Today is October 29th, 2009 and Canonical Ltd. has just released the latest version of it's computer operating system, Ubuntu 9.10 (nine point ten, not nine point one... meaning 20'09', 10th month), which has been given the code name, 'Karmic Koala'.
There have been a number of very nice improvements from the 9.04 (2009 ,4th month) release. Ubuntu 9.04 is the first Linux-based system I have ever continued to use. What I mean by that is that I've run many 'Linux-based' operating systems based off debian, suse, fedora, etc... but as a friend of mine put it, I always ran into a serious 'deal-breaker' that caused me to pass on a 'Linux-based' system.
That said, I find Ubuntu to be the first 'Linux-based' OS that is usable to a degree that I would expect. It is highly-configurable, which I personally love. I've used Apple's OS X as my main system, as well as most of Microsoft's Windows OS's (currently running Vista 32bit and have the beta of Windows 7 as well). I really like OS X because it's Unix style system allows for basic use by less technically adept users but also allows the more techy individual to have pretty good control. Windows falls short of this in my opinion because Microsoft seems to assume all end-users 'should' be Microsoft certified or at least have used a version since Windows 95. Microsoft's approach to it's expectations of it's user base to use Windows, while claiming 'it just works', is like Fox News claiming it is 'fair and balanced'... Neither should make those claims... actually Microsoft has more of a right because it could be that their saying "it just (barely) works" or "it just works (if the stars are aligned just right)".
Back to Linux-based systems... The thing I've heard, as at times in the past have also believed, is that Linux (in the broad-generalized term that includes all Linux-based systems) is developed by pimply-faced teenagers or middle-aged perverts, both of which are unemployed or barely employed and while living in their parents basement, program this linux operating system as a hobby because they are angry at the establishment.... In fact, most of the people who contribute code to the development of the linux kernel, and other of the larger open-source projects like the Gnome Desktop Environment, and Open Office, are college graduates who have good paying jobs in IT for large corporations, many of which are Fortune 500 companies... Linux is NOT just for teenagers who need a hobby. A majority of the web-servers that host websites on the internet are running on Linux-based systems like Red Hat(the current 'leader in enterprise linux' which also distributes the Fedora OS, a derivitive of Red Hat), Solaris and Open Solaris (a linux-based derivitive from Sun Microsystems, the company responsible for Java as well as OpenOffice). In fact, even Microsoft's own Bing.com search engine relies on some sort of Linux Server to accomplish its prime-directive... Funny, as you'd think they'd prefer to use Windows Server 2008 for that job... huh...
Anyway, the point of me writing this article is sadly that there are only a few things that are sadly keeping people from adopting a very solid Linux-based Desktop Operating System like Ubuntu in their homes.
1. People are generally lazy. Capitalism relies on the tried and true marketing techniques where a vendor is expected to reassure the consumer that 'we will think for you, you can trust us, this is what you're getting and this is why you should go with us...'. When it comes to Operating Systems and Computers in the home, Apple actually has a very competitively priced product but Windows PCs are marketed using a deceptive technique of deferring the cost of ownership over the lifetime of the machine... People are not encouraged to factor in the quality of the computer's parts, not to mention the way they are actually designed to work efficiently with eachother, nor are most people educated enough to sort through that information. Apple includes a lot more useful tools that come with the OS X operating system that is specifically designed to work seamlessly with the hardware that is also built to Apple's specifications...
Because people are lazy, and therefore would rather trust a stranger who 'sounds legit' most people don't factor in the amount of trouble they have already dealt with when they have used their Windows based PC. People who actually switch to a Mac don't just switch and automatically know where everything is. They poke around. They Google stuff to find out 'how to do' whatever it is that they know their computer should be able to do.
That leads to the second point...
2. Average computer users are afraid of the word Linux. Linux inspires thoughts of a system that only an uber-geek can use, made up of command-lines that use commands that you 'just have to know'. Linux inspires thoughts that 'I can't use Linux because I don't know any programming'... or I don't know how to compile source code...
It's easy to predict, sad as it is, that most people who migrate to Linux-based systems feel so out of their element that it's like they even forget that Google exists... Okay, so you're wireless driver doesn't work... Oh God, the I guess Linux isn't ready for primetime... I've never had a driver issue on a Windows machine... (that's sarcasm) REALLY!?
Bottom line, Ubuntu is a Linux-based system. Linux is only the Linux Kernel. All Linux-based OS's stem from a few derivitive Linux kernels. Ubuntu uses a derived Debian Linux Kernel. Ubuntu is only one of hundreds of other Linux distributions (or other Linux-based Operating Systems). Ubuntu is almost without a doubt the most mature of all the current 'distros' (distributions). It is very stable and very fast. It requires a user to grasp a couple concepts that are only slightly different than Windows. A lot of it is just knowing 'what button do I push to do this'. Concepts like drag and drop and browsers that connect to the internet and Word processors and media center software and mp3s and all of that stuff is all there. Can you use Windows software? I answer with a question, Can you use Mac software on a Windows machine? Ubuntu is not Windows... However, Ubuntu (and many other Linux-based systems) can run "WINE" which can run many Windows programs within a Linux-based system like Ubuntu. Ubuntu comes with WINE pre-installed. However before you use WINE to run Windows Programs in a emulated environment (since it can be slower and sometimes buggy because it's trying to mimic Windows' software architecture) you will come to find that there is most likely an equivilent to the Windows program within the Ubuntu Software Center. The Ubuntu Software Center (new in 9.10) gives you a straight forward interface to access thousands of free applications that you can add to your computer.
Give it a try... You can download a 'liveCD' which runs Ubuntu from a CD without installing it on your computer giving you the ability to try it out before actually making any changes to your system. Keep in mind, you may not get the full experience of Ubuntu by running the LiveCD like you would when you actually install it. If you have a certain component like your ethernet or wireless card not being recognized while running the LiveCD, that DOES NOT necessarily mean that does not work with Ubuntu. It could be that it will be recognized flawlessly when the OS is installed. It could mean that you have to do a little Googling and might have to access the 'Terminal' and type in a couple command lines from a web page.
The huge benefit of Ubuntu is the Open Source community... If you have an issue with a certain card, there is almost always someone who has already found a way to make it work and has documented it. If it's a driver issues, there may be a programmer who has been able to take the open-source code for another ethernet card and get it to work with the card you have. This is increasingly the exception. In most cases, installations of Ubuntu at this point can be quite painless.