[Author Prev][Author Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Author Index][Thread Index]

[school-discuss] Re: Ubuntu - Linux for Human Beings

on Wed, Apr 27, 2005 at 09:53:59AM -0300, Stephen Downes (stephen@xxxxxxxxx) wrote:
> Yishay Mor wrote:
> >[Forwarded from an unsubscribed address--Doug]
> >
> >yet another CD-bootable disto, Debian based, but with a built-in 
> >installer:
> >http://www.ubuntulinux.org/
> >
> I've heard good things about Ubuntu and have a distro at home ready
> to install. But...
> What do people here think of Ubuntu? How well does it compare with,
> say, Mandrake?

My current comparison points include Debian, RH, Mandrake, and SuSE,
with broader and less current experience including many others.


    Ubuntu:  nice desktop, great management, great infrastructure, good
    details, good extensibility if you don't mind diverging from stated
    goal path, keep an eye on Cannonical's fortunes.  Better than most
    of the competition.  I'm still partial to stock Debian but endorse
    Ubuntu for newcomers with very few reservations.

Ubuntu provides a nicely packaged system, I find it little different
from stock Debian largely, though my own usage is largely oriented
around shell and CLI/curses apps, plus a few others (notably Galeon).
Much of the "you have to be there to appreciate it" work in Ubuntu is in
its desktop polish, which is rather strongly targeted at GNOME (Ubuntu
main distro) and KDE (Kubuntu branch distro), neither of which I use as
a desktop (first preference WindowMaker, strong recommendation of XFCE4
for light/n00b use, and pretty much anything else, including TWM, for
quick'n'dirty work).

How is Ubuntu Different from Debian?

On differences between Ubuntu and Debian:


And Ubuntu Philosophy:



  - Ubuntu is bootstrapped off of Debian.  Meaning you're tapping
    heavily on Debian infrastructure, including the package management
    tools, packages themselves, documentation, experience base, and
    other support.  
    There are very few areas in which Ubuntu makes marked departures
    from Debian (none of which I'm significantly aware), but most of
    these are in the project's focus (desktop, GNOME / KDE), a dedicated
    enterprise support source (Canonical), and release schedule (6

  - Packages.  6k+ in primary sources, approaching 17.5k+ in additional
    sources ("Universe" and others), most of which are stock (or near
    stock) Debian.

  - The little stuff.  Most of the tools _I_ happen to want (as an
    admin) on my systems are there or readily obtainable:  vim, w3m,
    lftp, screen, wget, ssh.  I usually have mc on hand, may have had to
    grab that out of Universe.  Not that this is particularly
    significant for the end-user, but as an admin of a box, these and
    related tools make my life much easier.  Not everything happens at
    console (e.g.:  locally) or in GUI.

  - sudo installed (and configured correctly) by default.  This is a
    *massive* win for Ubuntu (though the hoi polloi won't understand
    why) and they deserve massive Beaujolais for getting this right.

  - Clean network profile:  no services by default.  Now, if you want
    SSH to your box, that's a bit of a PITA, but readily amended.

  - ISV support.  One potential plus of a commercial entity is forging
    relationships with ISVs.  This is one place where RH and SuSE offer
    major wins.  It's not something Ubuntu's made noises about (that I'm
    aware) but could be a significant plus over stock Debian, in a "For
    those who like that sort of thing, it's the sort of thing that they
    like" sort of way[1].


  - Ubuntu is bootstrapped off of Debian ... which means it (as the fine
    folks in irc://irc.freenode.net/#debian will be more than happy to
    tell you) *isnt'* Debian.  Packages _are_ different, there are now
    two conflicting sets of Debs floating around.  APT _should_ keep
    this sorted, but expect confusion to grow with time.  Ian Murdoch's
    had some widely reported comments on this, slightly overblown, but
    considered all the same.  
    Also, Ubuntu focuses (but doesn't limit itself) to desktops,
    emphasizing GNOME/KDE by default.  While this _doesn't_ mean you
    can't run a different desktop, or that you can't use Ubuntu for
    server roles (or that it's pretty straightforward to do so), but
    that's not its core mission.  If you and [K]Ubuntu have differing
    goals, you may want to consider this.  I like to know that me and my
    tools are reasonably aligned.

