Business-like, isn't he?



Business in Vancouver logo

    Ubuntu offers another Windows alternative

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business in Vancouver 

    September 19-25, 2006; issue 882

    High Tech Office

    This column has been looking at Linux, an alternative to Microsoft’s Windows. Linux comes in a dizzying variety of “distributions,” some free and some not. We’ve looked at a pair of commercial Linux releases: Xandros, which is aimed at home and small business users, and Novell SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, which is primarily for users in large organizations.

    Both are from companies offering a ready-to-install package of operating system and applications combined with value-added extras and support. But Linux also appeals to do-it-yourselfers, users prepared to set up and configure their own systems and less interested in formal tech support. (And even if you’re not in that category, when was the last time you got actual support from the likes of Microsoft?)

    The current favourite of the Linux do-it-yourself set is Ubuntu Linux, the name of which comes from an African word that roughly translated means “humanity to others.”

    Ubuntu ( describes its offerings as “Linux for human beings.” Its versions are free and open source, with support from the community of users. If you’re unable to download the 600-megabyte CD images, they’ll mail you copies of the installation CDs free.

    Ubuntu comes in versions for standard 32-bit PCs, new high-end 64-bit PCs and PowerPCs (such as Macs made prior to 2006). The standard Ubuntu uses the somewhat Mac-like Gnome user interface. There’s an alternative Kubuntu package based on the more Windows-like KDE interface, as well as several other variants.

    Because it’s fully open source, whether you’ve downloaded and burned your own CD or gotten an official one mailed to you, you can legally use it on as many computers as you like. The installation CD is also a “live” version, which means you can boot directly to it and run all the programs on it without installing anything onto your hard drive – a good way to try Ubuntu without having to commit to keeping it or to have a safe and secure way to connect to the Internet.

    Also handy: disk utilities on the CD can be used if Windows is being cranky or if you want to modify your hard drive partitioning without wrecking your data or Windows installation.

    Assuming you’ve got 10 gigabytes or so free, you can install it while keeping Windows; at boot-up, you pick the operating system you want to run.

    There’s a down-side to Ubuntu’s free, open source philosophy. Unlike paid Linux distributions like Xandros or Novell’s SLED, Ubuntu doesn’t include anything that isn’t covered by open source licences.

    If you want free software like the Linux versions of Adobe Acrobat or Real Player, you’ll have to add them yourself.

    Luckily, Ubuntu makes that easy. There’s a well-integrated Add-Remove Programs item in the menu that makes it simple to add software. (A tip: click the options to show “unsupported” and “commercial” applications for the most choices).

    And a fresh Ubuntu installation is somewhat multimedia challenged. While software to run popular music and video files is installed, out of the box it won’t work with files as common as music MP3s, because the file formats require non-open source add-ons. EasyUbuntu ( walks users through the process of making it all work as it ought to.

    Right now, I’m typing this on a laptop using’s word processor running under Ubuntu. With it, I can get my work done, do pretty much all the Internet stuff I might expect, connect to my printer, digital camera, iPod and Palm PDA, as well as connect to the Windows systems and Macs on my network and more. And all using an operating system and applications that are free (and legal) and virus and spyware free. Pretty good for a do-it-yourself project.

Search WWW Search

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan