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If Windows leaves you cold, and Mac’s no good for programming, you might be looking for something a little different for your desktop. Enter Ubuntu, Canonical’s GNOME-based Linux desktop. The most recent update has been a good one, adorably named and helping the flexible OS round out many rough corners to become not just functional, but also pretty enjoyable to use.

If Windows and Mac aren’t for you, you might find an option in Ubuntu

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An alternative OS that has plenty of charm

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If you’re not familiar with Ubuntu, don’t worry. It’s an alternative operating system that is strictly aimed at programmers and techy folk - it comes in three distributions, Desktop, Server, and Core (for IoT purposes, which gives you a really good indication of what it’s aimed at.

Today we’re looking at the desktop distribution which, although it doesn’t come ready installed with all the cloud computing tools the Server edition does, still packs a punch if you’re into the more technical things on your computer, since it’s all Linux-based.

Despite the technical leanings, however, Ubuntu’s actually very nice to use. The interface is attractive and fast, and it’s entirely intuitive: if you’ve ever used a Windows or Mac machine, basic operations will present you with absolutely no problem whatsoever.

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Installing Ubuntu is easy. Alternative distributions have a bit of a reputation for complicated installation. For users who want a huge amount of control over the process, this might have been welcomed, but for anyone else, it was a massive pain point. Not so much anymore - Ubuntu is installed with a very traditional-looking installer that offers its various options via tick boxes, which shouldn’t scare anyone away. It’s also available in various languages and keyboard layouts, which should also help bring Ubuntu to a greater audience.

Linux gamers will also feel at home here. Linux gaming isn’t for everyone, but it has its fans and Ubuntu has good graphics processing and pretty snappy response times. For other apps, you’ll use the Aptitude package manager. You can get into the technicalities of this tool if you want, but the bottom line is that it lets you install apps as easily as you would anywhere else. There’s a good selection of native Linux apps that you can run on Ubuntu. You probably won’t have the same selection as you would on Windows but let’s be honest - no-one chooses Ubuntu because they want an OS that’s more commercial than Microsoft.

Rather, one of the main reasons that people DO choose to install Ubuntu is because it’s completely free - free to download in the first instance, and free to update whenever one is released, which is about every 6 months. It also runs on Linux, which means that there are infinite possibilities for customization. Between being flexible and free, you can see how users who like to get their hands dirty are big fans.

A major subset of these users who like to get their hands dirty - programmers - are really big fans. Ubuntu is one of the few OSs that supports native Docker, which offers massive gains in terms of performance. Also handy for the tinkerer is Ubuntu's Snap Packages - self-contained installations that auto-update. For people who like to install and play with things a little more interesting that Paint 3D, it’s a secure and handy way to experiment.

In all, Ubuntu is aimed at technical folk, but for something that is presumably pretty powerful, it’s actually very easy and pleasant to use at a beginner’s level. If you have any interest at all in life outside of Mac and Windows, you might have found a new alternative.

Where can you run this program?

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You can run Ubuntu on most PCs and tablets.

Is there a better alternative?

Yes, there are many people who would probably argue that there are several better options when it comes to Ubuntu. Less technical people will probably be more comfortable with something more commercial, like Windows or Mac. There will be developers and tech-types who are fans of the OS, but most likely many more (they’re fussy folk!) who would pick it apart in a flash and clamor for alternatives like Linux Mint, Debian, or Fedora.

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Our take

If you approach Ubuntu with no preconceptions, it’s a surprisingly nice, easy-to-use, and even refreshing operating system. Banish any thoughts of older operating systems from your head - this isn’t a weird, archaic OS - it’s modern, fast, and attractive. If money is a major concern or you’re really pro-open source, then we could maybe see why an everyday user might try it or consider using Ubuntu as his or her everyday system. The rest of us will probably stick to what we know, but only out of familiarity.

If you’re a developer or a tinkerer, you may well opt for Ubuntu, if not the desktop version, then the server or cloud option. You’d probably have technical features and requirements that would push you that way, but you could rest assured that even though Ubuntu isn’t the most commercial, it’s a pretty pleasant way of implementing all the extra tech juice.

Should you download it?

For interest or experiment, sure - download Ubuntu and see how you like it. Anyone with more serious intentions will have to check out the specific technical features, but it’s a fun ride regardless.

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