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For those who don't know, Ubuntu is a version of the open source Linux operating system. Ubuntu tries to combine enterprise-class stability, while still giving users access to the latest software applications and making it easy for new users to start using Linux. The previous version of Ubuntu, code named Hardy Heron, was a Long Term Support (LTS) release, meaning that it will be supported for a longer period of time than other releases, such as this one. Users wanting access ot the latest software applications will want to install Intrepid in order to test out some of its exciting new features. Read on for the full review.
Ubuntu offers a variety of installation choices, including a desktop CD, server CD, as well as a new USB image for use with some hand-held devices. All of the CDs are available for either x86 or AMD64 chipsets. I chose the x86 version, as I've had too many issues dealing with 64-bit systems in the past and no longer have the time to deal with them.
As with previous versions, Intrepid comes packaged on a live CD so users can try the system before they commit to installing it. Also, as of the last release, users have the option of installing the system from within a Windows environment using the Wubi installer.
The first time I went through the installation process I ran into numerous problems, including the graphical desktop not loading properly and the partition editor not recognizing my hard drive. After rebooting and starting the process again, everything worked as expected.
For those who have experience with previous Ubuntu installations, all of the steps will be quite familiar. Selecting your city is still a bit odd, as the map automatically zooms in on the cursor location, but it has been vastly improved from the last release. The partition editor also has a new look to it, but functions the same as in previous versions.
All in all, the Ubuntu installation process is very simple, involving 7 easy steps before the installer takes over and the user is free to grab a cup of coffee or continue using the Live CD. The install completed in just under 13 minutes of machine time. Not much has changed from the last version of Ubuntu. It continues to be an easy installation process that should not scare off new users, as long as they don't experience the initial difficulties that I faced.
The first thing I noticed about Intrepid was the new background and translucent menu bars. The interface has a nice look to it this time around. The Human theme has been updated, giving progress bars an animated effect and Compiz is enabled by default, which offers a number of visual improvements over the standard desktop. However, I encountered issues with the title bars displaying improperly when Compiz is enabled. Update: I believe I have solved this issue by installing the 180 series Nvidia drivers, which are now in the Ubuntu repositories. This can be achieved by typing "sudo apt-get update;sudo apt-get install nvidia-glx-180" into a terminal (without the quotes) and then restarting your machine.
Ubuntu makes it very easy to connect to wireless networks, which is nice considering that it can be challenging to get Linux to connect to wifi networks using the command line. Clicking the network manager icon on the toolbar displays a list of available wireless networks.
Ubuntu also makes it easy to keep your system up to date and to install proprietary drivers such as NVIDIA and ATI graphics card drivers. Icons will appear on the toolbar to inform you when updates and drivers are available.
Another nice feature built into Ubuntu is the ability to automatically download codecs for common multimedia files that are not support out of the box. Many types of audio and video files are not supported natively because of patent and copyright restrictions imposed by the owners of the format. Opening an unsupported file, such as an mp3, will give you the option of either downloading the open source codec, which may be illegal in some countries, or purchasing a codec pack from Canonical (the company that sponsors Ubuntu). At £ 21.66 for the full codec pack, many users may find it too pricy, considering that many of the codecs can be downloaded for free. However, if you intend to use your Ubuntu desktop as a media center, it may be worth your while.
Ubuntu 8.10 includes many new features. Here are some of the highlights:
Gnome is the default desktop environment used in Ubuntu. This release offers a number of features not found in previous versions.
The default file manager, Nautilus, has a number of new features including a new compact view, eject icons in the sidebar, tab completion, and tab support.
The Deskbar is a panel applet that allows searching through multiple services, such as local files and websites. The new version includes Google, Yahoo, and Wikipedia searches, as well as a calculator and the ability to post directly to your Twitter account. While I can see the value of this tool, I experienced issues with it not displaying my search results correctly. It also came with a number of plugins, including the Google search plugin, which could not be used out of the box without installing additional packages.
Monitor Resolution Settings
The new Screen Resolution utility offers better support for XrandR and dual monitors. This should prove useful for anyone using a dual-head display or tv-out.
