If the processor is the heart of the pc, the brains are the Operating System. In the Industrial and manufacturing PC space, there is often some hesitation about putting that brain in the hands of the mysteries of Open Source, bypassing Ubuntu in favor of Windows. But is that the right choice? Lets take a look at Ubuntu and if it’s right for factories, manufacturing plants, and industrial environments.
Wait, What is Ubuntu?
Ubuntu is an Open Source, Debian based Linux Operating System (OS) developed by Canonical Ltd in 2004. If that sounds like a mouthful, you are not wrong. Basically, it is a operating system that was created with the ideas of ease of use, free access, and open book development at its core. However, it’s often said that Ubuntu is free, and that can be a little misleading.
How free is free?
Ubuntu, out of the box, is free but make no mistake, it is a commercial product. Canonical has created a very functional operating system that does most everything you want a workstation to do. It stands ahead of similar Linux based OSs by creating a very easy, effective and pleasant user experience. They release patches, new versions, security solutions, and keep it up to date. However, it is not out of altruism.
When you need support, a custom driver, a fix for your Line of Business application, that’s when you pay. Sometimes that’s an in house resource troubleshooting the issue, a 3rd party company writing a fix, or a direct request for development from Canonical. Any way you shake it, there is a cost.
This “as needed” basis can result in costs that are similar to the licensing of other operating systems — either in support time or in personnel resources — so it’s important to take “free” with a grain of salt.
So when is Ubuntu good?
More and more engineers are putting Ubuntu to work for them in industrial spaces and customizing it to fit their environment. It’s useable as an Operating System on computers running data acquisition, controlling industrial machines or workstations and works best when the following is true.
- Fits like a glove – If out of the box Ubuntu fits your need? It’s a brilliant fit. The low initial cost can make a huge difference in initial rollouts.
- Internal Linux Champion – If your IT resource is a Linux Evangelist, Ubuntu is a great solution. It has very useful functionality and has reached a level of popularity that, should you need personnel, you can find new resources with Ubuntu experience with ease.
- Ubuntu Approved – A number of software companies are making a move to actively support Ubuntu. If a vendor you use has this foresight, then you are in a good place.
- Custom OS – By far the most powerful function of Ubuntu is its customizability. The open source code allows you to create a custom OS for your environment, and the dividends to productivity can be immense.
When is Ubuntu not so good?
In the right environment, it can be a great fit. However, there are some situations where you might want to pause.
- Windows Based Software – If your business relies on a Microsoft product like Excel, it is not a good fit. The same goes for other line of business applications that you don’t own or design for. If they are Windows exclusives, you will want to reconsider.
- No IT Support – If you don’t have an internal resource, or your outsourced IT is not on board, you could strongly consider avoiding Ubuntu. Without solid support from your IT resources, you will be left high and dry.
- Peripheral incompatibility – If you are running Data Acquisition, Industrial Control, you are working with peripherals. If they are really old, new, from a small brand, or maybe just very specialized, there is a good chance there is no driver software for it. This is one of the major fatal flaws with Ubuntu. You are left with needed development, or needed new peripherals.
- User Experience – Anyone who has ever rolled out a new version of Windows will tell you that the boots on the ground user can get very frustrated with the interface changes. The interface and usability of Ubuntu is crisp and clear, but users moving from windows might find it off putting.
Ubuntu is a powerful and customizable operating system. With solid support, the right environment, and proper usage, it can be a flexible alternative to Windows and its expensive licensing model. Its free point of entry allows for you to easily determine if it is the right fit for your environment. In fact, Ubuntu has the capacity to run from a USB drive or CD, so you can actually try it out without installing it. For more information on downloading Ubuntu and trying it out visit them at Ubuntu.com or contact an engineer here at Logic Supply to answer a your questions about industrial and embedded uses for Ubuntu.