10 Ultimate Rules for Effective System Administration

The following 10 items are guidelines more than rules, that I have learned over the years doing intensive work on the IT infrastructure. These guidelines are mostly common sense and can be helpful for anybody who administers an IT system, including Linux/Windows Administrator, Network Administrator and DBA.

1. Keep it simple.

In technology environment, keeping things simple takes lot more effort and maturity than keeping it complex. As an administrator, when it comes to implementing a particular functionality or solving a problem, there are always several options available. It is best to learn all the available options, including the complex ones to understand how it works. However while implementing, try to keep it as simple as possible. The option you choose should be simple and have the following characteristics:

  • Easy to maintain in a long run
  • Does not add additional over head to the system
  • Solves the primary business/technical problem

Whenever you are in a dilemma of whether to choose a bleeding edge technology or proven technology that has been around for a while, always go with the proven technology for production implementation.

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. – Albert Einstein

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Readers’ Choice Awards 2008

The Readers’ Choice Awards take the current pulse of the Linux Community year. Here are the tools you use every day in your work and play.

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Back in January and February, we surveyed you, our readers, to find out what Linux-based products, tools and services you prefer these days. More than 5,900 of you completed the survey, and your favorites are the worthy recipients of the 2008 Readers’ Choice Awards. Although some results are predictable, many are certain to both interest and surprise you.

In this year’s competition, we designated only one winner per category, with strong contenders receiving honorable mention awards. For instance, in the categories where a cluster of formidable contenders followed the outright winner, we designated up to three honorable mentions. However, if one product clearly dominated a category (for example, OpenOffice.org with 85% in Favorite Office Program or Apache with 92% in Favorite Web Server), and the contenders were barely on the radar, there were no honorable mentions.

The developers among you will want us to weigh in on how we dealt with languages. We created two categories: Favorite Programming Language and Favorite Scripting Language. See Technical Editor Michael Baxter’s reasoning in the sidebar, as well as the category contents and winners. Please let us know what you think of our approach.

And now, without further ado, we present the 2008 Linux Journal Readers’ Choice Awards.

Favorite Primary Linux Distribution of Choice

Ubuntu (37.4%)

Honorable Mentions

Mandriva (13.9%)

Fedora (11.1%)

In the last LJ Readers’ Choice awards, many readers were “shocked” and “flabbergasted” that the upstart Ubuntu handily took the crown for favorite distribution. This year, however, there is little surprise that Ubuntu has won again, garnering nearly triple the votes of its most able challenger, Mandriva—supposedly the forgotten distro? Clearly Ubuntu has morphed from the “little distro that could” to the “big distro that did”. How would the results differ if we asked for your favorite distribution for servers?

Favorite Desktop Environment

GNOME (45.7%)

Honorable Mention

KDE (42.5%)

Clearly independent decision making is in ample supply in our community, because (despite Nick Petreley’s anti-GNOME rants over the years) GNOME is your Favorite Desktop Environment. GNOME barely edged out its also-popular desktop rival, KDE. The result makes sense given that the GNOME-defaulting Ubuntu trounces all other distributions. However, the fact that GNOME won by just a few percentage points perhaps means that many of you use Ubuntu’s sister distribution, the KDE-based Kubuntu?

Favorite Web Browser

Firefox (86%)

Given our readers’ extreme penchant for tinkering, it’s no surprise that we love Firefox and its ever-growing treasure trove of extensions [see “Must-Have Firefox Extensions”, page 80]. Firefox wins Favorite Web Browser with 86% of your votes. But where, oh where, have the very capable Opera and Konqueror gone? Fewer than 5% of you named them your favorite browser. Honorable mention for most creative response in this category goes to “All I know is that IE7 is worse than dreadful.”

Favorite E-mail Client

Mozilla Thunderbird (44.9%)

Honorable Mentions

Gmail Web Client (19.7%)

Evolution (13.4%)

KMail (10.1%)

Although Mozilla Thunderbird did not vanquish its opponents as decidedly as its sibling Firefox did in the browser category, it had more than twice the support of its nearest rival, the Gmail Web Client, to win Favorite E-Mail Client. We were a bit surprised to see that only about 7% of you are still using text-based e-mail clients, such as Alpine (formerly Pine) and Mutt.

