Saturday, October 20, 2007

Review: Ubuntu 7.10 - Wow! The Best Desktop Linux

As some of you may have noticed on the Ubuntu forums last week, I mentioned that I had made the decision that Ubuntu had become my choice for my own Linux desktop PCs. This weekend I upgrade to the latest 7.10 Ubuntu, and I also installed Kubuntu 7.10 on a second partition. In my post on the Ubuntu forums last week, many had asked that I share in more detail my experience with Ubuntu, and why after so many years running Linspire/Freespire, I have switched to Ubuntu. I promised that I would do that this weekend after I updated to 7.10. So, here it is...

First, a little history...

When I was CEO for Linspire, I tried to install and look at most of the popular distributions each time they had a significant release. I can still remember the very first time I installed Ubuntu, about three years ago. It was their first release, "Warty Warthog," in October of 2004. There was a lot of buzz about Ubuntu, largely due to its wealthy founder, Mark Shuttleworth, who at the time was best known for his Russian space flight. Other than this buzz about Mark, however, there was little else to set Ubuntu apart from the dozens of other distributions out at that time. I always looked at the latest distros from Red Hat, SuSE/Novell, Mandriva/Mandrake, and a few others. The only reasons I took a look at Ubuntu, however, was from the Shuttleworth buzz. My impression at that time was, well, unimpressed. I found Ubuntu quite "geeky" and not very noteworthy from the other Debian distros.

What a difference three years can make.

Over the three years that followed, I watched as Ubuntu grew, making a lot of wise decisions (strong community focus, consistent 6-month release cycles, strong single-focus leadership from Mark, etc.). For Linspire, when it came to Ubuntu, the last three years were the classic "ignore, endure, embrace."

We "ignored" Warty Warthog, because technically, it was far behind Linspire. However, in just one short year, we were trying to "endure" Ubuntu's success with things like the DCC Alliance and our own "free" distribution, Freespire. And then, one more short year later, we were "embracing" Ubuntu, forming a partnership with them, and basing both Linspire and Freespire on Ubuntu's core technology.

At that time, one year ago, Linspire still had, I believe, three big advantages over Ubuntu: 1) ease of use, 2) CNR (click and run) one-click software installation, and 3) better multi-media and hardware support through a judicious mix of proprietary codecs, drivers and software.

I have to say that today, however, those three Linspire advantages are now, for the most part, gone. Ubuntu 7.10 is without doubt, the best desktop Linux distribution yet.

As one who has never been a big fan of long, in-depth, blow-by-blow, "techie" reviews, I'm going to focus at a high level, and share why I believe Ubuntu 7.10 succeeds, even with the three advantages Linspire use to have, mentioned above.

1. Ease of Use

Ubuntu 7.10 can be installed in about 20 minutes. Even slicker, is how it updates from previous versions. At Linspire it seemed to be our endless goal to have a good way of updating from one version to the next, but we never quite got there. We got close, with some data migration during install, but you still had to update with a CD. Updating with CNR never did have much success, and was always a little buggy. As I said, we got close, but...Ubuntu 7.10 nails it. Installing from scratch or updating via their built-in Update Manager, finding your way to Ubuntu is a snap, and keeping it updated is one-click easy.

In all the years I was at Linspire, I never bothered with partitioning the drive, as we never made it very easy or stable. The first time I ever actually partitioned a hard drive with Linux was this weekend with Ubuntu 7.10. I wanted to have two partitions, so I could have both Ubuntu and Kubuntu on my PC. Because Ubuntu incorporates the partitioning right inside the install process, and makes it easy to do, it was a snap and worked flawlessly.

I was impressed with the overall attention to detail that I'm now seeing in Ubuntu. Linspire did a lot of little things right, all adding up to an overall easier experience. I'm pleased to see that over time, Ubuntu has also made many of these same adjustments. (I do still see some minor annoyances in Ubuntu, which were resolved in Linspire, and as part of the Ubuntu community, I look forward to helping them further refine their distro. I have, however, been pleasantly surprised at how many of the "little things" Ubuntu has already addressed.)

