Updated: October 13, 2010
UberStudent comes as an interesting experiment. After having reviewed openSUSE 11.3 Edu-Li-f-e and mFatOS a few weeks ago, I see it this way: openSUSE Edu-Li-f-e is a great educational distribution, with tons of programs and spotless integration; mFatOS is a fairly successful Ubuntu conversion. Now, what happens if you combine the two? Can you have a great educational distribution based on Ubuntu?
UberStudent is exactly that - on paper, mind, we will have to see if it can it live up to its grand promises. But the way it was designed, UberStudent is supposed to be a heavily remastered Ubuntu edition, tightly packed with every conceivable piece of educational or scientific software available to mankind. On top of that, you're expected to enjoy quality, seamless integration and usability out of the box.
Today, we will see how good UberStudent really is. Fancy name, posh superlative, but is it any good? Should you bother with the extra download? Would you be better of with Ubuntu loaded high with programs? Or maybe openSUSE 11.3 is the unmistakable answer? Comparing to other remastering projects, like Ultimate Edition, Zorin and others, is UberStudent any different? Does it have a unique quality that separates it from the rest?
Tested: UberStudent 1.0 Cicero.
UberStudent, live session - INSAAAANE!
The distribution has its own branding, with the splash screen and the login menu changed from the stock Ubuntu. So far so good. Then, you hit a simple, somewhat archaic desktop sporting a three-color-buttoned windows and an overall somber black theme.
When it comes to being visually nice, UberStudent is okay, but it is definitely not the hottest potato in the town. The Wireless icon has the same annoying quality like in Zorin, which you can take care of by fiddling with the theme. Still, why does it have to an extra few pixels at the bottom, why oh why?
Now, let's explore the desktop.
There's quite a bit of it, to be frank. You probably need two-three hours to see it all, which is rather impressive. Now, you won't be bored or feel like someone is trying to gnukakke you with tons of unnecessary data. There's order in the chaos, and it works well.
Inline desktop search is a cool feature - and you have an icon for that in the top panel. The search will look for everything, files, icons, documents, anything you can think of. Very handy, so anyone feeling out-Windows-7-ed here, don't.
Applications, the list is longer than War and Peace, paperback edition
mFatOS has a large number of programs. openSUSE 11.3 has a huge number of programs. UberStudent has a titanic collection of programs! It's so long that if you start using the distro and never make a single pause while browsing the available repertoire, you will die of dehydration.
Let's take a few minutes (or more) and see what UberStudent offers. A handful of cellphone applications, Guake, Gnome Do, AllTray that will iconify any running application into the system tray slash notification area, VMware User Agent, although frankly, I can't say what this thing does.
For instance, DocFetcher lets you browse through all your local documents, based on size and type. You can consider it a refined research, along with smart filtering, preview, tagging, and more. You also get the open-source edition of VirtualBox. X Tile lets you shuffle through your open windows and cascade them prettily across the screen. You also have Mendeley with a plugin for Firefox. There's a decent calculator app, too.
Okay, moving on. Next. LyX is included. This is the first distro I know that bundled this superb LaTeX GUI editor.
Browser integration is also given special focus. Zotero, Mendeley, you name it. Furthermore, take a look at the list of installed Firefox extensions. There's LyX integration, which is absolutely neat. You also have Google Gears and a ton of Zotero-related items, quite useful for resource freaks. Adblock Plus is a somewhat controversial choice.
Moving on. Codecs. You can't have them legally, so why not a wrapper script? Indeed, this is what UberStudent does. It has two simple entries for free and nonfree codecs, available with a single mouse click.
Hardware drivers are there, too.
Get Stuff is a collection of cool applications and utilities you may want or not, with focus on connectivity and cloud. Some of these items are payware and/or will require registration, but at least you get quick access. Games, music, textbook rentals, Skype landline, student discounts, and more.
Do you like to teach and present? Why not try a digital whiteboard? There you go.
How about writing your resume as intended - and not sending a 100-page story or a link to a Youtube video featuring you at the age of five playing clarinet, or suchlike. Well, JobSpice is a resume builder tool that should help you make a little bit less of a fool of yourself the first three-four times you try to earn bread.
