posted by Jeremy LaCroix on Mon 22nd Aug 2005 18:38 UTC

"Ubuntu Hoary, 2/2"

Although there's also a KDE version of Ubuntu available (Kubuntu) there's nothing stopping you from installing KDE in the standard Ubuntu release (KDE is another desktop manager, like Gnome, however with more focus on eye-candy). I like both KDE and Gnome, so it's important to me that I have both, as every week I am using one or the other. For basic file management, chatting and email, Gnome hits the mark. If I'm in the mood for something fast that uses less resources (for example, gaming) I log in to KDE. Installing KDE was relatively painless using Apt, and the packages for Ubuntu are solid.

Software Management

At some point, you'll likely feel the urge to customize and install additional software. Even though the base install comes with everything from word processors to web browsers, there's plenty more to be found. This is where Apt comes in. Apt is a command line tool that allows you to install packages. What's more, Apt will handle and attempt to install any dependencies those programs may have. For example, to install the game "Neverball" you can type "sudo apt-get install neverball" in a terminal, and Apt will find the Neverball game, download it, and also download any dependencies this game may have to make it work. While it takes a bit to get used to, you'll soon realize that Apt is very powerful when it comes to adding software to your system.

Ubuntu also ships with a program called "Synaptic". Synaptic is a front end to the Apt program, that is quite a bit easier to use. Synaptic uses your GUI, so those of you that aren't comfortable with the terminal will still feel right at home. Synaptic gives you access to thousands of applications in any one of over ten categories, so it may become quite addictive to see what useful programs you can find.

Multimedia

Multimedia (music, movies, etc) is something that's extremely important to me. I like to listen to a good tune or two while I work at my PC, and I also enjoy watching a DVD from time to time.

Ubuntu ships with a jukebox-style media player called "Rhythmbox" that works very well, and seems to be inspired by Apple's iTunes software. Following the Unofficial Ubuntu Guide, I was able to get Rhythmbox to recognize MP3 files and I was listening to my music in no time. I like this program very much.

When it comes to the playing of DVD movies however, the process of installing the necessary packages and enabling DMA was as manual as it gets. I would prefer this to be done for me, but since Ubuntu is free and DVD licenses aren't, I know that won't ever happen. However, after setting up everything, DVD's and pretty much all forms of multimedia are working wonderfully. In fact, when it comes to multimedia, the only irritation I had was Ubuntu still trying to use my onboard soundcard by default when I had it turned off in the bios. A quick post to the Ubuntu Forum allowed me to figure out how to fix it.

Ubuntu to the Rescue

Unfortunately last week was what I called "The Big Crash". It was the very first time I had a hard drive give up on me, and even worse, it was my beloved 80GB Western Digital hard drive. Ubuntu 5.04 was installed on it, and the drive housed over 20GB of personal files and other things I've been saving over the years. Ironically, I planned on backing up my drive that weekend, but my slacking in this area ultimately cost me dearly. Or did it?

With the help of a friend, whom is an IT pro, I was able to recover most of my data from that drive, as I was informed that it was probably the last time I was ever going to read anything from it at all. The Ubuntu livecd was the tool of choice that I was told to use. With built in Nautilus file sharing, I was able to transfer most of my important files to my other PC, saving years of important things. Take my advice, as I learned the hard way, backing up your important data is a must. If all else fails, have a livecd ready. Thankfully each Ubuntu release also ships with the equivalent livecd.

Ubuntu, Not for Power Users?

I consider a "power user" to be anyone who tweaks his PC for ultimate performance, not the casual user that primarily uses his PC's to look up information or to chat. For the latter, Ubuntu fits the bill very well. While I'm not sure it's safe to consider myself a power user, I definitely like to get the most out of my PC, and tweaking is something I find myself doing daily. Recently, I've had quite a few struggles trying to compile a customized kernel from Kernel.org, which is something that I like to do after installing any Linux distribution. Ubuntu caused me quite a few headaches in this area, more so than any other version I've used. After compiling my custom kernel, Ubuntu refused to boot it, giving a nasty Kernel VFS error. Defeated, I fired up Synaptic and installed the latest K7 kernel, only to have my system crash on an hourly basis. As a final defeat, I resorted to installing an older kernel, namely version 2.6.10-5-k7, which so far works very stable and fast, however I'd prefer to have the newest kernel available. This experience is what caused me to assume that Ubuntu is designed for the casual user, not for someone like me whom insists on the latest kernel version.

Final Thoughts

Despite the few problems I had, Ubuntu is good enough for me to continue using for a while, possibly indefinitely if the next release continues the same pattern of improvement that version 5.04 had over its predecessor. With what seems to be true dedication to the open-source market, Canonical has a very solid operating system with Ubuntu, and I'll gladly recommend it to anyone looking for a great beginner's system.

-Jeremey LaCroix


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Table of contents
  1. "Ubuntu Hoary, 1/2"
  2. "Ubuntu Hoary, 2/2"
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