What is Ubuntu?
Submitted by Catrin Jenkins on
If you've ever spent time shopping around for a new computer, at some point, you've probably found yourself wallowing in the depths of Wikipedia or scrolling through a mass of conflicting customer reviews.
Choosing a new computer, let alone an operating system, isn't always as straightforward as it may seem - particularly when you're busy running a business.
To help explain how it all works, we recently shone the spotlight on Windows 8 vs Mac OS X. These are two of the most popular commercial operating systems on the market. Now we're moving on to another operating system - Ubuntu - which is lesser-known outside of computing circles yet still carries many benefits for business users.
Here's the lowdown on Ubuntu:
What is it?
In a nutshell, Ubuntu is a free operating system. It's one of many distributions, or versions, of the Linux operating system. There are hundreds of Linux versions out there with varying levels of support, and Ubuntu is one of them. What this means is that you can download the OS directly from the Linux website, for free, and install it on your computer. You can run it alongside your existing OS, or use it as your default system.
The main difference between Ubuntu and operating systems like Mac OS or Windows is that the source code is visible, and editable, and even re-distributable. That's because it's based on open-source software. Their ethos is: "Ubuntu is entirely committed to the principles of open source software development; we encourage people to use open source software, improve it and pass it on."
What can it do?
If you're not familiar with anything other than Windows or Mac OS, you might consider Ubuntu an alternative operating system. Yet it has tens of millions of users to its name, and many are evangelical about the software's principles and performance.
For business users, it covers virtually every standard desktop application from word processing and spreadsheet applications to internet access, email software and more. Most of these programmes are free, and many are considered just as good as their commercial alternatives.
Is it good for business?
There are plenty of plus-points for business use. Ubuntu is highly customisable, given its open-source structure and choice of apps. When you buy a new computer with Windows, for instance, it will often come bundled with default programmes. With Ubuntu, you can choose from a huge range of open-source packages like Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice and more.
Rather than paying for commercial programmes, with Ubuntu they're free. You can of course opt for premium-rate packages if you like - but you can easily find thousands of open-source apps and programmes covering standard business procedures.
If you're not sold on the idea of using a free business system, you're not alone. But, there are hundreds of thousands of businesses across the world that have moved from other operating systems to Linux, and now use it as their standard OS. Among them, Amazon.com uses it extensively.
And it's not just businesses. Governments, including some U.S. government departments, use open source software and Linux-based systems. Another example is the French National Gendarmerie, which are migrating from Windows XP to Ubuntu.
What are the limitations?
If you just want an operating system to use, and you're not interested in tweaking or enhancing it (beyond changing your desktop colour scheme), you may feel more comfortable with a de facto system like Windows. As with any change, switching to a different OS takes familiarisation time - particularly as many standard programmes will be different too.
Also, many mainstream software programmes (such as word processing) are developed first for systems like Windows and Mac OS, and fewer are built with Linux in mind. There are often workarounds, but again this takes time to implement.
For non-technical business users, Linux versions like Ubuntu may not be the mainstream option, but that doesn't mean it should be ignored. Everyone has their favourite operating system, and millions of people use Linux distributions like Ubuntu for a reason. If you are looking for an alternative operating system, this is well worth a try. It's free, after all. That means you can give it a go without any cost or commitment. And if you don't like it, just remove it.
Have you tried Ubuntu? What do you like, or dislike, about it? What other Linux versions can you recommend?