Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Linux and Ubuntu Explained ما هو لينكس وما هو اوبونتو؟

This post is an attempt to explain what Linux means and also to talk about a popular Linux OS called Ubuntu. I will try to shed some light on this topic as much as I can. Although I think one post won't do Linux justice!

I first heard about Linux a long time back, but I never dared to try it out until about 4 years ago when I tried a CD which had Knoppix Linux on it. I wasn't impressed at the time, and I didn't try anything else until 2008 when I had a go at using Ubuntu, and the rest as they say is history.

So what is Linux?
An operating system (OS) conceived by Linus Torvalds from Finland in 1991. The name Linux is derived from Linus's name and the name of the UniX OS.
Borrowing this introduction about Linux from wiki: "Linux is a generic term referring to Unix-like computer operating systems based on the Linux kernel. Their development is one of the most prominent examples of free and open source software collaboration; typically all the underlying source code can be used, freely modified, and redistributed, both commercially and non-commercially, by anyone under licenses such as the GNU General Public License."

Linux can run servers where it is the predominate OS, mobile devices or desktops/laptops. In the desktop market, it currently has about 1-2% share, which is far behind Windows and the Apple OS X. However its share is steadily growing and is expected to be a major player in the future.

Linux is packaged in a format called a distribution or "distro". Distros have different flavours and because they are open-source many of the major ones have been modified and redistributed under different names. There are literally hundreds of distros out there and the numbers are growing by the day. The sheer number of distros and their variants can be confusing for many people new to Linux, but once the basic concepts are understood you'll find out it's not that complicated at all.

The major distros are: Debian, Fedora, Ubuntu (Debian Based), Mandriva, OpenSUSE and Linux Mint (Ubuntu Based). Each one has a certain flavour to it and is either backed by certain co-operations or is community based. Many have their own off shoots or variants.

Distributions have different desktop environments, the main ones are Gnome and KDE. To use an analogy, they are the two types of outfits or clothes that the major distributions wear when they show off their desktops. There are other outfits like xfce and LXDE. Ubuntu wears Gnome as its desktop environment, Kubuntu uses KDE. Don't worry if this confuses you, just ignore it for now.

So, why Linux ? (Advantages)
For more on this topic you can try the two website links below for further clarification. But basically for me, it boils down to the following points (in no particular order):

1-Support: Huge community, all helpful and supportive. There is no problem that can't be solved, all you need to do is search or ask.
2-Safe/Virus free computer use: The security of Linux is second to non! No more viruses, trojans, worms etc. You don't need an anti-virus!! Even banks are advising using Linux for online banking, paying bills etc. Check this link about personal banking and the use of Linux.
3-Free/No cost: You don't pay a penny for a first class operating system and no it's not pirated software.
4-Freedom: You tweak, change as much as you like. Upgrades are free with no hidden costs.
5-Speed: Your PC will run faster under Linux and no need for defrags! Boot up is very fast!
6-Rapidly developing: With regular free updates, and 6 monthly release cycles!
7-Ethical: You don't need to resort to pirated software and breaking the law or an ethical standard. There is literally thousands of free open source software alternatives you can choose from.
8-Stability: No viruses, well built software, less likely to crash and I have the experience to prove it. It's very reliable.
9-Educational: You learn a totally new concept and which you can teach others.
10-Applications: Excellent quality and free applications to cater for every need. Very easy to install contrary to popular belief.
11-Opportunity to do good: You can breath life into old computers by installing an up-to-date lighter distro. You can give old computers away to family members or friends or any body in need of a computer who otherwise can't afford one. Thus helping in the spread of computer literacy. The lighter distros have more than enough to get someone to use the Internet, use a word processor, watch a DVD etc.
12-Ready-to-use: Once you install the distro, most versions will have pre-installed applications/drivers/codecs that you need for 90% of your needs. And if you need to install anything it's very easy, done through a one stop software centre or package managers.This is not like windows, where after its installation it has virtually no applications thus you have install a lot of software in order for it to be fully functional.
13-Choice and customization: In Linux there is room for everyone. You can customize your Linux distro to function and look like anything you want. For example you can even make your Linux OS look like Microsoft Windows or the Mac OS X if you want! There is even a distro you can download based on Ubuntu that looks nearly exactly like windows XP! It's called YLMF OS.
14-Cloud computing: Many distros are already embracing the concept of cloud computing unlike other mainstream operating systems. This has the added benefit and potential to circumvent some issues related to lack of certain software on Linux. For example, on-line versions of popular applications which will be very similar to their desktop counterparts will soon be available, like Microsoft Office etc, which can be readily and fully accessible to Linux users very soon. These were not available previously on Linux. Examples of cloud based distros include Jolicloud, Peppermint OS and the much anticipated Google Chrome OS to be released later this year.

