Before I posted my new Linux review, I wanted to share the review I had written for Ubuntu 7.04. It’s weird to go back and read it now, and it’s quite sad to see how many things still haven’t changed.
Today I’m going to review Ubuntu 7.04, the newest release of the most popular Linux distribution in the world. I will go over many things. I will be very honest about things I really like and things I really didn’t like. In the past my reviews were fairly short, however this one turned out to be quite long, so I have it split into sections.
Ubuntu popped up several years ago when a billionaire entrepreneur, Mark Shuttleworth, decided to create a company (Canonical) and work on his own Linux distribution. Using Debian as its base, Ubuntu is determined to be the most user-friendly operating system. With a new release every 6 months, have they met or at least closing in on that goal? Let’s find out.
Every release since Dapper has used a live CD as the primary means to install Ubuntu, though the text installer is available for download. After booting up, the GNOME desktop is shown. The user can try out programs and such before deciding to install Ubuntu to the hard drive. Installation is very easy and straightforward. The user is asked for a user name and password, and asked how to partition the hard drive. Most users will select either “Use entire drive” or will resize a Windows partition in order to duel-boot the two OS’s.
After this is set up, the default set of files are installed. At this point the user cannot choose what to install and what to leave off, they will have to wait until the first login to make any changes. Any additional hardware setup is also absent. There is no place to select your video card, monitor, resolution or printer for example. Once installation has finished, the CD is removed and the computer restarted.
Initial boot-up and login
When Ubuntu boots up for the first time the user will see a progress bar and Ubuntu logo instead of rapidly scrolling text as the kernel loads things. The default gdm theme is clean and simple, with a now light brown replacing the older dark brown colors. The user will also hear some drums beating, to go along with the Ubuntu human theme. Or something like that.
Default setup and packages
When the user logs in, they will see a simple desktop: two bars at the top and bottom, and no desktop icons. Programs are launched from the panel or through the menu. The other menus provide easy access to the user’s files and settings.
In 7.04 I immediately realized the resolution was set too low. I went to the Screen Resolution preference panel, but 1024×768 was the highest resolution listed. If I was an inexperienced user, I would be stuck without any help. As an experienced Linux user, I knew to open Terminal and enter “sudo gedit /etc/X11/xorg.conf”. Then I could manually edit the file and add 1280×1024 to the 24-bit color depth, save the changes, log out, and press ctrl-alt-backspace to restart X. This is a glaring error that should have been fixed by the time the beta was being tested, and will likely never be fixed at least for 7.04.
Ubuntu strictly follows a 6-month or be damned release schedule. Everything that hasn’t been fixed by the release is put on the back burner while the next release is worked on. Some things are fixed, but most aren’t. I’ve heard it first-hand from a developer that there aren’t that many developers working on Ubuntu and a lot of bugs to work through. Yet they seem to have sufficient developers to put together an operating system and make significant changes and enhancements. According to that developer, having more and more users submitting well-written bug reports to Launchpad won’t help anything. Only more developers will help it seems.
Why is the most popular Linux distribution in the world hurting for more contributors? What is everyone working on instead, its parent Debian or distributions meant for enterprise work such as Novell and Red Hat? If Mark wants a world-class operating system, he needs to spend some of those billionaire assets to hire more developers and increase the size of Canonical. As more and more people use Ubuntu and a rise in bugs and issues, every support system (phone, email, irc, forums, etc.) will become overrun by confused and irritated, but mostly well-meaning users. Eventually, with poor support and cold official responses from the company, users will go find another distribution to use. Ubuntu must address this by the next LTS release.
The release of newer packages such as Xorg 7.3 could help to alleviate this, but Ubuntu needs to do most of the work themselves. These new packages will get plenty of their own bug reports, and if developers want these promised features to work for users, they will need to pay more attention. As related to the screen resolution problem, as a criticism of at least GNOME and possibly other desktop environments, but why is this a user preference and not a system setting? The screen resolution, at least up to Xorg 7.2, is controlled by xorg.conf, which is not located in the user’s directory and requires sudo or root access to modify and fix. Most system setting panels/programs ask for a password as they should. This is also an issue with the live CD installer. In the past, using the text installer, packages would install until the X packages were ready, and the user was asked what resolution(s) X should use. The live CD installer should do the same thing.
7.04 includes Gaim 2.0 Beta 6. Soon after 7.04’s release, Gaim was renamed to Pidgin due to issues with AOL, and a whole new look was created to go with the name change. Again, due to Ubuntu’s update policy they stuck with Beta 6, which is unfortunate due to Pidgin’s numerous changes and improvements.
If Ubuntu is willing to leave in a beta program for IM applications, what else are they willing to sacrifice in order to maintain their update policy which they seem to hold dearer than users? This isn’t an LTS release, it’s ok to update a few programs, especially now with Pidgin’s 2.1 release. 7.04 also includes the OpenOffice suite of programs installed by default, unlike Fedora’s live CD images. Also included is GIMP for image editing and Rhythmbox for music playback and management.
Package Management and Updating
Ubuntu has always had an excellent package management system based on Debian’s .deb format. Using either apt-get on the command line or Synaptic, it is very easy to update, install and remove packages. There are many search options, notably being able to search both package name and description. The updater for Ubuntu is quick and simple, notifying the user for any updates according to the enabled repositories. Compared to Fedora’s and openSuse’s rpm-based package management, Ubuntu is much easier and faster to manage and update.