Favorite Office Program

OpenOffice.org (85.1%)

OpenOffice.org garnered a whopping 85% of the votes to win Favorite Office Program, while competitors AbiWord and KOffice squeaked in a barely perceptible 3% each. Nor did EIOffice, a program that has received much praise in our pages in the past, register more than a few votes. OpenOffice.org has become the de facto default office suite for Linux.

Favorite Audio Tool

Amarok (40.5%)

Honorable Mentions

XMMS (18.1%)

Audacity (12.3%)

Rhythmbox (11.9%)

Perhaps the most feature-rich audio player on any platform, Amarok has won most of your hearts and minds for Favorite Audio Tool. Meanwhile, the applications XMMS, Audacity and Rhythmbox each have their loyal constituencies of a bit lesser but similar size, making each worthy of an honorable mention.

Favorite Media Player

MPlayer (34.6%)

Honorable Mention

VLC (27.4%)

This close race in the Favorite Media Player category may be as much a testament to MPlayer’s legacy to thankful Linux users everywhere as a vote for excellence. When playing nonfree media content was still a problem for Linux users, MPlayer was there, leveling the field and making sure we could play anything our Windows-using friends were playing and then some. VLC, a close second, is growing in popularity for its friendly interface and equally adroit ability to play pretty much any format you can throw at it.

Favorite Communications Tool

Pidgin (42%)

Honorable Mentions

Skype (17.8%)

Kopete (12.8%)

Pidgin, the messaging tool formerly known as Gaim, readily handled all of its competitors, garnering 42% of your votes. Pidgin users appreciate the ability to monitor all of their messaging accounts using one tool. Currently 15 protocols are available, including AIM, Google Talk, Novell GroupWise, ICQ, MySpaceIM, Yahoo and others. Despite Skype’s popularity, it remains in Pigin’s long shadow—maybe because its closed-source credentials tug at our consciences?

Favorite Graphics/Design Tool

The GIMP (76.4%)

If anything qualifies as a legendary piece of Linux software, then The GIMP certainly has earned that mantle. Winning 76.4% of the votes, The GIMP wins for Favorite Graphics/Design Tool. As for the others? “Ouch!” is the collective cry from the other graphics applications, such as Inkscape, Scribus and Blender, each of which reached percentages only in the single digits. Notable for its absence is the increasingly impressive KDE graphics tool, Krita.

Favorite Digital Photo Management Tool

digiKam (24.9%)

Honorable Mention

Picasa (24.5%)

digiKam, at 24.9%, edged out its image-organizer rival Picasa from Google by a mere 13 votes. Picasa’s excellent functionality is powerful enough to make up for its deficits—its non-FOSS status and Wine-based emulation. Like its e-mail cousin Gmail, Picasa is an interesting choice given that it is not a Linux application, per se. Gmail exists only in Google’s cloud, and Picasa is—gasp!—a Windows application.

Favorite Text Editor

vi (35.3%)

Honorable Mention

gedit (15%)

Who would have thought that after all these years, the vi editor would rule the roost? It beat out every other editor, including Emacs and vim. Three years ago, it didn’t even make the top three! Go figure. It is interesting to note that Emacs, KWrite and Kate all scored about evenly, clustering around the 10% mark.

Favorite Linux Game

Frozen Bubble (19.2%)

Honorable Mentions

Doom (12.3%)

Tux Racer (11.7%)

It is beginning to seem that no game will ever knock Frozen Bubble from its lofty perch as Favorite Linux Game. Not only does Frozen Bubble lure you in with its pure simplicity, but also those penguins are just too darn cute! Doom and Tux Racer, which won honorable mentions, are two more of your favorites.

