Wednesday, April 23, 2008

First Looks - Ubuntu 8.04 Beta Review (part 2)

Ubuntu 8.04 Control CenterUbuntu 8.04 Control Center

Read Part 1 of this review

Printer problem (sort of) solved, viewing DVDs (or not) and burning CDs

After investigating the reason why my Lexmark Z730 printer wasn't working, I found that Ubuntu had not installed a driver for it after all. It had merely recognized it by name over the USB port, but there is not a driver (that I have been able to find) available for it. I was able to get this question answered on the Ubuntu support forum within an hour of posting it - that's not bad tech support for a free operating system. During this process, I learned that printer configuration is accessed via System>Administration>Printing, or to be more Windows-like, System>Preferences>Control Center>Printing. The Control Center is the Ubuntu equivalent of the Windows Control Panel. Once inside the Printer configuration utility, you can click on Change beside Printer Make and Model to choose from a large list of available printer models. Ubuntu has indeed improved printer support, although work remains to be done here. The advice I was given in the Ubuntu support forum was to stick with an HP printer for Linux - and it sounds like good advice.

The good news (for me, anyway, not for other Lexmark Z730 owners ) is that I also have a HP Deskjet D4160 which installed itself and worked almost perfectly. I say almost because it won't print using the B&W cartridge, and the printer driver does not give me any information on ink levels. I'll have to go back into Windows to find out if I have an empty cartridge - I can't remember from the last time I used this printer. But the installation was a snap - I plugged the printer into the USB port, Ubuntu recognized and installed the driver for it without me having to do anything. I'll keep you posted on the B&W cartridge, though.

On to the DVD player. I knew from past experience with Ubuntu that I would have to install some codecs, etc. for DVD, MP3, Windows Media, etc. playback. After a few minutes of looking on the Ubuntu support site, I found a topic devoted to this subject. It turns out that Ubuntu makes an all-in-one package of codecs and other proprietary stuff available, it's just that they don't distribute them with Ubuntu - this is in keeping with their philosophy of keeping Ubuntu entirely free software.

So I downloaded and installed these via the Synaptic Package Manager. The Help topic on the Ubuntu site wrongly says to use Applications>Add-Remove, then search for "Ubuntu restricted extras". This search in Add/Remove Applications didn't find anything, so I performed the same search in the Synaptic Package Manager and it came up with a package to be installed. I installed it, then inserted a known-good DVD, the Totem Movie Player came up, recognized the disc title, but would not play the DVD. I got error messages ranging from "unable to read resource" to "you may not have permission to access this file". I know I was able to view DVDs with Ubuntu 7.10, so I'll keep you posted on this as well.

Ubuntu Brasero CD BurnerBrasero CD Burner

I was able to append a couple of files onto a multi-session CD with no problem using the included Brasero Disc Burner. Operation was straightforward (very much like DeepBurner, which is what I use in Windows XP) and fast. My DVD drive is read-only, so I was unable to test Brasero for burning DVDs.

Tracker desktop search tool, Rhythmbox music player, Firefox and Opera browsers

Ubuntu includes a desktop search utility (like Google desktop search) which I was looking forward to giving a try. I configured it last night by telling it what drives/directories to index (System>Control Center>Search and Indexing). I did not leave Ubuntu running overnight, but when I booted into Ubuntu this morning, my CPU usage went to near 100% (the fan on my CPU alerted me to this - I confirmed it by checking the System Monitor via System>Administration>System Monitor. System Monitor also showed me that Tracker was the culprit, using 95% CPU time, so I killed the Tracker process (you can do this directly via the System Monitor utility on the Processes tab). I added this to my list of things-to-ask-on-the-Ubuntu-forum; I'll let you know what I find out.

Rhythmbox Music PlayerRhythmbox Music Player

In search of SOMETHING that works, I turned to the included Rhythmbox music player. The overall look and feel of this application is similar to many Windows type media players, but it is music only, no video. It played MP3s flawlessly, and the included Visualizations were excellent, although there's only two themes to choose from. The bad news is that the player would not play .wma or .wmv files. Remember that I installed the "all-in-one" codec package that was supposed to add support for these formats. My Ubuntu forum list is getting longer by the minute.

I know there's some good news to be found somewhere - browsers. Both the Firefox 3 Beta 5 (included with Ubuntu - it looks like Ubuntu 8.04 will release with a beta Firefox) and Opera 9.50 Beta (I downloaded this from the Opera site) browsers were much snappier than in my Windows XP. Rendering was excellent with both and browsing with them was a real pleasure. The Opera beta includes a new bookmark sync feature (Opera bookmarks only) that synced my Windows bookmarks without a hitch. It didn't sync the little page icons that go with the original bookmarks, but I've come to expect this from bookmark sync utilities. Opera also closed unexpectedly a couple of times - I doubt if I would see this in the released version 9.27, which is available for Linux as well.

Well, with only 1 day left before Ubuntu 8.04 is set to release, it looks like this is turning into a 3-part review. Tomorrow, I'll sum up my experience and hopefully have an answer to some of the problems I've had. If you've been "experimenting" with Ubuntu (any version), or have just been thinking about it, I'd love to hear your comments or questions, you can click here to leave a comment for this post. I should note this though - as of this writing, Ubuntu's built-in automatic update program reports that 128 updates, totalling over 100MB in downloads, are currently available. Some of the problems I've had could be solved by applying these updates. I'll be downloading and applying those today. In addition, this tells me that development in preparation for the official release is "hot and heavy". Read part 3 of this review

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It's only1 day until the official release of Ubuntu 8.04 (according to the countdown clock on their site), but if you can't wait, you can download Ubuntu 8.04 Beta here.


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