Updated: November 12, 2008; May 16, 2009
Note: Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope has been released. For many more details, you may want to read my extensive review, covering a broad range of topics, as well as the Updates article that documents changes, fixes and new tips and tricks.
Note: It's been two weeks since Intrepid Ibex has been released. I have decided to perform yet another round of testing and see what the finalized version of this great distro brings us. If you were thinking about features like the Service script or creating bootable USBs, then you're right on track. We'll talk about web camera support, too. See Updates - Ubuntu released for many more details ...
Note: Following numerous requests from readers, I have decided to significantly expand the article; see Updates section below Conclusions for many more details ...
Ubuntu 8.10, the latest version of a phenomenally popular and successful distro, is supposed to hit the world scene on October 30. Being a fervent fan and a loyal user of the Ubuntu family for quite some time now, especially the autumn releases, I have decided that I could not wait and that I had to test the Beta build and get the first impression of the newcomer.
Naturally, the first thing I did was check the live CD.
Live CD impressions
I popped in the CD into my Dell 420 laptop and let it boot. After about a minute or so, I was logged in a typical Ubuntu desktop. Just like with Sabayon, which I have tested a couple of months ago, I decided to see how well Ubuntu interacted with my hardware, most importantly the wireless adapter and the Bluetooth. There were no bad surprises. Everything worked out of the box.
I clicked on the Bluetooth icon and let it search for devices. It spotted my Nokia cell phone, going by the name of Klitoban, immediately. I let it connect to the phone - and lo and behold - my phone was asking me for permission to establish connection with ubuntu-0.
I left-clicked on the network icon and had a choice of trying my own routers or piggy-back onto one of the neighbors. I chose mine ... of course.
And so I powered the Firefox:
Intrepid Ibex had drivers ready for all my hardware. There was no need for any proprietary drivers. I could use the visual effects to their maximum. Ah yes, there's the a new Human theme, done in superbly pleasing dark brown colors. A real treat.
Combined, the wobbly windows and the new color scheme really made for a fabulous experience. Notice the warped top edge of the menu, a humble demonstration of the visual effects.
And here's the wireless connection choice, shown in the new Human theme!
My USB DVD drive was working, naturally. Furthermore, I had to plug in a small thumb drive to save all the screenshots, as the hard disk is encrypted. Ubuntu recognized the drive immediately.
Score: a perfect 10/10.
Update: another laptop tested, see Updates for more details ...
Installation - 7 easy steps, 15 minutes
The installation was a milk run. Nothing new here, the simple, friendly menus, boosted with some new graphics. The most refreshing change was the partitioning menu, which sports big, bright colors.
Overall, it was the same old, smooth business.
Score: a perfect 10/10.
Well, we have already seen perfect hardware detection and the dead-sexy new Human theme. But that's not all. Ubuntu brings many more goodies to the table.
As a side note, please take into account that I have written this article by collecting information and screenshots from four different hosts. If you notice differences in date, themes and screen resolution, do not let this bother you.
I decided to see how the update function worked. Although this is still a beta build, everything worked well. I was offered a distro upgrade, which I did. Apart from slow download, which is probably because the beta repositories get a lower priority than official ones, everything went well. Update: The repositories seem to have been beefed up; the downloads are quite reasonable now.
I do not know the exact details of the upgrade - it was probably one of the daily builds - except the desktop wallpaper changed. But nothing was broken. There were no errors, nothing stalled. Superb.
This is one of the more talked-about features. The Private folder allows users to create their own private, encrypted folder inside their home directory, which can be a boon against theft or privacy issues, especially on a multi-user machine or a laptop.
Unfortunately, the feature could have been done with more of the usual Ubuntu friendliness. The encryption is a geeky feature, but the geekiness has not been stripped away.
First, it does not come installed by default. The application has to be downloaded and then, a configuration script needs to be run. Here's the set of commands to make it all work:
Second, the users are forced to run text commands through terminal. The configuration script is slightly alarming, especially the warning about the passphrase and the salt thing. Furthermore, it almost forces the user into an awkward position of storing a sensitive piece of credentials somewhere on the machine, which kind of denies the whole privacy thing.
