Ubuntu Linux 5.10

Pros: Coexists well with Windows XP

Cons: Hard to burn and fairly glitchy

Price: Free

Features: C+

Value: B

Security: B

Ease of use: C

Ubuntu, which is an African word meaning 'humanity to others,' represents the best and worst of open-source programming. On the one hand, there is a rather diverse community of people adding new productivity applications to this free program. But on the other, there does not seem to be any official support network if things go wrong.

Even the host company, reportedly based off the coast of England, does not list a phone number and asks that all inquiries be made by e-mail. So if you run into a major problem, you may be waiting a long time.

The software is designed to be downloaded and burned to a disk, but we wasted several CDs trying to burn the ISO image. If you want to try out Ubuntu, they'll ship you install CDs free of charge (see www.shipit.ubuntu.com).

We wouldn't call the installation process buggy, but it's filled with pitfalls. Most of them cause the installation to reboot your system, which means setup can take a while. But once you get it running, we found that this Debian-based Linux distribution got along better on a system with Windows XP than rival Linux OSes.

When we finally got Ubuntu running, we explored the GNOME environment, OpenOffice suite, Firefox and K-Meleon browsers, Gaim multiprotocol instant messaging client and other programs. The distribution comes with a lot, but configuring it can be a pain because Ubantu is more cobbled together than governed by an overarching OS control scheme.

Ubuntu found our test printer and CD-ROM drive, but not the key drive. Connecting to a Windows network was particularly difficult because the Windows server would not acknowledge the client. Eventually we made the connection.

Because Ubuntu development is ongoing, more and more programs will likely be added over time. Hopefully that includes application-level security. For now, Ubuntu is a user-friendly distribution that comes with lots of add-ons. But it's not yet an enterprise-class OS.

Canonical Ltd., Isle of Man, info@canonical.com, www.ubuntu.com

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