Updated: May 16, 2009; November 30, 2009
Note: Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala has been released and I have a review, if you're interested. Among the things reviewed, you will find: Wireless, Bluetooth, multimedia, partitioning, enabling extra repositories, new stuff like Ubuntu One, new themes and icons, the new Software Center, a more streamlined installation process, virtual machine behavior, as well as many issues and problems encountered.
Note: This article was written approx. 3 weeks before the official release, therefore some things that were true for the Beta version may no longer apply. For a list of changes and latest news on Jaunty, you are welcome to visit my Updates page. The article addresses important issues regarding proprietary drivers, Compiz, Google Earth problem, Totem MP3 codecs search, and others. It has been split from this review to keep things tidy and in order. Oh, you may also want to read about the much improved boot times.
When it comes to Ubuntu, usually, I skip spring releases and focus on autumn editions, as I've found them to be more cultivated and more responsive to my needs. This time, I decided to break tradition and give the latest Ubuntu release beta a whirl.
The way I see it, Ubuntu is pretty much like Volkswagen Golf (Rabbit for North Americans). When a new version comes out, you have a hard time finding the differences. There are some subtle visual changes here and there, but overall, it feels pretty much the same like the last one.
Then, you start using it and begin to appreciate the stability and quality. You also start seeing reason in the conservative approach while slowly warming up to the small changes added, which after a while become cozy and smart. You realize the great has become greater.
Ubuntu has been this way for at least four last releases. Being used to certain ways and methods, I would mildly grumble about the changes, then accept them and eventually learn to love and appreciate them.
Reading about what Ubuntu 9.04 brings, it does not seem like much: the latest Gnome edition, the shortened boot times, some visual polish, new filesystem support, and a few other items. It's exactly this conservatism that makes Ubuntu so appealing. You get the same old product, the things are pretty much the way they used to be, on top of which comes a sprinkling of new stuff. There should be no bad surprises. Let's see if Jaunty Jackalope can live up to the promise.
Today, I'm going to test Ubuntu 9.04 on three machines - my two laptops and a virtual machine for the installation. We'll see how well Jackalope behaves when it comes to Wireless and Bluetooth on both T42 and T61. We'll also check webcam, multimedia and Samba support. Then, we will review the new stuff added, Compiz effects, and then some. Finally, we will install Ubuntu 9.04. As a bonus, we will also talk about some popular third party programs.
Last but not the least, bear in mind that as we're speaking, Jackalope is still a beta with two weeks left before the official release. My previous experiences with Ubuntu betas showed good stability and consistent results overall, still some things may yet change. Accordingly, I will update the article if needed with news on updates, fixes, changes, new software, or anything else important.
Now, let's test Jaunty.
Live CD experience
One of the main focuses of this spring release was the shortening of the boot time. While I have not conducted any empirical studies yet - we will talk about boot profiling in a separate article - it does feel that Ubuntu 9.04 both boots and shuts down faster. The boot progress bar has also changed; it's thinner and sports new colors.
The desktop remains the same. Unlike previous releases, the mascot wallpaper is not set by default. Instead, the classic brown shades are used.
You can also see that I have mounted an external 2GB NTFS-formatted USB drive, which hosts the Windows-based MojoPac virtualization software. In comparison to previous releases, Ubuntu 9.04 makes the mounting experience more pleasant by using the relevant third-party software icons on the target device for display.
This was the first test. On the T42, things worked great. On the T61, there was no wireless, which comes as a rather shocking surprise, because wireless on Ubuntu 8.10 worked well on the same machine. I will be reporting this to the Ubuntu development team, so the issue can be sorted out. Might be a beta thingie, though ... On T42, things went as smoothly as always. You can also notice the new notification style, which feels quite elegant.
Compared to Ubuntu 8.10, Jackalope has a new, friendlier Bluetooth wizard, which makes things ever so simpler.
This was done on T61, as T42 lacks a camera. Like Ubuntu 8.10, Jaunty did not disappoint, although I did struggle a little with the new Ekiga interface, trying to get the camera to work. Once I figured the buttons, it worked as expected.
For more about web camera support, you may wish to take a look at this article.
Before I could test multimedia support, I had to pull my test suite of files in proprietary formats from a Windows machine. As always, Ubuntu had no problem connecting, even via encrypted wireless.
