Ubuntu is a distribution of Linux based on Debian Linux and Debian is based on two sound principles of open source operating systems, security and no licensing restrictions. The basic Ubuntu desktop edition CD is useful for simple desktop setups on old computers for people learning Linux for the first time. The Ubuntu alternate edition adds RAID and a more flexible setup.
The Debian DVD has everything on it for the odd complicated task. I have not had to resort to the Debian DVD for a year or two. The Ubuntu alternate edition has almost everything on it you need for complex disk configurations and is missing only a
live boot. The basic Ubuntu desktop edition has the live boot for testing. Between the two you can do almost everything. When the desktop and alternate editions run out of steam, you usually want Webmin for additional management options or, rarely, Fedora for the latest hardware updates.
Download Ubuntu from ubuntu.com.
CD or DVD?
Ubuntu fits on a CD and installs in old computers. Debian is available on DVD and has the flexibility to install every variation of Linux you need. Clearly the DVD is an advantage when you create a wide range of desktop and server computers. The Ubuntu CD is cheaper to distribute in large numbers and is ideal for the free CD given away on the front of magazines. Ubuntu contains enough to teach new Linux users and can install on older computers that have CD drives but not DVD drives.
My preference is to carry a USB DVD drive, a Debian DVD, and an Ubuntu alternate edition CD. Ubuntu is updated every six months and sometimes lacks hardware drivers. If the latest Ubuntu is a few months old and Fedora is new, I will also carry a Fedora CD.
Ubuntu or Fedora?
I prefer Debian Linux and Ubuntu is based on Debian. A lot of commercial servers are based on Red Hat and the Fedora Linux distribution is based on Red Hat. CentOS is another Linux distribution based on Red Hat. If you already use Red Hat based servers and want to add servers, you could use CentOS because CentOS is oriented to servers. When you use Red Hat and want to add desktop computers with the same update processes and directory layouts, use Fedora instead of CentOS or Ubuntu. Out of Red Hat, CentOS, and Fedora, Fedora has the latest hardware and software updates.
The Fedora installation process is good, more flexible than Ubuntu but not as clean, and more user friendly than Debian, but lacks the total control of Debian. Fedora competes with the optional detailed installation process provided in the Ubuntu alternate edition. If you are learning Linux across a year, you could use Ubuntu desktop edition for the first few months, the Ubuntu alternate edition or Fedora for the next few months, then switch to Debian or CentOS at the end of the year.
Ubuntu 10.10 arrived in October 2010. Do the hundreds of megabytes of downloaded updates change anything?
The login screen is a swirly image that makes you think of old Star Trek special effects. The graphics are more detailed and are a nice charcoal grey. A small number of administration tools improved their user interface.
Debian uses the oldest version of software it can get away with. Ubuntu has modern updates of some applications and unbelievably old versions of others. Ubuntu 10.10 installs the latest Firefox and an old version of Thunderbird.
When you first install Ubuntu, you run a catch up date that downloads about 90 MB per month since the distribution was created. When you are near the end of the six months life of the update, the downloads can be 300 MB or more.
I mentioned Ubuntu has a desktop version. There are more variations.
Ubuntu alternate download
The Ubuntu alternate installation appears to be the desktop edition plus RAID.
When you want to set up a server, you may want to set up a desktop computer as a print server or you may want to set up a RAID based computer with multiple network connections and multiple services. The Ubuntu server edition would work for the desktop computer converted to a print server or something similarly simple. The Ubuntu server CD would be one way to learn Linux while setting up your first server.
When you are ready for the complex tasks of setting up multifunctional servers or servers with many disks in multiple arrays, you might switch to Debian for more options and finer control. Ubuntu is Linux with training wheels and the server edition provides the very important service of helping you learn. Debian is too complicated for beginners. Debian is good for some professionals working on complicated server configurations. The Debian DVD has everything, making it a good choice for occasions when a server is created without Internet access.
KDE competes against Gnome as the user interface of choice in Linux. Gnome is more popular, successful, and most programs work in both Gnome and KDE. Kubuntu is Ubuntu with Gnome replaced by KDE.
This is the version of Linux you install when your 12 year olds get their first video camera and want to edit.
Edubuntu is a special version of Ubuntu preloaded with stuff for school kids. The Ubuntu Web site suggests the extra bits are aimed at children 3 to 18 years old. I think 12 year olds would be bored with Edubuntu and ready for Ubuntu Studio straight with no ice.
