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Rob Pegoraro
Monday, August 21, 2006; 10:13 AM

Last month, I wrote a column about Microsoft ending support for all pre-2000 releases of Windows.

My conclusion that Microsoft had every right to do this, and that users must take responsibility for securing their own PCs, drew some slightly negative reaction.

Reaction, as in, "you scum-sucking Microsoft shill!" sort.

Many of those folks raised this salient point: What are they supposed to do with a perfectly usable old computer if Microsoft won't release any new software for it?

In yesterday's column, I looked at one possible answer, a new release of the Linux operating system, Ubuntu 6.06. I started hearing lots of good things about this software a year or so ago, then picked up a CD of it at the FOSE trade show in D.C. earlier this year. I was pleasantly surprised to pop that CD into my laptop, boot off it and find myself online via my wireless network almost instantly.

(For those Linux advocates wondering why I didn't write about any other distribution, I also tried out the latest Mandriva, Xandros and MEPIS releases and found them wanting in comparison to Ubuntu.)

After spending a month or so trying the current version of Ubuntu, including installing it on four or five of the laptops I wrote about last week, I think it's a viable Windows replacement, especially for the "I just use the computer for Web and e-mail" contingent.

That's not something I'm willing to say about most earlier Linux distributions; just compare yesterday's assessment with the verdict I rendered two years ago.(Yesterday's story is my fifth in-depth review of this operating system since I first threw a copy of Linux on a laptop in May 2002.)

Not Your Usual Internet Mogul

To note, one of the more interesting aspects about Ubuntu is the person largely responsible for it -- South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth -- who sold his company, Thawte Consulting, to Verisign, Inc. for $575 million in 2002.

Since then, Shuttleworth used some of his share of the proceeds to underwrite Ubuntu and other open-source projects. He also shelled-out $20 million to the Russian space agency for a visit to the International Space Station in 2002. No, I'm not jealous. . .

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