Compared to some distributions that have no problems with shipping proprietary software, like PCLinuxOS or LinuxMint, Ubuntu may seem a little too spartan for the average user. Luckily, obtaining the missing bits is extremely simple.
When I hit the Youtube page, Firefox prompted me to install missing media. This was done quickly and painlessly, and I was able to enjoy my favorite musical piece. The procedure remains the same compared to earlier releases. Flash playback was smooth and the audio quality was good.
If you want to learn more about Flash installation in general, including alternative methods, you may want to take a look at my Flash tutorial.
I hit a small snag here. As expected, Totem complained about missing codecs. But when it tried to search for them, it failed.
However, I then used the Add/Remove Applications utility to look for the GStreamer plugins, and lo and behold, they were there and installed without any problems.
After the packages were installed, MP3 files played well, with one small exception: Totem video refused to be recorded when screenshots were taken. I guess this has to do with misconfigured Xorg - or similar, but this is something that has not happened to me before with Ubuntu, so I can't say I like it.
Graphic drivers & Compiz
It turns out the 3D graphics have taken a turn for the worst. This could be a beta issue, however neither the ATI drivers on T42 nor the Nvidia drivers on T61 were offered for installation via the Hardware Drivers system utility. In both cases, it reported no proprietary drivers in use on the machine.
This means that either: a) drivers are missing b) open-source drivers are used to support these devices. Whatever the answer is, I do not like it, as I want official drivers to support my cards.
Just to be sure, I made a number of checks to see whether Ubuntu 8.10 running the proprietary drivers could compare (for better or worse) with whatever generic modules Jaunty is using. I did this on the T42 machine. First, I ran lsmod to see what driver each release was using. Then, I ran the glxgears utility, as a rough estimate of the performance the graphic card was yielding.
On average, Intrepid was yielding 2000+ FPS, loaded with Compiz, Emerald, and quite a few other visual effects.
On Jaunty, here are the results:
Even though Jaunty is running the basic scheme with no desktop effects whatsoever, it has approx. 1700 FPS only, some 15% less than Intrepid with proprietary ATI drivers. So definitely, I'm not pleased with the change.
On T61, the problem was even bigger. When I accessed the Appearance utility and tried to enable Extra effects, the X session restarted and came up with no effects enabled. On T42, the effects worked as expected, though. Compiz was another showstopper ...
I tried to enable it, having found that it has already installed (via Synaptic). But I could not locate the Compiz settings manager anywhere, including the repositories. This is what I have on Intrepid:
On Jaunty, even though compiz is installed, according to Synaptic, starting it is a no-go. Likewise, locating the compizconfig-settings-manager (ccsm) package in Synaptic was impossible.
Live CD wise, Jaunty has some ups and some downs compared to its predecessor, mostly downs. In my opinion, it's less refined than Intrepid, with several glaring display/graphics issues that cannot be ignored. The biggest problem are the lack of proper drivers for the graphic cards and the inability to use or change Compiz. I must say I was disappointed somewhat. Still, I decided to continue the testing and see what good things Jaunty offers after all.
We should also talk about the next stuff introduced.
Styles & themes
As we've already seen, Jackalope has a new notification style. If you want more examples, then you may want to take a look at the official Canonical demo movie.
The Synaptic Package Manager also features a Get Screenshot button, shown in the context of the description field for all searched packages, allowing you to take a peek at what the new application you're about to install looks like. Currently though, there are no screenshots available.
Another thing is the Firefox start page. It's been revised, with a simpler, cleaner look:
Jackalope also sports a new, very sexy login screen:
Furthermore, there's a new desktop theme, called New Wave, which sorts dark gray colors and sharp looks, feeling crisp and modern.
The window buttons are particularly lovely:
Ubuntu 9.04 comes with the standard array of goodies: Firefox, Brasero, OpenOffice 3, GIMP. Additionally, it also includes a small number of new programs.
Janitor is one of them. It is a system cleaning utility that will remove orphaned packages and suggest configuration changes. If you're uncomfortable running clean, autoclean and autoremove commands from the command line, Janitor is well suited for you.
However, please take into account that Janitor will also flag third-party applications, even if they work perfectly well. For example, here's Janitor in action marking Skype and Picasa as potential candidates for removal. Although it does explain the programs may have been installed from an unofficial archive, you need to be careful.