After the Private folder is created, its icon is mounted onto the desktop. This does not sound like the best idea. All in all, it feels rushed out and not very well thought out.
To make this successful - because geeks can use TrueCrypt any time they want - it has to be build-in into the operating system, not something that users have to download, it has to be GUI driven and only prompt for a secure password, nothing more. I sincerely hope this thing will become more usable. For now, I don't think it's worth the effort.
Score: a meager 5/10.
Nautilus is the default file manager used in the Gnome desktop environment. It has always been simple and usable. Now, it has become even better. You have tabs, just like in a normal browser (e.g. Firefox, Opera), which allows you to navigate through different parts of the filesystem independently, without opening several instances of Nautilus.
This is a great feature and it stands to logic. The terminal has tabs, the browser has tabs, even gedit, the text editor, has tabs. So why not Nautilus.
The network manager certainly works. The live CD session experience is a testament to this. It seems much more refined and robust. Furthermore, different aspects of networking, like VPN tunneling and, have all been combined into a single interface. This is a definite improvement. Way to go, guys!
Update: Additional features tested, see Updates for more details ...
Some of the buttons have been redesigned. Take the shutdown button, for example. Depending on whether you access it via the menu or click on the red button in the top right corner, you'll get different - but new - looks. All in all, it's nothing major or intrusive.
Overall, the new things sum up mainly to improved GUI and some usability changes. The Private folders does spoil the picture, but hopefully, it will be ironed out into something useful and great in the future.
There are many of these. Intrepid Ibex comes with a perfect live CD experience, which is critical, especially since the live CD session can be the difference between a happy new user and a disappointed customer, who will toss the CD away. This could not have been done in a better way. Laptop users will especially appreciate the hardware support.
Then, there's the installation, as simple as always. And after the distro is installed on the system, you get the same old friendly Ubuntu, fast, responsive and simple, with improved accessibility to daily functions.
There are very few. Putting aside the usual Beta stuff, like misplaced letters here and there and some overlap of menus and icons at different resolutions, the Private folder feature seems like the only downside. Ubuntu 8.10 does feel like a very well made distro.
Ubuntu gets a lovely 9/10 score. It feels good. As simple as that. If you disregard the Private folders option, which is merely okay, Ubuntu is another great step of the already proven family of distros.
Remember my Gutsy Gibbon review? Well, the change from Edge to Gibbon was simply revolutionary. Today, Gibbon via Heron via Ibex has become more of a trend than a revolution. Ubuntu is a veteran and only gets better with age.
Old issues like drivers installation, wireless support, NTFS support, and similar issues that plagued everyone, even myself, seem to be gone. Of course, while my testing is limited to a small number of hosts and a rather personal experience, I do believe it is indicative. In the past, I was forced to manually configure and install drivers. This is no longer an issue.
Confident in this knowledge, the Ubuntu team have gone out to iron the crinkles of the smaller, less fundamental problems that plagued the distro. Ubuntu 8.10 is mainly a sweet, soft upgrade of a sweet distro.
If you want to test the beta, you can download it at the official Ubuntu site. Please do remember that beta means beta, so you should be careful with when and how you use it. Although I have not noticed anything untowardly, do use some discretion. That said, great job. Now, all that is left is wait for October 30 ... Have a good day.
Dear readers, I have received lots of feedback from you, both praising and criticizing the article's content. I am glad for your responses, since they help me improve my content. Indeed, following your requests, I have added quite a bit of extra content.
The distro has been tested more extensively, including hardware support on yet another laptop, the support for Guest Addons in VirtualBox and VMware Tools in VMware Server and the functionality of the new network manager.
Furthermore, I have tested additional software, including MP3 codec playback, Flash in Firefox, Java, Skype, Google Maps, Picasa, and more. I hope you will find the new details both informative and interesting.
More about hardware support ...
I have taken my wife's laptop into action, IBM ThinkPad T43 and tested how it fared. Again, the results were positive. Wireless and Bluetooth worked flawlessly. Compared to my Dell, the live CD booted into 1024x768 resolution rather than 1280x1024.
I also decided to test the suspend (hibernate) function. It worked. However, after resuming the session, the dhclient crashed, preventing me from reestablishing the network connection.
