Ubuntu LTS 10.04, a Linux OS at Its Best
As you've probably seen, Canonical just released the latest LTS (long-term support) version of Ubuntu. Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx) exists in both desktop and server form. The desktop form will be supported for three years and the server version five years, making the OS an appealing option for enterprise users. I looked at the server edition for ServerWatch.
InstallingIs Lucid Lynx as clear as a Linux OS can be? We check out the latest long-term support edition of Ubuntu.
The install is text-driven but straightforward. Having said that, the first time I tried it there was a glitch in the base system install. It worked fine the second time, and I've seen no similar reports elsewhere, so I think it was probably a network/download glitch.
I liked the offer of automatic home directory encryption. This has obvious advantages on the desktop (reducing the risk of losing large quantities of personal data if your machine is lost or stolen), but it's equally useful on a server if you ever keep any admin information or passwords on your user account on the server. Obviously, if you're running a centralized file server for home directories, you'll need to encrypt those directories manually.
The collections of server packages were also useful. You're given the opportunity of installing various types of servers (e.g., LAMP, authentication, web server or mail server), which automatically selects a particular set of packages for install. You can install any or all of the package groupings, or manually choose your own packages.
The install CD also has an option to set up a cloud install. I didn't try this out myself, but you need at least two machines. Documentation is available online for it. Unfortunately, at present this hasn't been updated for 10.04, but this documentation covers adding it to an existing 10.04 install. It seems still to be a reasonably manual process, rather than being automated as yet.
Once installed, you boot up to a console prompt -- no unnecessary X server here! -- with a login message promoting Canonical's Landscape server management product. Landscape allows you to monitor and manage multiple Ubuntu servers online (including cloud management services). Note, however, that Landscape is a product that must be purchased. It's available either online, or as a server install so you can keep it within your own local network.
During install, I chosen to set up Apache and Dovecot. Both were functional as soon as I booted up, although I had to do a little extra configuration to get Postfix running properly. MySQL and SSH were also running fine on bootup. Basically, what I got was a fully-functional server, just waiting for me to turn it on and start dumping my own content (e.g., web site data and databases) into the appropriate places. I was impressed with how slick and niggle-free the process seemed.
However, chances you will not want to stick with the default configuration of everything you've installed. For configuration management, Ubuntu and Debian remain very much about editing config files manually.
Ubuntu does have eBox, which provides a web interface for monitoring and configuring server systems. Unfortunately, this works only via Firefox (not via w3m or links), which means you'll have to either install X on your server or allow it to run an https server specifically for eBox and access that via a desktop machine.
Personally, I'm not enthusiastic about web-based tools; I'd rather see something more along YaST lines that can be run on a console on the machine being configured. Ubuntu also has Puppet available, but that's about configuration file maintenance rather than about providing any kind of configuration management interface.
Another management tool offered is phpMyAdmin, which allows you to administer your MySQL server via a web interface. As with everything else, it's a straightforward install, which will reconfigure Apache as part of the install and even set up your database automatically. You can also do this manually if you prefer. Once Apache is installed, if you're sticking to a console, use links rather than w3m, as phpmyadmin works better with frames. However, in this case you may want to just stay with the MySQL command line, as phpMyAdmin is definitely more usable in a graphical browser. It is useful if you don't want to have to remember (or look up) sets of SQL statements.
It's convenient to have a server install that's entirely separate from the desktop install, and while it may not be as visually slick as the desktop version, that's not really what you want on a server. The install was straightforward; I really liked the package collections; and everything was functional on first bootup. Five years of support is good, and all the software installed was fairly up-to-date (within a couple of release points, which is reasonable given the testing cycle needed for a long-term release). Ubuntu provides security updates regularly, so any security improvements in more recent releases should be rolled out to your servers quickly.
One problem I found was that the documentation available online is a bit shaky. In some cases, it still refers to earlier releases, which isn't very reassuring. However, Ubuntu is obviously making an effort with its documentation, and it's easier to find information than it is with some other distros.
Overall, Lucid Lynx is an impressive offering and definitely something I'd be happy to use for my own servers. More console-driven system management tools and better documentation, would make it an even better option.
Juliet Kemp has been messing around with Linux systems, for financial reward and otherwise, for about a decade. She is also the author of "Linux System Administration Recipes: A Problem-Solution Approach" (Apress, 2009).