Ubuntu book tackles enterprise deployment and virtualization

In this Q&A with one author of "The Official Ubuntu Book," Ubuntu migration, KVM virtualization and enterprise advantages over other platforms are discussed.


The Official Ubuntu Book is the ultimate starting point for business and home users thinking of making the switch to Ubuntu. Now in its fifth edition, it’s a complete guide covering the Linux distribution on topics such as installation, configuration, management and even the Kubuntu platform. The book also goes into rich background detail on the South African origins of the platform. Not to mention, it’s the only Ubuntu book that you’ll see sanctioned by Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu, who has contributed a forward to the book. You can preview an excerpt from Chapter 5, provided by Prentice Hall. 

I spoke with one of the book’s three authors, Matthew Helmke, on some key topics spanning the latest version of The Official Ubuntu Book.

In the foreword, Mark Shuttleworth mentions that the goal was to build a platform for “ordinary desktop computer users.” Did you ever think that the OS would gain standing in business? Are the reasons desktop users like Ubuntu similar in the IT admin world?
I think that Ubuntu has great potential in the business world, especially for typical desktop uses in the office such as email, and document creation and editing. The greatest hurdle is non-tech-savvy management who has never heard of Ubuntu or even Linux in general, and who can't fathom how it can be supported or the quality of the system. In many of those cases, a willingness to experiment would result in discovering that in many cases, Ubuntu would be a great fit.

The reasons that desktop users and IT admins like Ubuntu are both similar and different at times. The similarities involve stability and security. People in IT will have a deeper understanding of why and how those attributes exist in Ubuntu, but both they and the non-technical desktop user will still be grateful and appreciative. Where the two sets of people diverge will be in the things that only the IT crowd is likely to see or understand -- issues like the ease of performing software updates and upgrades.

The book is in its fifth edition now, and is covering the latest release in Ubuntu 10.04. You’ve mentioned that with updating comes a refresh of related projects and community initiatives. What are some specific areas that are new and exciting in the latest edition? 
In this edition, we added a ton of new content including information about programs now included by default that were not available in earlier Ubuntu releases, such as PiTiVi for video editing, the Ubuntu Software Center for installing and managing programs, and information about the rapidly developing and amazing Ubuntu Netbook Edition designed for use on that new breed of portable computer. Every chapter has new information and all of the screenshots were re-done to reflect new features and the new Ubuntu desktop look.

You’re an Ubuntu community forums admin, and a member of the Ubuntu membership board for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Could you tell us a little bit about your roles and what goes into them on daily/monthly basis? 
I have been a part of the Ubuntu Forums for more than five years and am currently honored to be a part of the team of men and women who manage the site and keep things running, both in the software and in the community relations senses. While I have been known to answer an occasional support question, these days my specialty is helping maintain the positive atmosphere that makes newcomers to Ubuntu feel welcome while finding solutions to their problems and clarity for their confusion. Part of that is helping to manage our forum staff, but honestly we have such a great group of people helping on the site that they need extremely little guidance or supervision.

For two years, I served on the EMEA membership board. My term expired recently and another person from the Ubuntu community fills the position helping evaluate candidates to determine their eligibility for official Ubuntu membership, which is a recognition of sustained, real contributions to Ubuntu, either in a technical sense or in a community support sense. It was a job I enjoyed very much, but I chose not to stand for reappointment to allow others to participate.

You mention that Ubuntu Windows Installer, or Wubi, is the easiest of methods to install Ubuntu. Do you find that most of the migration situations are of the Windows-to-Ubuntu variety? For the Mac OS or even Linux Mint user, for instance, is it more difficult to install from within these OSes, and what types of installation methods/migration packages does Ubuntu offer for Mac or other Linux users thinking of making the switch?
It has been my observation that most people who install Ubuntu using Wubi do one of two things: either they fall in love with Ubuntu and end up wiping their hard drive and starting over with a fresh Ubuntu installation on the entire drive (eliminating Windows entirely), or they find that Ubuntu isn't really their cup of tea and they go back to using Windows full-time. Very few keep the two side-by-side.

When a person wants to use Ubuntu alongside another operating system, the most common way I see them doing so is by first installing their preferred operating system on the hard drive and then using a virtual container to install the second. Some common ones are VMware, Virtualbox and Parallels. I've seen people who swear by Mac OS X run Ubuntu in VMware on their Mac because it does something that they can't do in OS X or may do more easily in Ubuntu. I know people who run Windows in Virtualbox on Ubuntu because they need to use Internet Explorer to test a website they are developing. There are a ton of ways to do this, and I've seen them all. These days, if someone wants to run more than one OS, this is the common method. It is convenient, does not require any change to an existing system, and has become quite easy to do.

You briefly go into detail in Chapter 5 on one of the latest buzzwords in virtualization. You mention that the “preferred solution in Ubuntu [servers] is KVM,” and that “Ubuntu releases after Hardy (8.04) no longer offer kernels capable of hosting Xen guests.” RHEL has taken a similar path in phasing out support for Xen. What advice would you offer Xen shops who want to make the switch to Ubuntu?
Honestly, the best answers to this question are "do your research" and "set up a test environment first and use it." I know many are simply keeping what they have at the moment until a physical server reaches the end of its expected life cycle and then replacing it with one using KVM instead of Xen. That may require using two systems side-by-side for a while, which is work in and of itself, but for some that seems preferable to migrating each system.

In Chapter 7, you mention that the most important venue for Ubuntu communication is the mailing list. With all of the newer and expansive methods to communicate, including Ubuntu’s in-house venue, “The Fridge,” which is a mishmash of information, why do you think this old form of Internet communication has stuck around?
Well, it depends on what sort of communication we are talking about. To reach developers, the mailing lists and IRC are the absolute best tools. To reach the non-technical end-user community that is running Ubuntu on a desktop or laptop and doing quite well, but may have a question or may be interested in finding out new tricks, the Forums and The Fridge are fabulous sources. It really depends on the person, which is why the chapter details so many varied options.

Why should businesses use Ubuntu over the more commonly used Red Hat Enterprise Linux? What are the advantages of Ubuntu in the enterprise (cloud, virtualization, user interface)?
My personal opinion, first and foremost, is that anyone choosing any distribution of Linux is already making a wonderful decision. For the most part, the Ubuntu community doesn't see itself in direct competition with RHEL or others, but sees itself working with them to bring better options to users of other operating systems. 

Some of the advantages of how Ubuntu, and the company behind it, Canonical, are working to win over these customers are enshrined in the new Ubuntu Advantage, designed to provide systems management tools, quality support and legal assurance to anyone interested. Ubuntu includes tools and workflows designed to make using cloud services like Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) easy to integrate and use, and Canonical is working very hard to provide a robust platform that is manageable and well-supported.

The provided excerpt is from, and this Q&A is based on, the new 5th Ed. of The Official Ubuntu Book, authored by Benjamin Mako Hill, Matthew Helmke, and Corey Burger, published by Pearson/Prentice Hall Professional, June 2010, ISBN 0137081308, Copyright 2010 Canonical, Ltd. For a complete table of contents, please visit the publisher page.

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