I've been using the latest version (10.04) of Ubuntu Linux since April and there's a lot to like about it. I announced earlier this year that I was giving desktop Linux another look, and I went with Ubuntu because it is the Linux distribution most focused on a desktop OS. I have lots of observations about the Ubuntu experience and how it compares to Mac and Windows, but I'm going to save most of that feedback for another article.Today I want to talk about two significant advantages that Ubuntu has over Windows 7 and Mac OS X. This came up last week because Apple displaced Oracle as the new world leader in security vulnerabilities, according to a report from Secunia. And Ars Technica astutely pointed out:
"The report includes cumulative figures for the number of vulnerabilities found on a Windows PC with the 50 most widely-used programs. Five years ago, there were more first-party flaws (in Windows and Microsoft's other software) than third-party. Since about 2007, the balance shifted towards third-party programs. This year, third-party flaws are predicted to outnumber first-party flaws by two-to-one. Secunia also makes a case that effectively updating this third-party software is much harder to do; whereas Microsoft's Windows Update and Microsoft Update systems will provide protection for around 35% of reported vulnerabilities, patching the remainder requires the use of 13 or more updating systems. Some vendors-Apple, Mozilla, and Google, for example-do have decent automatic update systems, but others require manual intervention by the user."
That leads us to Ubuntu's first big advantage.
1. Comprehensive software updates
In a world where most of the security vulnerabilities are coming from third-party applications, Windows and Mac machines are at significant risk because they run lots of these apps and those apps aren't always updated automatically, which leaves the machines open to attacks.
Again, to be clear, both Microsoft and Apple have comprehensive updating systems for their software — both the OS as well as company apps that run on top of the OS. The problem is with the software (programs, extensions, and plug-ins) from other vendors and the inconsistent methods they use for updating their code to protect against known flaws.
With Ubuntu, there's one comprehensive software updating system. This is possible because Ubuntu has a centralized repository of applications and the only third-party applications that make it into the main repository are the ones that have been tested by Canonical (the company that produces Ubuntu) and are proven to work with the OS. This means that the Ubuntu main repository doesn't always have the very latest version of Firefox, for example, but you can be sure that the one it does have will typically install easy, work smoothly, and remain updated automatically.
There are also other repositories of applications that you can connect to with Ubuntu, but these are supported by the Ubuntu community or by commercial companies. Still, if you trust them and connect to them, then their updates are also automatically run through Ubuntu's Update Manager (below). As a result, Ubuntu offers a much more centralized and effective way to keep computers up to date — especially if you stick mostly to the software in its main repository.
2. Integrated app store
While managing Ubuntu's software repositories is handled with an administrator tool called Synaptic Package Manager, there's also a much easier way to browse through the official Ubuntu-sanctioned applications. It's called the Ubuntu Software Center and the people I know who have used both Ubuntu and the iPhone typically say, "It's just like the App Store."
From a user perspective, the Ubuntu Software Library has a very similar experience to the iPhone App Store or the Android Market. You simply open it up, browse or search through different categories of applications, and download the ones that you want to try. It's basically an app store for the PC.
And, while iPhone and Android have a mix of free apps and paid apps, the apps in the Ubuntu Software Center are nearly all open source and free of charge. Like iPhone and Android, you have to sort through a fair amount of chaff in order to get to the wheat, but it's still a terrific 21st century computing experience. Both Windows and Mac need to learn from the app experience that is driving the mobile device market. Ubuntu has already beaten them to the punch.
If you add that to the fact that Ubuntu does a better job with software updates (a big security boost), then Ubuntu becomes a much more viable alternative for modern PC users, especially those who access most of their services and enterprise apps via a Web browser.
For instant analysis of tech news, here's my Twitter feed: @jasonhiner
- What's the best laptop for running Ubuntu Linux?
- Interview: Ubuntu founder talks 10.04, cloud integration, and Ubuntu on tablets
- The market has rejected Linux desktops. Get over it.
- Open source is filled with freeloaders (ZDNet)
- 10 things you'll love about Ubuntu 10.04
- 10 things I don't like about Ubuntu 10.04
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.