Ubuntu is by far the most popular Linux distribution. Since its foundation it attracted a lot of users and became for most of us the number one choice on the desktop. When Ubuntu 6.06 Dapper Drake was released, the distribution addressed the needs of companies and made available a LAMP solution with long term support. With each release came innovation, and not only did Ubuntu confirmed its advance over other distributions but it impressed us in many ways with new features and new ways of doing things.
This release is Ubuntu 6.10 (the version number means October 2006) and it's called "Edgy Eft". As always, it comes with a lot of impressive new features: The brand new Firefox 2.0, new artwork, and a replacement for init called "Upstart".
The release of Edgy Eft went fine. The schedule was respected and the mirrors and web sites were updated shortly after the release was announced. Kubuntu was released at the same time and everything seemed to have gone clockwork. Compared to the release of Fedora Core 6, this one looked a bit more relaxed.
As usual, Ubuntu is available in 3 versions:
- the Desktop CD, which is a Live CD with a graphical installer and the recommended way to install Ubuntu;
- the Alternate Install CD, which gives system administrators a traditional way of installing the Linux distribution by booting on the CD and going through a text-based installer;
- the Server Install CD, which is an Alternate Install CD of Ubuntu customized for Server installations (it provides extra packages for an integrated LAMP solution).
All versions fit on a single CD, they are available as ISO, torrent and Jigdo files and they can be downloaded from here: http://www.ubuntu.com/download
Ubuntu uses the Gnome desktop. If you prefer KDE, you can choose to download Kubuntu from here: http://www.kubuntu.org/download.php
For the purpose of this review I was only interested in the Gnome desktop version, so I downloaded the Desktop CD of Ubuntu. I found the mirrors to be quite fast, and as there was only one CD to download I was ready to boot on it in a matter of minutes. For people who do not have fast Internet access Ubuntu has a program called Shipit which delivers the distribution CDs to your door, anywhere in the World, for free! Unfortunately Shipit will not be delivering Edgy Eft, but Dapper Drake. I'm sure a few people will be sad to hear that but I have no doubt they'll be able to find the Edgy CD within the next publication of their favorite Linux magazine.
Launching the Live CD and installing Ubuntu
If you've checked the MD5 sums before burning the ISO file on CD and used the "Check CD for defect" and "Memory Test" features provided by the CD itself you're not likely to run into problems. Some people, depending on their hardware configuration can require special boot arguments for ACPI or for their graphic cards. The Live CD provides all the necessary options for them.
When you're ready to boot on the Live CD, it automatically logs you in a Gnome environment. As usual I tried not to look at it too much and I went straight for the graphical installer which sits on the desktop. The Live CD gives you more or less the same system as the one you get on your hard drive once it's installed, only slower since it's running from the CD. As I'm also interested in performance and speed I prefer to review the installed system itself.
The installer seems to have evolved a bit since the last release. It is still very easy to use and convivial, but the installation time is a bit longer than before. It took me 27 minutes to install Ubuntu. If you haven't looked at the "Examples" folder that sits on the desktop, the videos and documents will keep you busy while the files get copied on your machine. Anyhow, thanks to the Live CD, you're already in a Linux system before it's installed, so you can take your time and browse the Internet in the meantime.
Once the installation is finished you can reboot and enjoy Ubuntu 6.10. There is no "first boot" wizard; all the questions are asked before the installation.
Inside Ubuntu 6.10
The boot splash and the GDM screen have been improved and they look much better.
On the desktop itself Gnome uses the "Human" theme by default. I can't see much difference with the theme used in the last release, but Dapper already looked great. As a consequence, Edgy looks very good two. The widgets are superb, the window borders were rounded, the color scheme is nice and if you've got something against brown or orange desktops, you'll be happy to know that Ubuntu includes alternative themes such as "Industrial Tango" which are installed by default.
The sound theme was changed a bit. You can hear some kind of African dance when you log in and a brief vocal sound when you log out. Both are nice and not overwhelming.