Keep in mind, I've been using KDE day-in, day-out, for the last six years, so you'd think there would be a big learning curve for me with GNOME and Ubuntu. Not so. The desktop is clean, and the menus are laid out very logically. I really like having most all the settings right in the menu, rather than a separate "control panel." (More on Ubuntu vs Kubuntu in my next blog.)

I was able to do pretty much everything I wanted without having to visit forums or knowledge bases. Setting up a network printer, changing monitor drivers, resolution and settings, connecting to an FTP site, and sharing files across my home network were all very easy to do, and would be for even the most basic computer user. I have yet to go to the command line for anything.



Having worked for the past six years to make desktop Linux super easy to use, I congratulate Ubuntu on their significant progress in this area.

2. Installing New Software - Better than CNR!

This is the one area I would have never imaged I would ever be saying. For Ubuntu users, I see no need to use CNR, and this realization really surprised me when I started running Ubuntu. As good as Ubuntu had become, I would have never believed it would also surpass CNR for adding and removing software, but it has.

Like CNR, Ubuntu 7.10 does an excellent job of hiding all the complexity of installing, removing, managing, and updating Linux software on your PC. Even a total novice will be able to add thousands of software titles with ease. At the bottom of their drop down applications menu, they have a Add/Remove... option.




Selecting this option presents you with a very CNR-like, easy-to-use client, where you can search from among thousands of software titles, and then add them with a couple of simple clicks of your mouse. The programs are laid out logically by category, or you can find them with the quick search, built right into the client.



Everything I wanted to add was easily found and installed, such as Thunderbird, and even KDE applications which I like such as Kompozer, Ksnapshot and KoulorPaint.



Once the installation is complete, the program is added nicely and logically in your Applications Menu.



CNR.com does have a more robust infrustructure for community involvement with reviews, screenshots, mini wikis and forums, which are linked directly into CNR. CNR also has "aisles" which let you create compilations of your favorite applications and install them all with one click. I have to believe Ubuntu will eventually offer similar functionality, and with their large community, I predict it will be very active and garnish a tremendous amount of valuable content.

There were also a couple of programs I didn't see in any of the repositories, such as Adobe's Acrobat Reader and Limewire. As I mention in #3 below, I'm hopeful this is something Ubuntu will be addressing as OPTIONS for those who are interested in licensed software.

The nice thing about Ubuntu's application manager, is it WORKS. Functionally, it's a superior system to CNR for Ubuntu users. It's very easy to use, comes pre-loaded and integrated, is chuck full of the latest and greatest software, and works fast and reliably. It just feels like a very well thought out and implemented system. I was extremely impressed.

3. Multi-media & hardware support

One of the first things I did when running Ubuntu's application manager, was to turn on the "partner" repository setting. This allows a wider variety of software to be installed on your Ubuntu system, although not guaranteed to be supported.

One of the more interesting programs found in the unsupported repository, was called the Ubuntu Restricted Extras. This package contained dozens of files to add things like Flash, MP3 and Java to your system. Not sure how many laws I br0ke, but I did install this program and it worked brilliantly. (I guess that makes ME a "high brow pirate." =) However...

I believe this is one area Ubuntu (or Canonical really) should address immediately. Linspire legally licensed dozens of these same drivers, codecs and applications. There is no reason Ubuntu (or Canonical) couldn't do the same and make them available AS AN OPTION to those who feel they need them. Many businesses and enterprise customers will be particularly adverse to running DVD, etc. if it's not licensed. Many of these licensed bits and pieces can be obtained at no per-unit cost, and I'm quite confident many users, such as myself, would be more than happy to pay fair and reasonable licensing costs for these products. I know some FOSS purists will bristle at this, but if Ubuntu is to find its way into the mainstream, this option needs to be there. OEMs too will want to include DVD software, for example, but most are not going to want to take risks with any gray licensing areas.