    As previously mentioned, Ubuntu divorces itself, well, takes up
    separate residences is probably more apropos, from Debian.  Which
    somewhat divides efforts.  There's been some grumbling about this.

    Most relevant, particularly for organizational adoption, is
    long-term viability.  The Debian project has over a decade under its
    belt, and is a well-organized (or at least organized) effort
    comprised of 1000+ developers from many individual organizations,
    and many "how do we make this thing work" battles fought and won.
    Any time you're considering a distro based on a single enterprise,
    you've got to consider that enterprise's survival.  Ubuntu and
    Canonical have ~1 year under their belt.

  - Packages.  By default you're _just_ in the stock Ubuntu / Kubuntu
    packages, which are all that are supported.  It's a considerably
    smaller selection than full Debian (though it's roughly as rich as
    any other mainstream distro).  While Universe (and other
    supplemental archives) fill in the gaps, you're now outside the
    "supported" Ubuntu package set.  Which somewhat addresses the
    question of the real value of "support".  Note that this is more a
    semantic than practical concern, but it's there.

  - The little stuff.  I _did_ have to go grab a few things out of
    Universe, most notably annoying was 'mc'.  While I'll admit it's not
    a package widely used by most n00bs, it's insanely useful:  console;
    interactive; remote access via sh:, FTP:, http: and other methods;
    virtual filesystem access to archive and package (DEB, RPM, tarball)
    formats.   OK, it's a tad large than I'd have thought, at ~2 MiB.
    But it's an incredibly useful 2 MiB.

  - sudo configured by default:  Um.  This is *not* a bug ;-)

  - Clean network profile.  As noted above, you'll have to install any
    services you want to run, SSH among them.  One consequence is that
    there is no firewall configured or installed by default,
    rationalized by the lack of listening services.

  - ISV support.  Proprietary SW is _so_ last millennium ;-)  But if
    you've got to go there, you've got to go there.  Yes, I'll admit a
    pragmatic need at times.  It's just that I avoid proprietary lock-in
    wherever possible.

The careful reader will have noted a certain symmetry about these
bonuses and complaints.  Ubuntu's strengths are in large part its
weaknesses.  Its weaknesses (that I've been able to tell in a couple
months of occasional use) are _not_ shows-toppers, but you should be
aware of them.

My one major gripe to date is that the Wiki support suggests Ubuntu can
be installed in as little as ~800 MiB.  My experience on a 1.7 GiB
partition (exceeding the install minimum guidelines) is that there's
simply insufficient space to run a system update.  A bit of
truth-in-advertising would help here:  give yourself 3-4 GiB minimum,
and if you *really* want to be happy, 20 GiB or more is going to give
you space for multimedia files and other detritus of modern computing in
your $HOME.  

It would be useful to note that LTSP and other thin-client solutions are
well-suited to older HW with limited storage, as a rich GNU/Linux
installation is actually larger than a stock legacy MS Windows system,
though IMVAO the utility is vastly greater.

How Does Ubuntu Compare to Other Major Distros?

Most of the comparisons with other distros are pretty much as for Debian
vs. world.

A general note:  the only box on this system I oversaw installation of
was the primary Debian server.  

