The story of Ubuntu

ubuntu |oǒ'boǒntoō|

Ubuntu is an ancient African word meaning ‘humanity to others’. It is often described as reminding us that ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’. We bring the spirit of Ubuntu to the world of computers and software. The Ubuntu distribution represents the best of what the world’s software community has shared with the world.

Where did it all begin?

Linux was already established in 2004, but it was fragmented into proprietary and unsupported community editions, and free software was not a part of everyday life for most computer users. That’s when Mark Shuttleworth gathered a small team of Debian developers who together founded Canonical and set out to create an easy-to-use Linux desktop called Ubuntu.

The mission for Ubuntu is both social and economic. First, we deliver the worlds free software, freely, to everybody on the same terms. Whether you are a student in India or a global bank, you can download and use Ubuntu free of charge. Second, we aim to cut the cost of professional services - support, management, maintenance, operations - for people who use Ubuntu at scale, through a portfolio of services provided by Canonical which ultimately fund the improvement of the platform.

Ubuntu releases

Ubuntu was the first operating system to commit to scheduled releases on a predictable cadence, every six months, starting in October 2004. In 2006 we decided that every fourth release, made every two years, would receive long-term support for large-scale deployments. This is the origin of the term LTS for stable, maintained releases.

Unlike other enterprise Linux distributions, Ubuntu doesn’t divide its efforts between a commercial version and a free ‘community’ version. The commercial and community teams collaborate to produce a single, high-quality release, which receives ongoing maintenance for a defined period. Both the release and ongoing updates for core packages are freely available to all users.

Commercial users engage with Canonical to gain access to support, consulting, management tools, managed services and extended security maintenance.

Governance

Canonical is the publisher of Ubuntu. Members of the Canonical team lead aspects of Ubuntu such as the kernel, default desktop, foundations, security, Openstack, and Kubernetes.

However, the governance of Ubuntu is somewhat independent of Canonical, with volunteer leaders from around the world taking responsibility for many critical elements of the project. Mark Shuttleworth, as project founder, short-lists public nominees as candidates for the Community Council and Technical Board, and they in turn screen and nominate candidates for a wide range of boards, councils and teams that take responsibility for aspects of the project.

It remains a key tenet of the Ubuntu Project that Ubuntu is a shared work between Canonical, other companies, and the thousands of volunteers who bring their expertise to bear on making it a world-class platform for anyone to use.

Ubuntu today

The first official Ubuntu release — Version 4.10, codenamed the ‘Warty Warthog’ — was launched in October 2004, and sparked dramatic global interest as thousands of free software enthusiasts and experts joined the Ubuntu community.

Ubuntu today has many flavours and dozens of specialised derivatives. There are also special editions for servers, OpenStack clouds, and connected devices. All editions share common infrastructure and software, making Ubuntu a unique single platform that scales from consumer electronics to the desktop and up into the cloud for enterprise computing.

The Ubuntu desktop is by far the world’s most widely used Linux workstation platform, powering the work of engineers across the globe. Ubuntu Core sets the standard for tiny, transactional operating systems for highly secure connected devices. Ubuntu Server is the reference operating system for the OpenStack project, and a hugely popular guest OS on AWS, Azure and Google Cloud. Ubuntu is pre-installed on computers from Dell, HP, Asus, Lenovo and other global vendors.

We hope Ubuntu will bring something wonderful your computing — and we hope that you’ll join us in helping to shape and build the future of free software together.