Ubuntu (uːˈbuːntuː in English, [ùɓúntú] in Zulu) is a free computer operating system based on the Linux Kernel. Its name comes from the Zulu word "en:ubuntu", loosely translated as "humanity" or "A person is a person only through other people". Ubuntu's goals include providing an up-to-date, stable operating system for the average user, with a strong focus on usability and ease of installation. Ubuntu has been rated as the most popular Linux distribution for the desktop, claiming approximately 30% of desktop Linux installations in a survey.

Ubuntu is free and open source, meaning that not only is it distributed without charge, it may also be freely improved upon. Ubuntu is sponsored by UK based company Canonical Ltd, which is owned by South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth. Instead of selling Ubuntu itself, Canonical makes money by selling paid support for Ubuntu. By keeping Ubuntu free and open Canonical is able to leverage the talents of outside developers willing to contribute rather than having to do all development within the company itself.

Kubuntu and Xubuntu are official subprojects of the Ubuntu project, aiming to bring the KDE and Xfce desktop environments, respectively, to the Ubuntu core (by default Ubuntu uses GNOME for its desktop environment). Edubuntu is an official subproject designed for school environments and should be equally suitable for children to use at home. Gobuntu was an official subproject that is aimed at adhering strictly to the Free Software Foundation's Four Freedoms. Ubuntu JeOS (pronounced "Juice") is the newest official subproject. JeOS is a concept for what an operating system should look like in the context of a virtual appliance.

Ubuntu releases new versions every six months, and supports those releases for 18 months with daily security fixes and patches to critical bugs. LTS (Long Term Support) releases, which occur every two years, are supported for three years for desktops and five years for servers. The most recent version, Ubuntu 8.04 LTS (Hardy Heron), was released on April 24, 2008, although an update, Ubuntu 8.04.1 has been released. The next version will be 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) and is scheduled for release on 30th October 2008.

History and development process

Ubuntu's first release was on October 20, 2004, as a temporary fork of the Debian project. This was done so that a new version of Ubuntu could be released every six months, resulting in a more frequently updated system. Ubuntu releases always include the most recent GNOME release, and are scheduled to be released about a month after GNOME. In contrast with previous general-purpose forks of Debian — such as MEPIS, Xandros, Linspire, Progeny and Libranet, many of which relied on proprietary and closed source add-ons as part of their business model — Ubuntu has stayed closer to Debian's philosophy and uses free (libre) software most of the time.

The Ubuntu logo and typography has remained the same since that first release. The hand-drawn, lowercase OpenType font used is called Ubuntu-Title and was created by Andy Fitzsimon. The font is distributed under the terms of the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) and use with logos derived from the Ubuntu logo is encouraged. The font is available as a package for Ubuntu.

Ubuntu packages have generally been based on packages from Debian's unstable branch: both distributions use Debian's deb package format and APT/Synaptic to manage installed packages, although Debian and Ubuntu packages are not necessarily binary compatible with each other. Ubuntu cooperates with Debian — to some extent pushing changes back to Debian, although there has been criticism concerning lack of occurrence. Many Ubuntu developers are also maintainers of key packages within Debian. However, Ian Murdock, the founder of Debian, criticized Ubuntu packages for incompatibilities with Debian, saying Ubuntu had diverged too far from Debian Sarge to remain compatible.

Ubuntu is currently funded by Canonical Ltd. On July 8, 2005, Mark Shuttleworth and Canonical Ltd announced the creation of the Ubuntu Foundation and provided an initial funding of US$10 million. The purpose of the foundation is to ensure the support and development for all future versions of Ubuntu. Mark Shuttleworth describes the foundation as an emergency fund in case Canonical's involvement ends.

Ubuntu 8.04, released on April 24, 2008, is the current Long Term Support (LTS) release. Canonical has released previous LTS versions separated by two years, and has committed to releasing the next LTS version in 2010, two years after 8.04.

