Ubuntu: a computer operating system built around community
Quick: what multisyllable word is associated with the spirit of South Africa? No, it’s not vuvuzela, that love-it-or-hate-it horn that provided a soundtrack for the World Cup, but “ubuntu,” a Bantu term for “humanity to others.” Ubuntu is also the name of -- and philosophy behind -- the most popular desktop variant of the Linux operating system.
Linux was originally developed by a Finnish programmer named Linus Torvalds and is based on UNIX, the open source operating system that’s been used on mainframes and minicomputers for decades (Linux = Linus + Unix). It's used in web servers, appliances, phones and cars, and runs both Google and Wikipedia. In the consumer operating system market though, it occupies a perennial third place, with only two percent of the market share for desktop operating systems.
Ubuntu was first released six years ago and has quickly become the most popular Linux distribution for personal computers. It’s maintained by a company called Canonical Ltd., a South African company that makes money by installing and servicing Ubuntu and Ubuntu-related software for large organizations.
According to the Canonical website, “Ubuntu is an ancient African word meaning 'humanity to others'. It also means 'I am what I am because of who we all are'. The Ubuntu operating system brings the spirit of Ubuntu to the world of computers.”
Simon Fraser University computer scientist Toby Donaldson says Ubuntu is popular because, unlike some other versions of Linux, it’s designed to be usable "out of the box" by ordinary computer users who are used to the level of user-friendliness you find in Windows and the Mac world. Ubuntu users, he says, are very enthusiastic about the software. “I think the passion comes from the fact that many of the users are early adopters with a pioneering spirit. Plus, since Linux is a community project and not the product of a particular company, the evangelists for it tend to be the users.”
One of those evangelists is Randall Ross, community manager and "buzz generator" of the ubuntu vancouver loco group, founded by Kim Kulak.
“I knew there must be hundreds (if not thousands) of Ubuntu users across Vancouver,” Ross says. “I envisioned all the fun we could have and positive energy we could build if we could somehow bring them all together. I also envisioned the buzz that could be created if people started seeing large numbers of people meeting because they all get Ubuntu. My ‘aha’ moment was when I realized that I could build an Ubuntu ecosystem where none existed before, catalyzing Ubuntu adoption. Good things can follow from that.”
A Ubuntu desktop
Ross, who often blogs about Ubuntu at http://randall.executiv.es/, says Ubuntu represents a completely new approach to computing. “No longer does a person need to sit back and wait (or complain) that their computer isn't doing what they want. With Ubuntu, they have direct and easy ways to get involved and improve the experience for themselves and everyone.” Says Ross, “Ubuntu includes one profoundly important component that no other operating system has: Community. The Ubuntu community is diverse, lively, and fun to be around. The Ubuntu community is real and local.”
He dismisses the thought that most Ubuntu users are hardcore computer geeks: “All types of people are in our group. Some examples: school teachers, artists, business people, students, musicians, welders, geologists, accountants, kayak instructors, authors, programmers, and poets.”
And that community, Ross says, can only get larger. “I like to call it the next Wikipedia, or even the next World Wide Web. Give it a couple of years.”
Donaldson also sees a bright future for Ubuntu and Linux, except on mobile devices such as smart phones and other consumer devices. “For devices like smart phones and tablets (and even graphics cards), I don't think Ubuntu, or any other Linux, is as good as you will get on Windows/Mac systems. Support for popular consumer devices seems to be one of the weak points of Linux.”
The Vancouver Ubuntu community meets four to five times a month, not just to discuss Ubuntu but also for potlucks, restaurant meals and general socializing. And everybody -- even people who use other operating systems -- is welcome. “We enjoy conversation, food and drinks, and we build community," Ross says.
Ubuntu Vancouver loco hopes to host the world’s largest Ubuntu party when version 10.10 of the software is released later this summer, he says. “Ubuntu Vancouver is famous for our release parties and 10.10 will be epic. Having over 500 members means we're on our way to hosting the largest Ubuntu party in the world. How fun would that be?”
For more information, and to join the fun, go to http://meetup.com/ubuntuvancouver.
In other tech news this week:
Not your parents’ internet monitor: The New York Times recently reviewed a “new generation” of internet monitoring services that “scour the Web to create easily digestible reports for parents of everything a child is doing online.” To find out which net monitoring service is for you (or not), go to http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/04/technology/04ping.html?ref=brad_stone.
Facebook users who are tired of countless messages from their “friends” about the crops they’ve harvested in the Farmville game might want to check out a new Facebook game called Farm Rescue. The developer calls it “a parody of the popular farming games on Facebook that exposes some of the tragedies of real factory farming. The purpose of the project is to educate the public about intensive confinement of egg-laying hens in battery cages, and how this confinement deprives hens of all of their most important natural behaviors, causing them intense frustration and pain.” For more information about Farm Rescue, go to http://www.animalvisuals.org/advocacy/farmrescue/.
And still with Facebook, the social media giant is teaming up with the British government to try to engage U.K. citizens in ways to fight that country’s deficit. This is being described as the “largest public engagement project” ever launched by the British government, “and the goal is to tap into the 26 million British citizens who actively use Facebook (Facebook) and get their feedback and ideas about policies associated with the public spending budget”, according to Mashable.com.
Technology can be dangerous while travelling, whether you’re a pedestrian or a motorist. Two unrelated stories that show the danger: The Globe and Mail has an interesting piece on pedestrians getting injured while texting or otherwise engaging with their phones rather than their surroundings. And Ford Motor Company still thinks that driving and social messaging can mix. Their solution: converting text messages to spoken messages.