Ubuntu, pronounced "oo-BUN-too"
(though depending on who you ask), is a free and open source computer
operating system. It is built on the Linux kernal and
specifically based on the Debian version of Linux.
Ubuntu is by far the most popular of the Linux operating systems available today. This is due to its ease of installation and use.
Any computer novice can download the most recent release of Ubuntu and either run it on their computer as a Live CD or install the operating system. Ubuntu, like many Linux operating systems, comes as a free download (usually an .iso file) that can be burned to a CD. The CD can then be run "Live" on the computer.
By running an Ubuntu Live CD, you can find out how Ubuntu will detect all of the hardware on your system, without affecting your current set-up. In other words, Microsoft will never know you were sneaking around behind its back!
Dual Boot System
If you run the Live CD and like it, Ubuntu makes it very easy to keep your Windows installation on the computer and set up a "Dual Boot" system. This means you will have two operating systems on your computer. Each time you start up the system, you'll get to choose whether to run Windows or Ubuntu Linux.
The boot loader that comes up every time will ask you which version of Linux (despite the name "Dual Boot", you can use multiple operating systems!). To be honest, you'll find yourself skipping past it without considering Windows pretty quickly.
This term doesn't really apply anymore once you leave Windows for Ubuntu. But what you'll have when you install Ubuntu is a full suite of software for all of your needs.
Microsoft Office is replaced by the more than capable OpenOffice. For basic needs, you won't have any trouble figuring out the Word Processor (Word), Presentation (Power Point) or Spreadsheet (Excel). For more advanced needs, you may need to do some research. But I have found OpenOffice can do everything Microsoft Office could for me, sometimes even better.
Instead of Microsoft Internet Explorer, you'll get Firefox as your web browser. Personally, all of my Windows machines are already running Firefox, so this was an easy transition.
You'll find a variety of eMail software available to combat Outlook, including Evolution (the default) and Thunderbird (by Mozilla, makers of Firefox).
There are also software programs for burning CDs and DVDs, Twitter clients, gIMP (somewhat like PhotoShop) and more. Take time to go through all of the available programs and you'll no doubt be impressed. It may take some time to teach an old dog new tricks, but you'll be happy if you learn them!
Although Ubuntu will regularly update once you have it installed, there are different versions. Every two years, Ubuntu has as Long Term Release. Between that are releases every six months.
I started using Ubuntu with the Long Term Release 8.04 (Hardy Heron). The next Long Term Release following that was 10.04 (Lucid Lynx). To give you an idea of the naming, here are the releases during that time:
Hardy Heron â€“ 8.04
Intrepid Ibex â€“ 8.10
Jaunty Jackalope â€“ 9.04
Karmic Koala â€“ 9.10
Lucid Lynx â€“ 10.04
Maverick Meerkat â€“ 10.10
Hopefully you can pick up on the pattern!