Think we're done here? Oh, no. We've just started. Take a break now, then resume reading this review. Okay, now, what else? Well, if you love GIMP, you'll appreciate the fact UberStudent packs a ton of documentation. This is something often missing from many other distributions; the program is there, but no help or examples.
Do you like games? Or designing icons? No problem. UberStudent packs djl, the superb program that lets you download hundreds of games at the tip of your fingers, as I've shown you in my Install a million games in one click! article. Don't forget the favicon utility, either.
Cloud stuff ... tons of it. Just look at the list. Crazy. Truth to be told, many of the entries merely point to the homepage of the service vendor, but it's a pointer you don't often see elsewhere. Strong Google integration.
Now, some of it does not work. A few links are dead or broken.
By now, you're shaking, your eyes are running with tears and the pixels are melting. It's okay. We don't have that much longer to go, only a few dozen apps more. Deluge for torrenting, PlayOnLinux as a Wine port, Remastersys for backup, SpiderOak online backup service, Winetricks, Ailurus, which we have also seen in mFatOS for heavy system tweaking, and more and more and more and more.
You want Docky, there's Docky too!
Do you like PDF editing, try PDFescape:
Remember, we've only begun testing the live session. If UberStudent were mechanized armor, it would be all of thirty-four Soviet divisions in Europe running over Berlin. To be frank, the collection is overwhelming, but it's not obnoxious or suffocating. The stuff is arranged in a smart manner, allowing usability first, panic later.
It has been reconfigured, with functions split according to their use rather than just generically dumped into administration and preferences. It's all there, now more easily accessible.
Other stuff - Wireless, Bluetooth, Samba sharing
No problems here, everything worked. We'll examine multimedia later, to leave some meat for the dessert. Even so, this sub-section is tremendously long.
Well, now we should install this thing. So far, I'm rather pleased. Not the most beautiful, a few glitches and errors with some of the programs included, but definitely one of the better organized distributions with a stunning arsenal of tools.
Ubuntu it is - but with one big exception. Ubuntu branding has been replaced with UberStudent branding, including the slideshow. This is a good thing, on par with Mint work, and shows the effort introduced.
There's one thing that bothered me, though. UberStudent says it's based on Debian and Ubuntu. Other references point to the former, others yet to the latter. Me is confused. Well, we will unravel the mystery in a moment. Wait, GRUB reads Ubuntu! Hmm.
Okay, here's the booted system. Looks just like before.
But with a bit of attention and style, you can make it far more exciting than it is by default. Luckily, a selection of decent wallpapers is available.
Not sure why there's an option to install codecs, when they are already installed. Flash, video, music all work fabulously in every one of the installed media programs. For example, there's a lovely video of me crashing a car into a post. Recorded in FRAPS in Windows with DirectShow, plays in Miro, no hiccups. If interested, you can see it in detail in my glorious Live for Speed game review and check the Youtube clip, as well.
Unlike most 32-bit Ubuntu editions, UberStudent is hungry for RAM. It consumes 400MB on empty stomach, approx. 150MB more than stock Ubuntu, due to extra services, plugins and stuff running. Not much in absolute numbers, but it's a 60% increase.
UberStudent likes to eat disk space, too. It's definitely not the leanest distro. It takes about 6.6GB to install, approx. twice more than stock Ubuntu. Not that bad, again, in actual numbers, less than Windows 7, for instance, but it's 200% more.
System stability, performance, suspend & resume
No issues here. Like Wireless, Bluetooth and the rest of the daily stuff, it's almost safe to assume we can take these for granted in a typical, modern Linux distro.
Now, is UberStudent worth the hassle?
I'll try to answer that in my usual long and convoluted way.
First, Ubuntu or Debian?
Good question, we've seen references here and there. Ubuntu is based on Debian, so we have cyclic heritage here, with UberStudent being a (De)2Ub:Gnome molecule. Damn, I just invented something new and cool. Begs its own humor article or references all over the Web, glorifying my invention. Feel free to share.
UberStudent = (De)2Ub:Gnome
Now, Ubuntu or Debian. Ah, let me answer that.
Under the hood, lurks a cat
UberStudent is Ubuntu. Not Debian. Let me show you. Just grab the Macbuntu script and let it do its magic. Within minutes, you will have a total Ubuntu conversion, from whatever looks it had to a Mac-like hobnobby bling-bling. Works for Lucid Lynx, hence the cat analogy, works for UberStudent.
