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.