my life after graduate: Ubuntu: Linux for Human Being

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ubuntu: Linux for Human Being

Ok gang, I'll admit it, I've been avoiding this one. Simple answer is I usually try to go with the small operations, not the biggest and most popular. Ubuntu sitting on the top of DistroWatch for months now just didn't encourage me to want to review it.
I know, I'm weird.
The problem is, before Ubuntu launched it's way to the top of the Linux pile (clearly several fuzzy critters ago and pre-capnkirby.com), I did try it and found it quite usable, I even described it as being one of the best Gnome implementations I had ever encountered. So, when the laptop install got to feeling slow, I figured it was time to play. And against my normal preferences, I downloaded Ubuntu. I had read how easy it was to configure wifi on, and that it pretty much worked right out of the box. As easy wifi configuration is a must, I really hate having to work at getting the damn thing to load and connect, and being Debian based, I decided to give it a go.

Ubuntu describes itself as:

"Ubuntu is a free, open source operating system that starts with the breadth of Debian and adds regular releases (every six months), a clear focus on the user and usability (it should "Just Work", TM) and a commitment to security updates with 18 months of support for every release. Ubuntu ships with the latest Gnome release as well as a selection of server and desktop software that makes for a comfortable desktop experience off a single installation CD."

How does Ubuntu measure up to these goals?
Read on....

Installation:

In two words:
"Text Based"
Or,
"No GUI"

I find it almost a contradiction that a super easy to use distro would not have a super easy graphical installer, but so be it. I will say that the install was not hard by any means, I just find text based installs to be much less intuitive than graphical installs. Now to be fair, as you read this the next test release is expected to have a graphical installer entitled Espresso.
This looks promising and would surely improve on the experience.
The install was moderately quick, just under a half hour which is a huge improvement over the last time I ran Ubuntu, I seem to recall that taking the better part of an hour. Over all it went quite well.

First Boot:

The boot process seems a bit slow to me, but once done you are presented with an attractive if not sparse desktop


My first goal was to set up the wifi card and get connected. A quick look around found "Network Tools" in the "System Tools" menu. I clicked and it asked for my password. At that moment it dawned on me that I had not been given the option of creating a Root password. A moments worth of WTF, was replaced by the dawning realization and recollection that Ubuntu uses Sudo! I entered my user password and everybody was happy. I was extremely pleased to find my wifi card listed and a few clicks latter, an encryption code entered and I was up and running.
Very impressive.

Next stop was Synaptic for updates, of which there were some, but of most interest was the very limited amount of applications in the repositorys. I seemed to recall reading that Ubuntu only setup their own repositories by default, and that you needed to enable any others that you wanted. A look at the repository set up in Synaptic was not particularly revealing, so I paid a quick visit to my friends at Ubuntux which provided me with this page. This supplied quick and easy instructions on enabling the "universe" and "multiverse" repositories. Once done I was able to find and add any application I wanted or needed.
Much better.


What it has:

Over all, Ubuntu has pretty much everything the average user needs.
Firefox (1.0.7) and Mozilla for the web
Evolution for e-mail,
Gaim,
The Gimp,
Abiword and Open Office,
Gnome 2.12.0.1
XOrg 6.8.2
sitting on a 2.6.12 kernel.

Much much more is available in the repositories although I was surprised that Thunderbird did not make the official repositories, but had to be gotten via the multiverse.

What it has not:

The biggest thing is that it is Gnome only, KDE, Xfce and others are out there ready for install, and realistically there is Kubuntu and Xubuntu for these if that is what you want. The only real lacking I found was reliable out of the box multi-media support. There was no guarantee that a given format was going to play. There is a great project entitled Automatix looking to fix this and a few other oversights, I honestly did not give it a try, but the forums are filled with it's praise. I guess my issue is more that it is being handled by a user and not by Ubuntu properly in the first place.


Usage:

Once up and running, everything pretty much worked as promised. The speed was reasonable given the age of the computer, and the stability was great. I did visit the forums and found a few tricks to speed up boot, and to reduce the overall load on the computer, which did work fairly well. Getting used to using Sudo took a bit of doing but overall there is very little difference in the way you get things done, just having to add "sudo" before any command that need admin rights. I am not convinced that Sudo is the best answer, it isn't for me, but it does work. It seems very odd to not know what one's root password is when you are the system administrator. It is easy enough to switch it over to a standard user and root arrangement with just a few commands if you really don't like the sudo arrangement.
The only issue I really found was, as I mentioned earlier, the lack of decent multi-media support. It seems so simple to have a link on a web site open MPlayer and have it just work when it does work. But when it doesn't, what a pain.


Conclusions:

In the end, I can honestly say that Ubuntu seems to be worthy of much of it's hype. It really is a solid, reliable and easy to use desktop Linux. Once the installer has been simplified and if the Ubuntu team addresses the multi-media issues, it may well be worthy of all of the hype.
And I still stand by my original view that it is easily one of the best Gnome implementations I have encountered.

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