The future is coming ready-or-not

Archive for June 2009

Ubuntu home server

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One of the most common requests the Ubuntu community asks for is a home server or small business server.  This Beepstar post, The trouble with Ubuntu Server for beginners, encapsulates the argument nicely when the article says:

“95% of the would-be “nixers” are completely stunned, at that point when the Ubuntu Server installation states that it has finished and all that’s offered to the user is a black screen and a prompt line. Users … basically scrap the whole thing, install Windows and use … solutions which lack raw power but come with an comprehensive interface”

It’s certainly an interesting point, we can surmise that one of the things that heavily assisted the growth of Windows on the server was the Graphical User Interface (GUI) that came with NT 3.5 and NT 4. At the time the competitive product was Netware which was the dominant technology for providing servers in LAN’s, and networks were themselves reasonably new for small business networks. Windows rode the networking trend really well, and gave advanced technical users (rather than professional IT staff) the idea that they could run their own servers.

I’ll come back to the question of whether Ubuntu server should be trying to focus in this area for a moment, and just focus on technology problems we face in providing a home server. There’s two elements:

a. A set of common services
The use-cases are relatively straight-forward but the key is the integration.  So we’d want thinks like basic file and print, with network services.

b. A nice user experience
An easy to use interface that can guide the user through the initial installation, but also the reconfiguration and management of the services.

We’ve been working on common services in Ubuntu server and ensuring that they’re well integrated and easy to set-up as this makes every system administrators life easier.  So making LAMP easy to install, integrating the experience of attaching to a Windows Network and the recent e-mail stack work all make setting up common services easy and quick.

To provide a graphical user experience there are a range of options.  There’s some well-known free software options, the two most well-know are E-Box and Webmin.  There’s also commercial control panels such as Plesk which is used a lot by hosting providers.

It’s difficult to see a way to integrate one of these panels as the default way of adminstering  an Ubuntu server as the impact on professional users would be dramatic.  For various reasons these tools assume that you only manage the system through the GUI.  So there’s no way to integrate them that would maintain the freedom of professional system administrators to manage the system using the command line interface.

Meanwhile, professional system administrators face a different set of problems.  The shift of delivering everything through a web server and the introduction of virtualization and cloud computing is causing an explosion of server instances.  So for these use cases the focus is on a small, efficient server with centralised configuration management capability.

The compromise may well be a small, powerful server platform aimed for cloud computing.  Then a range of appliances (virtual or otherwise) built  to meet the specific needs of both professional and personal (ie home) users.  There’s been a few different community efforts along these lines and I hope we’ll see more.

A few members of the Ubuntu Server Team wrote about this a while ago, so check out the posts by Dustin, Soren and Thierry.

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Written by Steve George

June 8, 2009 at 18:27

Posted in Canonical, Linux, Ubuntu

Linux eclipses Windows

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The Eclipse team released a survey that shows Linux is the most popular deployment platform, outstripping Microsoft Windows. Ubuntu is the second most popular Linux deployment platform, just behind Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). On the development side the Linux desktop shows strong growth, with 27% of developers using it.

The survey itself had over 1,300 participants from a range of different organisations, you can get the full results from their site. Eclipse is popular with Java developers or developers not strongly tied to Microsoft technologies, so the survey gives good insight into their behaviour.

From the survey Linux is used by 27% of developers as their desktop environment, up from 20% in 2007. This is very strong growth, and shows that Linux continues to expand its reach on the desktop. Ubuntu is the lead distribution with 14.5% of users, RHEL/Fedora is next on 4.7% and then SUSE/Novell on 3.2%. Windows is still the largest platform but has lost 10% market share; it was 74% in 2007 and has now dropped to 64% in the 2009 survey.

The survey also asked what platform was used for deployment. There’s a dramatic shift from previous surveys as Linux now represents the majority on 43% and Microsoft Windows 41%. The breakdown is also interesting. RHEL/Fedora is the lead distribution with 13.1%, Ubuntu comes second with 12.0% and SUSE/Novell is used by 5.3% for deployments.

The desktop Linux trend is really good news as it’s another strong data point showing that Linux is growing on the desktop. Developers are power users who tweak and play with their environment, so if they’re satisfied with Ubuntu then it bodes well for other broader users.

For Ubuntu the deployment platform data is also good news as it shows continuing growth for the server. By it’s nature the server isn’t as flashy as the desktop, it’s strengths and capabilities are more subtle. It’s great to see that developers are appreciating that the server edition is capable of delivering the full range of enterprise workloads, including Java application serving. A lot of work has been put into making LAMP and Tomcat easy to install and maintain, to my mind this survey demonstrates that the work is paying off – we’re helping users deploy Java more simply.

If you’re interested in more analysis of the survey then Ian Skerret’s blog post is a good place to start. And for some more commentary on the Ubuntu element see Nick Barcet’s post.

Written by Steve George

June 6, 2009 at 11:11

Posted in Linux, Ubuntu

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