3D Xorg Driver
7.04 introduced the Restricted Driver Manager, making it very simple to install and enable closed-source binary device drivers for devices such as video cards and wireless network interfaces. Only needing one click, 7.04 downloaded nvidia-glx, installed it, enabled the driver and Aiglx, and prompted me to restart the computer, not just X. I don’t know if the process is as easy for users with an ATI card, but it can’t be any harder than past releases. I don’t think it would enable Xgl for ATI users, as both Ubuntu and Xorg have sided with Aiglx. The Restricted Driver Manager did not install the nvidia-glx-new package even though my card supported it, and I doubt it installs the nvidia-glx-legacy for those with an older card.
For those drivers, the user would have to use apt-get or Synaptic, and then manually edit xorg.conf to change the driver used and enable Aiglx. Using “nvidia-glx-config enable”, as suggested in the package description for the nvidia-glx packages, does not work in 7.04 as it did in past releases. It causes X to crash when trying to start it at boot-up. Also, the Restricted Drivers Manager does not fix the resolution, and higher resolutions are not added to Screen Resolution after installing an nvidia-glx package as in past releases.
Multimedia Codec Installer
I have not personally tested this new feature in 7.04. After I install an Ubuntu release, I go to Synaptic, search for “gstreamer”, and add several packages to enable playback for mp3, AAC and mpeg files. It is also possible to install totem-xine and/or VLC, or another media playback application, to use instead of totem-gstreamer. Since all repositories are now enabled by default in 7.04, it is very simple for the user to search for and install these packages.
Community and Support
The easiest and best way to get support with an Ubuntu release is through the official Ubuntu forums. There are plenty of sub-sections to browse through, and a comprehensive search page is present to see if other users have had the same or similar problem. There are thousands of registered users, plenty of forum staff and admins, and Ubuntu developers have been known to drop in on a thread from time to time. Overall the Ubuntu forums are one of the friendliest and knowledgeable available, and also one of the most mature.
Another way to get help is through the Answers section on Launchpad. Similar to filing a bug report, after typing a question Launchpad will try to find duplicate or similar questions to use. Each question is designated with a status, starting off with “unanswered”, and may get updated as more people find the question. A really nifty feature is being able to easily link to a Launchpad bug from the Ubuntu forums. Other posters can find relevant bugs for a thread, or it can be used to simply bring attention to a filed bug if the poster thinks it affects a lot of users and needs more attention. If neither the forums nor Launchpad work, the user can always use the commercial help available from Canonical for a small fee.
Keeping with Ubuntu’s method of doing it different, for bug reporting Ubuntu doesn’t use the popular Bugzilla. Instead they created their own system, Launchpad. This system, compared to Bugzilla, is much easier to use and navigate.
As mentioned in the previous section, when the user files a bug Launchpad will try to find exact or similar bug reports to prevent excessive duplicates, especially for bugs that are widespread and affect every user. After a bug report has been filed, it is possible to link it with a bug report in another distro or upstream to the relevant application developer’s bug system, usually a Bugzilla system. Within a few days, both users and developers will comment on the filed bug report, and can update its status to “needs info”, “confirmed”, etc. Many bugs will stay at “confirmed” for a long time, often never being addressed, while others can show a “fix committed” or “fix released” for another distro or upstream. Often this is due to Ubuntu’s update policy.
Overall, Ubuntu 7.04 is a good operating system that for the most part is easy to use and delivers a lot of what it promises. There are plenty of things that don’t work quite right, but most of these are things that require user feedback on the forums and Launchpad to help the developers fix as many bugs as possible, before the inevitable alpha of the next release comes along.
Compared to other Linux distributions, Ubuntu is still far ahead. Whether that’s a good thing on Ubuntu’s behalf or a damnation of most other distributions, I will leave up to you to decide. Having a very easy installation and setup is one of Ubuntu’s greatest strengths, even if that easiness is coming close to Gnome’s as becoming stupidly easy, where things are starting to become hidden for the most part as an illusion of complete ease.
The greatest weakness of Ubuntu is its release schedule and update policy. Again, 7.04 includes a beta version of Gaim, which has plenty of regular and security flaws compared to Pidgin 2.1 or even 2.0.x. Users concerned should use Kopete or another alternative. Gutsy, currently approaching the fourth alpha release, is making even more changes concerning X and the Appearances preference panel among other things. In Gutsy Pidgin is finally brought in, along with the 2.6.22 kernel. The 2.6.23 kernel with a new scheduler has been released, but there is not enough time to test, patch and modify this kernel for Gutsy’s release. Will it make it into the next LTS release? Possibly. Other packages, such as the current 100.x release of nvidia-glx are still not included (even as nvidia-glx-new), and Compiz-Fusion is still unacceptably unstable. With the recent re-merging with Beryl, it seems the priority is still adding effects and not trying to fix what is already in.
Kubuntu and Xubuntu are also in testing phases for Gutsy, and both are emphasizing refinement over revolution. Kubuntu will not include KDE4 as the default desktop environment, though KDE4 Beta will be available to install to use along with 3.5.7. Xfce has not seen many changes lately, and judging from my last use needs to fix some serious issues.
Final Thoughts and Rating
Out of all the Linux distributions available, Ubuntu has been the most popular the past few years, and that’s unlikely to change for at least the next few. After a few hours of use it becomes clear why it has become so well-known and popular not just among new Linux users but for veterans coming from older distributions. Despite its faults, Canonical has pushed Ubuntu further ahead and has introduced many welcome improvements to Linux for both business and personal use, and for that
it deserves all of its praises.