Gobuntu is Ubuntu without the U. Gobuntu is Ubuntu without software that has any licence restrictions and that is a good description of Debian, on which both Ubuntu and Gobuntu are built. If you are looking at Gobuntu, also look at Debian.
Xubuntu is another Ubuntu without the U. Xubuntu is Ubuntu without a lower software overhead and is closer to a good configuration of Debian. I prefer to use the fine control of Debian instead of Xubuntu.
Update: POWbuntu is my proposal for a new Ubuntu derivative when I can get enough support for the project.
Assemble your computer with at least one disk and a network connection. If your computer is on a network with MAC address filtering, you will need the MAC address for your network connection and will have to add the MAC address to your router.
Load the CD and start the computer. Ubuntu begins with a nice black screen, one graphic, and a menu.
Check CD for defects. and press
There is a quick check of the CD, a minute or two depending on the speed of the DVD drive, with a nice progress bar to indicate the time remaining. Press
Enter at the end when you are asked to restart, reboot, the computer. You end up back at the main menu.
If you are using a new computer or added new memory to on old computer, you can run a memory test by selecting the test from the main menu. Select
Memory test. Ubuntu starts memtest86 and that can run for hours. You really only need a couple of runs through the first few tests then you can cancel the test or just reset the computer to reboot from the CD.
On the desktop is an icon named
At the Welcome screen, select your language then the Forward button. You can click the Forward button using the mouse or select the Forward button using the tab key then press Enter.
Where are you?
You then select your city or a city in the same time zone. There is a map of the world where you select your region and see an enlargement of your region. You then select the city.
Select U.S. English for the standard keyboard used in Australia or select your country for a different keyboard. Some selections have a secondary list of variations. Press
Prepare disk space
You can choose between manual or guided disk space allocation. I chose the default guided allocation of the whole disk. Press
Who are you?
Enter your name, a short login name, and a password for your user account. Enter a name for the computer. Press
Ready to install
You see a list of the options you selected earlier. Go Install. Yes, there is a button labelled
Install instead of
There is also an button named
Advanced that I did not try. Perhaps I will try it another day. The Ubuntu installation is so fast that I could try several option in one morning while reading email.
You see a progress bar counting down the installation. This part of the installation should be quick because Ubuntu is installing only the minimum from the CD.
Ubuntu drags to a halt when configuring apt, the program used to get additional software and updates. Instead of just configuring apt, Ubuntu tries, without asking your permission, to connect to the Internet and scan a software mirror. Clearly Ubuntu would run into a problem if the Internet was not available or had an incompatible configuration. Software should never connect to the Internet without asking your permission.
I may try Ubuntu again with the network cable removed.
The installation from CD is finished. Click the
Restart now button.
You are asked to remove the CD in the message that presents the restart button. Leave the CD in the machine. After you press the
Restart now button, Ubuntu reads stuff from the CD then there is a second screen that asks you to remove the CD then to press Enter.
Login under your user id. You will see a message about updates. I found 138 updates waiting and most were listed as important security updates. The combined download is listed as 193 megabytes, 6 minutes of download on my broadband connection. I pressed
Unauthorised network access
The strange behaviour of the system when configuring apt suggests the installation process might be accessing the network without asking your permission, something that need fixing. Software should never access the network without first asking your permission. If you cannot trust the software to behave then you have to install the software with the network disconnected or switch to another Linux distribution.
The installed system then went off to somewhere and found out about updates without asking me if I want automatic updates, another thing that needs an emergency repair. The funny thing is, the downloaded updates are labelled security updates but none of them fix the software that looked for the updates without permission.
If you are using an Internet connection where you pay a lot of money per byte download then the Ubuntu uncontrolled network access will cost you a fortune. The Debian Jigdo approach is far cheaper after the initial download and the initial download can be minimised by reusing an existing Debian CD or DVD.
The Ubuntu desktop installation works the way installations should work for first time users. There is a secret way of gaining more flexibility once you know Linux but Debian offers better control and is the better choice for experience Linux users.
The 193 megabytes of updates suggests Ubuntu need to update their downloads more often because many people do not have the luxury of broadband at every computer. Debian offers weekly updates using Jigdo and that is a better choice for people installing Linux on many computers.
I cannot recommend the Ubuntu distribution for people with an expensive network connection because of the uncontrolled network access.