But please remember Linux is NOT windows, it may look similar, but don't fall into a common mistake made by many people. Linux is a totally different type of operating system and has many better things to offer compared to windows, but you need to learn how to take advantage of these offerings. Generally you can't run Windows software on Linux (although you can run some through a Linux program called Wine).

For more details on Why Linux is better please check the following:
Why Linux is better (English)

Very useful advice regarding mistakes that people make when moving to Linux:
10+ mistakes Linux newbies make

Disadvantages of Linux:
We have to be fair and mention a few disadvantages of Linux, which I hope will be rectified in the future. The major issues:
1-Driver problems: Although in most instances Linux works straight out of the box, a few may have problems with Linux recognizing their hardware. Resolving these issues maybe very difficult for the non technically oriented. Excellent support is available through forums and the distro maintainers, but hardware support and software bugs can be very difficult to resolve for a few. System freezes, graphics card issues, webcam and printer recognition problems are examples of issues that some people encounter while using Linux. The good news is that driver support is improving.
2- Software: Although Linux offers an impressive array of free software which is easy to install, some of the open source substitutes are not as accomplished as their commercial alternatives. Video editing software particularly lags behind in Linux. Another example is OpenOffice or the new derivative of this LibreOffice although an excellent application which is free to use in all platforms (Linux, Windows, Mac), Microsoft Office is still by far a much more superior product in my opinion.
3-Learning curve: Even though Linux is rapidly getting easier to learn and adapt, it is different to Windows and can be difficult for some people to pick up.
4-Arabic support: Again although improving, it is no comparison to Windows. Arabic text rendering and support is much better in Windows and looks superior.
5-Gaming: If you are into PC games, Windows is still way better than both the Linux and Mac platforms. Things are improving for Linux and you can still run some Windows based games through the Wine program, but Linux is not your best gaming platform. But many are abandoning PC gaming anyway in favor of consoles like the Playstation, Wii and the X-box etc.

What about Ubuntu?
Ubuntu is one of the major Linux distros. It's been the most popular distro for many years now due to its ease of use and wide support.
It's a debian based distro designed to be user friendly. The word 'Ubuntu" is from Southern Africa, it basically means 'Humanity to others', or 'I am what I am because of who we all are'. So it's an ethical concept. The likes of Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Bill Clinton often use this word to explain the importance of cooperation.

What does the "10.04 LTS" part mean?

The number 10 next Ubuntu means that it came out in 2010, The number 04 represents the fourth month (April). Currently Ubuntu distributions come out twice a year, in April and October (10). So the next Ubuntu will be called 10.10.
LTS means: Long Term Support (3 years of updates as compared to the usual 2).
More info about Ubuntu can be found on Wiki here.
Ubuntu also has another naming convention. Each version is also named after a wild animal, with subsequent versions taking on another animal in alphabetical order. Ubuntu 10.04 is also called Lucid Lynx, Ubuntu 10.10 will be called Maverick Meerkat.

What do I think of Ubuntu 10.04 LTS?
Well, I downloaded the distro, burned it on CD. The installation was easy and fairly straight forward. But by now, I have done this 10's of times over the last few years, and I think the process is getting easier and more safer with each new distro. Basically anyone can install Ubuntu and the good thing is that you can try the Live CD out on your computer first with no harm or change to your computer, and if you like it you can install Ubuntu alongside your existing operating system without effecting it.

