The Freekbox Gets a Makeover
If you visited Free Geek on December 4 and heard disco music blaring while volunteers and staff competed head-to-head on Super Tux Kart in the classroom (yes, it’s an open source game very similar to Super Mario Kart), you luckily stumbled into the Holi-Distro party. Generally, our holiday party is a chance to unwind with other Free Geek community members, perhaps participate in a white elephant gift exchange, and celebrate the many accomplishments of the year. This year though, things were a little different as we were also celebrating the release of a new Linux distribution on Free Geek computers.
Linux, an open-source operating system, has many different distributions, or distros, maintained by various groups throughout the world. Each of these distros is updated, much like you see on other proprietary operating systems, on a regular basis. Since 2006, Free Geek has used Ubuntu, currently the most widely-adopted version of Linux, on all of our computers with an operating system. We chose this version for its ease of use and the robust support afforded by the greater Linux community and Canonical, the company responsible for Ubuntu Linux. Unfortunately, the version of Ubuntu we’ve been using since 2010, 10.04 Lucid Lynx, will only be officially supported until April, 2013. To plan for this transition, several Free Geek staff and interns formed the Distro Committee to research, test, de-bug, and document the next version of Linux for our computers.
First, the committee set out to define priorities for the new operating system. We talked to representatives of various areas of Free Geek including Tech Support, the Build Program, Education, and the Thrift Store. We also polled a wide cross-section of our computer users to discover what was important to them and how they use their computers. Major priorities for this new distro included a long support cycle (so we wouldn’t have to go through this process too often), compatibility with a wide range of old and new computer systems, and ease of use for both beginners and experienced computer users. Armed with these criteria, our intrepid Distro Interns began exploring and testing many of the various available Linux distributions. (Find out more about one of the lead Distro Interns, Ben Koening, in this newsletter’s Volunteer Spotlight.)
After collecting tons of data on various distributions, the intern team ultimately recommended that Free Geek adopt Xubuntu 12.04 (although it’s officially pronounced “zoo-bun-too”, plenty of people call it “ex-oo-bun-too”.) As you can likely tell from the name, this is a branch of the original Ubuntu distro. Unlike Ubuntu 12.04, which comes with the new-to-users Unity Interface, Xubuntu uses Xfce to control the way the operating system looks. This version was selected for many reasons including the same five-year support of Ubuntu 12.04, speed on both old and new systems, and an interface very similar to the one our users became familiar with in Ubuntu 10.04.
Although this new distro is officially supported for the next five years, that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to see it on our computers for that long. The Distro Interns will continue to work on documentation for Free Geek and look to new developments in the world of Linux computing in order to facilitate further changes as needed. Free Geek would like to thank our Distro Interns for all the hard work they continue to put into ensuring a satisfying computing experience for all Free Geek community members. If you happen to come across one of our Distro Interns (they’re hard to spot unless you know the secret Distro handshake…kidding!), please do the same!