Distro Review: Ubuntu 9.04

Ubuntu 9.04

Ubuntu 9.04

It’s an unscheduled stop today on my never ending distro tour. I had planned to look at Chakra Project next as regular readers will know, but due to a strange series of events I ended up sidestepping onto the recently released Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope. So, it would seem odd of me not to take a decent look and see what improvements have been made in the last 6 months. The last time I looked at Ubuntu in depth was actually 12 months ago with the 8.04 release. I found it to be a solid enough but somehow lacking a little in ambition. Would Jaunty jump forward with new features? I decided to find out…

Vital Stats:
Distro base – Debian
Packaging – .deb (Managed by the mighty Apt)
Linux Kernel – 2.6.28-11-generic
Default Desktop – Gnome 2.26.1

Installation:

The boot menu

The boot menu

I actually ended up installing Jaunty while sat in a bar in Liverpool. It’s not the usual place to find someone formatting their computer, but then I’ve always been a little eccentric. I needed to install something quickly and get some writing work done; so in many ways this was a real test of Jaunty’s ease of use. I used a standard Jaunty i386 install CD found in my bag, and with a little help from a power socket and free wifi in the bar I was away. I’ve installed Ubuntu so many times over the years, I was confident of what to expect from the installer. The test candidate was my trusty Dell m1330n laptop, which seems fitting as I originally bought it with Ubuntu 7.10 pre-installed. The process itself was almost exactly the same as it has been for the last 2 or 3 years with Ubiquity (the Ubuntu installer). That isn’t a criticism, it works very well. There have been a few minor tweaks to the series of dialogue boxes but not many. The time zone map is much improved and isn’t so hard to navigate, it used to be very frustrating just trying to convince it you weren’t in the middle of the Atlantic. Partitioning hard drives is still easy enough and I chose my usual method of installing the root (/) on one partition, while leaving another for the home directories. I find this approach works very well for a compulsive distro hopper like myself. I can wipe the root partition and install a whole new OS while keeping my personal data intact. The only slight thing to beware of is correctly removing all the hidden settings folders before moving.

Time zone map

Time zone map

Working my way through the install screens probably took less than a minute, but I suppose prior experience has to be taken into account here. I set the install in motion and sat back to sip my drink. After about 20mins the progress bar was complete and I was ready to reboot into Jaunty. The process was quick and smooth on this hardware, but then you’d expect that of a machine bought with Ubuntu in the first place. Canonical say hardware support has been expanded with 9.04, and I hope this helps a few of the people I’ve spoken to with troublesome boards. That’s not a medical condition, I’m referring to motherboards unsupported by Ubuntu. After half an hour I had the base system installed and I was ready to go about the serious business of making it feel like /home.

COMPLETE INSTALLATION SLIDE SHOW

Configuring The System:

Default Jaunty Desktop

Default Jaunty Desktop

As with the installation, my prior knowledge of Ubuntu meant I was able to quickly set things up. I always start by installing the restricted Nvidia drivers for my graphics card, Ubuntu makes this easy. The Restricted Driver Manager pops up an alert prompting you that drivers are available, and in a couple of clicks they’re installed. I was pleased to see that the nvidia-settings tool has been bundled back in with the main driver package. I had to install this separately on Hardy and I need it to switch between my laptop screen and external displays. As a Debian fan I’ve always liked how software packages are managed by Apt, and Ubuntu of course inherits this. They took graphical tools like Synaptic and complimented them with Add/Remove long ago, but it’s still a great system. Next I installed the Ubuntu Restricted Extras meta package, much to the horror of all Free Software advocates reading this. Clearly I hate freedom, but I also like to be able to watch DVD’s on my computer without hassle (only illegal in the US as far as I know anyway). This one-stop package containing Flash, Java, MS fonts, multimedia codecs and more, really speeds up the process of setting up a system for new users. In some ways I wonder if Ubuntu should have a sister tool to the Restricted Driver Manager called the Restricted Format Manager. People new to Ubuntu, or even Linux in general don’t know they can install all the things they want quickly and easily. It could pop up a dialogue box asking if you want support for restricted formats or not, you could even do it in the installer. People will point to the fact that Ubuntu already asks you to install codecs if you click on an mp3 file, but I think this could be simplified. A lot of distros such as Linux Mint install all this stuff out of the box. That’s really handy but obviously not ideal from a Free Software advocates point of view. A quick prompt with an explanation of what this really means would satisfy Ubuntu’s commitment to Free Software, but also make things easier for newcomers. Many will think that’s a truly awful idea, but I thought I’d share it.