  - APT (and Debian Policy) provide huge wins in package management over
    RPM based distros.  The latter _are_ improving, but still don't hold
    a candle.  It's not just package availability, it's not just package
    quality, it's not just ease of install.  It's details like how
    /usr/share/doc/ entries are named (by package, *not*
    package+version), the menu system (and automated addition /
    deletion, including integration into all WMs on your system),
    requirements for manapges for all executables (again, more a "the
    guy who's got to admin the damned thing" than an end-user issue, but
    significant), It Just Works[tm] services, clear /etc/init.d/
    scripts, FHS-compliant sysvinit structures, clean and sane
    networking config....  I could write an essay on the topic.  Oh, I


  - Ease of upgrade.  No wipe-and-rebuild (RH/FC are *still* walking
    this path...).  If you're tracking a release state (stable /
    unstable / testing), on release day, you just run 'aptitude update;
    aptitude dist-upgrade' and you're on your way.  If you're tracking a
    specific named release, you 's/oldrel/newrel/' in
    /etc/apt/sources.list and do as before, to switch (say:  warty =>

  - Command-line admin utils.  Ubuntu's (and Debian's) 'adduser' command
    is interactive, prompts for full information --  password, full
    name, GECOS fields (office/phone) -- and creates the user's home
    directory and associated user group (something not adopted by other
    distros).  On MDK, RH, & SuSE, passwd, chfn, and mkdir must be run
    manually.  Another admin point, but another place where The Guy
    Who's Got To Fix The Thing[tm] (TGWGTFTT) is going to be a lot

  - Ease of updates.  Security issue:  subscribe to the security
    announcements list, and make sure you're running an 'aptitude
    update; aptitude dist-upgrade' reasonably frequently (at least once
    a week, daily isn't too often).  Updates happen smoothly without a
    reboot.  Ubuntu minimizes user prompts for configuration w/ sane

  - Online documentation.  Another massive win for Debian is the
    documentation packages available -- not just various *-doc packages,
    but linux-gazette, RFCs, HOWTOs, and several large books including
    rutebook, Grokking the GIMP, and others, and the integrated,
    web-accessible, documentation system, 'dwww', indexed via swish+.
    The result is instant access to man pages, package documentation,
    references, HOWTOs, guides, standards documents, in both a
    menu-driven and searchable form.  Very impressive.  Among the things
    I've done with the primary Debian system installed at the school lab
    is to exploit its 80 GiB of storage to load it up with docs (for
    the day I ride off into the sunset).

  - Configuration smoothness.  I'm running a lab with the following
    distros currently:  Mandrake 10.1, SuSE 9.1, RH 9.0, Ubuntu Warty,
    and Debian Sarge.  Some of the hassles noted:

    - Mandrake 10.1 installed (not by me but by the somewhat neophyte HS
      teacher of the course) w/o SSH.  Had to hunt on IRC to change from
      CD installation to online RPM archives (not stated in docs or
      readily apparent on Mandriva's website).  Had to install clamav
      (and RPM deps) from RPMFind, manually resolving deps, prior to
      configuring mirrors.  Learning curve noted.

    - SuSE 9.1:  As for Mandrake.  sudo (not sure if it was configured
      by default or not) doesn't appear to work right.  While I *can*
      'sudo', I'm forced to give root's password.  I may or may not have
      needed to add myself to the 'wheel' group to make things work
      right (this is a, um, "feature" of some sudos, it's not clearly
      documented in SuSE, and clearly doesn't work quite right).  I
      previously noted that Novell's made finding SuSE docs needlessly

      SuSE annoyingly changes the default bash prompt ($PS1) from
      '[stuff]$ ' to '[stuff]> '.  Which to me is a continuation prompt
      ($PS2).  Confusing particularly if you notice it in the middle of
      writing a complex bash line.  Nothing a .bashrc edit won't fix.

    - RH 9.0.  First it must be noted that RH 9.0 is unsupported.  It
      was released March 31, 2003, and was EOLd April 30, 2004.  While
      this is RH's prerogative, our illustrative sample of The General
      Public (OISOTGP), an enthusiastic but inexperienced HS tech
      teacher, picked it as "a recent and current RH release".  It's not
      immediately evident that FC (highest version:  3 / 4) or RHEL
      (highest version:  3, and pricey) are upgrade replacements.  This
      is a serious marketing / education problem for RH.  While the
      choice of RH 9.0 is clearly a user error, it's not one that's
      immediately apparent, nor is it readily correctable[2]

      RH as installed (again: not by me but by OISOTGP), lacks an XPDF
      reader, a current (Firefox) web browser, and a few other oddities.
      Installing these requires third-party RPMs or repositories (and
      yes these exist, and yes, there are third party support options,
      but both involve research and time[3]).  Current plan is to wipe &
      rebuild with a current FC.

