Ubuntu’s new desktop friendly Linux alternative to Windows

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Linux as an operating system has it’s share of victories and losses. It has been victorious on the server front with more than 90% of all webservers running on it. On the desktop front however, Microsoft has remained king.  To give you a fair idea the following is the market share of OSes (desktop & mobile) as reported by internet usage data :

We see that Linux has a very dismal presence. The reason for its bad performance in the desktop space can be attributed to a lot of factors. Initially Linux was not meant to be a replacement OS at all. It was the brainchild of a student in the University of Hensinki called Linus Torvalds (hence the name). Torvalds wanted to make a unix clone for the educational community. After it’s potential was realized, big and anti-MS corporations such as IBM, Sun and Oracle started pushing their weight behind the penguin (Linux’s Mascot) and Linux gained acceptance in the Enterprise market.

It is important to note that Linux as the OS is completely free. Linux companies such as RedHat, Oracle or Novell make money on Linux by support and training. Unlike Windows Linux does not come in any single flavour. Multiple distributions offering Linux exist, and they differ esentially in look and feel but support common LINUX file standards. On the enterprise front, the most popular is Redhat Linux and Ubuntu is popular for desktops. Earlier on, What kept back people away from linux is unfamiliarity and unfriendly user interface. Application support has also been a problem as there were few useful applications for office, entertainment and internet. Cut forward to 10 years and the scenario has changed somewhat. Due to the fact that Linux is heavily supported by the community, Linux was fine tuned and made more user-friendly and more and more useful apps started showing up. It wasn’t linux alone, but included the whole open-source ecosphere which gave us great free technology such as Java and OpenOffice. The advent of web 2.0 sites and apps made native desktop applications unnecessary and mobile technology for internet use has caught up with PCs. You can do pretty much all you need on a browser.

So why is Microsoft still king?

What has really kept Microsoft unhinged has largely been Microsoft Office and proprietary file standards like FAT and NTFS. It also had to do a lot with an aggressive company maintaining it’s monopoly position by all means. But that’s another story.  However in 1999 a free software called OpenOffice arrived on the scene. It was horrible free alternative to microsoft office and supported a format called odf.  The company behind it was acquired bu Sun which itself got gobbled up by Oracle.  It has improved by leaps and bounds and is a very capable office suite. here’s a screenshot :

Now that is a PPT clone  running under windows of course, but provides the same slick functionality in Linux. then there’s online/downloadable apps like skype, messaging (GAIM), acrobat, MP3 players, basically whatver you run on windows.  and a linux browser renders the web and online apps the same way a Windows browser would do.

Coming to Ubuntu, it’s a Linux flavour developed by a company called Canonical, a private company founded (and funded) by South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth for the promotion of free software projects. They have been at it since 2004 and are in their 9th version. What makes this post relevant is that they are releasing the game changing 10th edition this weekend. And this is what it will look like this :

Not too shabby eh?

It will have excellent interoperability with Windows and introduces several improvement in terms of Social Network integration (facebook, twitter etc). Mind you no desktop OS (windows/mac) has done this yet. It is also entering Apple Territory with the introduction of UbuntuOne which is an iTunes like music application and will allow purchase of DRM-free music (plain MP3).

Bottomline! boys and girls. If you have a  PC which still runs on WinXP or earlier and you dont do anything fancy like gaming or Media authoring, and are not dependant heavily upon Microsoft Office or native windows apps, then give Lucid Lynx a go.. It may turn out to be a cheaper and a lighter alternative to Windows 7.

Useful links :
Click for review of the release and UbuntuOne

Installation Screenshots

Tech Commentary of the release

…………….. and lastly a cute pic of Tux eyeing Windows

– Debranjan



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