One of the questions most people ask when talking about Linux is: When will it be ready for the Desktop
. I've asked it a couple of times myself. Since Ubuntu
came into the game, I knew there was something special about it besides being well advertised.
I've been using Ubuntu since the beginning, but Ubuntu 8.04 was the turning point for me and it is the distro that has finally completely replaced Windows for me. And that is saying a lot, because I don't particularly have a problem with Microsoft Windows (except for versions prior to Windows 2000).
Ubuntu runs off completely from the CD. It is a great way to test if your hardware is compatible with it, surf the net, try to install a few programs, etc. When you are ready to install Ubuntu, there is an icon for the installer right at your desktop which you just have to double click on it.
The installer is simple, yet powerful, capable of creating or resizing partitions of several formats. If you need a more powerful tool, you can use gparted straight from the Ubuntu live CD. Installing Ubuntu itself is a simple as setting the keyboard layout, choosing a location and creating the partitions. Even while Ubuntu is being installed, you can continue surfing the web or playing around without a problem. At the end of the installation, Ubuntu will ask if you want to continue using the Live CD or reboot.
Booting into Ubuntu - Desktop impressions and overall usability:
Ubuntu has a very polished boot screen and it boots quite fast too. After you login, you will notice a new wallpaper and the same look and feel of previous versions of Ubuntu.
By default, Ubuntu comes with a great selection of packages for desktop users. From OpenOffice 2.4
for productivity to rhythmbox
for entertainment. It is all there. It is also important to notice that in the case of OpenOffice, the splash screen has a Human-like theme, adding a little more polish to the overall product.
As a developer, you will need to install other productivity tools, such as compilers and IDE's. But that is easily done through Synaptic.
Out of the box, Ubuntu does not come with any media playback support, which is a know problem since Redhat Linux 8.0. However, if you just double-click on a song, it will ask if you would like to install the necessary codecs. It is just that simple.
Nautilus has some new fancy features too. If you simply have your mouse over a song, it will start playing the song as well. A great way of previewing a song indeed. It is a small feature, but it adds a lot of polish to an already awesome OS. I wish the same could be done with movie files, but as far as I can tell, it doesn't.
For the Web, Ubuntu comes packed with the latest Firefox 3
, a browser which needs no presentation. I am using Ubuntu x86_64 and it is important to mention that I had a lot of issues getting flash to run before. Now, it is just as simple to install as going to a flash site. Firefox will tell you about the missing files and Ubuntu will install it for you.
users, there are good news too. Opera has finally released their great browser for Linux x86_64 architecture.
One thing that I always had trouble with in Linux (not only with Ubuntu, but other distributions as well), was to get my so needed Korean inputs working from my keyboard. I am (still) learning Korean and that is a very important thing for me, when chatting with my Korean friends. This time around, it worked just fine by adding the Korean language support at System - Administration - Language Support
. After that, SCIM
will display an icon on the task bar, where I can easily change from Korean to English (or by using the CRTL + Space combination). This is by leaps and bounds easier than in Windows XP, where you actually will be asked for your Windows XP disk and a reboot to get it working.
Some improvements were made on the hardware support area as well. For example, my wired Xbox 360 Controller works out of the box. Before, it required compiling a program and loading the correct modules. That is no longer necessary. Even the "X" on the middle of the controller stops blinking once you try to play a game or emulator. That is saying a lot, because it was a bit complicated to install that joypad before and
even Windows XP need drivers for it.
My mp3 player, my WD external USB HD and my Logitech joystick, all worked out of the box. Even my Microsoft mouse, which has a few extra buttons for "back" and "forward" worked right away, which didn't before.
All the buttons on my Saitek Eclipse keyboard also worked without additional tweaking.
I had a few issues with Ubuntu on the past with the sound outputs on my Dell. For example, when plugging my headset on the front of the PC, the speakers would not automatically mute. Now they do. Microphone worked just fine through Skype as well.
For the graphics driver, I've tried Ubuntu with both ATI and Nvidia. After the installation, if Ubuntu finds one of these cards, it will ask if you want to enable restricted drivers. If you choose to do so, you will get 3D acceleration running right away. Compared to Windows, where you have to go to the web and grab the drivers, unpack, install and reboot, this is a really great feature.
Gaming, natively and through Wine:
This is not quite a review of Ubuntu, but it has to be mentioned. Wine
has finally reached version 1.x. And after 15 long years of development, that application is the main reason why I could finally leave Windows behind. All, absolutely all the games I play, worked. Even some console emulators made for Windows worked and read my inputs correctly, such as CPS3Emulator(Nebula)
. These are some of the games I've tried so far:
- Half-Life and all expansions (through Steam);
- SiN 1;
- SiN Episodes: Emergence;
- Counter-Strike: Source;
- Day of Defeat: Source;
- World of Warcraft;
- Diablo 2 LOD;
- Warcraft 2 Battle.NET edition;
- Warcraft 3 and Frozen Throne Expansion;
- Guild Wars;
- Baldur's Gate 2;
Note: for those wondering why I used ZSnes in Wine... well, I wanted to test it, plus I could not find a ZSnes emulator in the Ubuntu repositories for x64. And Gens for Linux has always been... horrible.
The results vary though. Source games run a bit slower than they did in Windows. Others, like World of Warcraft run relatively faster. Some, run just as well, like Warcraft 3 and Diablo 2.
While most of these games run without any tweak, some, like World of Warcraft would only run with the "-opengl" flag. usually, details like that are found within AppDB
on wine's page, which is also a very active source of information for those in need of running Windows applications in Linux.
So far, I've tried only a few native games: Flightgear, which worked beautifully with my Logitech Joystick, without any addition configuration. I also tried SuperTux 2 and Battle for Wesnoth, all which can easily be installed from Synaptic, also worked without a problem. SuperTux also identified the Xbox 360 Controller.
Community and Documentation
One of the selling points of Ubuntu for me is the huge (and still increasing) community. Both at LQ.org and Ubuntu forums, you are most likely going to receive a reply very quickly. The IRC channel is also very active and friendly.
The Ubuntu Guide
continues to be one of the most helpful guides around the net for Ubuntu users and for some, only that is already a good enough reason to choose Ubuntu over any other distribution.
I know this review may sound biased at times, but it is for a good reason. I think this version of Ubuntu and wine 1.x release are a turning point of Linux as a strong Desktop alternative (at least it was for me). It is the first time, ever, that I felt like Windows was no longer necessary for my needs. Again, I don't particularly have a problem with XP, but put side-a-side with Ubuntu, really feels old, especially with how beautifully Ubuntu renders my fonts, updates, install packages and even has so welcomed small features, like the mouse over song preview in Nautilus.
The only real "problem" I had, is not Ubuntu's fault as so to speak. It was with Skype, which still refuses to release a x64 binary for Linux. I think the average user would have some troubles installing Skype, but the tutorials on the net are fairly comprehensive.
There are still a few bugs needed to be fixed, but Ubuntu is a pretty solid OS, both for the average user, the gamer (thanks for wine) and the developer. And keep in mind that I am using Ubuntu x86_64, which has been a lot harder to get things going on the past.
I am so impressed with this distribution that I just had to stop by Canonical Store
and order a few things to help support this distribution =)
Now if you excuse me, I am going to play some World of Warcraft with my Blood Elf Paladin or throw a few Shoryukens in Street Fighter Third Strike.
Thanks for reading. Presented by Mega Man X.