This might be a live CD problem, since information is entirely kept in the memory rather than committed to the disk, but it's worth mentioning.
In addition to small, expected visual glitches, the Gnome Desktop Manager (GDM) would not always successfully load, especially following an update. Restarting Gnome solved the problem each time (by pressing Ctrl + Alt + Backspace). This seems to be a typical pre-release issue.
VirtualBox & VMware Server
If you plan to run Ubuntu virtualized, you will want to know how they behave and whether the new version works with Guess Addons / VMware Tools.
I could not install the Guest Addons, even after upgrading to the latest daily build. Playing with kernel headers and the build essential packages did not help. This is a serious drawback, but I believe it will be sorted in the official release, since Gutsy and Hardy work without any problems.
The installation of VMware Tools went flawlessly. This leads me to believe that the problem mentioned above is a minor one and will be solved soon.
More about the Network Manager ...
One of the points raised was the new Network Manager does not allow users to setup their IP address to a static value. While this claim sounds alarming, it is, fortunately, incorrect. It is possible - and quite easily, too - to change the DHCP address to a static IP address. Here's how:
Right-click on the network icon in the top panel, Edit connections. Under Wired, select one of the displayed connections and then click Edit. In the Editing <network interface> windows, click on the IPv4 Settings tab.
Under Method, change from DHCP to Manual. In the Addresses, click Add, then provide the relevant information (IP, netmask, gateway, DNS etc). Finally, most important, untick the System setting option.
Once you click OK, the network will restart and you'll have your new, static IP address:
Nothing new here. The things remains the same like in Hardy Heron. When you try to play a file, you are prompted to download codecs. The Synaptic Package Manager will then present you with a number of choices, which you will have to confirm. After that, the codecs will be download and installed and you'll be able to enjoy MP3 playback.
For a detailed tutorial how to achieve this, try Playing MP3 music files in Linux - Tutorial.
Flash Player in Firefox
Unlike Ubuntu 8.04, the current Beta does not prompt you to download missing plugins. You need to download the Flash Player manually and install it by yourself. Hopefully, this will change in the official release. Luckily, the procedure is very simple. In fact, you only need to download a .deb installer and run it!
You can also installer from an archive (.tar.gz). Fore details how to work with an archive, please check my Sabayon Linux - a Gentoo Beauty - Overview & Tutorial - Page 5 article. Furthermore, I'll post a short, dedicated tutorial about the Flash Player in Linux very soon. Stay tuned.
This may not be my favorite image / album editor, but it is quite popular. It is a choice of many a Windows user, so being able to run the same application on Linux should definitely be of interest. The installation of the latest Picasa 3 Beta went smoothly.
The program runs well, although it is somewhat sluggish. This can be blamed on the the fact that it does not run natively and uses WINE and that both Ubuntu and Picasa tested here are indeed beta versions. However, there were no cardinal glitches, leading me to believe that the performance issue will be ironed out.
While it is entirely possible that you will use Pidgin for instant messaging using a range of protocols, like MSN, Yahoo, ICQ, and others, you may prefer the standalone Skype. Controversial issues regarding its encryption and use in corporate networks aside, Skype is a reasonable choice for chat and video conferencing.
The download choice for Ubuntu is limited to Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon, but the installation went smoothly, without any problems. The program is also responsive.
The one problem that does show up is that Skype does not integrate well into the new Human theme and you're better off using it with a palette of lighter colors.
Again, there were no problems. I download the GoogleEarthLinux.bin file, which is the installation script for the application, and ran it from the command line:
The installation was quick and simple.
Google Earth works well and is quite responsive. Again, I may not be the prime consumer of Earth seen through the lenses of satellites, but many people do like this tool and will find the seamless integration comforting.
Java installation was also simple. You simply need to install three packages to get it to work:
After that, you'll have java installed and running. No issues here.
Conclusion, part 2
The second round of testing has left me confident in my initial impression. The "new" small drawbacks arising are: the occasional crash of the Gnome, the inability to install Guest Addons in VirtualBox and the new Human theme does not blend well with all the applications, especially third-party ones (e.g. Skype).
