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The Official Ubuntu Book, 3e: Introducing Ubuntu

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This chapter introduces the Ubuntu project, its distribution, its development processes, and some of the history that made it all possible. If you are interested in learning about where Ubuntu comes from and where it is going, this chapter will provide a good introduction.
This chapter is from the book
  • A Wild Ride
  • Free Software, Open Source, and GNU/Linux
  • A Brief History of Ubuntu
  • What Is Ubuntu?
  • Ubuntu Promises and Goals
  • Canonical and the Ubuntu Foundation
  • Ubuntu Subprojects, Derivatives, and Spin-offs
  • Summary

THIS CHAPTER INTRODUCES the Ubuntu project, its distribution, its development processes, and some of the history that made it all possible. If you are looking to jump right in and get started with Ubuntu, turn right away to Chapter 2, Installing Ubuntu. If you are interested in first learning about where Ubuntu comes from and where it is going, this chapter provides a good introduction.

A Wild Ride

In April 2004 Mark Shuttleworth brought together a dozen developers from the Debian, GNOME, and GNU Arch projects to brainstorm. Shuttleworth asked the developers if a better type of operating system (OS) was possible. Their answer was “Yes.” He asked them what it would look like. He asked them to describe the community that would build such an OS. That group worked with Shuttleworth to come up with answers to these questions, and then they decided to try to make the answers a reality. The group named itself the Warthogs and gave itself a six-month deadline to build a proof-of-concept OS. The developers nicknamed their first release the Warty Warthog with the reasonable assumption that their first product would have its warts. Then they got down to business.

It’s difficult, particularly for those of us who were privileged to be among those early Warthogs, to imagine that the brainstorming meeting behind the Ubuntu project took place just three years ago. Far from being warty, the Warty Warthog surpassed our most optimistic expectations and everyone’s predictions. Within six months, Ubuntu was in the Number 1 spot on several popularity rankings of GNU/Linux distributions. Ubuntu has demonstrated the most explosive growth of any GNU/Linux distribution in recent memory and had one of the most impressive first years of any free or open source software project in history.

It is staggering to think that after less than four years, millions of individuals are using Ubuntu. As many thousands of these users give back to the Ubuntu community by developing documentation, translation, and code, Ubuntu improves every day. As many thousands of these users contribute to a thriving advocacy and support community—both online and in their local communities—Ubuntu’s growth remains unchecked. Ubuntu subprojects, a list of efforts that contains the now-mature Kubuntu, Edubuntu, and Xubuntu projects, are extending the reach and goals of the Ubuntu project into new realms.

Meanwhile, millions of pressed Ubuntu CDs have been shipped at no cost to universities, Internet cafés, computer shops, and community centers around the world. You can find Ubuntu’s familiar brown background and title bars almost anywhere people use computers. I have personally seen strangers running Ubuntu on trains in Spain, in libraries in Boston, in museums in Croatia, in high schools in Mexico, and in many more places too numerous to list here.

In four years, Ubuntu has begun to mature. In particular, the release of Ubuntu 6.06 LTS—the Dapper Drake—provided a polished release with long-term support for both desktops and servers. Ubuntu 8.04 LTS—the Hardy Heron—is the most recent release and marks the second such milestone. With these releases, Ubuntu has begun to settle in for the long term. However, the project maintains its youthful vigor, its ambitious attitude, its commitment to its principles, and its community-driven approach. As the project ages, it is proving that it can learn from its failures as well as its successes and that it can maintain growth without compromising stability. We’ve come a long way—and we’re still only getting started.

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