Vendor support

A number of vendors offer computers with Ubuntu pre-installed. Dell and Tesco have provided this option since 2007, while System 76 has done so since November 2005. Dell and System76 customers are able to choose between 30-day, three-month, and yearly Ubuntu support plans through Canonical, Ubuntu's parent company. Dell offers Ubuntu-driven computers for sale in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Spain, and Latin America. Selected Dell machines running Ubuntu 7.10 and 8.04 have proprietary, legal DVD playback capabilities using LinDVD.. Dell computers running Ubuntu 8.04 include extra support for ATI Video Graphics, Dell Wireless, Fingerprint Readers, HDMI, Bluetooth and MP3/WMA/WMV.


Ubuntu focuses on usability, including the widespread use of the sudo tool for administrative tasks. The Ubiquity installer allows installing Ubuntu to the hard disk from within the Live CD environment without the need for restarting the computer prior to installation. Ubuntu also emphasizes accessibility and internationalization, to reach as many people as possible. Beginning with 5.04, UTF-8 became the default character encoding. The default appearance of the user interface in the current version is called Human and is characterized by shades of brown and orange.

The most recent version of Ubuntu comes installed with a wide range of software including the OpenOffice.org productivity suite, the internet browser Firefox, the instant messenger Pidgin (formerly known as Gaim), the BitTorrent client Transmission, and the raster graphics editor GIMP. Several lightweight card, puzzle, and board games are pre-installed, such as Sudoku and chess. Ubuntu has all networking ports closed by default for added security; its firewall offers fine-grained control of incoming and outgoing connections. GNOME 2.22—the default desktop environment of Ubuntu 8.04—offers support for 46 languages. There are numerous ways to install Ubuntu, outlined below.

Live CD

Installation of Ubuntu is generally performed with the Live CD, which allows a user to try out the operating system before permanently installing it. Ubuntu can also be used without a hard-disk as it can be run directly from a flash drive. This is particularly useful in testing for hardware compatibility and driver support. The CD also contains the Ubiquity installer, which guides the user through the permanent installation process. Live CDs are mailed freely to anyone upon request, and CD images of all current and past distributions are available for download. Installing from the CD requires a minimum of 256 MB RAM.

Support for migration from Microsoft Windows was introduced in April 2007, when Ubuntu 7.04 was released. The new migration tool, called Migration Assistant, imports Windows users' bookmarks, desktop background (wallpaper), and various settings for immediate use in the Ubuntu installation.

Wubi allows the distribution to be installed on a virtual loop device requiring no partitioning. Wubi also makes use of the Windows migration tool to import users' settings. Wubi was initially developed as an independent project, and as such versions 7.04 and 7.10 were released as unofficial distributions. Wubi was later merged with Ubuntu, and as of 8.04-alpha5, Wubi can also be found in the Ubuntu Live CD. Another program, UNetbootin, makes it possible to install Ubuntu on a USB drive or Windows partition using an ISO file.

See also: List of remastering software

Many programs exist to create a customized Live CD/DVD of Ubuntu (a remaster), such as remastersys and Reconstructor.

Alternate installation

In addition to the Live CD, Ubuntu can be installed through alternate methods. One such method is the alternate install CD.

The alternate install CD is an installation disk designed for specialist Ubuntu configurations by providing a text-based (rather than graphical) installation. It allows for the creation of pre-configured OEM systems, the upgrading of older installations without network access, and installation on systems with less than 320 MB of RAM. The CD also allows LVM and/or RAID partitioning set up, as well as the encryption of partitions using dm-crypt. The alternate install CD is not a Live CD.

Ubuntu can also be installed over a network via the network install CD. The network install CD installs Ubuntu directly from an Ubuntu mirror. Installation from a mirror ensures that installed packages are up-to-date. The network install CD contains only the kernel to start the text-based installation.

