Ubuntu is, I think, currently the leading desktop Linux distribution. It is the version I am using right now, in fact.
It is based on the Debian package, which is a Linux distribution. Debian is an association of people dedicated to supplying a free operating system, and Debian is it. (They are also starting to support the hurd, but that's another story.) That is, Debian is a root distribution, in the sense that the people who contribute to Debian do not look to anyone else to supply their software. Their WEB site claims more than 18000 packages, which is available on four DVD's.
The primary difference between Debian bases systems and other systems is how the packages are formatted. Debian formats packages as DEB files (extension .deb) where as other distributions use other formats, most notably, the RPM (which stands for Redhat Package Manager) packages, which are often based on Redhat, a company from New Jersey. Redhat is another root distribution.
What Ubuntu adds to the Debian distribution is the ease of installation. Debian is hard to install, whereas Ubuntu can be installed almost as easy as clicking a button. This is probably why Ubuntu is such a popular distribution.
Also, Ubuntu adds some packages, primarily not open source packages to support different types of hardware. (One of the differences between Windows and most Linux distributions is that if new hardware is purchased, Windows requires that a driver be installed. For the most part, the drivers are already installed in Linux, so it's just install, turn on your computer, and go.)
Linux does not tend to be the resource hog that Windows is, meaning that Linux can be installed on computers that are too small for Windows. Ubuntu even has a system that is specifically set up for being installed on very small computers. If a computer is only being used as a server, Ubuntu will install an a computer that is very old, slow, and small. My server is not big by any means.
I can install Ubuntu on any computer. It is even possible to install Ubuntu on a computer that has Windows installed by having the Ubuntu installer re-size the Windows partitions to make room. This will allow a computer which can be booted into Ubuntu, or booted into Windows. In general, all Linux distributions allow for duel boots.
©2008, Baldwin Computer Science
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