Updated: April 26, 2014
The spring season begins. Our first candidate is Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr, the latest desktop release by Canonical, and the newest Long Term Support (LTS) image, which will determine how good Ubuntu and its derivatives will be in the coming five years of free upgrades. Under pressure, ta-ta-ta-ta-da-da-dam.
I was pleased with Salamander, and it has actually broken the spell of several rather mediocre releases beforehand. This makes our review all the more critical. Now, you should note that I am going to conduct this review on three different laptops. No else gives you so much variety. Today, we will begin with an Asus ultrabook also booting Windows 8.1. Oh, this is also the first time I'm reviewing Ubuntu on a device with a touch screen. Let's go, fellas!
This is the first of three reviews. In this one, I will focus on all aspects of the desktop functionality, including live session, installation to some extent, and the post-install use. But I will also address the hardware side. The platform of choice is an Asus VivoBook, which came preinstalled with Windows 8, was upgraded to Windows 8.1, and now awaits further testing and molesting.
If you recall, in my initial review of the Ultrabook, Ubuntu as well as all other flavors of Linux would not even boot, at all, with or without the Secure Boot turned on. Now, we will see a much better result, regardless of the UEFI setting, which is, by the way, fully tweakable on this Asus model.
The second review will be conducted on an older LG laptop with Nvidia graphics, which currently dual-boots Kubuntu and Fedora, which we will replace with Trusty. The third review will be done on a T61 laptop with two SSD and Intel graphics, currently booting four different distros.
Finally, I am also considering testing on a T400 machine, with tricky Wireless-N and SSD, but that's something we will do with other Ubuntu flavors, like Kubuntu, for instance. Or something along those lines.
Live session - Good
Progress. The last time, Ubuntu et al were no go. Now, it's all good. Ubuntu Tahr boots just fine on this Asus machine, with or without the secure boot option enabled in the UEFI menu.
Ubuntu 14.04 is practically identical to the last four or five release of Ubuntu. Consistency is a good thing. Moreover, Wireless setup was easy-peasy with all my available networks, and Samba worked fine.
I did not fiddle too much at this point. Ubuntu is rather boring when it comes to what it can do in the live session. Mostly showcase the look & feel and hardware compatibility, but little else besides.
Installation - Good
I am not going to go into too much detail, because in just a few days, you will have a new step-by-step Ubuntu installation guide, specifically crafted for Ubuntu 14.04 LTS. So you will have to consult that one for more details.
Yes, the system has a Windows 8 operating system installed. UEFI, Secure Boot, GPT, all the geeky nightmares. Let's put the qualms aside. It will be all right. But I will not go into specifics of how to create the tandem setup with Windows 8 side by side here. That said, we will ALSO be having a full, dedicated new dual-boot guide coming soon. There, so be patient.
From the functional perspective, the installer is also unchanged. It does its work well, and in a rather predictable fashion. The whole process was also fairly quick, only about ten minutes, which is decent for a standard, el-slow hard disk.
There were no problems with the GRUB2 bootloader. Nor UEFI, Secure Boot, GPT, or anything else for that matter. This was a smooth and painless process.
Using Trusty Tahr - Good
Now, the interesting bits and pieces. The dual-boot setup works great. But more about that in a dedicated article. Wait for it, fellas.
Yes, this Ultrabook comes with a touch screen. Works just fine.
Look & feel
There are some interesting changes in 14.04. For example, window borders are narrower. Launcher icons can be resized all the way down to 16px, so you have quite a bit of freedom there. Dash is also more cultivated and easier to use, with more relevant search results.
There's more polish on the command line, too. Services no longer tell you how init scripts are legacy and how you should use the ugly Upstart commands or such. Clean and dandy. For example:
roger@ultra:~$ sudo /etc/init.d/cups stop
* Stopping Common Unix Printing System cupsd [ OK ]
Worked just fine, without any problems.
Ubuntu's repertoire is fairly slim. It is perfectly functional but emotionless, which Linux Mint does spice up. Anyhow, Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, some games, a webcam utility, and that's about it. Luckily, pimping up things to a perfect desktop are easy.
This Ultrabook comes with IvyBridge and a decent HD4000 graphics, better than the one I have on either my LG or HP laptops, so it ought to be useful. I am going to do some games testing with this box.
Resources & stability
Trusty Tahr runs very fast on this Ultrabook. Boot time isn't stellar, around 20 seconds, but that's perfectly fine. Suspend & resume worked well, and there were no crashes of any kind, which is critical for LTS editions. Memory usage is high, as little as 800MB, but the CPU is relatively quiet. The biggest offender is Compiz, with a 280MB real set, but this could be due to integrated graphics and touch.
Here I encountered my first problem. Setting up the printer was easy, but AppArmor did a funky thing and actually yelled at CUPS, the printing daemon, as if it were a baddie. It took me a bit to stop the service, teardown all the profiles and whatnot before it would work. But the printing remained broken, due to a bug in the HP wossname plugin.
Apr 19 15:52:48 ultra kernel: [ 1411.223607] type=1400 audit(1397911968.197:78): apparmor="DENIED" operation="mknod" profile="/usr/sbin/cupsd" name="/var/cache/samba/gencache.tdb" pid=7875 comm="smb" requested_mask="c" denied_mask="c" fsuid=7 ouid=7
If you open the LibreOffice Writer - it does not have any buttons. Its global menu buttons are hidden, so you can't move or resize the window. This does not happen with other applications in the suite.
Final looks and such
And we have the following after a while:
Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr is a very, very decent distribution. Solid, stable, reserved, mature, with great hardware compatibility and a well-balanced mode of work. I was kind of expecting it to fail on my touch-enabled Asus VivoBook with its preinstalled mess of Windows 8 and hidden partitions plus the use of GPT, UEFI and the Secure Boot. Guess what, none of these were a problem, whatsoever. Ubuntu swallowed them mightily and offered a stellar experience.
Printing and Apparmor are the only two real niggles, the later starting to compete with SELinux in which one does more damage and annoyance to the user. Other than that, there is nothing that I can complain about. Sure, we will test some more, plus all the siblings, but as far as this review goes, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS is off to a great start to five years of free experience. Really cool. And quite recommended. The silly spell is definitely broken. Ubuntu is once again a serious and likable player. 9.8/10. Jolly.