Some time ago I wrote about some recent adventures of mine in loading Ubuntu Linux on an old laptop I had laying around. That was fun, and educational too. You can read about that in "Linux on the Desktop."

More recently I had the pleasure of seeing just how easy it is to do a total OS upgrade for Ubuntu. My test platform runs Kubuntu, which Ubuntu with the KDE desktop. I did the whole Kubuntu upgrade process over the Internet and it took about an hour, most of which was taken up by simply watching and waiting for downloads to finish.

To do the upgrade I first had to open the Adept Manager--the tool that handles installing, upgrading, and removing software packages. After that I had to click a button to update all installed packages. With that done I then clicked another button that let me added a new package repository site that hosts the Ubuntu OS upgrade packages. With the new repository in place I then finally clicked another button to update the list of available packages and that causes the upgrade wizard to apppear where I could then select to do a complete system upgrade.

The upgrade process downloaded all the necessary packages, installed them, and rebooted the system. As I said, the entire process took about an hour. The download process itself is fast on a broadband connection, and the installation of the downloaded packages is what takes up most of the time involved.

Overall I was pretty impressed at how easy the upgrade process was.

If you've never used Ubuntu (or Kubuntu) then when you finally do check it out you'll see something that might look vaguely familiar if you've already used Vista. Ubuntu has had the equivelent of Vista's User Access Control (UAC) in place for quite some time. You'll see it in action immediately anytime you try to take an action that requires elevated (root level) access. For example, if you try to modify network settings, add new users to the system, or use Adept Manager to manage the installed software. In such cases (and many others) Ubuntu pops up a little box that asks you to enter your password before allowing such action to take place.

It's basically the "sudo" command that handles that authentication. The "root" account is locked in Ubuntu, which means that you can't login as root or use the familiar "su" command. So in place of that Ubuntu uses the "sudo" command to let the user gain elevated privileges when necessary, if the user has permission to gain such privileges.

Sudo checks to make sure the user has the rights to perform whatever action they're trying to take, so that keeps the system safer against unwanted changes. It's nothing new in the world of Linux, and it's good to see Vista taking a similar approach.

If you use Ubuntu and you want to grant a user the right to use "sudo" then you can do that easily by checking the "Execute system administration tasks" box on the user's permission page in the Users and Groups tool, which is found in the System Settings tool on the system navigation menu. System Settings is the equivalent of Windows Control Panel.

Dell announced that they will being offering Ubuntu as an option on new systems. So far Linux hasn't made a gigantic dent in the desktop market and as far as everyday consumers go (e.g. not enterprises and SMBs) I think that has a lot to do with awareness. Not many average computer users have ever heard of Linux, much less even considered using it. So having mainstream vendors like Dell make it avaiable is going to raise at least some level of awareness across the board.

Futhermore, when people actually try a really good Linux desktop like Ubuntu they will most likely be impressed and wonder about using it. Knowing that it's free makes it an even more attractive option. So the question will then turn to whether the potential user can run their favorite applications - or in other words, will they lose any functionality. The answer of course varies depending on what applications they do need to either keep or replace.

If you want to keep your Windows applications and use them on Linux then that might be possible. Many Windows apps will run just fine using the free open source Wine subsystem (which emulates a Windows environment) or a commercial variety of Wine. Some others might not. There's even a relatively new twist in the Wine-like world made especially for games. Transgaming recently released Cedega 6.0 that makes running PC-based games on Linux relatively simple. I'm not a gamer so I don't give the faintest hoot about Cedega, but I know a lot of you love to play games, so there's the answer to your "I can't use Linux because I'm addicted to PC games" problem :-)

As for other major apps, there's OpenOffice which is the Linux equivelant to Micrsoft Office, Firefox or Konquerer Web browser, Thunderbird for email, and the list goes on and on. The best part? Most all of it (with some exceptions) is free. Support is what might cost everyday computer users money. That can be minimized by learning how to search (and ask) for help online before resorting to paying for it.

Me, I'm sticking with Windows as my primary desktop. But I will definitely keep a few Linux systems around because I have a feeling that it's going to become more and more popular as time goes on, and besides, my favorite "game" is goofing around with operating systems, server platforms, and Web services. The fun never ends with that stuff.