Skype

Skype

I added the Medibuntu repository to install Skype and a few other things. I used to install Skype straight from the website but this approach means I get automatic updates. Installing all the software I needed was quick and simple with the Add/Remove tool and I believe even novice users would find this trivial; once you get over the Windows mindset and realise that Add/Remove will actually add software and not just remove it like XP. I noticed some minor changes to the default Compiz 3D desktop set up, the effects seem more subtle. Switching workspaces no longer slides the whole screen to one side, but only the application windows. I guess the developers felt this was more elegant. One thing  I still fail to understand about Ubuntu is why they include things like Pulse Audio and Compiz, but not the actual tools required to configure them. You have to install CCFM yourself if you want to tweak the 3D effects beyond the kiddie options in the admin tools. Maybe they think it’s simpler and less confusing, or perhaps it saves vital room on the CD. Who knows?

New Eye Candy Notifications:

New Notifications

New Notifications

One of the new features  that’s caused a lot of fuss in Jaunty is the sexy new notification system. You can see a Flash demonstration of this on Mark Shuttleworth’s blog. It’s a custom development by Canonical and I hope they will push it back upstream to the Gnome desktop in due course. I’ve been told it looks very similar to Growl on Mac OSX, but not being very familiar with Macs I can’t confirm that. The new transparent bubbles which pop up to tell you the state of the battery for example, do bring some extra polish to the desktop. At first I wasn’t sure I liked them, but after a couple of days they felt very natural and they look great. I suppose this is the main aim, one in which they succeed.

However, I don’t like the new system update pop under. In the past an orange arrow would appear in the status area next to the clock, telling you there were system updates available. It would remain there until you applied the updates. That’s no longer the case with Jaunty. Instead the update notification window pops up underneath whatever other windows you might have open at the time, hardly much of a notification. The argument in favour of this is that the orange arrow didn’t mean anything to new users, and they will now see the update window as they close other programs. This philosophy is similar to the Windows XP method of asking you to install updates as you shut down. I find in practice it’s too subtle and not as effective as the old update system for me. If the window popped up on top of everything else then it would make more sense. Proponents of the pop under argue that this would be a disaster on something like a MythTV box, but isn’t this why we have install profiles? Mythbuntu could easily customise this behaviour without much effort. All it takes is a boolean parameter in the config somewhere, “popup=false”. The new update system is not a disaster, far from it, but I do think it’s a slight faux pas. Maybe in time I’ll grow to like it but there’s no sign of that yet.

Conclusions:
Ease Of Installation & Use: 4/5
Stability & Speed: 4/5
Community & Documentation: 4/5
Features: 3/5
Overall: 4/5

New Wave Theme

New Wave Theme

All in all I was impressed with Jaunty, it’s a very solid release. There have been a lot of minor improvements and tweaks. The new notification system looks good. There have also been some major performance improvements under the hood. I found my laptop would boot up and shut down a hell of a lot quicker. It feels like a case of evolution rather then revolution as I’ve said with the last few Ubuntu releases. It shows how polished Ubuntu really is as a desktop these days I suppose. The overall look has improved and while a lot of people will still cry “it’s too brown!” I think the new themes look good. I particularly like the New Wave theme and would enable this by default, but I suppose beauty remains in the eye of the beholder.

Nautilus

Nautilus File Manager

One aspect I haven’t really looked at in this review is the Ubuntu Netbook Remix, I don’t have a netbook to try it on at the moment. We did discuss it at length on Linux Outlaws 91. It’s been around for a while but it seems Canonical are now happy to push it a bit more, listing it on the main download page alongside the Desktop and Server editions. It might be worth trying if you’re a netbook owner. The main edition of the distro is as strong as ever and I can see why it’s so popular. There are some elements in the FLOSS world who resent Ubuntu’s popularity, but it’s a solid distro and the supportive community is really a winning feature. As the old saying goes “there’s strength in numbers” and this is certainly true of Ubuntu. Lots of software is available pre-packaged, even from 3rd party vendors, and you can usually find a detailed how-to article for any task you should wish to accomplish. The power of that can’t be underestimated. Jaunty is well worth a look for new and older Linux users alike. I distro hop a lot as you know, but I do find whenever I come back to Ubuntu it quickly feels comfortable, like an old shoe. I’m sure the Canonical press office will be rushing to quote that line won’t they? “Ubuntu: It’s like an old shoe”. For absolute beginners I still think Linux Mint is a little easier to get started with, I can’t wait to see what they do with this Ubuntu release. You could do a lot worse then Ubuntu as an entry point though. Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think.

