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Ubuntu (Linux distribution)

Ubuntu (official IPA pronunciation /ùbúntú/ (OO-BOON-TOO)) is a predominantly desktop-oriented Linux distribution, based on Debian GNU/Linux but with a stronger focus on usability, regular releases, and ease of installation. Ubuntu is sponsored by Canonical Ltd, owned by South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth; the name of the distribution comes from the African concept of ubuntu which may be rendered roughly as "humanity toward others", though other meanings have been suggested.

The most recent version, Ubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fawn), was released on April 19, 2007. Version 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) is scheduled for release on October 18, 2007. Ubuntu aims to use only free software to provide an up-to-date yet stable operating system for the average user.

Kubuntu and Xubuntu are official subprojects of the Ubuntu project, aiming to bring the KDE and Xfce desktop environments to the Ubuntu core. Edubuntu is an official subproject "designed for school environments, and should be equally suitable for kids to use at home."

History and development process

Ubuntu's first release was on October 20, 2004, which began by making a temporary fork of the Debian GNU/Linux project.This was done so that a new version of Ubuntu could be released every six months, resulting in a more frequently updated system. Ubuntu releases always include the most recent GNOME release, and are scheduled to be released about a month after GNOME. In contrast with previous general-purpose forks of Debian—such as MEPIS, Xandros, Linspire, Progeny and Libranet, many of which relied on closed-source add-ons as part of their business model—Ubuntu has stayed closer to Debian's philosophy and uses free (libre) software most of the time.

Ubuntu packages have generally been based on packages from Debian's unstable branch: both distributions use Debian's deb package format and APT/Synaptic to manage installed packages. Ubuntu has contributed all changes directly and immediately back to Debian, rather than announcing them only at release time, although Debian and Ubuntu packages are not necessarily 'binary compatible' with each other. Many Ubuntu developers are also maintainers of key packages within Debian itself. However, Ian Murdock, the founder of Debian, criticised Ubuntu for incompatibilities between its packages and those of Debian, saying that Ubuntu had diverged too far from Debian Sarge to remain compatible.

There are plans for a branch codenamed Grumpy Groundhog. It will be a permanently unstable development and testing branch, pulling the source directly out of the revision control of the various programs and applications that are shipped as part of Ubuntu. This will allow power users and upstream developers to test up-to-the-minute versions of individual programs as they would appear if packaged for the distribution today, without needing to build packages themselves; it will be able to provide early warning of build failures on various architectures. It is intended that Grumpy Groundhog should merge with Debian Unstable every six months. Grumpy Groundhog has not been made available to the public yet.

Ubuntu is currently funded by Canonical Ltd. On July 8, 2005, Mark Shuttleworth and Canonical Ltd announced the creation of the Ubuntu Foundation and provided an initial funding of US$10 million. The purpose of the foundation is to ensure the support and development for all future versions of Ubuntu, but as of 2006, the foundation remains dormant. Mark Shuttleworth describes the foundation as an emergency fund in case Canonical's involvement ends.

On 1 May 2007, Dell announced they would sell desktops and laptops with Ubuntu installed and on 24 May 2007 these computers went on sale. They also stated that customers would be able to buy support for Ubuntu through Dell, with the support coming from Canonical.

During July 2007 at Ubuntu Live 2007, Mark Shuttleworth announced that Ubuntu 8.04 (out April 2008) would be the next LTS (Long Term Support) release. He also added that Canonical is committed to releasing a new LTS version every two years.


Ubuntu focuses on usability, including the widespread use of the sudo tool for administrative tasks. The Ubiquity installer allows installing Ubuntu to the hard disk from within the Live CD environment without the need for restarting the computer prior to installation. Ubuntu furthermore emphasises accessibility and internationalization, to reach as many people as possible. As of version 5.04, UTF-8 is the default character encoding. The default appearance of the user interface in the current version is called Human and is characterised by shades of brown and orange.

Besides standard system tools and other small applications, Ubuntu comes installed with the software: OpenOffice.org, the internet browser Firefox, the instant messenger Gaim (Pidgin), and the raster graphics editor GIMP. Several lightweight card and puzzle games are included. Ubuntu has all ports closed by default adding to security, although some people choose to run a firewall in order to keep tabs of incoming and outgoing connections.

Ubuntu offers a full feature set that works straight from the standard install, but nonetheless fits on a single CD. The live CD allows users to see whether their hardware is compatible before installation to the hard disk. The live CD is then used to install Ubuntu. CDs are mailed free to anyone who requests them, and CD images are available for download. The Ubuntu live CD requires 256 megabytes of RAM, and once installed on the hard disk, Ubuntu needs four gigabytes of hard-disk space. An alternate install disc using the standard debian-installer in text mode is available for download only, and is aimed at people with lower system specifications, computer dealers selling systems already installed with Ubuntu, and for complex partitioning including the use of LVM or RAID.

With the release of Ubuntu 7.04 in April 2007, the Ubuntu installation process changed slightly. It now supports migration from Windows. The new migration tool imports Windows users' bookmarks, desktop background (wallpaper), and settings for immediate use in the Ubuntu installation (not the live CD).

Package classification and support

Ubuntu divides all software into four sections, called components, to reflect differences in licensing and level of support available.

Packages are assigned to components as follows:

"Free" software here includes only that which meets the Ubuntu license requirements, which correspond roughly to the Debian Free Software Guidelines. There is one caveat for Main however; it "also may contain binary firmware and selected fonts (which are used by free components of Main) that cannot be modified without permission from their authors" so long as their "redistribution is unencumbered."

Non-free software is usually unsupported (Multiverse), but some exceptions (Restricted) are made for very important non-free software, such as non-free device drivers, without which users might be prevented from running Ubuntu on their system, particularly binary-only graphics card drivers. The level of support is more limited than for main, since the developers may not have access to the source code.