      There are a number of other niggles, including (this is something
      I've experienced w/ RH going back to 5.x/6.x days) terminal
      settings which Are Just Plain Broken for remote access.  C'mon,
      aren't backspace/delete key mapping issues something we solved in
      the *last* millennium?

      By comparison, the initial Debian box in the lab was installed as
      'stable'.  While this shares RH 9.0's somewhat stale package load,
      it *is* supported.  It's also readily upgraded via a quick edit of
      /etc/apt/sources.list, then 'apt-get update; apt-get

  - Installed base apps:  Ubuntu does as well or better than other
    platforms for having useful apps installed, particularly noted, PDF
    readers.  Firefox browser is seen as more usable than Konqueror
    (SuSE) by user comments.  Selection is considerably more current
    than RH 9.0 (EOL previously noted).

  - More on terminal:  Ubuntu handles a $TERM value of 'linux.screen'
    sanely (or is it screen.linux?).  None of the others (MDK/S/RH) do.
    I get this when sshing to a host from w/in a screen session.  I
    think.  Have to manually set my screen session or edit .bashrc to
    fix this.


My experience with a *wide* range of platforms, from Mac to MVS to PC to
VMS to SunOS to Irix and across a gamut of GNU/Linux distros is that a
cross of Debian's technical expertise and *technically informed*
polish[4] is a Really Nice Thing[tm].  Go Ubuntu!  (but Debian Rocks ;-)

Note too:  one of the major features of Ubuntu is its stock package
install.  There's little barrier to listing these packages and
installing them on a stock Debian. 



1.  Oscar Wilde.

2.  NB:  Looking at employment listings (something occupying too much of
    my time, hint, hint), I'm seeing *way* too many gigs citing RH
    versions dating to 9.x (Mar, 2003), 8.x (Sep, 2002), 7.x (May,
    2002), and even 6.x (Mar 2000).  For *public-facing* systems.  What
    this tells me is that RH has long had a real problem facilitating
    user upgrades, whether for technical (it's old and vulnerable) or
    corporate (it's income) reasons.  
    I'm pretty solidly convinced that _any_ business model in which sale
    of upgrades is tied to revenues is broken.  Doesn't mean you can't
    sell your software:  SAS Institute (a proprietary company) is one in
    which what is sold is _access_ to updates, support, and other
    services.  That is,  your current license grants you rights to any
    current (or prior, if supported) release of the product.   RH may be
    headed in this direction.  Redmond's got big concerns here.
    My experience as a SAS programmer in the 1990s was that *many*
    mainframe shops, with full access to the latest release (~6.8 or so)
    were still running 5-8 year old v5 versions.  Tried, proven, and
    carved in stone.  Both SI _and_ the customers were reasonably happy
    with the situation.  It wouldn't surprise me to find that there are
    still MVS systems running 5.x in production.

3.  ObJWZQuote:  Linux is only free if your time has no value.
    There's some truth to that.

    Yes, it's an old quote.  Yes, much mentioned in the essay has been
    addressed.  Yes, there's *still* some truth in it.  And *yes*, I'm
    an unapologetic GNU/Linux bigot.  And if JWZ's currently using
    computers, I'm pretty sure he's glommed on to Mac OS X.
    Hrm, looks like it's prolly a mix of GNU/Linux, SGI, and Mac OS X
    based on the following and other posts found:


4.  Something that seems sadly lacking at Linspire.  I read Michael
    Robertson's latest comments that "root is safe" as a license to
    withhold any personal recommendation for that platform:


Karsten M. Self <kmself@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>        http://kmself.home.netcom.com/
 What Part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?
    Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
    Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
    women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
    Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
    will be in the street looking for a brighter day.

Attachment: signature.asc
Description: Digital signature