Ubuntu Linux 5.04–the “Hoary Hedgehog” release–came out on Friday, April 8. Is there a reason it’s #1 on distrowatch.com? Or is it not all it’s cracked up to be? Read on to find out.
Ubuntu Linux is still a young distro, and is currently one of the most popular distros on today’s Linux scene. Ubuntu is based on Debian, and makes use of its apt-get/dpkg package system. Although many people have referred to Ubuntu as “lazy Debian”, Ubuntu is quickly heading in directions that are much different than Debian’s. A standard Ubuntu installation includes GNOME 2.10 (you can use Kubuntu, available at http://www.kubuntu.org.uk/ if you prefer KDE to be installed by default, although its very easy to set up KDE on top of a clean Ubuntu installation), the X.org X server, the latest versions of Evolution and Firefox, a 2.6.10 kernel, and a whole lot more. Ubuntu’s package management team has done a very decent job of keeping their software current. The new release of Ubuntu also includes new frontends for apt-get, called update-manager and update-notifier. These tools are supposed to make the task of keeping packages up to date easy and much less intimidating to new users, instead of typing “apt-get update” and then “apt-get upgrade” inside a root terminal. These tools act very similarly to Windows Update and the Windows Update Notifier on Windows machines.
Well, enough about its features…let’s see how Ubuntu performs.
I’ll say right out that the test machine I used is extremely old. It’s a Dell Dimension XPS R450, with a Pentium II 450 mHz processor and 128 MB of RAM. The machine’s hard drive was erased before installing Ubuntu.
The installer is a text installer, which is simple and functionalit’s not a flashy installer like Fedora’s Anaconda Installer. Sometimes less flashy is actually more functional. What the installer lacks in flashiness, it more than makes up for in ease of use. Overall, the install process is very straightforward. The installer asks the user what their language and keyboard layout is, and if they’d like to [essentially] set up a dual-boot system or just erase the entire hard drive. The installer then attempts to automatically detect the computer’s hardware. Everything went smoothly for me except for detection of my USB Wifi card, which Ubuntu did not recognize. The installer didn’t crash, it just informed me that the network device would have to be configured manually.
After that, the installer makes the appropriate changes to the hard drive’s partition table, and starts copying the Ubuntu base system files onto the hard drive. After that’s done, the installer asks you to set your time zone and asks you to set a username and password. The CD tray then pops out, the computer restarts after you hit enter, and automatic package configuration takes place — all you have to do is sit back and wait a while for the GDM login screen to finally pop up.
Although I did not set up a dual boot system for this review, Ubuntu seemed capable of making this easy as well. Whether you choose to use dual-boot between two operating systems, or only install Ubuntu, Ubuntu will install the GRUB bootloader into the master boot record of the hard drive.
It took exactly one hour and five minutes from the time I first pressed the power button on the test machine to install Ubuntu to the time I was presented with a GDM login screen. I actually interacted with/used the installer for a total of about five minutes.
After the installation process is over, users are greeted with a GDM login screen, and then a slightly tweaked, extremely clean and well thought out GNOME 2.10 desktop. There are no icons on the desktop; the standard file trashcan is located on the bottom right of the screen in a toolbar. Ubuntu’s default color scheme is…interesting, to say the least. Everything is brown. While it looks okay, I didn’t really prefer brown, and quickly changed my wallpaper and GNOME theme.
Most parts of system configuration are already performed by the Ubuntu installer; however, experienced/converted Debian users may be initially frustrated over Ubuntu’s many tweaks and lack of “creatitve freedom” because of the automated installer. There is also no root account enabled by default; according to the Ubuntu developers, this is a security measure. It’s very easy to enable a root account, just type ‘sudo passwd’ in a terminal, type your user password, then type the new root password twice. You should be able to log in as root from a terminal (you’ll have to change the GNOME preferences to log in to GNOME as root).
In terms of how Ubuntu initially fared on my computer, the automatic hardware detection worked well for the most part. Ubuntu correctly detected and set up my USB sound card/speakers, as well as my mouse (duh) and video card (I had to manually edit my X configuration file to enable screen resolutions higher than 1024*768, as higher resolutions weren’t initially available in Ubuntus monitor configuration utility.) The only hardware Ubuntu did not detect and automatically setup was my previously mentioned USB Wifi card. The fact that the clean Ubuntu install did not include the linux-wlan-ng package that would have gotten my network up and running was equally disappointing. I had to download the package manually on another machine, put it on a USB key, put the key into the Ubuntu machine, and then install it using dpkg. Which reminds me, Ubuntu detected my USB key just fine, and it automounted the key and threw a temporary icon on the desktop. That was impressive.
Once I had the network working, I wanted to see if there were any software updates since the new release, just for kicks and giggles. That ended up taking a little bit of work. It turned out that Ubuntu’s apt repositories aren’t enabled by default. They have to be enabled manually by editing /etc/apt/sources.list. Although this is probably just a security measure, there’s almost nobody that would just use only the preinstalled Ubuntu programs and never update them. A message for the Ubuntu developers: The apt repositories should be enabled by default. The other problem with the apt repositories is that there is an official Ubuntu repository called Multiverse which isn’t even mentioned, much less included in the default apt sources list. In other words, you need to know this repository exists before you can use it (I figured it out from looking at http://ubuntuguide.org.) Multiverse has many of the more obscure Debian applications — it’s a shame it’s not at least mentioned in the default apt sources list. Once everything was enabled, however, I was able to install all of the programs I wanted/needed; Ubuntu’s software repositories are very extensive. For those who want to avoid using the commandline to install software, Ubuntu includes Synaptic for use as a frontend to apt, which makes installing new software a cinch.
Despite the aforementioned complaints, Ubuntu is very impressive. Bootup time, especially on my Pentium II machine, is acceptable (at one minute and thirty seconds. I’ll take what I can get — it IS a Pentium II, after all. Bootup time should be much faster on newer hardware.) Ubuntu ran stably and nothing crashed. The new Ubuntu Update Manager also seemed to work flawlessly (though this might have been there was nothing to update, as this new version has just come out), although I consider it easier to just use a terminal to update software.
A clean Ubuntu install comes with a good amount and selection of software; there’s enough software to get things done and keep the user entertained without there being software bloat–Ubuntu includes Firefox, OpenOffice, Evolution, and a few other productivity apps, as well a few GNOME games. It also includes the Rhythmbox media player, Totem movie player, a CD player, the GIMP, and a few other multimedia applications. Basically, most common computing tasks can be accomplished with the software present in a clean Ubuntu install, but most users will obviously want to install their own favorite applications. Ubuntu also comes with a 2.6.10 kernel, in case you were interested.
Overall, Ubuntu: Hoary Hedgehog is a rock solid distro, and is a great choice for a user with any level of Linux experience (it’s also a great distro for beginners or people completely new to Linux.) The install process and initial system use should be fairly straightforward for beginners, and Ubuntu has very decent hardware detection. In fact, the only major complaint I have about Ubuntu is the release name (I mean, come ON, “Hoary Hedgehog?”) Ubuntu may or may not be as great a distro for advanced users, as it is slightly less customizable than, say, Gentoo (you don’t get to compile your own kernel, etc.) However, Ubuntu isn’t meant to be highly customizable. It is meant to install and work simply, elegantly, and well. It definitely achieves this goal, and I give it two thumbs up.
- Ubuntu’s official site
- Official Ubuntu forums/suppport site
- Answers most quick configuration questions, and addresses common problems – a great resource!
By Josh D