A Linux "distribution", also called "distro", refers to a variant of the Linux operating system. In general, different distros have the same "kernel", that is, the same core. The kernel provides the basic functionality of the operating system. It connects and runs the core components of the system, such as the CPU, the random access memory (RAM), and the hard disk. Because of the transparent and modular design of Linux, it is easy to take the kernel and extend it with applications and desktop environments to create your own operating system, which you can then distribute to your friends - hence the term "distribution".
However, building a distro is not what the casual PC user typically wants to do. She just wants to turn on the computer and use regular web browsers, word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation software. It is therefore helpful to have a standard distro that functions pretty much the way most people expect a PC so function, and Ubuntu has filled that niche. It provides an alternative to Windows XP or Vista, which are not free like Linux operating systems, but have remained the dominant operating system for desktop computers because they have been the de facto standard.
While there are only minor changes to the overall graphical appearance, the latest release of Ubuntu has been improved in many ways.
- Desktop item expanded. The default desktop background remains brown, but the display of icons representing external devices is more informative and makes use of available third-party images.
- Bluetooth connectivity simplified. As with previous versions, making wireless wifi connections is fairly straight-forward and automated for the most part, but the wizard for making Bluetooth connections has been further simplified. The GUI has been made more user-friendly to enable anybody to set up wireless links between the computer and mobile phones or other external devices.
- File system upgraded. Ubuntu 9.04 gives users the option to use the advanced Ext4 file system, an upgrade from Ext3. With Ext4 the maximum filesystem size is one exabyte (one with 18 zeros), and the maximum file size 16 terabytes. The maximum number of files is 4 billion, and there is no longer a limit to the number of subdirectories.
One of the highlights of Ubuntu is the 3D desktop environment Compiz/Fusion. It has been available already in previous releases, but is worth mentioning again, since it makes Ubuntu one of the most advanced desktop operating systems around.
The objective of Compiz/Fusion is to make the various elements that are visible on your computer look more physical. It aims to make your work less tiring and increase productivity through more natural visual perception.
One way to do that is by placing the windows and icons on three-dimensional looking objects, such as cubes or cylinders, that can be rotated. Another way is to keep the windows or menus in motion after you move or expand them, sort of like a piece of paper floating on the desk. This makes it easier to track which window or menu has just been activated. There are many settings and parameters to customize these effects and have fun. The results depend each user's preferences and work habits.
Other noteworthy improvements include faster booting and better suspend and hibernation behavior that give the user prompt access to applications while increasing battery time on notebook computers.
With the availablity of the productivity suite OpenOffice.org 3.0, support for Skype and Adobe Flash, and a price tag of $0.00, this latest release of Ubuntu offers an attractive option for people looking for an alternative for Microsoft Windows or Mac operating systems.
Besides the Ubuntu Desktop Edition, there is also a Server Edition and a "Netbook Remix" version.
For more information see here.