Updated: October 20, 2010
The Autumn Fever has officially started with the release of the latest Ubuntu edition, a funnily named 10.10 Maverick Meerkat. While you may wonder what kind of happiness inducing drugs the creative team at Canonical is using, you will surely want to know how well the operating system performs. That's why you're here, to read the best review of them all. No fluff, just pure hardcore quality.
Being Maverick Meerkat is not easy. Lucid Lynx was a phenomenal release. And usually, after a good king comes a bad king. For example, Karmic was a bit of a bomb. This precarious legacy puts Ubuntu's last release at stake. How good is it? Can it be better than its father?
Today, I will do a relatively modest review - only two laptops, including T60 and RD510. On the high-end machine, Maverick will be installed in the growing multi-boot configuration as the eighth operating system, alongside a handful of Lucids, one or two older Ubuntu releases, a Mint, Fedora, and an openSUSE. It will run from an external disk.
I will show you a handful of old stuff; we'll discuss the usual Wireless, Bluetooth, multimedia, and suchlike. We will also re-examine the seriously revamped installation. Then, some new stuff. I will try to stream radio using the Microsoft Media Server (MMS) protocol, as requested by one of my readers. I will show you simple/difficult it is to hookup new printers in an easy manner, again requested by one of my would-be fans. And then, we will discuss performance, memory usage, boot times, and more.
It's the usual goodies, plus new goodies. Melee!
Live session, gooder than before
Ubuntu 10.10 is its typical self. The desktop is adorned in black and aubergine with a tinge of orange, the new color scheme of the distribution, first introduced in Lucid. It looks and feels professional.
P.S. The sub-title is not a typo, it's stylish art.
By usual, I mean Wireless, Bluetooth, Samba, Web camera. No nasty surprises. You're by now used to having the easy comfort of smooth integration, as I've shown you on many an occasion, including the latest installation of Lucid on my HP Pavilion laptop. Still, you can't be too careful.
Not much has changed, but there's a handful of small, incremental fixes that really boost the overall impression. There's also quite a bit of improvement underneath the hood, but we will talk about these after the system is installed.
Fonts have changed, and so have the window minimize and maximize buttons. Maverick now uses the same super-sexy fonts called Droid seen in Moblin and MeeGo as well as some editions of Fedora. A good change. Then, the buttons also make sense.
Hardware drivers are no longer called Restricted. They are now called Additional drivers, which no longer sounds scary, geeky or crippled. I have complained about this in my Lucid review, and lo and behold, fixed! Either someone had read my review or great minds think alike - or both. However, the notification popup still reads Restricted. Boom! QA guy, owned!
There's a new photo management program called Shotwell. Didn't seem to work that well for me in the past, but now, it's been polished and does the job as expected.
Ubuntu Software Center has undergone further changes. Another rebranding, plus it works more smoothly now. It's faster and smarter. It's becoming more and more usable, which is a good thing.
Some things still remain a bit annoying. Keyboard Input is no longer called iBus in the System menu, but once you click on the icon, you're still greeted with geek lingo:
It gets worse after the system is installed, with even more keyboard input menu entries and options, none of which make any sense to me and probably 99.96% of the world's population. The language part remains untouched. It will hopefully be sorted out in the next release.
Installation - A revolution
If there's one aspect of the Ubuntu distribution that has undergone serious changes, it's the installation procedure. It looks better than ever before, plus it's much smarter, better organized, less geek information, more parallelization. Let's take a look.
Prepare to install - Get your updates and codecs!
Instead of choosing the keyboard and the timezone as steps 2 and 3, you're taken into a configuration menu, which lets you configure your installation in a very wicked manner. First, you can download updates while installing. This means you'll have the most up to date system available on the first boot, including security patches and important bug fixes. Second, you can install additional software, like Flash and MP3 codecs. Finally!
I have complained about this in the past, too. As critical commentary in my role as a pseudo-journalist slash Linux reviewer, I recommended adding a wrapper script that would take care of the codecs, without any breach of copyright laws. Indeed, Meerkat solves this issue once and for all. The proprietary software is not bundled, but the user has the option of adding the codecs and plugins quickly and easily, which allows for a seamless experience later on. Simply fantastic.