Favorite Virtualization Solution

VMware (38.7%)

Honorable Mention

VirtualBox (20.4%)

Given VMware’s meteoric rise during the past few years, it’s no surprise to see it win the gold for Favorite Virtualization Solution. More surprising is VirtualBox’s showing, the application that a fellow publication called “The best virtualization program you’ve never heard of” in late 2007. VirtualBox’s patron, innotek of Germany, was acquired by Sun Microsystems earlier this year, giving VirtualBox the marketing injection it needed to match its technical prowess. Wine and Xen fared decently in this category too.

Favorite Backup System

Simple Linux Backup (25.5%)

Honorable Mentions

Amanda (16.1%)

Bacula (16.1%)

In this year’s competition, we differentiated between comprehensive applications, or systems, and specific utilities. Regarding the Favorite Backup System category, most of you prefer the no-frills, low-budget approach over corporate solutions—that is, the application Simple Linux Backup. The open-source applications—Amanda, with the Zmanda interface for server backup, and Bacula, for network-based backup—also got many of your votes. Backup also is the category in which the most readers roll their own script-based solutions.

Favorite Backup Utility

tar (35.4%)

Honorable Mentions

rsync (22.4%)

k3b (15.1%)

For Favorite Backup Utility, the perpetual winner is the workhorse tar, tallying 35.4% of the vote. Enough of you love rsync and the CD/DVD-authoring application k3b to warrant honorable mentions.

Favorite Database

MySQL (62.7%)

MySQL is not only the world’s most popular open-source database, it’s your favorite as well. Although PostreSGL, SQLite, Firebird and others registered votes, the competition was not fierce. It doesn’t hurt that MySQL runs on more than 20 different platforms.

Favorite Programming Language

C (26%)

Honorable Mentions

C++ (25.7%)

Java (22.9%)

‘Twas the battle of the Cs in the Favorite Programming Language category, with C taking first prize, C++ landing in second and Java in the third spot. Don’t see your own wildly favorite language here? You wouldn’t believe the number of “WTFs” we got when readers didn’t find Python, Ruby or other languages here but rather in the scripting language category. Check out that category’s results, as well as Michael Baxter’s explanation in the sidebar for how we differentiated between programming and scripting languages. (No doubt we’ll see you in the on-line comments section too!)

Favorite Scripting Language

Python (28.9%)

Honorable Mentions

PHP (21.7%)

bash (19.8%)

Perl (17%)

It’s no surprise that Python grabbed top honors in the Favorite Scripting Language category, and that PHP, bash and Perl all deserve honorable mention for their strong showings.

Favorite Language Construction Tool

Flex (18.1%)

Honorable Mentions

Bison (14.7%)

javacc (12.8%)

You know you’re reading the right publication when a collective cheer rises up to celebrate the scanner-generator Flex winning a prize. Although Flex took top honors for Favorite Language Construction Tool with 18.1% of the votes, its yacc-compatible parser generator, Bison, tallied enough votes for an honorable mention (14.7%), as did the compiler-compiler for Java, javacc (12.8%). Although this category registered fewer votes than other categories, nearly 2,000 of you weighed in with your opinions.

Favorite Security Tool

SSH (29.5%)

Honorable Mention

iptables (19.4%)

Just as it did in the last edition of this competition, the hyperversatile and hyperfavorite SSH wins this year in the Favorite Security Tool category with 29.5% of the votes. You also showed your love for the iptables tool for your packet-filtering tasks, which deserves an honorable mention for garnering 19.4% of the tally.

Favorite Linux Software Development Tool

Eclipse (29%)

This year, Eclipse easily eclipsed all of its competitors to win Favorite Linux Software Development Tool. Although the rest of the votes were widely dispersed among many different tools—KDevelop, Emacs, GNU autoconf and NetBeans all registered significant vote counts.