This archive manager now supports more types of files, including ALZ, RZIP, CAB and TAR.7Z.
Encrypted Private Directory
The encrypted private directory feature allows you to create an encrypted folder within your home directory, presumably to keep your sensitive information out of the government's hands. However, the directory can be automatically decrypted when the user is logged in, so it is only as safe as the account itself. Setting up the encrypted private directory must be done from the command line and the process is confusing and unintuitive. While this feature may become useful in the future, the difficult setup will prevent new and inexperienced users from trying it out.
The User Switcher applet now allows for a temporary guest session to be initiated. Clicking the logout button on the upper right-hand corner of the screen allows you to select "Guest session," which will create a temporary guest account that does not have access to system settings or any of the users' home directories. This is great if someone wants to use your computer, but you do not want them to be able to mess with your files or settings. Logging out of the guest session will prompt you for the password of the user that initiated the session and return you to your desktop.
Previous versions of the network manager did not allow for much control over setting up the network. In fact, there were no options available to create a new network interface. One had to rely on the system correctly detecting the network infrastructure, or configuring the settings manually. The new versions offers many more settings, as well as the ability to setup mobile broadband connections (GSM/CDMA) and VPN connections.
Totem BBC Plugin
Totem, the default media player in Ubuntu, now allows for content to be streamed directly from the BBC. The streams appear to be mainly audio podcasts and can be found by selecting "BBC" from the "Playlist" drop-down menu in the players sidebar.
Redhat system administrators will be used to starting and stopping daemons using the service command. In previous versions of Ubuntu, the full path to the daemon had to be specified in order to control it. Ubuntu 8.10 now includes the service command to start and stop system services.
Windows users will be happy to know that Ubuntu comes with a full suite of free software and allows for the easy installation of new applications. Some of the more notable applications installed by default include: Gimp 2.6.1, an image editor similar to Photoshop; F-spot 0.5.0.3, a photo manager; Ekiga 2.0.12, a standards compliant voice over IP client for making calls over the Internet; Evolution 2.24.1, an E-mail client; Pidgin 2.5.2, an instant messenger client that supports multiple protocols including AIM, MSN, Google Talk, Yahoo, and more; Transmission 1.34, a Bittorrent client; OpenOffice.org 2.4, a full features office suite; Totem Movie Player 2.24.2, an audio and video player; Firefox 3.0.3, a web browser; and Rhythmbox 0.11.6, a music player similar to iTunes. Additional applications can be installed by selecting "Add/Remove" from the "Applications" menu.
Is it Ready?
The question that inevitably gets asked whenever a new Linux distribution is released is whether or not it's ready for the desktop. I've been using Linux on the desktop exclusively for about ten years now, so I know it's possible to completely replace a Windows or MacOS desktop with Linux. But how easy is it for less experienced computer users to make the switch? Desktop Linux systems have made massive improvements over the last decade and Ubuntu has been creating user friendly systems for a number of years now. Installing Ubuntu is quite easy and as long as you don't run into any major problems, Ubuntu will be set up with all the applications that an average desktop user will need. It is also fairly easy to install other applications that are provided in the Ubuntu repositories.
The thing that new users should remember is that Linux is not Windows. It can be frustrating for people who are new to Linux when things don't work the way they expect them to. Comparing Linux to Windows can be like comparing riding a bicycle to riding a horse. They can both be used to get you where you need to go, but you have to use different techniques in order to get there. The nice thing about Ubuntu is that it makes it easy to get a basic system up and running and it comes installed with many great software application.
It is now easier than ever for new users to test out Linux on the desktop. From the Live CD environment, which allows you to try Ubuntu without installing anything on your computer, to the Wubi installer, which allows Ubuntu to be installed from within a Windows environment, Ubuntu makes it easy for new users to take Linux for a test drive.
Ubuntu 8.10 does not feel as pollished as the previous version. Being a LTS release, 8.04 was designed with security and stability in mind, while this version is designed to give users access to some of the latest and greatest new features. Experienced Linux users will enjoy the new software packages bundled with 8.10, while new users will like how easy it is to get a new system up and running. Intrepid is another great release from the Ubuntu team.