After trying out Ubuntu 10.04 for a few days, I think it's the best version of Ubuntu I've used so far. The aesthetics are beautiful, it's slick, and the hardware detection was flawless on my computer.
My favourite and main operating system is Linux Mint which is based on Ubuntu, I just realised I haven't used it since installing Ubuntu 10.04! It's been that good, many people choose Linux Mint because it's more nice looking and functional, but this time Ubuntu will give them a run for their money! But somehow, I still think Linux Mint has the edge. I would especially recommend that people making a transition from Windows to try out Linux Mint first, failing that then you can try Ubuntu. The only advantage that Ubuntu has at the moment is that there is more Arabic support for it compared to Linux Mint.
As for me, I run both on my computer with no issues at all. I will definitely keep Ubuntu 10.04 LTS and will continue to use it alongside Linux Mint.

Other Ubuntu's
There are other Ubuntu variants, like Xubuntu (wears the xfce outfit) which is a lighter distro thus better for less powerful machines. There is also Edubuntu an educationally oriented distro and Kubuntu, a distro with the KDE environment.

How do I install Ubuntu?
I urge you to try Linux out, may be make it a weekend project! My only advice is to always back up your data just in case you do something wrong. For the first time I advice you to use a computer that you have nothing on for a clean install. This so you can get some experience.
Remember again, ALWAYS back up your data!!

For further clarification, please see the video below. The video explains how you can install Ubuntu alongside Windows.

The other alternative is to install the Ubuntu iso onto a USB and then boot from the USB flash drive to test the OS with out effecting your PC at all. You can install the Ubuntu or many other Linux distro iso's onto USB drives very easily in Windows via Pendrivelinux's universal USB installer. Click here to get more information and guidance.

Steps to install Ubuntu via a Live CD:
1-Download the latest Ubuntu ISO from here. I prefer the 32 bit Live CD version, even if you have 64-bit computer I would still use 32-bit as it's more stable and you can share the CD with more people as most will still have 32-bit systems. If you have more than 4 gigabytes of RAM then a 64-bit version has the advantage of being able to readily utilize this unlike 32-bit systems. Remember you can install a 32-bit OS on a 64-bit system, BUT you can't install a 64-bit OS on a 32-bit system. With a 32-bit OS you'll have less hassle with software compatibility and its software tends to be more stable.The 32-bit vs 64-bit issue is still controversial though. But stick to 32-bit for the time being if you are not sure what to do, there isn't a big difference in performance as of yet.

2-Burn the ISO on to a CD and restart your system with that CD still in the player.

Click here to see a video on how to burn an ISO using the free infraRecorder.

3-After loading Ubuntu from the CD you can safely view and try it out before installation. If you like it you can click on install and follow the steps (please see the video below for an explanation).

4-For Ubuntu, after installation, you need to install extra stuff to run flash, MP3's etc (codecs). You will need an internet connection for this.
The main things I would do after installing Ubuntu is to install the following (the links are for video tutorials):
1- Install Ubuntu restricted extras. Which you could also install through Ubuntu tweak.
2- Install Ubuntu tweak. An essential program to make tweaking Ubuntu and adding software very easy. Install by going to this website here to download.
3- Install Gnome Do (file/app launcher). Get it through the software centre.
4- Install Gimp and VLC. Also available on the software centre.
5-If you are an Arabic user see below to know how you can tweak the Arabic settings.
6- You can install and try out the beautiful Equinox theme/Faenza icon set. Go here for more information and installation instructions.

Here is another website that will also tell you what to do after you install Ubuntu:
Please REMEMBER, Back up your data before installing any new OS.

How to install UBUNTU alongside Windows

Ubuntu/Linux and Arabic:
It's pretty good, but not as good as Windows yet I'm afraid. If you install the extra fonts, that will be enough to do most of your Arabic stuff. When browsing the web most Arabic pages run well, and with very simple tweaking you won't tell the difference between Windows and Linux. OpenOffice also runs very well and you can download some beautiful Arabic fonts. I am very happy with its Arabic functionality, but there is still a lot of work to be done for it to be on par with Windows and the Mac in this area.
Windows overall still edges out Linux in its Arabic rendering. Things are slowly progressing as there is more Arabic interest in Linux and open-source software. You can choose to install Ubuntu in Arabic and most major applications have been translated. I embedded below my own screen shot of some of the Arabic fonts available on Ubuntu.

There is a project called Arabeyes aimed at developing support for Arabic in Linux/Unix operating systems. The projects include translation of the major Linux platforms and software as well as Arabic font development for Linux. Their website is here.

