My search for “the perfect Linux operating system” this time brings me to the latest incarnation of Ubuntu, version 5.04, also known as the “Hoary Hedgehog Release”. Previously I was using Fedora Core 4, however due to some minor bugs it had, I wanted to try something different.
My search for “the perfect Linux operating system” this time brings me to the latest incarnation of Ubuntu, version 5.04, also known as the “Hoary Hedgehog Release”. Previously I was using Fedora Core 4, however due to some minor bugs it had, I wanted to try something different. The bugs I had experienced with Fedora Core 4 weren’t all that severe mind you, and Fedora Core 4 isn’t all that bad, I suppose it served as the reason I needed to try another Linux OS. This is not the first Ubuntu release I’ve used though, as I had installed the previous release (version 4.10) at one time. Ubuntu version 4.10 was superb as a Gnome OS, though it didn’t work out so well for me when installing KDE. I know it’s rather late to release an article regarding Ubuntu 5.04, however having used it for several months I thought it would be good to write a review about it.
What Is Ubuntu?
Ubuntu is an open-source Linux operating system with financial backing from Canonical Ltd. From the official website, Ubuntu is described as “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.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. One of the things that makes Ubuntu great to me is the fact that Canonical goes out of their way to make sure that everyone has access to their operating system. Not only do they provide free downloads, they also provide official pressed CD-Roms that can be shipped to you free of charge. I can’t imagine how much that must cost them, but it’s much appreciated, and demonstrates the fact that Canonical is serious when it comes to providing a solid, free open-source operating system.
Ubuntu’s installer doesn’t have the eye candy or even the ease of use of the Anaconda installer that Red Hat and Fedora ships with. Most of the installation screens were easy for me to follow, while others made me read the screen several times to make sure that I wasn’t going to overwrite an important partition. Although you are really only supposed to see the installation screen once, it would be very nice if it was remade to be easier to understand, or better yet, use the Anaconda installer instead. I’m not sure if the Anaconda installer is even compatible with the Debian package system which Ubuntu uses, but it would be nice if it was.
The Desktop, Gnome 2.10
By default, the desktop environment you see after logging in is Gnome. Gnome is very solid and user friendly, with focus on being organized and easy to use. When you first log in, you see nothing on your desktop. No shortcut icons, nor device icons. Even your trash icon is located on the taskbar, rather than the actual Desktop. This is not a bad thing, as upon further inspection, you’ll see that everything you need to get started is located in the “Applications” menu, and your devices are automatically populated under the “Places” menu. For administrative changes to your PC, the “System” menu houses everything you need. The Desktop of Ubuntu is also quite fast and gets the job done.
Memory and CPU management also seems to be very good with this OS. As I’m writing this, I currently have Evolution (Email), Firefox (Web Browser), a Terminal, and Open Office running, and my CPU usage is only 21% with just 149.8MB out of my total 768MB of memory being used. This is much lower than I noticed with other distributions, even with fewer programs open.
Users of Mozilla Firefox will feel right at home with Ubuntu. Firefox is included with Ubuntu and is set up as the default browser. Web browsing with Firefox is fast and efficient, it’s themeable and the official website houses quite a few neat plugins to provide various results from RSS feeds to different toolbars. For those of you who like to chat, Gaim is included and works well. Gaim supports such services as Yahoo Instant Messenger and AOL Instant Messenger, all under one hood.
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.
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 (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.
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.
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