This is by far the smartest installation configuration I have seen so far. I wonder why it took so long to implement, unless deliberately, to create the wow effect, which shows Mr. Shuttleworth has a lot of bling in his head.
The partitioning has also been made easier. Fewer color bars that could confuse the typical user. Smart choices overall, improving the usability and reducing the fear factor.
Unlike openSUSE though, there's no default automatic separate partition for home. If this were to be implemented, Ubuntu installation could become the best Linux installer of them all. For now, openSUSE 11.3 has the lead, with its more refined partition management.
The installer has a fixed size, so you won't be able to resize the device list, which happens on RedHat-based distributions like CentOS and Fedora, too. This can be annoying if you look for aesthetics. Nothing major, but worth considering.
There's also BTRFS available, although it's probably not as stable as you may want. Including the option has its merits, but could be dangerous for less knowledgeable users, especially since Ubuntu tries to cater to Windows converts and newbies.
Once you configure the partitions and the bootloader, Install Now button will start the procedure. Don't worry, you will have the option of configuring the keyboard, the timezone and your user settings while the installer is copying data, saving you time.
You can type in your timezone rather than use a massive scrollbar, which is quite neat. Similarly, there's a guess function for your keyboard, if you don't know what fancy words like Dvorak or QWERTY mean.
Maverick assigns smarter names to your machine now, instead of the generic desktop and laptop suffixes. This is useful for people with many laptops, all of which could end up having the same hostname.
Another example, from my RD510 machine:
Note, the names can be pretty long, so choose wisely!
Furthermore, the installer will patiently wait for you until you finish this step, in case you happen to dawdle and let it complete all of the other tasks it had. After you click Forward, it will begin the slideshow and additional configurations, which require your user setup to be complete.
The installation slideshow has seen improvement, too. First, you can actually go back and forth between slideshow images, so if you missed one, nothing sinister will happen. Second, you get featured software recommendations for each category. If you're unfamiliar with Linux software, this is a pointer in the right direction. Very useful for newbies.
The Language packs installation still remains, taking several minutes of your valuable time. Not sure what it does, as I've mentioned in my How to improve Ubuntu article, but it could be made more polished.
You get updates, as promised:
The installation procedure is really amazing. I'm pleased. Whether deliberately planned or sensibly improved as a gradual process of making their product ever better, Ubuntu 10.10 nails it with a near-perfect experience. You get smarter choices, better efficiency and more productivity from the same framework, all with the subtle and pleasant reordering of some of the installation steps.
You now have security, updates and lazy comfort of rich media enabled, less visual clutter, parallelization of tasks, all wrapped in more color and better information for less knowledgeable users. Superb work. 12/10.
Installation procedure on my other laptop ...
On RD510, the setup was more complex. I also had to take into account the bootloader configuration, because Meerkat was not going to be the primary system, hence some need for chainloading.
Now, unlike previous version of Ubuntu, Meerkat did not let me not install GRUB, which seems a bit annoying. You can avoid destroying your existing bootloader by installing GRUB to the root device, but it's not as elegant.
Furthermore, GRUB2 in Maverick uses a different notation for partitions. Instead of the generic hd(X,Y), now you have hd(X,msdosY), which could be a little confusing. You must take this into account when creating complex multi-boot setups. In the end, it all works out, but this could be daunting for less skilled users. When it comes to accessibility, GRUB2 leaves a lot to be desired. Oh, and I should update my tutorial, too.
Thus, the only thing that really stands out in any sort of negative light is yet another change to the GRUB bootloader. C'mon guys, give it a rest. You can't change the notation every two weeks. Who do you expect will follow up on all these changes and make sure the backward compatibility is retained?
If you let the system automatically configure your machines, then fine, all is well. For manual setups, you will have to sweat a little. Excluding GRUB though, which seems kind of a backdrop to the entire story, the installation is extremely smooth.
System installed, let's use it!
On first boot, any data you saved in the live session will be gone, with the exception of Wireless configuration. A simple lazy script could take of that, copying user configurations into the home folder, making the user ever happier.
