Updated: May 1, 2013
Or maybe it should read the other way around, unremarkably remarkable. Which one is it? Well, I don't know, take a look and judge for yourself. Now, the mandatory two paragraphs of introduction. For me, Ubuntu 12.10 Quantal Quetzal was a fairly big flop. And it was nothing short of a disaster on my high-endish machine, where the Nvidia graphics stack was bonkered.
It's been six months since, so it's time for another round of Ubuntu fun, or maybe, lack thereof, we shall see. Meanwhile, a lot of things have happened, like the fact there's now Steam for Ubuntu, which is a big and awesome revolution for us gamers, and I'm running a Ubuntu phone contest for those of you not lazy enough to read books. So yes, enough with introductions, let's rock.
Ubuntu live session
Well, it started without any great fuss. Visually, it is virtually indistinguishable from the last two or three incarnations of Ubuntu, which is a good thing. Remember my KDE brand recognizability speech? It's the same idea here. You do get some icon polish, and the Launcher logo is more snazzy, but most of it remains the same, for better or worse.
Too many Files
A very noticeable change is that you get no more Nautilus, because it was made too dumb in the recent incarnations of Gnome 3, hence, no more sea thingies. The new file manager has the most innovative and unique name EVAR - Files. Not only that, the top panel displays the application name to the left, and then the contextual menu to the right, or as the geeks like to call this, menubar. Unfortunately for Files, it only has one menu and it's titled Files. So you end up with too many files there.
Look & feel wise, this new manager feels somewhat bare, nude and crude, and it would benefit from slightly more polish, but it's not that intrusive. Samba sharing was fast. All in all, not bad for a first effort.
The Dash does not seem to have been improved much. You still have the Privacy thingie with suggestions being loaded into your various lenses. My first attempt was to see how it would react to the simple word anal, which we need if we're to launch the Disk Usage analyzer. Alas, we also get a free dose of PG-13 Bangkok-style sex offerings.
Not only are the suggestions irrelevant, they are also incredibly offensive to most innocent people. The double dose of words anal and cunt seems like a great way to start your day, especially if you hand your Ubuntu to your kids. For that matter, dear Canonical, if you're not shy about what you give users, why not recommend adult entertainment titles? You may say, that's like going full retard, and you never go full retard, man. But that's exactly the point. I mean we talked about this before. What about classics like Mission to Uranus and such? Either you give me my own collection, or relevant content online, but not this weird, meaningless stuff. Seriously. Someone needs to rework this shit, and fast.
Time to commit Ringtail to disk, 'cause there's little else to do in the live session. The test setup is as follows, a dual-core box with Intel CPU, Intel el-cheapo graphics, 2GB RAM, and two SSD. This machine already has Pangolin in Unity and KDE flavors, as well as the highly successful Linux Mint Maya installed thereupon. Indeed.
The installer comes with some tiny visual polishes. There's the dot progress bar at the bottom. You are no longer offered to take a photo of yourself during the setup, and the keyboard language is matched to the system language rather than regional settings. Like the last time, we had that partitioning prompt, but it worked well. You are also given operating system names near partition labels, so it helps identify correct devices more easily.
Recently, I've been skipping most of the install steps, because they are not that interesting, but if you want, you might check my extremely detailed Ubuntu installation guide, as well as the dual-boot side-by-side tutorial for Windows 7/8 users. True, these articles have been written a while ago, but they are still extremely relevant and accurate, except tiny, tiny changes in looks, labels and such.
Anyhow, the installation was fast, and finished without issues. I still kept the Pangolin in charge of the quad-boot sequence, and there were no problems in this regard. So let's see what gives after Raring Ringtail is powered on the first time.
Shake it, don't break it
The installed system behaved well. Overall, it comes with an interesting improvement alongside a new regression. Ubuntu team admits to having dedicated their resources in making Unity work fast on lower-end devices with a weak graphics stack. It shows. The system is snappier, more responsive, but then graphics effects can take time being rendered on the screen, and this gives a very bad impression. Oh, we'll discuss this in more detail soon.
The bland looks can be improved instantly. The Launcher looks much better when minimized to 32px, and with a decent wallpaper, the transparency effect actually adds class.
The default set is fairly bland, yet functional. There's enough to make most people satisfied with their Ubuntu box, although some more stuff might make sense. The basic set includes Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, Rhythmbox, Shotwell, Transmission, and a few other programs. You can also pin Web applications, and this time it works. Dconf editor is a nod toward geeks.
Provided you ticked the right boxen when installing, you'll have your music and Flash:
Works just fine, no regressions here.
Stable as a rock, no bugs whatsoever. Good. Sleep & resume worked fine.
System resources, responsiveness
Like I said, the resource usage is down, both memory and CPU. Quite commendable. However, if you open the Dash with online suggestions and start fiddling, it may actually take a few seconds to load the elements. It turns out, Raring Ringtail is downloading content, like images from the Web, but this is not a smooth operation. Stuff should be preloaded, to make the menu snappy and smooth.
Now, on the remarkable side, CPU is quiet, and memory consumption is down from about 700MB to about 400MB. This is an amazing achievement, but it must not go against the visual responsiveness in the menus.
New shutdown logo
Quite unimportant, but pretty. Well, someone decides the priorities out there.
A variety of annoyances
Ringtail does resolve quite a few problems we've seen in the past, but many issues still remain. True, these are of somewhat lesser magnitude than some of the failings we've seen last autumn, but they must be fixed soon if Ubuntu wishes to ride the majestic corporate cash highway.
Ubuntu download link
The foremost is the download thingie. If you skip the donations, you will be taken to the LTS release download, and you must manually fix the URL. Again, like we had with Quetzal.
Stilted, crippled, like before. When you launch it, the focus does not switch into the field where you input the file name. Once you're done typing, Enter does not save the file, but Esc does close the program. C'mon, code monkeys, decide. Either you allow keyboard strokes, and Esc and Enter sound like a normal combo, or you don't. Doing half the job makes you twice the assholes.
This is a horrible one. It remains confusing and ugly. When you click on the icon, you get a warning nonsense message that reads Programming Autism all over. Speaking of icons, which one of the four keyboard input methods related items do you need? See the second row there.
Online suggestions are still extremely poor
I know for a fact there's original Jan Hammer in the Ubuntu music store. So why when I search using Dash do I get weird results? Why do I need to see some dubious remix of Crockett's Theme, and not the real deal? This is just weak.
I will make the same suggestion I offered Google. My divine troublefinding and troubleshooting skills come at a price. For a very decent sum, I might agree to come over and help you. Really. It's that simple.
Ubuntu 13.04 is a very mainstream release. It mostly fixes some of the bugs that existed in the previous version, brings in some decent performance improvements, and keeps a bunch of old, stupid stuff that needs to go away. Among the top hitters, you have poor and irrelevant and even offensive online search, download bugs, input methods, and the quirky screenshot tool, which I'm sure is representative of many other things I missed.
Performance wise, though, it's a mix of awesome and bad. The memory and CPU usage are much better than before, but then I watched in dismay as the Dash struggled to show details and images quickly enough, making it feel like playing Golden Axe on XT. I have not explored this in detail yet, and we will have a proper Nvidia-related review soon. All in all, Ubuntu 13.04 Raring Ringtail deserves around 7.5/10. Not stellar, not remarkable, fairly average, unexciting, and not as good as I would have hoped. The mediocrity just screams, and that's not the best way to grab audience. Or perhaps, it is?