My new venture, www.datingdna.com, is a Web 2.0 site and requires the latest Flash plugin. Here is what the site looked like on Firefox in Ubuntu before installing the "extras" package:



And here is how it looked after quickly installing this one package:



One of the nice things with Linspire, is out of the box, it would deal with all the file types found at http://linspire.com/filetypes. In days gone by, when I had tested Ubuntu by clicking on the different links from Linspire's /filetypes page, it was a bloodbath, and hardly anything worked. Today, about half of the links work without installing anything additional, and almost all of them work once you've installed the "extras" package. So, as we see, we know that technically the problem is well in hand, they just need to get some licensing in place for those who are interested in that option.

If Ubuntu can get some optional licensing in place, which I have to believe they are working on (again, as an OPTION for users), they will lick the Multi-media issue for those who still need certain licensed codecs and drivers, until good, reliable open source alternatives can be developed.

Conclusion

Ubuntu is doing a lot of things right, and is really taking desktop Linux to the next level. It's certainly not perfect yet, but it's the best distribution for me, and I'm sure for many like me. I look forward to being part of the Ubuntu community and making suggestions as to how it can become even better still. Part of the reasons Ubuntu is so good, is because it has so many millions of people using it, all providing testing, input and suggestions. That alone will help set Ubuntu apart from the less popular distributions.

Of course, there are many quality Linux distributions, and they all benefit from each other. Over the years, Linspire contributed a great deal to FOSS. I take pride when I see features that Linspire contributed to FOSS, which I'm now enjoying as I run Ubuntu. (There are many, but one of my favorite Linspire FOSS contributions is the on-the-fly spell checking in Firefox. Every time you see that red underline beneath a misspelled word when you're making a forum post, think of Linspire! =) Nvu (now Kompozer) is another project funded by Linspire, which I'd like to see continued.

Mark Shuttleworth has done a wonderful job with Ubuntu. His ability to rally a strong community, his focused leadership, as well as his deep pockets =), are quite evident in the quality of the Ubuntu distribution. Kudos to a job well done!

Kevin

Next Blog: Ubuntu or Kubuntu for me

27 comments:

Octotom said...

Thanks for the review! I recently 'converted' to ubuntu from Windows and I know that I won't be looking back!

Toom

dachinster said...

As you implicitly pointed out, installing the extra repositries such as flash, java etc were not diffciult.
It was all available from the add/remove programs tool with a little search of course.


Is it much different from a Windows user who has to manually go to each website and hunt down these applications?
No, it is MUCH simpler. Ubuntu has them in a nice, neat , one-stop-shop area.

You mentioned:

"I'm quite confident many users, such as myself, would be more than happy to pay fair and reasonable licensing costs for these products."

I am not so confident, since that statement goes against the Ubuntu Promise:

"The Ubuntu Promise

* Ubuntu will always be free of charge, including enterprise releases and security updates."

I love Ubuntu just the way it is, and while I lament how Ubuntu's layout is quickly resembling Windows, I see this as an acceptable evil for a distribution that wants to bring Linux to the masses as long as they do not sacrifice stability for it.

J Coonfield said...

That "Add/Remove" of which you seem to be so enamored has been there since Fedora Core 6/Ubuntu 6.04, at least.

Kevin Carmony said...

I never said otherwise. My comments were not just about Ubuntu 7.10, but about the progress Ubuntu has made OVER THE LAST THREE YEARS. Yes, add/remove has been there, but over the couple of years, it's all working better, has a cleaner interface, easier to use, etc.

Kevin

Kevin Carmony said...

Dachinster,

I agree, "Ubuntu" should ALWAYS be free (in every sense) and remain that way, however, I believe Canonical could offer users choice to buy and install commercial software. Clearly this is an area I know something about, because I did it for six years, and LOTS of people bought Star Office, DVD players, commercial games, etc.

Ubuntu's promise to remain FREE, should not get in the way of users having FREEDOME of choice, nor does it have to. Ubuntu remains "free" and users, IF THEY CHOOSE, could be given OPTIONS of supplementing that distribution.

Just because someone gives me a free box, doesn't mean *I* shouldn't be allowed to buy goodies to put in that box. =)

If Canonical doesn't offer it, others will.

Kevin

Anonymous said...

Whatever you have mentioned as Ubuntu advantages, are actually Debian advantages!

When at Linspire, it would have been for greater good, you actually saw/reviewed Debian. Your opinion would have been completely different about Ubuntu. Something similar to what mepis is having.

