Ubuntu is a distribution, and also a family of distributions of the GNU/Linux species of operating systems. Wow! What does that all mean?
If you are familiar with Microsoft Windows®, you know that all versions of Windows have some similarities, like members of a species. You will find a Windows directory, and a Program Files directory.
But Windows XP is a different Windows family from Windows 98. There are even different versions of Windows XP, like Windows XP Home, Windows XP Media Edition, and Windows XP Professional.
So GNU/Linux is like a species of operating system, comparable to all of the versions of Windows. The Ubuntu family is something like the Windows XP family. Hope that helps you understand what kind of a creature the Ubuntu family is.
Ubuntu is not only free in the sense of free of cost (like gratis in Spanish), but also free as in free speech (like libre in Spanish). There are other differences. The Ubuntu family includes far more software than what comes with any version of Windows. Most legitimate Windows users also buy an office suite, like Microsoft Office®, anti-virus software, anti-spyware software, firewall software, and dozens of other software packages that do not come free with Windows.
The Ubuntu family includes literally thousands of software packages, including office suites and other office programs, graphics programs, several choices of web browsers and Internet programs, educational software, and lots of others.
Ubuntu is generally regarded as much more secure than Windows. Like other versions of Linux, you don’t have to worry about viruses and spyware. You still probably need a firewall, but there are several good free firewalls available.
Really, Ubuntu is a single distribution, but there is so much software that it won’t all fit on one CD. So we have one CD called Ubuntu, that uses a window manager called Gnome. Most people who use Ubuntu choose this graphic style.
Another CD is Kubuntu, which has a different window manager, called KDE. It is more like Microsoft Windows. We have a page on Kubuntu here.
Yet another CD is Edubuntu, which uses the Gnome window manager, but also has lots of programs that are suitable for schools or educational purposes. We have a page on Edubuntu here.
There is also a CD called Xubuntu, that has a more lightweight window manager, that will work better on older computers or computers with more limited resources. We have a page on Xubuntu here.
This is probably the best to try if you aren’t sure which one, partly because there are more users on the online forums who can help you.
There are actually three CDs for this Ubuntu. One is for an Ubuntu server … if you don’t know what that is, it probably isn’t the one you want.
The most common one is for the Ubuntu Desktop and it will allow you to boot it as a LiveCD. Then, after you make sure it will work with your computer and other hardware, you can, if you want, install it to your hard drive. If you have Windows on your computer and want to keep it, dual-booting with Linux, you just need to watch and follow the instructions carefully. It is always best to back up anything that is very important before doing anything like this.
The third one is called the Alternative Disk, and it is primarily for those unusual cases that have trouble with the normal install. You should probably find someone who knows how to do an installation, especially if you have difficulty with it. People do have trouble when they try to install Windows, too … most people just buy a computer with Windows already installed.
Windows Open Source
If you insert the Ubuntu Desktop CD while Windows is running, and wait about 30 seconds, a special browser will pop up that allows you to install some free, open source software for Windows. These are programs that are also available for Ubuntu, but you can try them out in Windows as well:
- Mozilla Firefox — A secure and fast web browser.
- Mozilla Thunderbird — A full-fledged email client – Reclaim your inbox!
- Abiword — A lightweight word processor.
- Gimp — An advanced image editing application.
The Ubuntu Documentation Project
If you want printed documentation (about 100 pages each), you can order either of from www.lulu.com/ubuntu-doc for about $6.50 US plus shipping (it is the production cost only). Or you can read them online or download the .pdf file and read it or print it yourself. Use the Ubuntu one for general instructions and/or the Server Guide if you will be setting up a network using an Ubuntu server. Go to help.ubuntu.com to download these PDFs or read the books online.