Highway Africa, Day 3

Highway Africa is in its third day, and the networking going on is pretty intense. I’ve met some incredible people, and I’m doing a lot of learning.

I had my big presentation yesterday for LiveSupport, and it seems to be pretty well-received. A number of community radio representatives are here, and many asked me for the LiveSupport demo/install CD. I made a brief introduction to the Linux flavor that I use, which is called Ubuntu.

Ubuntu is one of the most beautiful words I’ve come across in a long time. It is really hard to translate, with various attempts saying ‘goodwill’ or ‘humanity to others.’ But the one I like best is, “my humanity depends on yours.” Which is exactly what open source is all about.

One of the cool people I met is Rayborn Bulley, who not only works at Radio Ghana in Accra and is a blogger, but also a member of one of several Linux user groups in Accra. Rayborn sent me this article today.

Ubuntu guys must love this …

Subject: Technology:African Software Gains Global Popularity

Technology:African Software Gains Global Popularity
Inter Press Service (Johannesburg)

September 9, 2005
Posted to the web September 9, 2005

Gary Wilson
New York

A decade ago, Ubuntu was a word that shook apartheid South Africa.
Today, it is a word that may be keeping Bill Gates awake at night.

Ubuntu is an African word that is one of the founding principles of
the new South Africa, and it also is the name of a new computer
operating system developed by South African Mark Shuttleworth and his
company Canonical.

The word “Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language,”
writes Archbishop Desmond Tutu in “No Future Without Forgiveness.” It
means “you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and
caring and compassionate. You share what you have.”

Ubuntu Linux calls itself the “Linux for human beings”. In less than
six months from its introduction in October 2004, Ubuntu Linux became
the most popular Linux desktop distribution in the United States.

In July, PC World magazine named Ubuntu Linux one of its “100 Best
Products of 2005”. And it has won numerous other awards. A special
version was developed by Hewlett-Packard for its laptop computers that
are sold in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Linux is a computer operating system, the software that makes a
computer work. The operating system most commonly found on desktop
computers in an office, at school or at home is Microsoft’s Windows.

The second most common desktop operating system is Apple’s MacOS,
which at 4.5 percent of the market in the United States is a distant
second. Linux is third at about 3.5 percent of the desktop computers.

That’s not insignificant though — it means that about one of every 28
computers in the United States is using Linux, and outside the U.S.
the figure is much bigger.

Government agencies and local governments in Germany, Spain, Sweden
Brazil and China have already changed from Windows to Linux. New Linux
usage is picking up and its use on the desktop in the U.S. is expected
to reach six percent in 2007.

Linux has been described as the most popularly used operating system
that most users don’t know that they use every day. Google.com’s
search engine is driven entirely on a giant Linux cluster. Amazon.com,
eBay and a great many other Web sites are run on Linux systems.

But Linux has not been as popular on desktop systems. There are many
reasons for this, starting with the fact that almost every computer
comes with the operating system already installed and unless you make
a special request, you won’t get Linux on your computer.

Ubuntu Linux has been successful where others have failed, helping to
take Linux into a significant segment of users much like that held by
Apple’s Macintosh.

Part of Ubuntu’s success has to do with its design. To understand the
significance of this, you have to unravel one of the mysteries of Linux.

Linux, unlike Windows or the MacOS, is software that is distributed
under a Free Software Foundation license. The core of the operating
system, called the kernel, is really the only part that of the system
that is Linux. A Linux distribution takes that kernel and adds a great
many additional software programs and utilities to make the whole system.

One common misunderstanding about Linux is to think that free software
means that the work of developing it is being done for free. All the
developers of the Linux operating system are being paid full-time
wages. Most are employed by the giants of the computer industry like
Hewlett-Packard and IBM. IBM alone has over 600 programmers working
full-time on Linux development.

These corporations have chosen to be a part of the Linux development
because some experts in the field of computer technology think that
free, open source software can be more stable and secure than closed,
proprietary systems. Linux has convinced many that this can be true.

Ubuntu Linux is built on one of the most stable and secure Linux
distributions, adding an installer that is at least as easy to use as
the Windows installer. The result has been described as “Grandpa’s
Linux” — that is, it is the Linux you would put onto a computer for
someone who needs an easy-to-use system.

Which leads to another reason Ubuntu Linux has been successful. It is
a community-based distribution.

If you look underneath Ubuntu Linux, you’ll find another name in Linux
systems: Debian. Debian calls itself the “free software community” and
its collection of Linux software emphasises stability and security.

Ubuntu Linux is actively part of that free software community. This
has made it attractive to users in school systems, where having access
to completely free software can make a difference.

At Yorktown High School in Arlington, Virginia, they are using Ubuntu
Linux, says Jeff Elkner, a computer science teacher at the school. He
says that one reason they’ve chosen Ubuntu is because it is based on
the Debian distribution.

Debian is essential, Elkner says, because it is not subject to
commercial pressure and therefore has long-term stability. In
addition, “There is more free software packaged [for free download
from the Internet] for Debian than for any other [Linux distribution],
so Ubuntu users have access to all that software.”

Elkner is one of the developers of Edubuntu, a Ubuntu distribution
customised for use in schools. It is already being used at Yorktown
High School and is expected to be released for general use in October.

At an Edubuntu Summit in July in Australia, educators from every
continent came together. Reports from the summit indicate that
Edubuntu will soon be found in hundreds of schools across Europe from
Sweden to Spain — in the state of Andalusia the government has chosen
Ubuntu Linux for its schools, libraries and all public facilities. In
Brazil, Elkner says, more than a million pupils will be using Edubuntu.

China, India and South Africa are also countries where Ubuntu Linux
user communities have developed.

Finally, Ubuntu Linux is successful because it has strong financial

In July, Mark Shuttleworth and Canonical set up the Ubuntu Foundation
with 10 million dollars in financing. The money comes from
Shuttleworth’s deep pockets.

Shuttleworth came by his fortune by founding Thawte, a highly
successful Internet security company that was an early seller of the
digital certificates needed for online commerce. He sold the company
for a reported 575 million dollars in 1999. After the sale,
Shuttleworth spent 20 million dollars to be a space tourist on a
Russian Soyuz rocket, spending eight days at the International Space
Station orbiting Earth.

Back on land, he has put some of his fortune into developing Linux
systems. His funding of the Ubuntu Foundation guarantees that Ubuntu
Linux will have a stable future.

“The Ubuntu Foundation is a non-profit fund setup to ensure that a few
core Ubuntu developers can be employed full-time for a few years,
making good on commitments for long-term support for existing Ubuntu
releases and also coordinating new Ubuntu releases,” Shuttleworth told
IPS in an email interview.

“So it allows people to be confident that Ubuntu won’t go away, no
matter what happens to me or to Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu.”

Gary Wilson is the author of “Samba Essentials for Windows
Administrators” (Prentice Hall) and other computer-related books and
articles. At the Columbia University Medical Center he directs a
network of Windows, Mac OS, Linux and Sun OS computers in a research unit.

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