Version 0.4-beta of Scibuntu is released. The new version features a graphical user interface where scientists can choose which programs to install. The new version also delivers lots of more programs and improved logging.
Scibuntu is Ubuntu Linux for scientists and science students. Scibuntu is not another Linux distribution. It is a script that adds scientific programs and other convenient tools to the plain desktop Ubuntu.
Most programs in Scibuntu are already out there in the Ubuntu repositories Scibuntu collects them for the scientist and puts them into her computer. Some programs are fetched from other places.Since the first version of Scibuntu was released by Urban Anjar it has been quite a success. Thousands of people has accessed the web page and hundreds has downloaded the program. The highly ranked scientific journal Nature has been writing about the program and it has been mentioned on lots of news sites and blogs.
How did it all begin?
- In my work at Kalmar University, in Sweden, I install Ubuntu for some scientists and I always forget some packages that they need so bad, says Urban Anjar, the founder of Scibuntu. Instead of making notes I made a script that installed everything they need. I put the script on a web page and gave it a name, just so that I didn't need to keep track on where I have put it. I let Google do that for me!
Google did that very well. Scientists and students from
world begun to send me e-mail about which programs to add and
developers sent me ideas on how to improve the code.
Adding things to Scibuntu begun to be a hobby project and programs for more and more scientific areas went into the code.
At a point I found myself using all nights and weekends reading and answering e-mail and making changes to Scibuntu. To make everything more manageable, I moved Scibuntu to Sourceforge, where it is possible for other developers to add to the code directly and for users to report bugs and demands for more programs.
Ah, well, but why isn't Scibuntu a distribution?
-There are plenty of good Linux distributions out there, and Ubuntu is one of the best, so there isn't need for another one. More distros confuse the users and divide the community's resources. A script with adaptations is easier to build, maintain and make documentation for.
Scibuntu is not a distribution and it will not become one until I get resources enough to make something that is much better than Ubuntu, SuSE and other leading distributions, and that will probably never happen.Scibuntu has got quite a reputation, I mean being mentioned in Nature and all that stuff. I suppose you have got lots of sponsors now?
- Oh, no, it is still a hobby project, and it is still do it, in the nights, on an old laptop that I rescued from being sent to the junk yard. What I have got is a couple of clever programmers helping me with maintaining and developing the code. Without them there hadn't been a beta release this year.
There are lots of good things on the TO DO-list and more resources would definitely do good to the speed and quality of development.Among all the open source projects on Sourceforge, Scibuntu has got quite a high rank. Why?
- A well, Scibuntu is not a very advanced program. The first version didn't even have a loop in it! Things have improved, but it is still rather simple and straightforward. Scibuntus' success has to do with standing on the shoulders of gigants. Ubuntu is one of the best Linux distributions in the world and many of the programs added by Scibuntu are highly reputed scientific software. Scibuntu just integrates things and makes life easier for scientists and systems administrators.
Talking about the technological secrets behind Scibuntu, how do you do it?
There are no secrets, Scibuntu is open source or free software if you prefer to call it so, so you can have a look at the code yourself.
Scibuntu is just one single file with a shell script, using the common Linux shell bash. Ubuntu is a Linux distribution in the Debian family and Scibuntu downloads, installs and configures deb-packages using the apt-get mechanism. Some programs are instead fetched with the wget program and installed using their own mechanisms. The graphical user interface is created with Zenity.Is there a competition between Scibuntu and Ubuntu?
- No, not at all. Scibuntu is Ubuntu it just puts light on an aspect of Ubuntu that is a little bit hidden away. Ubuntu is a well polished and easy to use operating system for ordinary users who doesn't like to be confused and and who just want to do the ordinary things; surf the web, use a word processor, read and write some e-mail, play games and so on.
Most of the scientific programs added by Scibuntu are not easy to use for the ordinary user, and what they do doesn't make sense to them. Some programs are used from the command line. Quite a few depends on programming skills. Some have an old graphical user interface that doesn't quite meet modern standards. Most depends on odd file formats that even most hackers don't know about. But those programs are the work horses for scientists.
What are the plans for the future?
- Well it all depends on resources, but I still keep a backlog of programs that scientists have asked me to include. Among them some will be quite easy to include others will need more thinking, learning and testing. The easy ones will probably come in 0.41 or something, the others will slowly appear in the new testing branch. Other things to improve are documentation and graphics.
What about yourself, who are you?
- My name is Urban Anjar, I am a married man with three kids, two of them study away from home. I have a BSc in Biology. During my studies I became interested in computers and took some courses in computer science, electronics, project management and so on. Since then I have been seeking ways to use computers in science.
I have been working as a programmer, as a teacher and course developer at a telecommunication company training centre and now as a system administrator at Kalmar University, in the southeastern part of Sweden.
I have published a beginners book on data communication, lots of folders on how to use computers and different programs, mostly for beginners, and lots of similar stuff on the web, eg at www.it.hik.se/handledning and www.linuxportalen.se
About ten years i became interested in Linux and open source software. I have been running Linux at the desktop and as a web server since then.
I love outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, bird
watching and sailing with my old 23 foot sailing boat.