A few glorified screenshots, completely unnecessary, except to show off some of the pretty pictures I took while fiddling with UberStudent.
In fact, you may want to do this, cause it's 1) prettier 2) the Wireless icon looks normal!
Again, I must ask: why?
Do you really need to bother? Can't you just download everything and that's it?
Well, for most people, the task of integrating a couple of hundred programs, plus plugins, codecs, themes, associated documentation, and all the extras, is not a trivial task. In fact, few have the skill or the patience to do that. However, there's no denying the useful practicality of the distribution. It is rich with goodies that pretty much anyone can use, despite the focus on education, science and research. UberStudent does a very good job of pulling it all together. Its biggest advantage is the choice of programs, smartly selected and combined and stitched into the fabric of the operating system, without feeling like the pikey camp in Snatch.
So the final answer is: yes.
Problems, and some pretty big ones too, I'm afraid!
Not all is rosy, though. Some issues remain. For example, launching Nautilus throws an Ardesia error, whatever that is. And there's a leftover file in the Music folder, forgotten in the remastering process. Dedoimedo good, QA bad!
Internet links & spelling errors
Some open in Chrome, others in Firefox. Why's that? There's a reason why it's called a default browser after all. Then, some links are dead. Others yet include spelling errors in the menu descriptions. Remember the Milk!, which sits under Self-Management, Time and Tasks, describes itself as a self-oranization software. Naughty! That's bad management. Dedoimedo versus UberStudent QA, 2:0. Dagnabit.
Text files associated with OpenOffice
Why? Isn't it easier to use, say, text editor for that, rather than going through ASCII conversion in OpenOffice?
The one big problem - network speed!
For some reason, UberStudent has a misconfigured network. On my 12MB line, I could not get more than 1-1.3MB top, no matter what I did or try. I have no idea which underlying component has been abused, and did not try to solve, frankly. But this is a real show stopper. No distro has ever pulled such a trick on me. All of them worked well and manage the full throughput on default network settings.
This is a big one, really. It is possible that no one has tampered with the TCP/IP settings, but then, it could be something related to drivers, some of the extra tweaks used, or even maybe the remastering options. Developers, read this and respond!
And my review endeth here.
UberStudent is a very good distro - except the networking issue part. But let's forget that one for a moment. Very decent integration, almost as smooth as Edu-Li-f-e. A superb selection of program, probably the best when it comes to serious work, nicely compensating the more fun and intermediate collection in openSUSE 11.3. Probably the best Ubuntu remastering project I've seen so far, save Linux Mint. Worth the effort, including all the extras that you don't see anywhere else, like all sorts of plugins, documentation, LyX, and such. Really good work. In fact, fantastic and delicious.
A few glitches here and there, but nothing significant. And now, let's focus on the networking throughput problem once more. That's a bad one. Spoils everything. I hope it can be fixed quickly. And I'm not saying this as some sort of a nooblet, I'm saying this as someone who pisses little desktop cubes after breakfast, that's how much Linux I drink.
It is quite possible you won't experience any network issue - or won't notice it. In that case, UberStudent is ideal for you, especially since you can Ubuntufy it any which way you like, including Mac looks. And then, it becomes the distro you want but don't wish to spend the extra 24-26 hours tweaking. However, if you do suffer from it, then you might go the other way around, take Ubuntu and work on making it smarter.
Overall, 9/10, with no networking thingie included. Better QA is required, including various errors, browser link opening consistency and a few extra issues there and then, but these are expected, and are not that many considering the scope and complexity of the project. The networking bug takes whole five points off the scale, down to 4/10. Shame really, otherwise, it's an extremely useful, well-packaged product.
Many thanks to Tin, who first suggested the distro. Since, I had some twenty people ask for the review, so I can't thank them all here, but their recommendation is much appreciated. Next week, we will check out Maverick Meerkat!
Update: The lead developer, Stephen Ewen, of the distribution has contacted me and informed me that I may have inadvertently downloaded a pre-release edition, although I've used the official download channels, so this could explain some of the issues. I cannot ascertain this, since I have not tested UberStudent since, so it's you call, dear readers.