About a year ago, Microsoft released Windows Vista, its most ambitious desktop platform to date. It's a great improvement over Windows XP primarily because it brings better security to the overall OS.

Makers of Linux platforms are improving their desktop OSs too. One company making huge leaps forward is Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu. In April 2007, Canonical released Ubuntu 7.04, code-named Feisty Fawn. Prior to the release of 7.04, I'd tested Ubuntu and found it somewhat acceptable for my needs but not exceptionally great mainly because it didn't recognize some of my particular hardware and I didn't want to spend much time finding and installing drivers.

In early June 2007, I finally got around to giving Ubuntu another look (using a bootable Live CD) and was pleasantly surprised. The new OS recognized all my hardware immediately, including my printers, wired Ethernet cards, and half a dozen different Wi-Fi cards. I then poked around the desktop a little bit and discovered that almost all the tools I need for day-to-day work are either already installed by default or are available for easy Internet-based installation with a few clicks of the mouse. It was at that point that Ubuntu really got my attention. I found myself thinking that I could quickly install Ubuntu along with all the tools I need and take the OS for an extended long-term test drive. And that's exactly what I did.

When I began the test drive, the questions I had in mind were, "Can I use this OS as my everyday desktop?" and "Can it effectively replace my Windows desktop?" As it turns out, the answers are yes and no, respectively. After using Ubuntu as my primary desktop for 7 months straight, every day of the week, I am thoroughly impressed. I've found that it's a fantastic platform for regular users. However, there are obvious problems for Windows security administrators.

Administrators need to run all sorts of third-party Windows-based security tools as well as the security-related tools built into Windows itself. I solved those problems in two ways, both of which might be obvious to at least some of you. The first solution is to use Wine (a Windows emulation environment), which is installed in Ubuntu by default. Wine let me run numerous third-party Windows tools directly on the Ubuntu desktop. The second solution is that I installed a free virtual machine (VM) platform and then installed Windows Vista as a guest VM. So when I need to use a tool that won't run properly under Wine or a tool that's built into Windows, I start the Vista VM and use the tool in that environment; when I'm done, I shut down the VM.

I've found that Ubuntu is reasonably secure, has decent desktop controls that help prevent unwanted access (similar to Vista's User Access Control--UAC), and is relatively quickly patched when security problems appear in various OS components. Installing those patches is easy too--a bit easier than typical desktop updates on Windows platforms.

So for the past 7 months, I've been enjoying the best of both the Linux and Windows worlds. My extended test drive of Ubuntu has been extremely fun and a great learning experience, particularly in terms of interoperability.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that any Windows administrator can switch to Ubuntu (or any other Linux desktop platform), but I do think that it's a great platform for everyday use by nonadministrative users and for those administrators that simply need a Linux platform to get their job done in the best possible manner.

If you're interested in Ubuntu check it out at the URL below. http://ubuntu.com