Vasanth said...

I've had a very bad experience with freespire's partitioning tool whereas partitioning in ubuntu is very easy and problem free.

Anonymous said...

Automatix 2 offers all for free!

Anonymous said...

About the Codec licences, I agree with you Kevin, but one must come to terms first with the fact that GNU/Linux and Ubuntu's mission are somewhat different from proprietary OS's. 1) Proprietary OS's must seek to please everyone, all the time, so codec's are a necessity for them. 2) Ubuntu's mission is to be a Linux OS for the masses, yet it is, and will always remain, free. Subtle, but it is a big differentiator. Users can purchase licences for these codec's if they do feel uneasy (and if they live in countries that have restrictions on their use) from various websites (jamingo I think?). I do believe that Canonical has taken the appropriate tack here with how they handle this by placing the choice on the users. At any rate, they do place the emphasis on FOSS usage in many ways, and they make FOSS so easy to use, and so well integrated, that there really is not that big of a need for proprietary solutions. Additionally, so much development has been put into FOSS alternatives that the need for restricted codecs may soon dissapear altogether.

Anonymous said...

Debian is the best linux. Ubuntu can not compete with build quality of Debian. I have tried both, only in Debian all software work without problems.

Anonymous said...

7.04 was the greatest OS i have ever used. I had it installed on 3 out of 4 computers (4th was windows for gaming purposes only). After upgrading to the release version of 7.10 all I can say is YOU HAD A GOOD RUN UBUNTU, GOOD-BYE. 7.10 us awful. I'm sure the new features are nice if you can ever get an opportunity to use them. There are numerous bugs and everything that worked so perfectly in 7.04 no longer works. Out of the 3 boxes I have only one works reasonably well with 7.10. The forums which are such a great resource for troubleshooting Ubuntu issues is loaded with user after user complaining about the same bugs, but no one has a solution. An as for the Ubuntu website, there is no mention of any problems. I would love it if they said "Hold on, there are some known issues and we are working to resolve them." I could just go back to 7.04, but eventually you need to move on to keep up with the latest software. So while I am de-upgrading to 7.04 right now, it is time to shop for a new disto.

Neostar said...

Most of the problems with the new release of Ubuntu is caused by the new linux kernel. All distributions are having this problem so you can't just blame Ubuntu. But as you say they should mention this on the website.

Anonymous said...

Good review, just wanted to point out that if you pop to the limewire website you can download limewire for deb/unbuntu and it installs just as easily as using the Add/Remove option.

John said...

Thanks Kevin,

I tried Ubuntu a couple of years ago and it just didn't work very well for me. I've been using Fedora ever since. Now I am considering a distro change and I think I will try Ubuntu again.

I was considering trying Freespire. One thing I noticed with Freespire is graphically it is quite appealing. Ubuntu is kind of ugly. I really don't like brown. And the general look and feel is kind of boring. I suppose that makes me a bit fickle, but I am only human ;-)

John said...

and I use Nvu quite a bit. It's a great tool to use :-)

Kevin Carmony said...

Why not just try one of the other Ubuntu themes?

Chakkaradeep said...

Hi Kevin,

Nice to see that you are using Ubuntu. Seriously speaking (and also sorry to say that) freespire/linspire is not that good as earlier and I feel the timing is the main drawback. *spire needs more energy drinks to release things fast.

Ok, back to this post - I tried Ubuntu Gutsy and openSUSE 10.3 and my vote this time goes to openSUSE. Gutsy wasnt playing nice as Feisty did for me and also I didnt find anything quite interesting other than few things which are actually gnome 2.20 changes.

Believe me, 3D Desktop (compiz, not beryl) is awesome in openSUSE 10.3 and I enjoy all the Vista effects, which also includes flip 3d in openSUSE, lol. Ofcourse, you could install those compiz plugins, but the take here is - openSUSE gave those when I installed compiz-plugins and compiz-extra-plugins, whereas Ubuntu didnt :(

I agree with your point that Ubuntu needs to provide access to Commercial Softwares. One has to agree that this world cannot be entirely free and will prevail to have different markets and thus it is impossible to close the proprietary market. Its the bread and butter for many many individuals. But it becomes very difficult for a free software guy (not open source - because open source doesn't mean that its free) to accept it. But going open source is sure a good thing and I am sure in near future there will be more open source companies (but not free software companies).