The default wallpaper is called "Simple Ubuntu". It looks nice but it's a bit too dull in my opinion, especially if you compare it to the nice work made by the Fedora artwork team on their new "DNA" wallpaper. Only 2 other alternative wallpapers are installed as well: "Dawn of Ubuntu" which was present in Dapper and "Smooth Chocolate" which adds a bit of depth to the desktop but is not impressive either.
The Default Ubuntu 6.10 Desktop
Overall, Ubuntu still has one of the best artwork among Linux distributions (although I prefer the ones made by SUSE and Fedora), a few changes make this release look a bit better than the previous one, but there are no real major improvements.
Ubuntu 6.10 comes with Gnome 2.16, which by itself represents a nice desktop environment. Nothing much was added to it though. There are no shortcuts on the desktop. The "Computer" place doesn't show the network but only the devices and the filesystem. The menus are well organized and the menu items use customized icons which make Gnome blend in the "Human" Ubuntu theme.
The "Computer" and "Network" places and Nautilus showing the Home directory (to which I added a few folders)
The Home directory doesn't contain anything but the traditional "Desktop" and the "Examples" folder present in the Live CD.
This is probably my biggest disappointment: there are no 3D effects in Ubuntu 6.10. Of course, if you have a look on the Internet, you'll see that installing and setting them up for Edgy Eft is not hard at all, but considering how much attention 3D effects are catching at the moment and the efforts made by other distributions to integrate them by default, this seems like a slap in the face. Were they considered trivial and uninteresting? Why were they not on the agenda?
Ubuntu is without a doubt one of the distributions which attracts a lot of people to Linux. I've been evangelizing a lot for Linux and I can tell for sure that 3D effects are easier to sell than the greatness of package managers, file permissions or even open-source. When people see those wobbly windows and the 3D cube, they definitely get impressed. They often ask something like "is this going to be in Windows Vista?", which you can reply to with a smile "oh no... But it's going to be in every Linux distribution"... well apart from Ubuntu, unfortunately.
Novice users want things to work out of the box. MEPIS understood that when they decided to install multimedia support for dirty formats. Other distributions such as Fedora and Ubuntu excluded that support, but there was a reason for it and that reason was clearly explained. While Mandriva 2007 made a lot of efforts to make 3D effects easy for people to use, Fedora "forgot" to include a configuration tool for them and Ubuntu 6.10 simply didn't care about it at all.
In my opinion, this is very disappointing.
Default Selection of Software
Edgy Eft comes with more or less the same set of applications as its predecessor:
- OpenOffice 2.0.2 was upgraded to version 2.0.4
- Firefox 188.8.131.52 was upgraded to version 2.0
- Evolution 2.6.1 was upgraded to version 2.8.0
- Ekiga 2.01 was upgraded to version 2.0.3
- Gaim 1.5.1 was upgraded to version 2.0.0 beta 3.1
- The Gimp 2.2.11 was upgraded to version 2.2.13
I am particularly happy to see these versions of OpenOffice and Firefox. They both add valuable features. Compared to 2.0.2, OpenOffice 2.0.4 comes with a dictionary and a spell checker which are installed by default. Firefox 2.0 offers major improvements over 184.108.40.206 and considering how recent its release was, it's a great thing to see it included in Ubuntu 6.10. In the Release Notes for Edgy, it is said that Firefox's theme "Tangerine" looks great and matches the "Human" theme used by Ubuntu so I was a bit disappointed not to see it installed. This is only a detail however.
The brand new Firefox 2.0
A few new applications made their way into the distribution. The most noticeable is F-Spot 0.2.1 which is not only a great tool to manage your pictures but allows you to easily upload them to websites such as Flickr or Picasaweb. You can also use F-Spot as you screensaver and define which kind of photos get shown in it by assigning tags to them and defining which tag is used by the screensaver.
Within the applets you will find the popular Tomboy Notes. The kernel used in this release is 2.6.17 and as it was the case in the previous release, Ubuntu still doesn't include any MTA for sending your emails directly from your machine or any dedicated IRC client other than Gaim for easily accessing one of the best support tools there is: The Freenode #ubuntu channel.