On the other hand, the fact I could install VMware Tools leads me to believe that the VirtualBox problem is temporary and will be soon solved. Similarly, the Gnome crash, while not welcome, is to be expected in a pre-release version. Given the known stability of previous Ubuntu releases, this should be solved before October 30.
The hardware support is also quite good. The two laptops I've used to test the distro did not disappoint me. There was an issue with the suspend feature on the ThinkPad, but this might be a live CD issue. Otherwise, the hardware functioned great, including the graphic cards.
The old-school geeks might lament the fact that there is no longer a need to manually hack the sources to get the drivers to work. But the fact is, Ubuntu has reached a level where users will not have to spend hours on the command line trying to get the most basic things done. Most people do not know, want or like the idea of having to troubleshoot hardware / software problems on their machines. The full-functionality transparency managed through the GUI only is a blessing. Of course, if you're in a mood for some hardcore Linux stuff, you might want to read my Apache Web server - Complete Guide.
All in all, the 9/10 grade is well deserved. This is a great distro. And considering we're still in the beta stage, it's only going to get better and better. So, for the second time, enjoy!
Updates - Ubuntu released
I was considering creating a separate article, but it's best to have everything under a single, unified title. Now ... Here we go, another round of testing. Two weeks have gone by. Now that the distro has been officially released, let's see what new features it brings us. We'll talk about creating bootable USB disks, the Service script, web camera support, live streaming in Totem Player, the Deskbar, the Guest account, and more.
Create a USB startup disk
Ubuntu now allows you to create a USB startup disk. This is similar to features already present in several distributions like PCLinuxOS or Dreamlinux - or to what Pendrivelinux does.
Another highly useful tool for creating bootable images of your distro is Remastersys. You may want to refer to my tutorial for more details.
One of the things that I have always found somewhat lacking in non-RedHat distros was the missing Service script. Nothing so convenient as starting and stopping services by using the simple, intuitive syntax: service name start/stop. In previous versions of Ubuntu, you had to use the full path to the service daemon, usually something along the line of /etc/init.d/name start/stop. No more.
While nothing revolutionary, this is a refreshing addition, especially for the lazy or people used to the RedHat way of thinking when it comes to administering the system.
Web camera support
You might be asking yourselves: what about web cameras? Well, I have a new laptop, a Lenovo T61, which comes with an integrated web camera, so this looked like a great opportunity to test how well Ubuntu supports this feature.
For a more detailed review of Linux web camera support in several popular distributions, please refer to this separate, aptly-named article:
Web camera support in Linux - Popular distros reviewed.
Now, if you're just interested in Ubuntu results, here's a snippet:
I powered up Ekiga, the open-source VoIP and video conferencing application while still booted in the live CD session. After configuring it briefly, I clicked on the web camera icon on the left to see whether my web camera would work. It did.
Indeed, it was supported out of the box. Very nice.
Totem Movie Player streaming plugins
The excellent multimedia player now also features plugins for live streaming for Youtube and BBC. This allows you to watch online content from these websites without bothering to use the web browser. It will also search for relevant codecs, too!
Deskbar is installed, but not added by default to your desktop. You can add it to any panel by right-clicking on the relevant panel > Add to panel ... and then choosing Deskbar. This applet allows you to quickly search for items of interest from within the desktop. Think of it as a sort of a desktop-integrated Ubiquity.
An interesting and useful introduction to Intrepid is the Guess session, which allows you to quickly switch between your user and the super-underprivileged Guess account, which seems like a great solution if you have friends or guests over in need of computer, whom you do not really wish to have access to your private stuff. For instance, the guest won't be able to use sudo or list the contents of the home directory.
For fun, here's a screenshot of a Windows desktop, captured via remote connection. This option has been along quite some time, so here's an opportunity to show it.
Conclusion, part 3
Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex is a sweet, friendly distro. It is well rounded, with many useful new features specially aimed at increasing comfort and usefulness of the modern computer user. Lots of care and effort have been invested in smoothing rough edges, polishing the geeky ends and making sure Ubuntu is up to date in being a serious contestant to market leaders, like Microsoft and Apple. Ubuntu gets better and better and I'm truly pleased about this autumn release. Well, what more can I say?