The final alternate installation method is used to install Ubuntu Server. The server install CD contains all packages needed for installation without a network connection. The server installation does not install a graphical user interface for the OS.

Live USB

A Live USB of Ubuntu can be created manually or with tools like Ubuntu Live USB creator, Live USB system creator or UNetbootin.

Package classification and support

Ubuntu divides all software into four domains to reflect differences in licensing and the degree of support available. They are as follows:

!free software non-free software
supported Main Restricted
unsupported Universe Multiverse

Free software here includes only software that meets the Ubuntu licensing requirements, which roughly correspond to the Debian Free Software Guidelines. There is one exception for the Main category, however — it contains firmware and fonts which are not allowed to be modified, but are included because their distribution is otherwise unencumbered.

Non-free software is usually unsupported (Multiverse), but some exceptions (Restricted) are made for very important non-free software. Supported non-free software includes device drivers that can be used to run Ubuntu on some current hardware, such as binary-only graphics card drivers. The level of support in the Restricted category is more limited than that of Main, since the developers may not have access to the source code. It is intended that Main and Restricted should contain all software needed for a general-use Linux system. Alternative programs for the same tasks and programs for specialized applications are placed in the Universe and Multiverse categories.

Besides the official repositories is Ubuntu Backports, which is an officially recognized project to backport newer software from later versions of Ubuntu. The repository is not comprehensive; it consists primarily of user-requested packages, which are approved if they meet quality guidelines.

Availability of third-party software

Ubuntu has a certification system for third party software. Third party software certified with Ubuntu should work well in Ubuntu. Some third-party software that does not limit distribution is included in Ubuntu's multiverse component. The package ubuntu-restricted-extras additionally contains software that may be legally restricted, including support for MP3 and DVD playback, Microsoft TrueType core fonts, Sun's Java runtime environment, Adobe's Flash Player plugin, many common audio/video codecs, and unrar, an unarchiver for .rar files. Ultamatix (based on the old Automatix) can also install many popular software that may be difficult to install in other ways.


The Ubuntu project makes two releases per year, using the year and month of the release as a version number. The first Ubuntu release, for example, was Ubuntu 4.10 and was released on October 20, 2004. Consequently, version numbers for future versions are provisional; if the release is delayed until a different month to that planned, the version number changes accordingly.

Ubuntu releases are also given code names, using an adjective and an animal with the same first letter e.g: "Dapper Drake" and "Intrepid Ibex". With the exception of the first two releases, code names are in alphabetical order, allowing a quick determination of which release is newer. Commonly, Ubuntu releases are referred to using only the adjective portion of the code name.

Releases are timed to be approximately one month after GNOME releases, which are in turn about one month after releases of X.org. Consequently, every Ubuntu release comes with a newer version of both GNOME and X. Release 6.06—and recently 8.04—have been labeled as a Long Term Support (LTS), to indicate support with updates for three years on the desktop and five years on the server, with paid technical support available from Canonical Ltd.


Canonical offers Ubuntu installation CDs at no cost, including paid postage for destinations in most countries around the world, via a service called ShipIt. After a request for CDs is made and approved, disks are sent to the user's postal address in the mail at no charge. Delivery is estimated at six to ten weeks.

Only the most recent version of Ubuntu - and variants Kubuntu and Edubuntu - is offered for free via ShipIt. Other variants and earlier versions are available for Internet download, but not via ShipIt.


Several official and unofficial Ubuntu variants exist. Of the official variants, Kubuntu and Edubuntu are also available free of charge via mail order through Ubuntu's ShipIt service, but Xubuntu is not available. These Ubuntu variants simply install a set of packages different from the original Ubuntu, but since they draw additional packages and updates from the same repositories as Ubuntu, all of the same software is available for each of them. Unofficial variants and derivatives are not controlled or guided by Canonical and are generally forks with different goals in mind. These different versions correspond to development efforts run by largely separate groups of people who try to bring different functionalities to the distribution; increased stability and/or usability for differing end-user needs implemented through various default program configurations and user interface customizations. The official sister distributions are:

System requirements

The desktop version of Ubuntu currently supports the Intel x86 and the AMD64 architectures. Some server releases also support the SPARC architecture in addition to Intel x86 and AMD64. Unofficial support is available for the PowerPC, IA-64 (Itanium) and PlayStation 3 architectures.