Ubuntu uses the APT package manager. Aptitude is installed by default and represents a great solution if you're used to working with the command line. Synaptic is there as well as a graphical frontend.
I don't really know where to start or how to say that. There are a lot of distributions out there and a lot of different package managers. In my opinion APT is by far the best of all.
Synaptic 0.57.8 is installed and it's better than ever. It's fast, intuitive, easy to setup, stable and full of handy features. I can't help but to think about the poor quality of Pirut (Fedora Core's solution) in comparison. Synaptic's preference and settings options for instance let you add extra repositories, support for backports, proxy settings, and even priorities. It already knows the addresses of the Ubuntu repositories and their mirrors around the world, so all you have to do is to select your country from a combo box and tick a few checkboxes to add the Universe and Multiverse repositories. In fact, you probably won't even go to /etc/apt anymore, as nearly every aspect of APT is configurable through Synaptic!
Synaptic makes it very easy to configure your repositories...
Ubuntu also comes with a software catalog which you can access from the Applications->Add/Remove... menu item. As long as you're only browsing, you can use Synaptic and the catalog while being offline and you can even use them at the same time. The catalog represents an easy way for novice users to add software without knowing the name of the corresponding packages. For instance you can add MP3 support by simply searching for "mp3" in the catalog and clicking on "GStreamer extra plugins – Codecs to play mp3, sid, mpeg1, mpeg2, AC-3, DVD (without encryption)".
The Software Catalog - Add or Remove applications without even knowing what a package manager is.
By default Ubuntu won't play your multimedia files if they are encoded in an ugly format. The reason for that is explained on their website and you'll find a lot of information on how to add support for these formats by browsing the "Restricted Formats" page of the Ubuntu Wiki.Networking
Gnome 2.16 provides a lot of tools to connect to remote servers, so you'll have no problems browsing networks, Windows shared folders, or connecting to remote FTP servers. There are no graphical tools for accessing Bluetooth devices but hcitool is installed by default so you can do that from the command line.
I found the applet and configuration tool for the network better in Mandriva 2007. Having said that, they work fine in Ubuntu. If you don't switch between networks or interfaces, you'll probably be happy with them.
As with the previous release I was satisfied with Ubuntu's hardware recognition. Most of my hardware was properly configured. On my Sony Vaio T2XP laptop the IPW2200 WIFI card was detected and set up automatically, the display didn't manage to use its normal 1280x768 resolution but installing i915resolution from the repositories and restarting X fixed the problem, and everything else worked fine. Well, the Sony Memory Stick reader and the hardware laptop buttons didn't... but they never did, on any distribution, so I won't blame Ubuntu for that :)
I still have a problem with ACPI when it comes to suspend/resume. I had the same issue with Fedora Core 6 though so it's probably related to Gnome 2.16.
I remember that I was impressed with the speed in Dapper. Here is a quote from my review of the previous Ubuntu release: "It took me 53 seconds from the BIOS to GDM, 12 seconds for Gnome to be fully operational and 22 seconds to shutdown the computer". As usual I timed the boot and shutdown process. With Edgy Eft on the same machine, it takes me 35 seconds from the BIOS to GDM, 15 seconds for Gnome to be fully operational and 17 seconds to shutdown the computer. Needless to say this is a huge improvement! I can now start my system in less than a minute. I probably have to thank the newly developed "upstart" which came as a replacement of the init process in this release. Ubuntu have announced they would be making further improvements to the startup scripts in order to take full advantage of upstart in the future, so we can expect the next release of the distribution to boot even faster! To be honest, I'm already impressed!
The rest of the system, the desktop and the applications are fast and responsive.
Dapper Drake was a huge step forward since Breezy Badger. Edgy Eft doesn't impress as much but still brings its lot of innovations and improvements over its predecessor; its artwork is a tiny bit better, its software selection is more up to date, its package manager is better than ever and its new upstart makes it really fast to boot. Of course it doesn't have the desktop and the artwork of Fedora Core 6, or the integrated 3D effects of Mandriva 2007, but it's still in my opinion the best Linux distribution there is and as with every single one of its releases, it just proved it once more.