Favorite Package Management Application

Apt (35.3%)

Honorable Mentions

RPM (16.5%)

Yum (14.9%)

Synaptic (11.6%)

One of the main reasons so many of you love (K)Ubuntu so much is its sweet package management via Apt, this year’s victor in the Favorite Package Management Application category. Apt won 35.3% of your votes. Many of you also cast your votes for the classic RPM (16.5%) and its useful friend Yum (14.9%). Meanwhile, a respectable number of you (11.6%) prefer the Synaptic front end on top of Apt to perform your package management tasks.

Favorite System Administration Tool

OpenSSH (52.7%)

The depth of your love for OpenSSH is clear. Not only did you choose it for Favorite Security Tool (above), but you chose it as Favorite System Administration Tool as well. With 52.7% of your votes, it stands head and shoulders above its nearest competitors.

Favorite Content Management System

WordPress (23.8%)

Honorable Mentions

Drupal (21.4%)

Joomla! (18.9%)

Competition was tough for Favorite Content Management System, for you love your myriad options. Nevertheless, your favorite application in this category was the blog publisher WordPress (23.8%), which edged out the able Drupal (21.4%) and Joomla! (18.9%) to take the prize. It appears that the vast majority of you bloggers are gravitating toward WordPress, while the Webmasters are splitting into Drupal and Joomla! camps.

Favorite Web Server

Apache (90.9%)

Rather than offer a Favorite Web Server category, we should just ask “Do you use the Apache Web server, yes or no?” and leave it at that. Apache wins with 90.9% of your votes.

Favorite Linux-Friendly Web Hosting Company

GoDaddy.com (14.7%)

Honorable Mentions

1&1 (9.8%)

DreamHost (9.4%)

Rackspace (7.5%)

Given the variety of hosting companies available today, it’s no surprise that none of them dominated the voting for Favorite Linux-Friendly Web Hosting Company. Although the winner, GoDaddy.com, garnered a respectable 14.7%, the real winner was “Other” with a whopping 42.4%. Nevertheless, hats off to GoDaddy.com for its rapid rise in popularity—it was absent from our last awards.

Favorite Network or Server Appliance

Avocent Cyclades ACS Console Server (15.7%)

Honorable Mention

Guardian Digital Linux Lockbox (12.7%)

As with hosting, the voting for Favorite Network or Server Appliance category was diffuse due to the rabbit-like proliferation of useful products in the marketplace. The top vote-getter at 15.7% was the Avocent Cyclades ACS Console Server, and following up with honorable mention (at 12.7%) was the Guardian Digital Linux Lockbox.

Favorite Linux Handheld Device

Nokia N800 (43.9%)

Honorable Mention

OpenMoko Neo (23.7%)

In case you hadn’t noticed, many of us Linux Journal editors adore the Nokia N800. The N800 won the 2007 awards for Ultimate Linux Handheld, and its predecessor, the N770, would have won the 2006 Editors’ Choice Award for Best Mobile Device, only we were afraid we never talked about anything else. Well, clearly our readers dig it too, because 43.9% of you chose it as your favorite handheld. Keep your eye on the newer OpenMoko Neo 1973, which burst on the scene and grabbed 23.7% of the vote.

Favorite Linux Laptop

ASUS Eee PC (34.7%)

Honorable Mention

Lenovo T61p (20%)

Is there any surprise that the ASUS Eee PC got 34.7% of the vote to win the Favorite Linux Laptop category handily? Finally, a company created a laptop with Linux in mind and didn’t consider Linux as a second-rate afterthought. It also is nice to see that our readers appreciate Lenovo’s better-late-than-never but admirable effort to pre-install its T61p with SLED. This helped the device win honorable mention. Hopefully, awards like this will encourage Lenovo and others to pre-install all of their laptops with Linux from the start. If you accumulate the various models from our Linux-specialist friends like LinuxCertified, EmperorLinux and R Cubed, they fared well as a group too.

Who Makes Your Favorite Linux Desktop Workstation?

Dell (30%)

Honorable Mention

Hewlett-Packard (12%)

It wasn’t surprising to see PC giant Dell win top choice in this category with 30% of the vote tally. Dell’s product line has become more Linux-friendly over the years, which shows up clearly in your preferences. HP gets an Honorable Mention for its Linux offerings, and there were lots of write-ins for various verndors in this category, but they were too diverse to merit a third place award. And of course, many of you chose a home-brew solution as well.

