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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ubuntu 10.04 LTS Lucid Lynx Review

Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx has been out for a few months now, the few issues at the release seem to have been sorted out and all is looking pretty well. I thought this would be a good time to have a look at how it stacks up as an Operating System that claims to be "Linux for Human Beings". I have seen some reviews right after it came out but I think an opinion would be more fair if the reviewer has actually lived with it for a while instead of clicking random buttons after the install.

So we are going on three months and I have been thrilled for the most part with Ubuntu 10.04 both on my Desktop, Laptop and my wife's Laptop. So let's take a look at some of the strong and weak points by inspecting the different aspects of this OS.

Performance

Around Ubuntu 8.04 people were starting to feel a very noticeable decline in the speed of Ubuntu and it started a call from the community to not go down the Windows road and allow bloat to sink the OS. By the time 9.04 was on the drawing board, Canonical made performance a very high priority, looking at things like boot time and memory footprint. They have focused a lot of effort on this aspect ever since and once again in Luci we can see the fruits of their labour. Lucid not only is fast it seems fast and people often overlook that. You can have an immensely fast system, but of the controls and response feels sluggish it all feels slow. Lucid does excellently on both these fronts and I always have a little smile when I see my desktop while other people are still staring at their load screens. I will publish another post with some concrete performance benchmarks and comparisons to the competition but for now it is safe to say that Lucid is snappy, agile and a pleasure to use as far as performance is concerned.

For: It is fast. It boots in a flash, feels responsive and does not bloat over time like Windows.
Against: Not much. While Win7 pars it in some aspects of performance, it still remains much faster over all.

Look

Ubuntu has received much praise over the past few years but never for its looks. And it is easy to see why. While the tones of orange and brown may have been meant to be warm and soothing, it made most depressed. I would honestly spend all day looking at a text based terminal than staring at the old Ubuntu Default Theme for two minutes. To improve this two new themes have been added. Radiance and Ambiance, the latter being the default upon installation The orange has retreated into a secondary role, merely providing accents to the now dominant purple and black. And what an improvement. While I still feel that is does not look like the modern OS it is, it is a massive leap from the old scheme. It looks more polished and it is finally carving out an identity for itself that breaks away from being "The Ugly Duckling". The windows no longer look like the Menu bar was made by someone else and stuck on at the last moment and the entire look feels more coherent and solid. It is not perfect mind you. I still feel that Windows 7 looks more modern and stylish even though Ubuntu has better ergonomics. Ubuntu has come to the point where it looks more modern than Windows XP and while some may chuckle at this, for an OS that worries more about stability and security than shiny looks, that is a great move. The Linux purist in me does not want it to get too shiny but I have to concede that most common users like shiny things and you can always tone it down if you find it all a bit too "bling". That is the beauty of Linux, right? If you do not like the way it looks, change it.

For: A big improvement over the old colour scheme and a sharper identity. Also infinitely customizable so if you do not like the look, change it.
Against: Still looks a bit outdated out of the box compared to Win7. Needs to feel "fresher"

Functionality

This is perhaps where the most progress has been made and where it stand head and shoulders over its competition. Lucid, like its predecessors is based on the idea of "just works" and it really does. This is thanks to an excellent compliment of included software and excellent integration of all these nice features into the OS itself. Upon installation you are presented with a fully equipped Office Suite in the form of OpenOffice.org, a collection of Image, Internet and Media applications that will satisfy the needs of most common users right out of the box. While The GIMP has been dropped to the outcry of many I feel this was a smart move considering how few users actually made use of it. We now get Pitivi video editor, a feature I felt was sorely lac king in Ubuntu before. Xsane Image Scanner has been replaced by Simple Scan which I feel is a simpler application that common users will understand more easily. Empathy IM client stays with us but is now more smoothly integrated with the Panels, making it feel like part of the OS instead of another application. This makes setting up and using your chat accounts simpler and more efficient, consolidating various IM services like Google talk, MSN Live, Yahoo and AIM into one application. Finally Gwibber brings social networking onto the Desktop, allowing you to link to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and DiggUbuntu. Visio files are a big one I noticed. This is not Ubuntu's fault however.

For: Amazing compliment of standard applications, all well integrated into the Desktop
Against: Most issues are monopoly related but you might have to look around a bit to find a Linux equivalent to the program you need.

