Ubuntu Server Edition: GUI Or No GUI, And Does It Matter?
There’s been a lot of ink spilled—er, pixels fired—about Canonical’s decision not to offer a graphical interface in the server edition. The debate is understandable. After all, given Canonical’s professed commitment to ease of use, it might seem a bit strange that Ubuntu Server Edition should not come with some kind of desktop environment by default.
The reasons for making the server edition command line interface (CLI)-only are logical enough. Above all, it’s ideal for experienced system administrators who want their machines to be as lean and secure as possible. Graphical interfaces waste disk space and RAM and are a liability—they represent one more thing that can go wrong to bring the server down, and one more potential gateway into the system for attackers to exploit.
By Your Command
On the other hand, a CLI-only interface is next to useless to most modern computer users, including many skilled system administrators trained in the Windows tradition. This has led to accusations that Ubuntu has no real product to compete with Windows Server, especially in the small-business market, where IT staff tend to be less experienced than those managing an enterprise environment—see the comments on Alan Pope’s post on this site regarding Ubuntu Easy Business Server for examples of such charges.
Existing data regarding Ubuntu Server Edition use tells a different story, however. A survey by Canonical from last summer indicates that, at least among the respondents (who were drawn only from those who requested Ubuntu Server Edition on CD, which by Canonical’s admission skews the data), Ubuntu enjoys wider use on servers among small to mid-sized businesses That’s the kind of environment traditionally dominated by Microsoft products like Windows Small Business Server.
The most popular use for Ubuntu in these organizations, moreover, is for serving files. This is a bit surprising, since one might expect to see Windows (with native samba and a pretty GUI to manage it) deployed in this context more than Ubuntu.
Nonetheless, this statistic, combined with Ubuntu’s popularity for other small-office tasks like print-serving and data backup, attests to Ubuntu Server Edition’s ability to compete with Windows despite lacking a GUI in its default configuration.
Small Business Momentum?
Naturally, this single survey is no concrete proof that Ubuntu, despite claims to the contrary, is a real player in the small-business-server market. But it suggests that it might be, and a lengthier survey regarding Ubuntu Server Edition currently in progress will hopefully shed more light on the question.
And it may well turn out that, despite what Microsoft has urged us to believe for two decades, life without a GUI is possible, even for those of us who aren’t hardcore hackers.
WorksWithU Contributing Blogger Christopher Tozzi is a PhD student at a major U.S. university. Tozzi has extensive hands-on experience with Ubuntu Server Edition and Ubuntu Desktop Edition.