We will talk about Skype and Picasa, as well as several other third-party applications soon. Another highlight of the spring release is the beginning of integration of Ubuntu with the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) services, the new craze of the digital world. Plans call for tight support between Ubuntu and Amazon in the 9.10 release. For now, Ubuntu offers a program called Eucalyptus, which simulates the services of the Amazon cloud, allowing to test-deploy your own Amazon environment locally.
This is particularly useful for SOHO businesses, which cannot afford massive spendings on testing Amazon live, especially considering bandwidth costs. Amazon is not something many home users will be using massively, but it is ideal for flexible business needs.
As someone who has dabbled into Amazon and seen the great potential of this concept, I promise you this is going to be a great hit. We will be talking about Amazon in much greater length in the future. The basic arsenal is not big, but adding new programs can be easily done using the superb Synaptic or apt-get.
Here, a new wave of problems hit me - although not directly related to the installation itself. I booted Jackalope in VMware Server and came up into a session with Nautilus spawning instances like mad. The CPU utilization was 100% and the desktop was unresponsive. I could play with the menu and other applications, but the right-click against the desktop would not work and opening folders also failed.
I managed to get control of the desktop by executing killall against Nautilus in terminal, but it took nearly five minutes for all instances to die. What more, the desktop wallpaper was gone, the right-click was gone and so was any function using Nautilus. This has nothing to do with VMware, it seems, this is a known bug. In VirtualBox, there were no issues like that. Curiously, last time, it was VirtualBox that had issues with the beta release of Intrepid, when I tested it.
Despite the Nautilus bug, I was able to install Jackalope in about 10 minutes in VMware Server. The installation itself remains unchanged. It's as simple as it used to be.
The timezone menu in the installation wizard has changed, featuring a bright bar of light for the selected zone.
The partitioning remains a breeze. For fun, I chose the new EXT4 filesystem for the root partition. This caused no issues during the installation or afterwards. The installation completed faster than on previous releases.
After the installation, the Nautilus bug remained, rendering the VMware installation quite unusable. However, after updating the system to the latest kernel version, the bug was gone. Therefore, my advice for all people encountering this kind of problem is to update the system, reboot and see if it remains. This should solve the annoying Nautilus issue.
I was back to having the good ole Ubuntu, as intended. These are problems that will always occur in the pre-release stages, so if you do choose to test an operating system before it's officially ready, be aware of the drawbacks and make sure you have sufficient knowledge to solve them.
I checked several more things, which you would like to know about, especially if you intend to test the beta version before the official release. Installation of both VMware Tools and Guest Additions in VMware Server and VirtualBox, respectively, succeeded without any problems.
Samba sharing (server)
In addition to accessing existing shares on your network, you may also want to allow other computers to connect to your Ubuntu host. This can be done by right-clicking on any which folder and sharing it. Jackalope will inform you that it needs to download several missing packages. Let it.
After this is done, configure your share and logout/login back into the session for the changes to take effect. If you recall my tutorial that on sharing, which dealt a fair bit on how to accomplish this from the command line, the entire procedure has become so much simpler.
The great features introduced in Intrepid remain, including the ability to create bootable USB disks, tabs in Nautilus, Deskbar, plugins, etc.
In addition to testing the usual stuff, I also wanted to see how well Jackalope fares when it comes to third-party software, something my readers have always expressed a keen interest in. So, as an answer to the numerous emails you've sent me, here's a brief overview.
I have done a fair share of this type of testing on Ubuntu 8.10, some of which I covered in the namesake review, so today's repertoire may seem repetitive, especially for those of you who follow my articles frequently, still it does not hurt to read. Please note that this sub-section has nothing to do with Jackalope itself, it's more of a bonus really.
These include the media-rich programs like Skype, Google Earth, Picasa, Java, and other third-party software. Let's what gives here.
I've downloaded the latest beta version from the official site and executed the script from the command line using (sudo) ./GoogleEarth.bin.
The application installed but failed to start. It turns out it uses a certain library, named libcrypto, that does not work well and fails the application. The solution to the issue was to rename the libcrypto module located in the Google Earth installation path directory and create a symbolic link to the libcrypto module used by the system.
Inside the directory where you installed Google Earth (during the setup), rename the module shipped by Google to anything you like.