And I would also suggest you to play with Gnome than KDE and see how fast your system is, how beautiful and how simple your desktop is and mainly how well organised the menu is than in KDE :D. It would be worth writing your experiences you feel about Gnome as you are a long time KDE user :D

Regards,
Chakkaradeep

Anonymous said...

Hey how about that Ubuntu or Kubuntu review?

Thanks for this nice review btw.

Kevin Carmony said...

I ordered one of the Dell Ubuntu PCs. I'm waiting for that to arrive, at which time I'll do an "out of the box" review, as well as my KDE vs GNOME message.

For now, I'll tell you, I've decided to use GNOME. My reasons will be explained in my upcoming Dell/Ubuntu PC blog.

Kevin

Anonymous said...

Onething our selfishness made us to forget, the time and effort those guys behind the scene made to give us such an OS for free. Linspire, Ubuntu... or watever, it should be faced with some respect for those ppl who never asked any $ and paid all their best, thats their best for now! and if ever anybody had any comment should be asked also with respect! ENOUGH ORDERING AND COMMENT WITH RESPECT! Micosoft made enough, so pls dont bug those ppl with more than they can bear! They are deserving all thanks and respect :)

Anonymous said...

Kevin, you are such a tech nerd!

Anonymous said...

Hi kevin,

It's been a long time, what's up buddy ;)

Suspected Mort Fraud said...

The guys that made all forms of Linux available to the masses are to be commended. Once a unix developer myself in the 1980s, I know the effort they have put into making Ubuntu (et. al.) a success. All in that community represent the good in this world. Thanks and I'm looking forward to Ubuntu 8.04.

Daniel Rakijašić said...

Desktop competition site:

http://www.desktopcontest.net

Upload your desktop screenshot and win a prize!

Chris S. said...

Kevin,
I just saw this review, and I was a bit flummoxed to read that you chose to have Ubuntu and Kubuntu on separate partitions. Do you still have this wasteful arrangement?
You do realize that under the hood they're both the same OS? KDE and GNOME are not OSes unto themselves but desktop environments, and they can, er, "cohabitate" :pD on the same partition quite happily together without interfering with one another. Kubuntu and Ubuntu both use the same kernel version, the same libraries, etc., and the same installation of apps like Firefox and OO.o can run under either environment. In your arrangement, you've got duplicate file structures with duplicate kernels, libraries, etc. Probably a GB of wasted space, if not several GB. You also can't normally (not without some command-line fiddling) get at the files on your other partition without rebooting.
The next time you want to set up an Ubuntu system, just install Ubuntu with your favorite desktop, and add the packages for the other desktop with Add/Remove Software. Then, when you next log into your machine, you can click the logon screen's menu (called "Options" or "Sessions") and select the alternate desktop when you want to use it, while keeping one desktop as the default. (See these pictures, Ubuntu login and Kubuntu login.) This way, all your documments, browser bookmarks, application settings, etc., reside in one Home folder and are all accessible to you all the time, regardless of which desktop you're running at the moment; and if you want to switch to another environment, all you have to do is log out and log back in again (or even quicker/easier, just use the 'switch user' feature).
Another benefit is that Ubuntu will automatically tell you about updates to all packages, including those for your "alternate" desktop, so you can upgrade them all from within one desktop, and the other desktop will still be up-to-date even if you haven't used it in months.

Kevin Carmony said...

Chris,

I quite intentionally did it this way because I wanted to test the "pure" experience of both distros, from top to bottom, including the installation. (I have since removed Kubuntu from my PC.) I'm also not too concerned about "waste" as my Linux PC has a 200GB hard drive and I have a 2-terabyte RAID file server in my house where I store all my data for all my PCs.

Kevin

Adam H. said...

Hey, I know this sounds redundant on an Ubuntu post, and cause this is a two-year-old post you may already know this. But you should try LinuxMint and see how that fares for you.