One of the best Linux/Ubuntu websites in Arabic is a Libyan website called It has some excellent articles in Arabic on how to use Ubuntu and how to install and tweak some of its software. Click here to visit

Screen-shot of OpenOffice (Ubuntu) with the extra Arabic Fonts
(Click on picture to see larger version)
See below for method of installing these fonts.

How to install Extra Arabic fonts in Ubuntu:
كيفية إضافة الخطوط العربية في لينكس واوبونتو

To install the extra fonts shown above you'll need an internet connection and then you can do one of the following:
1-Via the Terminal: Cut and paste the following command into the Ubuntu terminal:

sudo apt-get install ttf-arabeyes xfonts-intl-arabic ttf-kacst

2-Via the point and click method: Go to system menu>Language Support>click on "Install/Remove Languages">new menu opens, scroll down to Arabic & click on the small box to mark>Then click on apply, proceed with the installation. The extra fonts will then download and will install in the system.

Adding Arabic Keyboard layouts:
كيفية إضافة تخطيط لوحة مفاتيح (كيبورد) عربية في اوبونتو

You can the Add extra keyboard layouts through the following steps:
Go to the System menu>Preferences>Keyboard> Got to layout tab and then click on "Add". A new menu pops out, choose the Arabic layout variant of your choice through this menu either via country or language. I usually click on the language tab and choose Arabic.
I also usually add another variant called Arabic Buckwalter as well as the Arabic letters in this layout correspond phonetically to their Latin counterparts on the keyboard making typing easier in keyboards with no Arabic markings on them.
Once added the indicator to change the keyboard layout should appear automatically in the default Ubuntu panel.

How to Improve Arabic text/font rendering in Linux and Ubuntu:
كيفية تحسين الخطوط العربية في لينكس واوبونتو

The way I do it is through the following:
1-Install Microsoft core fonts in Ubuntu or what ever Linux distro you use. Click here to read about how to do this in Ubuntu via the software manager and here if you want the instructions in Arabic via using the terminal. You can also search for these fonts in the synaptic package manager.
2-After installing the Microsoft fonts, in Firefox change the default Arabic font to Ariel. Do this by going to: Edit>Preferences>Content>Fonts>Advanced>Choose fonts for Arabic (default menu set to fonts for Western), then change to Ariel in both the Serif and Sans-Serif sub-menus, then apply the changes.
3-For the Arabic system fonts, through the appearance menu (right click on the desktop and click on the fonts tab to access menu). Here you can also set the default font to that of Ariel so Arabic fonts appear better on the system menus.

Other Linux Distros of note:

There are literally hundreds of customised distros. Go to distrowatch to learn about some of them. Here are a few well know distros, some of which I've used:

1-Linux Mint: My personal favourite and main operating system. This is because of it's beauty and functionality. The menu system is slightly similar to Windows when compared to Ubuntu, so many people advocate this distro for people who want to try out Linux for the first time, and I definitely agree with that. The other reason why people like it is because it comes ready to use, with no codecs etc. to download after installation.
There is a brief comparison between Linux Mint and Ubuntu here.

2-Sabily: Basically Ubuntu for Muslims. It's an excellent distro. After installing it, you will have all the perks of Ubuntu plus other Islamic software and resources. For example, you get the whole Quran, with different audio recitations from the popular reciters, Islamic prayer software, educational programs for kids, an excellent web filter and much more. The only down side is that the ISO you have to download is quite large, and you have to wait a few months after the new Ubuntu update for the new Sabily version to come through. I often use this distro and it's one of my favourites.

3-Puppy Linux: This is a beauty and it's only about a 100 megabytes! Basically designed for less powerful machines. It can breath life to old PC's collecting dust otherwise destined for the rubbish tip. I tried it on an old Pentium III lying around our house which hadn't been used for years and it worked like a charm with Puppy Linux. If you have an old machine, and you want to set it up to work again for someone to use for the internet and other basic stuff, this is the distro to choose. You can also run it from a flash drive, so it's handy for use in internet cafe's for more security. It's very fast and effective. The downside is that Arabic is not that well supported.