Who Makes Your Favorite Linux Server?

Dell (21%)

Honorable Mention

IBM (14%)

Hewlett-Packard (12%)

The majority of voters in this category give their server business to the big vendors, such as Dell (winner of both Favorite Desktop Workstation and Server categories), IBM, HP and Sun. Many readers also like to purchase from the smaller mom-and-pop shops—with too many write-ins to list here. And, as with the Favorite Desktop Workstation category, many readers prefer to build their own servers.

Favorite Green Linux Product or Solution

VMware (42.6%)

Honorable Mention

PowerTOP (16.3%)

Because virtualization is such a fabulous and popular way to improve the efficiency of your servers, VMware landed the top spot in the Favorite Green Linux Product or Solution category. The PowerTOP tool for finding energy wasters on your systems also is popular and won an honorable mention at 16.3%. Although many readers earnestly consider energy consumption and environmental impacts in their data-center strategy, we were surprised to see the high number of responses like “Hummer” and “I promote global warming”. We wonder with concern, “How much good science is necessary to convince us of the seriousness of our environmental challenges?”

Favorite Linux Book (revised or released in or after January 2007)

Linux System Administration by Tom Adelstein and Bill Lubanovic (O’Reilly) (16%)

Honorable Mentions

Linux System Programming by Robert Love (O’Reilly) (7.2%)

Official Ubuntu Book by Benjamin Hill (Prentice Hall) (7%)

Practical Guide to Ubuntu Linux by Mark G. Sobell (Prentice Hall) (6.6%)

There are so many great Linux books, how can one choose a favorite! Despite the amazing diversity, your clear winner for Favorite Linux Book is O’Reilly’s Linux System Administration by Bill Lubanovic and LJ regular Tom Adelstein. Three other books clustered around the 6–7% mark, one from O’Reilly and two from Prentice Hall. Interestingly, several of you mentioned that you don’t read “analog” printed books anymore, only digital materials.

Favorite Linux Journal Column

Cooking with Linux by Marcel Gagn� (26.9%)

Honorable Mention

Work the Shell by Dave Taylor (15%)

Hack and / by Kyle Rankin (14.1%)

Looks like Marcel Gagn� is going to have to be knocked off before anyone knocks him off the award stand for Favorite Linux Journal Column. Marcel’s Cooking With Linux column, where Linux must be fun and one hand must remain free to fill the wineglass, has tickled and informed Linux Journal readers since its inception more than 100 issues ago. The ever-popular Dave Taylor also fared well (15%) for his Work the Shell column, and the upstart Hack and / from Kyle Rankin has become quite popular (14.1%) in its short life.

Linux Product of the Year

ASUS Eee PC (37.3%)

Honorable Mention

One Laptop Per Child (17.9%)

We are pleased to present you with your very own Linux Journal Readers’ Choice Product of the Year…drumroll please…the ASUS Eee PC! Once again, we congratulate ASUS for making a great Linux product from the ground up and not as an afterthought. The win is well deserved due to the pure excitement it has created in our community. And, it’s created excitement here at LJ as well—see Jes Hall’s review of the ASUS Eee PC at www.linuxjournal.com/article/9947, her “Hacking the Eee PC” at www.linuxjournal.com/article/10003 and Shawn Powers’ video review at www.linuxjournal.com/node/1005898. See also “Eee PC Gets an Upgrade” on page 13 of this issue. We’re also pleased to announce that the OLPC wins the Honorable Mention in this category; see Dave Phillips’ “Sounding Out with the OLPC XO” on page 46 of this issue.

James Gray is Linux Journal Products Editor and a graduate student in environmental science and management at Michigan State University. A Linux enthusiast since the mid-1990s, he currently resides in Lansing, Michigan, with his wife and cats.