With the codecs properly installed and configured during the installation, your Ubuntu will now play Flash and MP3 files without any hiccups, offering you a first time ever seamless media playback in a Ubuntu product. Excellent. You need not search for plugins or anything of that sort. It's right there, out of the box.
Under the hood
Without listing kernel version majors and minors, the system utilizes its resources more sensibly, with better power management, less disk wear and refined CPU throttling. ACPI functionality has improved. System stability is great. No errors whatsoever. Suspend and resume work superbly, taking about three seconds to sleep and one to resume.
Memory consumption is about 250MB for the 32-bit edition, which is extremely reasonable. On the 64-bit machine with the Nvidia drivers installed, the memory usage is about 400MB, like it used to be in previous releases.
I must admit I have not explored this yet in detail, but so far, it seems that Ubuntu 10.10 adds a few seconds compared to Lucid. On the T60 machine, it's gone up from 15 seconds to 21 seconds, which is a lot in terms of percentage, but not that much numbers wise.
Will have to examine this some more, though. 20-ish seconds is not bad, but should be improved, considering the fact the predecessor managed 15 seconds without breaking into sweat. For my HP laptop, it's 17 seconds on a 64-bit system, so I wonder how well will Maverick perform there. To be continued.
In this regard, Ubuntu remains the same. Maverick Meerkat has a somewhat spartan default choice, which fits the logic of going more Windows like, whereas the Microsoft systems are doing just the opposite. GIMP has been gone for a while now. But everything is available in the repos. Luckily, using the Software Center is a fun and pleasant activity.
Additional drivers, once again + Compiz effects
On RD510, the Nvidia graphics card was properly recognized. Wunderbar! You get the latest driver, which is 260.19.06. No issues, plus Compiz works as expected.
You've asked for it, so here we go.
So much more simplified than ever before. While in the past you had to manually specify ports and protocols, an unattainable task for most people without detailed tutorials like my own, Maverick Meerkat has an extremely cool automagical Find function.
Just type in the name or the IP address or the name of a host where you expect to find the printer. In my case, it worked great. Now, there's a chance you may not have the drivers for your device, but the discoverability has been immensely improved. For a large variety of desktop printers, it's basically plug and play rather than plug and pray from olden times.
Live radio steaming
A guy named Keith asked me about radio streaming using Microsoft Media Service (MMS) protocol, which he has struggled with in the past. How does Ubuntu fare here? Well, you won't get such a functionality out of the box, but if you install the VLC player and the Firefox plugin, you will. There will be no radio controls, but you will get the stream.
Not perfect, but works reasonably well. Now, I could have recorded some of the audio to show you that the live steam really works, but you will have to take my word for it.
System help offers all the information you need, including the critical music, printing and Internet, but it's all arranged in a cascading saga of links, with no images, which does not appeal to the common user. With visualization so dramatically improved in the installation process, a more refined desktop help would be a blessing. Adding a suave PDF guide with tons of screenshots would be smart.
Overall, I'm extremely pleased with Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat. It fixes some of the old ill, but does not introduce any new ones. This is good. Now, the installation procedure is the big star of the autumn release. It is smarter and smoother than ever before, plus it lets the user have updates and popular stuff. For anyone who's ever installed Ubuntu in the past, the changes will be refreshing and encouraging. For new users, it's instant usability out of the box. Compare this to a typical Windows setup, please.
Future work, my opinion: GRUB freeze and language fixes. Of course, tiny glitches here and there, which can never full disappear. Still, Maverick is an extremely sensible release. It is Lucid Lynx through and through, bolstered with some extra spitshine and unseen core work that make it rev and purr and growl happily. Who would have thought, but it is actually possible to make Lucid even better than it is. For all practical purposes, Meerkat is a service pack rather than a whole new release like Ubuntu 10.04 was, but the incremental improvements are more than welcome.
If you like Ubuntu, you'll like Meerkat even more. If you used to hate some of the rigor in the distribution, like the lack of codecs, Maverick is all flexible and limber now. It's as tight as a tiger, if I may borrow the Austin Powers Goldmember quote. And to close it up, Maverick makes its daddy, Lucid, proud. Well done.
Overall satisfaction level: 9.983 out of 10. Most recommended, folks! Try it!