Thursday, April 24, 2008

First Looks - Ubuntu 8.04 Beta Review (part 3)

I'm feeling much better about Ubuntu today. As a matter of fact, I think I'm ready to jump the Windows XP ship for Ubuntu. Everything I need to work is working. And when I consider all the hours I have spent in the past installing software and configuring Windows XP, the amount of time I've spent on Ubuntu to get to this point is not that bad. It's ironic that I've arrived at this point on the same day that Ubuntu 8.04 is officially released. The built-in update manager reports that no updates are available (I downloaded and applied 128 updates last night), so I am running the released version of 8.04 at this point.

Tracker search tool revisited, DVDs, Rhythmbox and printing

I've caught the included Tracker search tool hogging the CPU a couple of times since installing all the updates. But the good news is that it does release the CPU after a bit, so I guess I can live with this until I find out what's causing it. At any rate, a few test searches prove that it did a good job of indexing all the directories I specified, and it's lightning fast. It didn't index my Thunderbird emails, though - I think this is probably a configuration setting - it will take a little time to learn to use this useful application. Google Desktop Search is available for Linux, but if you're concerned about Google knowing what's on your hard drive there's no need to get it.

There's good news to report on viewing DVDs and playing media files in general. After reading this thread on the Ubuntu support forum, I resorted to the command line for the first and only time to solve this. The support forum thread gives detailed info on the commands to enter (you can just copy and paste them from the forum thread) using the built-in terminal (command line) - Applications>Accessories>Terminal. These commands downloaded and installed all of the codecs I needed, along with MPlayer, another media player. Since doing this, I can view DVDs in either Totem or MPlayer, can view web videos in Firefox, and play wma, wmv, avi, mp3 and wav files using either Rhythmbox or one of the media players. So if you plan on installing Ubuntu, hang on to the link to this thread.

The problem with the HP Deskjet D4160 not printing using the black print cartridge turned out to be a problem with the cartridge itself (oops!). The Ubuntu driver works just fine - the only problem is that I had to resort to installing the printer software in Windows XP to find out what the problem was - the Ubuntu driver does not support print head cleaning or diagnostics. I may have to hang on to a Windows XP partition just to do printer maintenance.

What software comes with Ubuntu and what's available to install?

Here's a quick rundown on all of the apps that come with a default installation of Ubuntu 8.04 - In the Accessories category - Calculator, Character Map, Dictionary (excellent), Disk Usage Analyzer, Print Manager, a screenshot utility, Terminal (GUI for the command line), a text editor , the Tracker search tool.

The Games category includes 17 games, including a decent chess partner, several solitaire variants, mahjong, a tetris clone, minesweeper and Sudoku.

In the Graphics category - F-Spot Photo Manager (has improved integration with today's currently available digital cameras), the Gimp image editor, Open Office Drawing and the X-Sane image scanner.

In the Internet category - Ekiga Softphone, Evolution Mail, Firefox 3 Beta 5 browser, OpenJDK java, Pidgin internet messenger, Remote Desktop Viewer, Terminal Server Client, and the Transmission bit-torrent client.

In the Office category - Evolution Calendar, Open Office Spreadsheet, Presentation and Word Processor.

In the Sound and Video category - Audio CD Extractor, Brasero CD Burner, Totem Movie Player, Rhythmbox music player, and Sound Recorder. If you install the extra codecs and apps mentioned above, VLC Player, MPlayer and SMPlayer are added to this list. That's a pretty complete list of included software.

In addition, using either Add/Remove Applications (easy) or the Synaptic Package Manager (requires a little time to find what you want), Ubuntu has essentially one-click install of the wide array of Open Source Linux applications that are out there on the web. And if you stick with the Canonical (Ubuntu's parent company) supported apps, you can count on support from the Ubuntu support forums, as well as their new technical support system which guarantees you an answer to your problem.

Summing Up

So you're an average computer user, somewhat conversant with installing and configuring programs for Windows or Mac - should you get Ubuntu? To me, this is the bottom line for an operating system. And my answer is - yes, if you have a real desire to move away from Microsoft or Apple. Installing and configuring Ubuntu will take some time and effort, and more than a little knowledge of computers, but I think the time has finally arrived when it's worth the effort based on the results achieved. I can only compare it to Windows XP, and it's faster, more efficient, gives you more control over your system and just as well-behaved.

If you're thinking about trying Ubuntu, or you already have, please feel free to leave a comment or question - I would be interested in your experience and feedback. Also, stay tuned, as I will be downloading and installing the released Ubuntu 8.04 to a dedicated partition today, and I will be keeping you posted on my experience. I plan to switch over to Ubuntu for most of my daily needs, but will keep Windows XP around for evaluating Windows software for review - there's still a great need for good reviews of good free software, no matter what the operating system.

What now?
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Ubuntu 8.04 was officially released today and is available for download here.


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