Ubuntu linux history and details

The chief problem with linux (I don't want to keep writing GNU/linux) is that you need some expertise to set up a system, create users and connect peripherals. Even with the X window add-on, user friendly it ain't! Having made a fortune setting up and selling Thawte, Mark Shuttleworth did a noble thing in 2004 and spent a lot of money setting up Canonical and a team of developers. Their aim was to produce a linux version that could be installed by an ordinary person as easily as Windows, but still have the powerful extras of linux if needed as the user becomes more knowledgeable. Shuttleworth chose the African xhosa word ubuntu which means 'universal bond of sharing'.

Ubuntu works on the bazaar principle of shared management, so updates and new versions are frequent but always sensible. Each version has both a number and a name. The latest version 15.10 is called Wily Werewolf. Some versions like 15.10, 15.04 (Vivid Vervet), 14.10 (Utopic Unicorn) and 13.10 (Saucy Salamander) are only supported for a few months. Others like 12.04 (Precise Pangolin), 14.04 LTS (Trusty Thar) and the forthcoming 16.04 LTS (Xenial Xerus) are supported for several years. It really doesn't matter much to a non-commercial user. 15.10 marks a significant change. The Unity desktop has been dropped in favour of Gnome. If you have ubuntu on a disk you can run it from the disk without installing it. This allows you try it out before committing to it, though of course it runs more slowly.

You can buy ubuntu on a disk for £8 for ten, or download the software from and burn it to a CD disk image. Installation takes about 20 minutes including latest downloads and only requires you to answer questions similar to Windows about region and so on. You don't have to activate it. You don't have the irritation of re-activating when you make major hardware changes. You don't see a constant stream of bug fixes (sorry- updates) and when a new version is released it is for good reasons. Above all you don't have to pay for it, though you can and should contribute, voluntarily, what you can afford. If you have expertise you can contribute your skills directly.

If you have more than one similar hard disk you can set up a variety of RAID configurations to improve data security.

The Unity desktop is simple, clean and efficient. Start-up is about 45 seconds and shut-down about 20 on a relatively slow machine. No doubt it would be even faster using a solid-state drive. As with all aspects of ubuntu you can use the Unity Tweak Tool to change the desktop to your taste.

For many, or most, potential users of ubuntu, the basic ubuntu install is all they will need. It has a complete set of applications including office functions, internet access and multimedia.

Ubuntu includes access to a huge searchable repository of free or low-cost software. It handles the installation once you have made your choice and can be relied on not be corrupted with malware.

Of immense use to some is ubuntu one. This is a free 5 Gb archive space on the Internet that you can synchronise with files on your computer. However files are not encrypted as this would make sharing impossible. If you want encryption you must encrypt files before you upload them though that makes sharing more complicated as you would have to give out the password..

There are variants of ubuntu that will run on older, less powerful machines and you can set up a server to connect very simple and cheap PCs as 'thin clients'. Things have gone full circle and we now realise that a central processor with cheap PC terminals is a cost-effective and controllable way to run a system for companies and schools. There is now no need to throw away 'obsolete' machines. In fact you might locate an organisation upgrading to the latest Windows and set up your system for virtually nothing. There is a page devoted to the variants of ubuntu.

What will strike you as different from Windows?

One big difference from Windows is that linux treats all of the storage devices as part of one file system. You cannot look at drive C: or E:, only particular directories. New storage is 'mounted' onto the file system. Unless you choose otherwise all of your files will be stored in your one home directory. It's a lot more difficult to lose a file.

One huge difference is much better security. First you have to choose a password. Your screen will be locked after you have been away from the computer for a while. You enter your password to unlock it. Any software installations or changes also require you to enter your password. This will prevent mistakes and virus intrusions, though viruses are not yet a problem and might never be.

Secondly every file has an owner. The owner, or the superuser, sets the access rights to it, called permissions. There are three classes of user - owner, group and everyone. Each class can be given read, write or execute access to a file. Thus you can give yourself read, write and execute permission to a file, but only read permission to everyone else. It is very simple to set permissions. Right click the file/properties and click the permissions tab.

If you type ls -al you see something like:

-rwxrw-r-- peter coders 1530 Jun 6 17:30

The first character is set to d if it is a directory. The next nine are the permissions. The first three apply to the owner peter, the next three are the owners group, coders, and the last three are everyone. r means read permission, w means write and x means execute. Then there are the owner and the owner's group, the file size, the date and time of creation and finally the file's name.

Incidentally filenames can be up to 255 characters, and the extension is not mandatory. The metadata about the files - size, date, permissions, ownership and so on - are stored separately from the file in a table of inodes. A regular and reliable backup system is essential. Even if you have a separate hard disk for data, if the system disk fails then you will lose all your data because the inodes will have gone. So either use RAID, a rewriteable DVD or external data storage, like cloud or a network attached device if you can get one to work.


(C) Peter Scott 2013

Last edit 26 December 2015