From : LinuxJournal

A quick look at the spring GNU/Linux distributions: Mandriva, Ubuntu, Fedora, and openSUSE

It’s really the most wonderful time of the year. Out of the top 6 GNU/Linux distributions (according to DistroWatch.com), four are releasing or have released builds between April and June. What’s new in them?

Mandriva 2008.1 Spring

Date: April 9, 2008

Mandriva 2008.1 Spring edition marks the twenty-second release in the distribution’s lifetime (by comparison, Ubuntu has only eight). It also marks one of the first major releases this spring. It’s not a huge upgrade from the previous 2008.0 version. KDE 4.0.3 packages have been added, though not enabled by default (a wise move, as KDE 4 is still very unstable). Gnome has also been upgraded to 2.22, which includes support for gvfs (instead of GnomeVFS), Metacity compositing, and much more. The terrific PulseAudio sound server has been added for the first time as well. OpenOffice.org, Compiz Fusion, IcedTea Java, and of course the Linux kernel itself have all been upgraded to their newest versions. Several new programs are installed by default, including drakguard, a parental control tool, much better audio and video codecs, and a nice migration wizard for Windows Vista users. Also, full NTFS write support has been added: now Mandriva users can write to their Windows partitions. Another nice fix is the addition of several mobile syncing tools to work with Windows Mobiles, Blackberries, and Nokia phones. This was previously a huge hole for Mandriva. New programs have also made their way into the Mandriva repositories, including Elisa (a media center), the AWN dock, and the Miro video player. Finally, full out-of-the-box support for the Asus eeePC has been added as promised.

Mandriva 2008 (by HorseloverFat under the GPL)
Figure 1: Mandriva 2008 (by HorseloverFat under the GPL)

Homepage: http://www.mandriva.com/

Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron

Date: April 24, 2008

Ubuntu users are getting very excited about Ubuntu 8.04, codenamed Hardy Heron. First of all, this is another LTS release (which means it will be supported for three years). Additionally, many programs like Gnome (see above) Compiz Fusion, OpenOffice.org, Totem, and Firefox have been upgraded to their latest versions. Many programs also make their first appearance by default in Hardy, including the Tracker search engine, the PulseAudio sound server, the PolicyKit security tool, the Brasero CD burner (which replaces Serpentine), the Transmission BitTorrent client (which replaces the Gnome BitTorrent downloader), the Vinagre VNC client (which replaces xvnc4viewer), and much more. Additionally, support for virtualization has never been better, thanks to the installation of the VMWare guest drivers (but, remember that VMWare is not free!) and several KVM updates. Finally, Wubi has been included to ease the installation of Ubuntu for Windows users.

Kubuntu also gets a few upgrades, although it still lags behind its Gnome counterpart. The biggest change is that Kubuntu has temporarily split into two versions: Kubuntu, with KDE 3, and Kubuntu KDE 4 Remix, with the unstable KDE 4. Because of this, 8.04 will not be a LTS. It’s currently uncertain whether Kubuntu 8.10 will be an LTS or not. Still, Kubuntu 8.04 has some nice features. It finally has out-of-the-box support for Compiz Fusion (much like Ubuntu 7.10 sported), support for DVD codecs in the Kaffeine media player, Bulletproof X (much like Ubuntu 7.10’s), and Wubi for easy installation. Still, it’s rather annoying that most of the “upgrades” are simply features that Ubuntu 7.10 had six months ago. There is hope, however: According to Ubuntu Brainstorm idea #478, this is currently in development.

Ubuntu 8.04 (by V A R G U X under the GFDL)
Figure 2: Ubuntu 8.04 (by V A R G U X under the GFDL)

Homepage: http://www.ubuntu.com/

Fedora 9

Date: May 13, 2008

In my opinion, Fedora 9 is going to be the most controversial operating system of the year (barring a Windows Seven release). For some odd reason, the Fedora team decided to make KDE 4 the default for the KDE spin. Why is this going to be a problem? The KDE 4.0.x series is unstable—and will probably always be. Bugs abound everywhere and many apps aren’t being ported. KDE 4 won’t be really stable until at least KDE 4.1, scheduled for a July ‘08 release. This has the potential to really hurt Fedora users.

