What Is Ubuntu Linux Anyway?

Ubuntu Linux can be defined in many ways and from different angles. First off, it is an operating system (usually shortened to OS). Ubuntu is a distribution of Linux, based on Debian, and that gives it some characteristic features. But to describe it only as an OS would be nothing short of unfair: it also has a wide range of pre-installed applications and many more readily available at the click of the mouse, and an ever-growing user community. Let’s talk about what Ubuntu is in a little more depth.

Ubuntu Linux Is an Operating System

Ubuntu Linux, as an OS, is, very simply, what makes your computer work 1 .

A computer is much more versatile than a TV or DVD player. You can plug different input devices into it, run applications, and expect it to do a lot of stuff. To be able to do all this, your computer needs an OS, the underlying software that instructs it in how to perform all its functions.

An OS tells your computer what to do when it starts, for example. Without it, your computer would beep and wait in annoyance when you turned it on. The OS also communicates with your computer’s hardware, and with the applications that you use to perform your work. The OS glues together all aspects of your computer.

The first and most important of those components is you, the user. You’re the one who chooses which applications to run, what actions to take, and whether the PC should be turned on or off. The OS needs input from you and needs to communicate to you the result of your actions.

Usually, you work with applications, which enable you to do specific tasks, such as writing documents or browsing the web. Applications also need to communicate with your OS, to interact with other applications, and to make the computer’s hardware work. How they do this varies by operating system, which is why most Windows applications will not work out of the box with Linux.

Ubuntu Is a Distribution of Linux, Based on Debian

Ubuntu, as an OS, is part of the larger family of Linux distributions.

Ubuntu uses Linux as its kernel. The kernel 4 is the portion of the OS that performs the most basic functions, such as memory and
process management. Linux is an open and free kernel, strongly based on concepts first sketched up for UNIX, Linux’s honorable ancestor. That’s why it is said that Linux is a UNIX-like OS.

Linux is one of the flagship developments of the free and open source software movement. It is a very versatile and powerful OS that runs on many different hardware platforms. Although widely adopted in devices such as servers and smartphones, it hasn’t yet earned great market share on desktop computers. But that might be about to change—thanks in part to Ubuntu Linux.

Because Linux is just a kernel, it usually needs other programs to run as a full OS. Different Linux distributions (or distros for short) package all the other software needed to make an OS, each with a different philosophy in mind. More often than not, there are organizations behind each distribution, and these organizations often drive the development of new packages.

Ubuntu Linux is one such distribution, but it isn’t completely original, which is to say it wasn’t created from scratch. It is in fact an adaptation of Debian. Debian has been around almost as long as Linux itself, having been founded in 1993, just two years after Linus Torvalds 5 made his initial announcement of the Linux kernel. Debian is widely respected within the Linux community and has some claim to be the definitive Linux distribution.

Ubuntu Linux Is a Full Desktop Solution

But to talk about Ubuntu Linux as just an OS would be unfair. It is much more than that. Ubuntu Linux is built upon the sound foundation of Debian, and by all standards they are very much alike; however, they do differ in their approaches. Although supremely flexible, Debian is mostly used on servers. Ubuntu, on the other hand, is primarily a desktop distribution, although it also has a Server edition. In terms of their approaches to releasing new software, Debian is extremely cautious and issues a release only after a through bug-testing procedure. In contrast, Ubuntu is very aggressive, which allows it to include more modern software, though sometimes in not-so-stable versions.

Building upon Debian’s premise, Ubuntu Linux is a full-featured desktop solution that comes with tons of applications ready to install and use. It is not just the OS that is free and open: you also get, preinstalled, the full productivity suite OpenOffice.org, a browser, a photo manager, mail and messaging clients, and much, much more. Once you install Ubuntu Linux, you will seldom need an application that is not found in its repositories. It’s like being granted unrestricted access to a warehouse full of goodies!