4-Pinguy OS: Addendum July 2010: A new distro also based on Ubuntu. It looks fantastic and once installed it's ready to use, with all the multimedia codecs already present. It also comes with an impressive array of software pre-installed thus saving a lot of time and hassle. I would definitely recommend this distro and it may become my favorite. The downside is that its a large download, its above a 1gb, thus if you have slow internet it's going to be a problem and you will need a DVD for it (there are ways around this though using USB drives). It can also be on the slow side and is probably better suited for faster computers.

5-YLMF OS: A relatively new distro from China based on Ubuntu which looks like Windows XP! It comes in an English and Chinese version. With this distro, you get the advantages of Linux in a windows looking environment. After installing, it's ready to use straight away, the sound/video codecs, flash etc are pre-installed along with an impressive array of applications. This is a great distro, especially for people making the jump from Windows and want something familiar to start with. Remember this is still a Linux distro and is not Windows.

6-PCLinuxOS: A very nice distribution. It used to be based on Mandriva. It's probably the most user friendly distro after Ubuntu and it looks impressive. It has a very friendly community. The advantages to this distro is that it is ready to use once installed and it's a rolling release, meaning you don't have to reinstall every 6 months, all you have to do is install the updates for a seamless upgrade. The downside is that Arabic is not very well supported. Its main version is KDE based, it is the best KDE based distro I've seen yet. It also has a Gnome version.

7-Arch Linux: This is a distro for more advanced users. It tries to be minimalistic and it requires the user to have more knowledge of the command line. If you only want to use point and click graphical interfaces, this distro is not for you. The advantages is that it puts you in complete control of your system and it has fantastic educational value. It is very stable and the Arch help Wiki is very well written. Like PCLinuxOS this is also a rolling release distro, meaning that you only install once and you install the updates to keep up with the most current version.

8-Jolicloud: An attractive Ubuntu based cloud centric distro. Excellent for netbooks. This gives you a user friendly and modern interface. The distro is designed with the internet and cloud computing in mind. You can easily install and remove cloud based applications. The distro works very well with netbooks but also for other computer formats. It's light on resources thus you can also try this distro on older hardware.

9- Qimo: Basically an Ubuntu for children. It has been redesigned to make the interface simpler and more child compatible. It's a very nice distro. I had to include their mascot as it's so nice:

Other useful Linux links:

1-DistroWatch: All the news of new distros and also the distro league table of the most popular and most downloaded Linux distributions.
2-Linux today: Daily Linux news. As mentioned above. A great Arabic resource which I'm proud to say is from Libya!! Also the Tripoli Linux User Group.
4-SMUbunt's Video Channel: A channel by Libyan engineer who creates Arabic video tutorials about Linux, esp. Ubuntu based distro's. Very useful.
5-Foxoman (مدونة ثعلب عمان): An excellent Arabic website, which now has an accompanying Arabic Ubuntu journal called "Ubuntu Plus", you can download the 1st edition here [PDF], which contains a wealth of info including installation advice.
6-Linux Arabic Community مجتمع لينوكس العربي
7-Ubuntu in Arabic (3arbuntu): مدونة عن نظام التشغيل لينكس
8- Ubuntu Website List: A very useful list of some important and helpful Ubuntu sites.
An Arabic Program that helps to easily install Ubuntu. برنامج عربي يهدف الى تسهيل تنصيب اوبونتو
9- This Week On Linux: A great website and resource for Linux.
10-OMG Ubuntu: A great Ubuntu centric website, offering daily advice, news and software.
11-Webupd8: An Ubuntu/Linux blog similar to OMG Ubuntu, also a very useful website.
12-10+ mistakes Linux newbies make by Jack Wallen (Tech Republic).
13-Pen Drive Linux: Boot and run Linux from a USB flash memory stick.
14-Linux Apps & Tips.
15-AppStorm: An excellent website providing links, news and advice about online/cloud applications.
16-Alternative to: Find alternatives to software you are using, including open source apps.

I hope you found this post useful. I think it's my longest post ever. Please feel free to provide feedback by leaving a comment or if you have a question regarding the topic let me know as well.

Update November 2010: I've tried out Ubuntu 10.10 and it is much better than the already fantastic Ubuntu 10.04. I would recommend trying it out or alternatively trying out Linux Mint 10 which is similar and just as slick, if not better.
I will also keep updating this post to include new and better things.

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