Ubuntu 10.04 brings Linux closer to the mainstream

By Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 30, 2010

No Windows viruses. Free. Any questions?

Of course. Start with this one: How can an operating system with those virtues, the open-source Linux, remain confined to a tiny minority of desktop and laptop computers at home?

Linux may run TiVo video recorders and live inside Android phones, in addition to running much of the Internet's servers, but it still lags on home PCs.

Will that change anytime soon? A new version of a consumer-oriented edition of Linux, Ubuntu (http://ubuntu.com), offers hope for Linux optimists but leaves room for doubters, too.

Ubuntu 10.04, nicknamed "Lucid Lynx," comes from London-based Canonical, but like other open-source releases, it benefits from other programmers who have improved its source code.

As for those names, Canonical christens its versions after the year and month of their delivery as well as an alphabetical series of animals (the release I tested last year was Ubuntu 9.10, "Karmic Koala"). The word "Ubuntu," in turn, comes from South Africa's Zulu and Xhosa languages and, Canonical says, means "humanity to others."

Installing Ubuntu 10.04, shipped in late April, starts with a large download you either burn to a CD or DVD or, if you're installing it on computer without a disc drive, copy to a USB flash drive using extra software.

You can also use an Ubuntu disc as a "LiveCD," booting the computer off it without touching your data -- a smart way to protect your online banking.

I installed 10.04 on a months-old Sony Vaio laptop running Windows 7, then put its netbook edition on a 2008-vintage Dell laptop set up with Windows XP.

I've spent more time waiting for Windows to ingest last month's bug fixes: Within 30 minutes, Ubuntu's installer had partitioned each laptop's hard drive to park Linux alongside Windows and then rebooted into the new software. On the Dell, the Ubuntu installer also copied over such Windows settings as the desktop background and Mozilla Firefox bookmarks.

Ubuntu's desktop interface shouldn't look too foreign to Windows regulars. Its Start-menu equivalent resides at the screen's top-left corner instead of the bottom left, but otherwise there's little to get you lost.

Its netbook edition is another matter, in a good way. Instead of cramming an unmodified desktop interface on a small screen -- see, for instance, Microsoft's disappointing Windows 7 Starter Edition -- it presents folders and programs as large icons grouped in palettes that vaguely resemble an iPhone's home screen.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company