Ease of Use

This is the big one. This is what determines if people use an OS or if they return to the store and demand Windows instead. Here, I feel Lucid delivers excellently on some fronts but lacks severely in others. Ubuntu has always made an effort to make things as simple as possible for the user and for the most part have done quite well though some things like the fact that most codecs are not installed by default will confuse and frustrate some users. I understand why this is done but try explaining this to a common user and they will just moan. Still, all features that people use a lot are easily installed from the Ubuntu Software Centre which has been vastly improved. It is now possible to install libraries from the Software Centre itself and the entire application feels more responsive. Also, the grouping of applications and sources has been stunningly executed, making finding that app you need much simpler. Setting up things like connections, bluetooth devices and external hardware is simpler than in any other OS I have come across. Cameras, phones, scanners, printers, all can be so simply installed that even some of my low tech colleagues have managed to do so with ease, something they always call me to do in Windows. There really is that sense of everything "just works" with most devices you can think of. Plug it in and let Ubuntu do the rest. Linux still beats Windows hands down when it comes to out of the box driver support. The exceptions are of course from manufacturers who could not be bothered with Linux drivers and for these you might have to dig around or grab a geek to help you with. One aspect where I still feel some progress can be made is the simplification of common functions. Getting the Computer icon on your desktop is a lot more complicated than it should be. Inconstancy in the behaviour of icons as you drag them to the Desktop should be looked at as well. Setting up shares with Samba requires a good deal of Googling and for something that looks so simple at first it has had many people crying. The rights to the folder need to be edited from the command line at times and the fact that you can only create a share when launching Nautilus as root is still a massive let down in an otherwise simple to use OS. Setting up Remote Desktop Access is also not as simple as seems and will confuse many people who know that it is one simple click in Windows. Overall though I think good strides are being made. I just hope they do not overlook these small things that can throw users off quite quickly.

Of course the most debated issue is the placement of the "Close, Minimize, maximize" buttons, no located on the left side of the Top Panel on each window. I have to admit that the first time I used it I was highly frustrated. Mostly because I could not understand how such a fundamental convention could be changed. I changed my layout but after a while started wondering if I could adjust to it. I put them back on the left hand side and worked on. Quite simply I was astounded that by the end of the day I was reaching for them instinctively on the left. then I started noticing other little benefits. With the Application, Places and System Menu also located in the top left, I realized that my mouse travel was reduced considerably, the cursor hovering on the top left corner almost all the time instead of flying all over the screen as was usually the case. All and all I have come to love the layout and find it to be superior to the old convention. It seems that in some cases it is a good thing to have a second look at the Wheel.

For: Devices just work. Most settings easily reached and well placed.
Against: Needs to polish the simple things a bit more. Some of the most basic tasks still have no graphical way of doing them.

Stability and Security

I was worried when 9.04 came out last year. The Intel video driver made a lot of people angry and a lot of users turn away. I had to stay with 8.10 on my laptop until the issue was resolved in 9.10 but I started worrying about the trend this set. Fortunately stability seems to be back where it should be with 10.04 providing a very reliable base for all your work. I have installed it on various systems ranging from Core 17 Behemoths to Pentium 4 fossils and it has not let me down once. Odd hang-ups do still appear but hardly ever and I have not had any nasty surprises in the form of crashing systems. It is good to see that the bugs that crept in with previous releases have not become a precedent. The biggest gripe I have in this area is something that bothered me in Windows. Make your Error notifications more readable, guys. It will make it simpler for common users to troubleshoot or even report issues. On the security side, I can do nothing much other than smile. It is as secure as always, making Windows look like a prison with marshmallow walls. And of course the fact that you need not bother with or worry about Anti Virus software still makes it a winner in my book.

For: Everything. Stable enough for everyday and business use. Secure as it gets.
Against: Cryptic error messages.

Overall  Impression

Fast, Stable, Secure, User Friendly and rich in features, Lucid Lynx is a deserving heir to the Ubuntu Kingdom, making massive strides towards providing a viable alternative to Windows on the Desktop and in most aspects has it beaten already. Awareness is still the greatest hurdle it faces but I can confidently say that most people I have introduced to the Lynx love it to bits and will never look back. I can't wait to see what the next version, Maverick Meerkat, will bring to the table but it is safe to say that if Ubuntu keeps improving as it always has, the future is looking bright.

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