Then, in the same directory, create a symbolic link to the system library:
After this, Google Earth will run as expected:
This is another popular Google application. On Intrepid, it was still in a beta state when I tested. Although it is emulated using WINE, Picasa ran well on Ubuntu 8.10. Today, the results were even better than the last time. The package is more streamlined, runs faster and more smoothly and consumes less system resources. The installation is done using a .deb package, so it's as simple as double-clicking in Windows.
Opera is a closed-source browser that tends to be quite popular with users who want a fast, one-has-it-all utility. Like Picasa, the installation is done using a .deb package, so it's very simple:
The browser retains its Windows fonts, though.
Like the last time, the installation is a simple affair (.deb package). On Intrepid, one of my complaints was the bad contrast between fonts and background colors when using the Dark theme. On the other hand, the integration with the all-gray New Wave is quite good.
You will most likely be hard-tempted to try this one, since you have so many excellent choices for a multimedia player, like Totem, MPlayer, VLC, and others, but if you're a recent Windows convert, old habits may take some time dying.
I downloaded the .bin package from the official website. One thing you'll have to do before running the package (from the command line) is to make is executable. Google does this for you with its Google Earth, sparing you a step in the setup process.
After this, you'll be able to execute the installer (./<real-player-package-name>.bin).
Installing Java has always been a little complicated on Linux. Usually, you had to install a number of packages from the command-line - and finding the right ones was a bit tricky. Java comes in many flavors and versions (JRE, JDK, SDK, etc), so this can be confusing, even to more knowledgeable users.
Add/Remove does the job. Searching for Java and then selecting the basic Java Runtime Environment (JRE) package and the browser plugin. That's it.
And you have Java configured on your system. To test it, I tried the legendary Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy game, which is written in Java.
Ubuntu 9.04 is no different than most modern distros. The repositories are rich in great titles. All you need to do is open the package manager and look for them. Nothing nearly as impressive as the plethora of games Windows users have, still it's a good start.
Searching for games is as simple as firing up the Add/Remove utility and looking for favorite titles. The popularity rating also helps filter out interesting choices; for example, AlienArena is a great First Person Shooter (FPS):
For more about Linux games, here's a whole load of articles.
Extrapolating from experiences of a beta release onto the final product is not a wise thing to do, so I will try to refrain from being overly negative. Nevertheless, I do feel something is amiss with Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope. The good trend of small changes remains, along with the overall stability of Ubuntu products, however there's a whole new bucket of issues coming along with this release.
Whether it's bad luck, timing or the illness of beta releases, which I doubt considering previous experience with Ubuntu in the last three years, Jackalope is for a tough fight.
The observation is entirely subjective, of course. There have been quite a few problems with Intrepid, too, mainly revolving around problematic network manager and static IP address configuration and suspend/hibernate functionality on laptops. Although I have personally been spared the wrath of these problems, I am aware of their existence.
Still, I draw my experiences from booting Jackalope on three different machines, including an old laptop with ATI drivers, a new laptop with Nvidia drivers, both with Intel-based processors and an AMD desktop, all of which showed issues with the beta release.
Truth to be told, Jackalope seems to have weathered the old problems, but new ones have cropped up. The loss of drivers functionality for graphic cards is a big one. Compiz can be lived without, although there is no reason why it should be so. The Nautilus bug is a pure beta issue and it is solved rather easily, so we can delete it from the list.
On the bright side, Ubuntu remains Ubuntu. It has improved visually, bringing a few refreshing touches to the old look. Boot times have also shortened. There's also an impression of a more lively response to user inputs, indicating an optimized performance.
Weighing the benefits against the downsides, I think Ubuntu 9.04 is an interesting product, but it will have a hard time replacing the last autumn extremely well streamlined release. For now, I would advise the users to wait with their upgrades or fresh installs until the graphics-related issues have been ironed out. I'm not talking about beta-specific bugs.
I will closely monitor the resolution of said problems and report them back here in periodic updates sub-section. It is quite likely that the issues will be resolved only when 9.10 comes out. Then again, it reminds me why I have always prophetically skipped spring releases.
Nevertheless, the Volkswagen Golf kind of magic has already started working its charms into my bloodstream. It's been approx. 2 days since I've first picked up Jaunty and I'm beginning to like it more by the hour. Were it not for graphic card issues and Compiz, which I'm so very fond of and am using it wherever I can, I might have been inclined to give this release a nice 9. As it is, it's currently hovering around 7. But we'll see how things progress.
That would be all for today. Stay tuned for updates.