Luckily, Fedora 9 isn’t all bad. The ext4 file system is going to be supported, many applications including Gnome, Totem, Rhythmbox, and Firefox are going to be upgraded, and OpenJDK is replacing IcedTea. Additionally, the Fedora installer is getting a sorely needed makeover, with a new partition resizing feature being added. Still, I have the feeling that many of the KDE users may be a little upset. KDE 4 is great fun to play around with, but it’s unlikely that “normal” users going to like using it full time.

Fedora 9
Figure 3: Fedora 9

Homepage: http://fedoraproject.org/

openSUSE 11.0

Date: June 19, 2008

The third biggest distribution (according to DistroWatch), openSUSE has a lot to offer this time around. Like Kubuntu, the KDE version of SUSE lets users choose between the stable KDE 3.5 and the unstable KDE 4.0.3 (3.5 is enabled by default). Everything from AbiWord to xine-lib has been upgraded. Additionally, YaST, the all-in-one admin tool, has been ported to Qt4. The SuSE package manager has also gotten speed boosts. That’s a huge deal for me, since I hate the fact that a tortise could walk from my basement to my kitchen by the time openSUSE installs a package. And by the time June comes around, there will be tons more features.

openSUSE 11
Figure 4: openSUSE 11

Homepage: http://www.opensuse.org/


Should I use Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, or Edubuntu? What’s the difference?

Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, and Edubuntu are all the same Linux distro using the same base, the same software repositories, and the same release cycle. They just have different artwork, different user interfaces (in most cases), and different default programs installed.

Ubuntu uses a user interface (or desktop environment) called Gnome. Gnome is focused on simplicity and usability. Ubuntu includes a bunch of Gnome-native applications such as Rhythmbox (music player), Sound Juicer (CD player and ripper), Evolution (email client and calendar), and Gedit (text editor). You can find the full list of software packages in ubuntu-desktop here.

Kubuntu uses the K Desktop Environment (also known as KDE). KDE is focused on including a lot of point-and-click configuration options immediately available to end users. Kubuntu includes a bunch of KDE-native applications such as AmaroK (music player), K3B (CD burning), Konqueror (web browser and file manager), and Kopete (instant messenger). You can find the full list of software packages in kubuntu-desktop here.

Xubuntu uses the Xfce desktop environment, which is a lighter one than Gnome or KDE. In terms of its design principles, it has a bit of a balance—presenting in some ways more point-and-click configuration options than Gnome but also retaining some of the simplicity of Gnome. Its main appeal is its speed, though, and it’s ideal for systems with 128 to 256 MB of RAM. Both Ubuntu and Kubuntu can run on 256 MB of RAM, but they’re more ideal for 512 MB of RAM or more. Xfce includes Thunar (file manager), Thunderbird (email client), and Mousepad (text editor). You can find a full list of software packages in xubuntu-desktop here.

Edubuntu uses the Gnome desktop environment but has a different set of default applications from Ubuntu. Its focus is on educational tools. It includes GPaint (an easy to use paint program), Atomix (a puzzle game for building molecules out of isolated atoms), and Xaos (a real-time interactive fractal zoomer). You can find a full list of software packages in edubuntu-desktop here.

Mixing and matching *buntus is possible and often encouraged by the community. If you choose Ubuntu, you are not stuck with Ubuntu. If you choose Kubuntu, you are not stuck with Kubuntu. You can use Gnome-native applications in KDE and vice versa. You can use Gnome- and KDE-native applications in Xfce. You can install education-related programs in any desktop environment. You can install kubuntu-desktop on top of Ubuntu and choose which one you want to log into at the login screen. All four versions of Ubuntu (Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, and Edubuntu) share the same software repositories and available applications. You are not locked into using one version just because it is the first version you installed. From now on, I’ll be referring to all or any of the above versions as simply Ubuntu.