The minimum system requirements for a desktop installation are a 300 MHz x86 processor, 64 MB of RAM, 4 GB of hard drive space, and a video card which supports VGA at 640x480 resolution. The recommended system requirements for the desktop installation are a 700 MHz x86 processor, 384 MB of RAM, 8 GB of hard drive space, and a video card which supports VGA at 1024×768 resolution. The server installation requires a 300 MHz x86 processor, 64 MB of RAM, and a video card which supports VGA at 640×480. Computers that do not meet the minimum recommended system requirements are suggested to try Xubuntu, based on Xfce, which requires roughly half of the RAM and disk space.

Desktop & Laptop Server
Required Recommended
Processor 300 MHz(x86) 700 MHz(x86) 300 MHz (x86)
Memory 64 MB 384 MB* 64 MB
Hard drive capacity 4 GB 8 GB 500 MB
Video card VGA @ 640x480 VGA @ 1280×1024 VGA @ 640×480
* - With compositing effects enabled


Ubuntu's popularity has climbed steadily since the software's release in 2004. Ubuntu has been the most viewed Linux distribution on Distrowatch.com three years running: 2005, 2006, 2007 and is currently the most viewed for 2008. Google searches for "Ubuntu" have been steadily climbing since 2004, while searches have been shrinking or plateauing for terms related to other major desktop Linux distributions such as "Fedora", "Debian" or "SUSE" over the same period. In an August 2007 survey of 38,500 visitors on DesktopLinux.com, Ubuntu was the most popular distribution with 30.3% of respondents claiming to use it.

Ubuntu was awarded the Reader Award for best Linux distribution at the 2005 LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in London, has been favorably reviewed in online and print publications, and has won InfoWorld's 2007 Bossie Award for Best Open Source Client OS.

Mark Shuttleworth indicated at least eight million people used Ubuntu by the end of 2006, resulting in a large up-spring of non-Canonical websites. These websites include general help sites (Easy Ubuntu Linux), dedicated weblogs (Ubuntu Gazette), niche websites (Ubuntu Women) and online publications (Full Circle).

Ubuntu has also received negative assessments. Ars Technica reviewed the initial release of Ubuntu 8.04 and concluded that while it was a clear improvement over Ubuntu 7.10, some flaws significantly detracted from the quality of the user experience. Specifically, Ars Technica felt that Transmission (a BitTorrent client) was too simple for BitTorrent power users, that the default search system Tracker was inferior to Beagle and that the PulseAudio configuration that shipped was buggy (a view shared by Pulseaudio creator Lennart Poettering, who states, "Ubuntu didn't exactly do a stellar job [adopting PulseAudio]. They didn't do their homework). PC World criticized the lack of an integrated desktop effects manager, although this did not prevent them from naming Ubuntu the "best all-around Linux distribution available today". ChannelWeb criticized the Wubi installer, noting that it hung after the installation was complete. ChannelWeb also noted that while they were able to connect to Microsoft Active Directories, the process was not seamless. In their preview of Ubuntu 8.04 InfoWorld stated that they felt Brasero's CD/DVD burning was lackluster as compared to similar pay-to-use programs available for Windows or Mac OS X.

Wikipedia servers run Ubuntu.

See also


a. The UltraSPARC and UltraSPARC T1 platforms are only supported by the Server Edition. b. Edgy Eft (6.10) was the last version to officially support the PowerPC architecture; newer PowerPC version is now community supported. Dapper Drake (6.06) is still officially supported for three years on the desktop and five years on the server.



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