Ubuntu is a relatively new Linux distribution, based on Debian. It is a free operating system that unabashedly welcomes people to download and share it. Despite being owned by a UK-based company called Canonical Ltd., it retains its open source roots completely, so much as to its very name being derived from an African philosophy that stresses on ‘humanity’.
Canonical releases a new version of Ubuntu every six months, so as to keep the OS absolutely up to date, and revamped, if need be. It also guarantees long term support for each major release for at least five years.
Ubuntu’s considerable popularity can be put down to two major reasons: the first is an intense effort to be friendly and useful to both newcomers (to the Linux platform), as well as advanced, power users; there have been concerted efforts to make users habituated to proprietary operating systems like Mac OSX and Windows feel at home with the Ubuntu interface. Plenty of excellent, open source alternatives to proprietary software are also available in Ubuntu straight out of the box. For example, OpenOffice and GIMP are both highly functional and free alternatives to Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop, respectively. The second major reason for Ubuntu’s popularity is the sheer amount of resources and help made available to the Ubuntu community. In fact, Canonical Ltd. makes it extremely easy for anyone to get an Ubuntu DVD, for absolutely no cost at all, regardless of where they stay.
Ubuntu itself has a number of flavors to cater to its target audiences. Edubuntu is geared towards educational purposes, and youngsters; Kubuntu is a version of Ubuntu that caters to users who prefer the KDE Desktop Manager, instead of the default GNOME Manager available in Ubuntu.
Ubuntu is notable in the number of system admin tools it makes available to a power user as well. The traditional terminal is present, making it a breeze to use the classic apt-get command to get what you need out of Ubuntu. The Synaptic Update Manager is a phenomenally powerful GUI based update manager, which simplifies the task of getting packages and repositories for the Ubuntu operating system. Moreover, the fact that Ubuntu is more user-oriented than any other Linux distribution is amply proved by the fact that it places lesser restrictions on a normal user to perform privileged tasks (in most other distros, there is a high amount of control that the operating system places on the user, rather than the other way round).
As a non-proprietary operating system, Ubuntu is far more transparent and supportive of users who actually want to innovate and mess around with source code than any of its proprietary counterparts. With a burgeoning user community, there is a lot of stress laid on a do-it-yourself ethic to tinker with the system. As a user, you can approach the communities, in case anything does go wrong; in all likelihood, your queries will be resolved with a mix of speed and friendliness. The Ubuntu model is probably the Web 2.0 of operating systems, where user collaboration is valued above all else; if its current success is any sign, there needs to be a paradigm shift in the approach followed by giants like Microsoft and Apple for their own operating systems.