Paul from MN writes:
I was surfing the web and came across a free computer operating system called Ubuntu. It says it is as good or better then the standard ones – claiming it cannot be infected by spyware, viruses, or be hacked.
Have you heard of it and what are your impressions of it?
Ubuntu is an operating system, similar to Microsoft Windows or MacOS, which is provided free of charge as an alternative to paid operating systems. Ubuntu is based on Linux, and is an open source operating system, meaning it’s developed in public and anyone can see or modify the code which makes it work.
Ubuntu is available at http://www.ubuntu.com/  and can be installed over your current operating system or along side it.
Ubuntu’s interface (pictured below) is both similar to and different than windows, although there is a fantastic walk-through tour of the operating system available. Click on the image below to take a look.
So why would you want to use Ubuntu? Here are three reasons:
1) Ubuntu is free and efficient. Microsoft Windows costs upwards of $200 for a full version ($99 for an upgrade), and this cost can go up a lot if you have multiple computers. Ubuntu is also very efficient, so it can run well on computers with much less CPU and RAM power than an equivalent Windows machine.
2) Ubuntu, by nature of being a Linux variant, is extremely virus resistant and secure. The way Linux operating systems are designed make them very hard to infect with a virus, and to date no Ubantu viruses have been found. The operating system is also designed in such a way that programs are more isolated and can run in a very secure way great for certain financial and business related needs.
3) Ubuntu is highly customizable. Ever wish you could have the task bar not show up in your company PCs and only have 2 programs load? In Windows that is a complicated process, and the task bar still remains. On an Ubuntu system, you can hire a programmer to customize the OS however you wish. Part of being open source means the entire code – everything that makes Ubantu work – is public, so someone with technical knowledge can edit it for a company’s specific needs.
Why wouldn’t I want to use Ubuntu? This boils down to two common complaints:
1) Ubuntu is not compatible with most software that will run on Windows or MacOS. There are many equivalent programs, which will give you similar functionality, but if you want to run Microsoft Office you’re out of luck (though Open Office is a fantastic alternative and will run just fine on Ubuntu). This will become less of a problem as more programs are put into the cloud and run off of websites, but it still poses a problem if you expect your current Windows software to be compatible on Ubuntu.
2) Ubuntu is different. While it’s not harder to use then a Windows PC (once you become familiar with how things operate), it is different. These differences pose a steep learning curve, and without technical knowledge, things like “sudo” in an instruction book will sound more like a misspelling than an actual command you need to type in. (The Sudo command functions much like runas: administrator in Windows – which lets you run a program as another user, usually the “Root” – which is the superuser in Ubuntu. It has access to all files/system processes).
So should you try out Ubuntu? That’s a more difficult question to answer than you would imagine. For a business, Ubuntu has some unique advantages – including security (if kept updated/patched like any operating system) along with customization, which lets you run basic web terminals with lower end hardware. For home users, it could allow you to give a basic web browsing PC to a child using a much older computer which can no longer run the most up to date Windows operating system. Ubuntu is also a fantastic environment for anyone who wants to learn programming, and since a large portion of servers/back end systems use a variant of Unix and C, the concepts and principals learned in Ubuntu will transfer over well.
Would I replace my new computer’s operating system with Ubuntu over windows 7? Not unless I needed something only Ubuntu offered. Would I setup a secondary hard drive or my old PC with Ubuntu to learn and use? Quite possibly.