Sunday, 4 November 2007

Ubuntu gets saved

I've long been a fan of the Linux operating system. Of the many, many varieties of Linux out there, my favorite so far has been Ubuntu - easy to install, easy to use, lots of community support, and it's pretty.

I was looking at their website the other day, curious about the latest version (currently 7.10, nicknamed Gusty Gibbon), and had a look around the different flavours of Ubuntu.

There's "regular" Ubuntu, which comes with the popular Gnome desktop environment:
Then there's Kubuntu, which has the same software but with KDE instead of Gnome:
Edubuntu comes with educational software, and is designed to be easy for non-techie teachers to set up a classroom network: Part of the virtue of Ubuntu is that it comes with easy-to-install packages for media playing and other tasks that have historically been difficult to do in Linux. Unfortunately, some of the software for these tasks is not technically "free" - they cost nothing to use, but they are not distributed under the GNU General Public License.

So for those with a particular attachment to that license and the ethical stance it promotes, there is Gobuntu:
And finally there is Xubuntu, for those with older systems (slower, less disk space) or those who want to squeeze the most speed and power out of what they have. It uses the bare-bones Xfce desktop environment.
I had come across all of these before. I went with the default Ubuntu flavour, because I like Gnome and it was easy. But the popularity of the Ubuntu family of distributions has led others to take Ubuntu as a base for developing other varieties. I hadn't heard of most of these before. They include distributions tuned to particular requirements such as for security, for compactness, for different languages.

But two jumped off the screen at me (so to speak):


That's right. Ubuntu CE (Christian edition), with a Jesus fish incorporated into the basic Ubuntu logo, and Ubuntu ME (Muslim edition), with an Arabic word inside the Ubuntu logo. (Anyone know Arabic? What does it say?) [Edit 12 November: I'm now pretty sure it's "Allah", the Arabic word for "God".]

The main differences between these and the standard Ubuntu varieties seem to be that CE and ME include special software - primarily for browsing the holy text and filtering web content. I gather that some customization of the graphic theme has also been made. The Christian version includes a What Would Jesus Download toolbar for the Firefox web browser. The Muslim edition includes an Islamic calendar and even a reminder application for the five daily prayers.

But more than any of this, I suspect that the main motivation behind each of these variants is to build an online community of like-minded people.

So I thought, what other religious-themed Linux variants are out there?

I came across Mythbuntu, but that's not religious - "Myth" refers to MythTV, a multimedia application.

And then there's Devil Linux (not based on Ubuntu), but again the religious implication is unconnected to the purpose of the distribution. It's a dedicated server distribution, which I know almost nothing about.

So then I wondered if there's a humanist-themed Linux. Shouldn't there be? Maybe I could slap together Ubuntu HE.

Then I remembered something I read back when I first discovered Ubuntu:
Ubuntu is an African word meaning 'Humanity to others', or 'I am what I am because of who we all are'. The Ubuntu distribution brings the spirit of Ubuntu to the software world.
So there you have it. Ubuntu, plain old normal Ubuntu, is already a humanist distribution. (I would even say that Linux, and free software in general, reflects humanist values. But that's a theme for another post.)

The days when you had to be a hardcore computer hacker to get anything to work on Linux are behind us. I find Ubuntu as easy to work in as Windows - easier in some ways.

If you haven't tried Linux recently, give it a go. Get Ubuntu (free CD by mail or download) and run it risk-free from the CD to get a feel for it.*

And give me feedback. Do you think (like me) that humanist values lend themselves well to the free software philosophy of Linux (and Ubuntu in particular)? What about other operating systems - how do they (and the companies that produce them) strike you from the standpoint of humanist ethics?

* This post was written and submitted on a computer running Edubuntu from the live CD, with Windows XP installed and untouched underneath.


  1. "Devil-Linux" would be a reference to "daemons", the Unix name for things that run in the background, especially on servers. For the Windows bunch that had DOS back in the day, I'd probably horrify all Unix affectionandos (including myself) by comparing a daemon to a TSR (Terminate-and-Stay-Resident) program in DOS.

    Hmm, enough arbitrary geekery. I agree the "Open Source Movement" is very much a humanist endeavour. ;)

  2. Awesome. Call me shallow - or perhaps peripheral ;) - but ever since I read Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" books, I've loved the word "daemon".

    Hugo, any impression how popular Ubuntu is in South Africa? Mark Shuttleworth, the creator of Ubuntu, started out in South Africa.

  3. Hard to say. First question is, how popular are computers/tech? ...

    The techies love Linux, including Ubuntu. I have nothing to compare it to, so I cannot say whether it is more or less popular than it is there?

    Oh, and I'm glad to hear someone I know has read "His Dark Materials". I want some feedback, I'm planning to make a blog post lamenting how "small people's God is" that they fear the movie and make blog posts like these:

    Basically, I've come across many people that say "don't let your kids watch that movie!" And I find it sad. And I want to challenge and encourage and help them deal with it from their own worldview, so I need to blog about it.

    I like what I see in the fourteenth comment, sounds like a wonderfully thought provoking book. I'd like to explain to them how useful it could be. Is the fourteenth comment quite accurate?

  4. Ah, a brilliant response to those fearful of Pullman:

  5. Lady Guinevere's 14th comment is an understandable defensive/fearful misreading of the books.

    The books do recast the temptation/fall as a story of growing up and becoming fully human. But then, I came across this idea earlier in the writings of Christian psychotherapist M Scott Peck (Road Less Travelled), so it's hard to call that an anti-Christian message.

    It's funny that she infers a sexual experience as the climactic event. It isn't described as such in the book, and in interviews (ie, Pullman has directly refuted such speculation:

    Interviewer: ... I read a review that protested that they consummate their relationship and I thought, ‘I must have missed that.’

    Pullman: I don’t know what they did. I wrote about the kiss – that’s what I knew happened. I don’t know what else they did. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. I think they were rather young to, but still…

    As most Christian reviews point out (fearful or liberal), the Authority of the books is unlike the God of modern enlightened believers in many key respects. The differences are important. The Authority represents the sort of God-belief that has motivated horrible acts throughout history, and continues to do so. I am glad to see that some Christians (ie, the link you give: take this difference as important. I always find it odd when someone (such as Lady Guinevere) says on the one hand "He is attacking my belief," and on the other hand "What he's attacking doesn't look anything like my belief."

    If Pullman destroys readers' belief in the sort of god depicted in his books, then good: it's the sort of belief that deserves no respect, and that should be refuted by all compassionate people.

    If they inspire humanist values in readers, as exemplified in the heroine and those who aid her, then good: these are good values, whether you see a god behind them or not.

    The problem with the 14th comment is that she is only reacting to what Pullman rejects and condemns in his books; she makes no mention of what he promotes. Inquiry. Curiosity. Maturity. Compassion. Determination. Loyalty. Opposing tyranny and evil.

    (I look forward to your blog post on this topic.)

  6. Done. Thanks for encouraging me! And thanks for your contribution, I hope I didn't violate copyright law. ;) (Now back to the thesis. *sigh*)


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