It is intended that Main and Restricted should contain all software needed for a general-use Linux system. Alternative programs for the same tasks and programs for specialised applications are placed in Universe and Multiverse.

Beyond the official repositories is Ubuntu Backports, which is an officially recognised project to backport newer versions of certain software that are available only in unstable versions of Ubuntu. The repository is not comprehensive; it mostly consists of user-requested packages, which are approved if they meet quality guidelines.

Availability of proprietary software

Ubuntu has a certification system for third party software. Ubuntu-certified proprietary software should work well in Ubuntu. However, many programs familiar to users of non-free operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows, are incompatible and are not Ubuntu-certified. Some proprietary software that does not limit distribution is included in Ubuntu's multiverse component.

Some examples of software not distributed by Ubuntu include:

  • Software that enables the playback of region-locked video DVDs, due to the questionable legal status of the Libdvdcss open-source DVD-decoding library in some parts of the world. (Note: the library is needed even when watching a DVD in the target region.)
  • Encoding and decoding libraries for many proprietary media formats such as Windows Media.
  • Some popular proprietary web-browser plugins, such as Adobe's (formerly Macromedia's) Shockwave (there is no Linux version) and Flash. (One workaround to the specific prohibition against redistribution in the Flash EULA is the multiverse package "flashplugin-nonfree" which automatically downloads the Linux Flash plugin directly from Adobe's site and then installs it.)


    Each release has both a code name and a version number. The version number is based on the year and month of release. For example, the very first release of Ubuntu, 4.10, was released on October 20, 2004. Below is a list of previous and planned releases.

  • 4.10 20 October 2004 Warty Warthog Sounder April 30, 2006 Initial release, support for x86, x86-64, PowerPC. ShipIt. 5.04 8 April 2005 Hoary Hedgehog Array October 31, 2006 Inclusion of update-manager/upgrade-notifier, Kickstart compatibility, improved laptop support.
  • 5.10 13 October 2005 Breezy Badger Colony April 13, 2007 Graphical boot process with progress bar (USplash), OEM Installer Support, Launchpad tracking, GCC 4.0
  • 6.06 LTS 1 June 2006 Dapper Drake Flight June 2009 (desktops) LiveCD and Installer on one disc, Ubiquity installer. First Long-Term Support release. The next LTS release is planned after Gutsy (April 2008) June 2011 (servers)
  • 6.10 26 October 2006 Edgy Eft Knot April 2008 Automated problem reports, Upstart
  • 7.04 19 April 2007 Feisty Fawn Herd October 2008 Migration assistant, KVM, Easy codec/restricted drivers installation, Desktop effects, WPA support, PowerPC support officially dropped.
  • 7.10 Planned for 18 October 2007 Gutsy Gibbon Tribe April 2009 Fast desktop search, fast user switching, new deskbar applet, and the AppArmor security framework were introduced, as well as a graphical configuration tool for X, significant improvements in plug-in handling for Mozilla Firefox, and a revamped printing system with PDF printing by default. Daily builds are available since 30 May 2007

    Release 6.06 is labeled as a Long Term Support (LTS), to indicate that it will be supported with updates for three years on the desktop and five years on the server, with paid technical support available from Canonical Ltd. also for three and five years, respectively. It was released on June 1, 2006, and included GNOME 2.14 (or KDE 3.5.2 in Kubuntu), Mozilla Firefox, OpenOffice 2.0.2, Xorg 7.0, GCC 4.0.3, and version 2.6.15 of the Linux kernel at release time. Several packages have been upgraded since.


    There are several variants besides Ubuntu, both official and unofficial. Official ones such as Kubuntu, Edubuntu and Xubuntu are all free by mail order from ShipIt except Xubuntu. These simply install a different set of packages from the original Ubuntu, but since they draw additional packages and updates from the same repositories as Ubuntu, all of the same software is available for each of them. These different versions correspond to development efforts run by largely separate groups of people who try to bring different functionalities to the distribution:

  • Kubuntu, a desktop distribution using KDE rather than GNOME
  • Edubuntu, a distribution designed for classrooms using GNOME
  • Xubuntu, a "lightweight" distribution based on the Xfce desktop environment instead of GNOME
  • Ubuntu Server Edition has been released alongside the desktop version since Ubuntu 5.10 Breezy Badger. This provides server applications such as an e-mail server, a LAMP web server platform, as well as tools for DNS, file serving and database management. Compared with the original desktop edition, the server edition comes as a smaller CD image and has a lower level of hardware requirements. It runs on a minimum of 500 megabytes of hard disk and 64 megabytes of RAM.
  • Gobuntu, a variant of Ubuntu which consists of entirely free software, documentation, artwork etc.

    Unofficial variants and derivatives are not controlled or guided by Canonical and are generally forks with different goals in mind.

    System Requirements

    Ubuntu is available and officially supported for the i386 and x86-64 architectures. There are also unofficial ports to the PowerPC, IA-64 (Itanium) and SPARC architectures and the PlayStation 3; the PowerPC port was officially supported, but support for it was dropped with the release of version 7.10. At least 256 MB of memory is required to run the desktop install CD, although by using an alternate method the system can be installed and run with less. A normal installation requires at least 4 GB of disk space.


    The Ubuntu page on Distrowatch.com has been the most frequently accessed of their comprehensive list of Linux distributions for more than a year, and Ubuntu was awarded the Reader Award for best Linux distribution at the 2005 LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in London. It has been favourably reviewed in online and print publications. Many reviewers of Ubuntu point out a main part of Ubuntu's success is the fact it has a very large community. Mark Shuttleworth indicates that there were at least 8 million Ubuntu users at the end of 2006.

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