With the release of Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron a week or two ago, I thought I’d try it out. I’ve been casually playing around with Linux for quite some time. I think the first version I installed was Mandrake Linux 8.0, back in 2001. Anyways, I like to see what’s new and how much Linux distributions have improved over the years.
With the latest version of Ubuntu, I’m floored.
When I first booted using the Live CD on my IBM/Lenovo ThinkPad, I was amazed that everything just worked right out of the box. I had sound, the screen resolution was correctly set to the native resolution, my trackpad and touchpad worked fine, I had wireless access, and even my laptop’s volume controls worked flawlessly with controlling the volume in Ubuntu (complete with a translucent volume meter on screen display!). My desktop has taken a bit more work because it’s running older hardware, but it still runs it fine. I ended up using the Wubi installer for both machines. Wubi is pretty neat if you’re not sure you want to dive head first into Linux. It installs Ubuntu to a folder inside Windows XP and changes your boot configuration to give you the option to boot from Windows or Ubuntu when you start your computer. From what I’ve read, there is a slight hard drive performance hit, but to me everything seems fine. Wubi also places a regular “Uninstall Ubuntu” in your Add/Remove Programs list, so you can uninstall it just like a normal application, and your system returns to normal.
I’ve been using Ubuntu for about a week now on different machines and thought I’d share some likes and dislikes of it.
- The “extra” visual effects. On both my laptop and desktop, I was able to turn on the “Extra” visual effects, which simply blew me away. Windows become gooey blobs that flawlessly mesh and distort when dragged around the screen. When minimizing and maximizing, windows act like they’re made of elastic and “pop” into place. Things fade in and fade out in a way similar to Vista. But I must say I like it, because usually I turn that stuff off (I even have the minimizing/maximizing animations disabled in XP).
- Exposé. This probably falls under the previous point, but it’s so great to me that it needs a separate point. I love the Mac’s Exposé feature. Exposé is a feature that shows you all windows laid out at once on your screen, then you can click the window to focus in on (see example). Well, Ubuntu can do this as well, and it does it beautifully. It’s very helpful and I often find myself trying to hit the key combination when I’m in Windows to do the same thing.
- Multiple desktops. I never really used multiple desktops in the past, but after playing with it for some time I find it extremely useful. This is probably more so on my laptop where I have just one screen, but it’s still good on my desktop. Using Ctrl+Alt+[Arrow key left or right] I can switch between desktops. It’s useful because I’ll put all my “distractions” on one desktop (twitter, gmail, facebook, IM, email) and whatever I’m working on on the other desktop. I think the tiny detail that makes me like this feature more now than in the past is the subtle, quick animation that “moves” you to your next desktop. In past versions that I’ve played with multiple desktops (both on Linux and Windows), you click a button or hotkey and BAM! Instantly you’re taken to your new desktop with all the different windows. It can be a little disorienting. But with Ubuntu, there is a quick, smooth panning animation that shows you moving back and forth between desktops. It really helps you orient yourself to which desktop you’re using.
- The cost. Ubuntu is free, which means I don’t have to worry about license keys or product activation. I can install it on as many machines as I want to, which is very good because Windows was starting to become a problem when I wanted to have a desktop, laptop, SVN server, media server, etc.
- Apt-Get Repositories. I had forgotten how useful this is. I am still learning Linux and I don’t exactly know how to download an application, compile it, and put it into the file system, with appropriate links to the “Start” menu. But with apt-get repositories, I don’t have to. In the terminal, it works like this:
sudo apt-get install [application_name]
And a few seconds later, the latest version of the application is downloaded from one of many servers, and installed on your system. I’ve never installed an application that made me restart, either, I could just start using it. This has solved multiple problems where I was trying to run an application that didn’t have all the components it needed, and I was able to quickly find and install what I needed.
Ubuntu goes one step ahead and puts this in GUI form. It’s an easy to use list of applications divided into categories that you just select as many applications as you want and hit the install button.
- Hardware/driver incompatibility. This isn’t really Ubuntu’s fault, but more so hardware manufacturer’s not getting out Linux drivers. It’s also not really a problem on my laptop (kudos to Lenovo), but more on my desktop. Specifically, my Creative SoundBlaster sound card, which (from what I’ve heard) has a horrible track record of supporting Linux. I have sound working on my desktop, but it uses an older, basic-functionality-only driver. And it is very basic…I can’t even control the volume in Ubuntu. It’s really a hassle.
- I need some Windows applications. Again, I don’t think this is really Ubuntu’s fault. There are some programs that I really need and I would like to use: Visual Studio, Adobe Illustrator/Photoshop. I can run them in WINE (a Windows emulator), but that is finicky. I will probably have to set up a dual-boot system or maybe some kind of virtualization.
- Games. Ubuntu comes with/can install a ton of small games, but my first person shooters must reside on Windows. Not really Ubuntu’s fault.
- Problems with WEP. I’ve run into some problems connecting wirelessly to WEP-encrypted hotspots with Ubuntu. I’m not sure why.
There really aren’t too many dislikes, and mainly it’s just problems with moving from Windows. I have been searching for software to replace what I use in Windows.
- Internet Browsing: Firefox -> Firefox
I was already using Firefox, so it’s not big deal. It’s great that all my settings and plugins will transfer just fine.
- Email: Outlook -> Thunderbird
A big deal for me was being able to access Hotmail from an email client. I’ve had a Hotmail for a long time, and when they threatened to cut off Outlook access because people were using it for sending spam, I was able to keep mine since I had it for so long. Using the Thunderbird extension WebMail, I’m able to use Hotmail.
- Calendar: Outlook -> Lightning for Thunderbird / Google Calendar
I haven’t really played too much. I think I’m just going to move to Google Calendar and have it sync with Thunderbird, so I can access my calendar anywhere. The only wildcard here is my Palm Treo, which I’m not sure if it will sync with Thunderbird yet. Ubuntu does seem to have support for Palm devices though, because there is an application in the menu.
- Launcher: Launchy for Windows -> Gnome-Do
It’s pretty much the same thing. These launchers save me immense amounts of time.
- Word Processing/Spreadsheets/Presentations: Microsoft Office -> Google Docs / OpenOffice.org
I’ve been using Google Docs almost exclusively for the past two semesters and it works great. My favorite thing is the ability to work on something on my desktop, close the window, go to class and open up my laptop and start right where I left off. For some of the things that are not support by Google Docs, there is always Open Office which works very well.
All in all, I think it’s very usable, and I’ve had no major problems the past week. I enjoy it and think everyone should try it out. Go here and download the ISO file, burn it to a CD and reboot your system with the CD in the drive to try out the Live CD. You might like it.