD support. However, these minor problems are easily remedied by following very simple instructions set out on the ubuntuguide.org website.
Ubuntu the distribution is doing it's best to be inclusive. The developers work fairly closely with Debian and always submit patches to their packages. They are also keen to foster their own community. This has already resulted in the release of Kubuntu, a distribution of Ubuntu that uses KDE instead of Gnome.
Unlike any other, this distribution has breathed new life into the Debian community, giving it focus and once again forging ahaead with innovative new development.