YOU CAN GET UBUNTU JAUNTY HERE

Up next…
I’m going to get back onto Chakra Project ASAP, I actually installed it but then had to reformat due to user error and time pressure. It’s still aplha software so I won’t judge it by the same standards as a finished distro, but I do think it warrents some attention. After that I think  Fedora 11 might be worth a look. If you have any suggestions for things you’d like me to look at, please do leave a comment or send an email. I’m happy to oblige, unless it’s Windows 7 of course. So, I’m off over the hill again but as always you’re more than welcome to join me for the ride…

About Dan

Hi I'm Dan, I'm the nutter who creates the content here and oversees things. You can read more about me on the biog page if you like. Thanks :)
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36 Responses to Distro Review: Ubuntu 9.04

  1. edythemighty says:

    I imagine you must have felt conflicted with Stability & Speed vs Features. The increases in stability, speed, and ease of use *are* Ubuntu’s features, at least as far as the desktop image overall are concerned. Yes, as you say, it doesn’t seem to have changed much, but there’s only so many smart people that can innovate all the time! ;)

  2. I’ve been using Chakra for quite some time, based on a manual install of Arch and then adding the Chakra packages. I can’t comment on the LiveCD direct installation.

    I hear there have been some pushes of KDE 4.2.3 into Chakra, which I hear are still a bit buggy, but that should make for some content I suppose.

    • Dan says:

      @Christer – I found the install with the LiveCd was fine, everything worked in the live session but I took the laptop out with me without even booting after the install. When I arrived at the bar I booted and discovered the mouse pad no longer worked, same problem I had with the Arch manual install. My fault for being an idiot and not testing it before leaving. Sadly I didn’t have a USB mouse with me to fix it. The Chakra LiveCD is very impressive, they’ve done a nice job. Some rough edges to iron out but it’s in alpha so they have time :)

  3. Andy C says:

    Completely agree about increasing the visibility of ‘Restricted Extras Media’ package by making it an option during the installation.

    When I installed Ubuntu 6 months ago, half my media, videos, YouTube didn’t work. I was able to Google and quickly fix it.

    However, Uncle Harry wouldn’t and if Linux is going to be adopted by the masses, you must always consider Uncle Harry.

  4. Dan says:

    @andy – For god’s sake, won’t somebody think of Uncle Harry?! Thanks for the comment :)

    @edy – Yes it’s tough to innovate all the time. I appreciate that and I think there are actually a few interesting new features here. I like the performance increases as much as the new eye candy. It’s all part of the package

  5. jezra says:

    With jaunty, has Ubuntu fully moved to upstart? Do I even know what I’m talking about? why am I asking all of these questions?

    • Dan says:

      @jezra – I think Upstart is in use now but I thought it has been for a while, I need to look into this and get back to you. Boot times have been lowered by using applications like Bootchart to see exactly where slowdown occurs. Unnecessary things are then trimmed and other processes made more efficient. That’s what I was told. Hope that sheds some light on it but I’ll try and get more information for you

  6. Rob says:

    @Dan Based on the partitioning, I can only assume that the partition shots were not of your computer, or from some virtual install. I know you always mention having a separate home directory. Do you just install to a root partition and then make a symbolic link to the home partition? You also mentioned removing the hidden settings. Do you mean you just remove all of the directories with a ‘.’ in front in your home directory? Would you mind clarifying what that means?

    Thanks.

    • Dan says:

      @Rob – Those screen shots of the install process were taken in a VM yes, I find it the easiest way to do it. I install the distribution on the hardware and when I come to collect screen shots and publish a review, I then install again on a VM. I’ve uploaded an image of the partition layout so you can see. Click it to enlarge after following the link.

      I also delete all the “.” folders in the home directory yes. I back things up first to an external drive, just in case there are any problems. Hope that clears it up a bit. A few people have suggested using symlinks for folders within the home directory but I don’t use this method at the moment.

  7. Gopal Nair says:

    Ubuntu is cool no doubt. But I find it not ready for business use. Why? Simple. The basic need to sync your blackberry, nokia and windows mobile still cannot be done by the click of a button.

    You need to be familiar with scripts and code. What’s the point then?

    The problem with opensource people is that they claim to ve superior than Windows and Mac. I agree when it comes to certain matters. But, if they can come up with a distro, why can’t they make third party apps to ‘plug and play’ like Windows can?

    I may be wrong here, but this is my piece on the matter.

    • Dan says:

      @Gopal – Thanks for the comment. There are a lot of things which need improving I agree, it’s all too easy to become complacent. I try to avoid an attitude of superiority because it doesn’t help to spread Free Software, in fact it only damages our image. The problem you find with external devices is that developers are actually blocked from making 3rd party solutions by manufacturers. This sounds like a convenient excuse but think about the iPhone as an example. Apple does not want you using it with Linux, no way. They’ve hard coded all kinds of DRM into the device so that 3rd party developers cannot develop interfaces for it. They want everything to go through iTunes, “my way or the highway”. They also won’t release a version of iTunes for Linux because they don’t want it competing with their own OS. The only reason there is a Windows version of iTunes at all is because of the market share it brings them. It’s smart business but it’s also anti-competitive. Many hardware vendors work this way. If they gave access to develop 3rd party applications I have no doubt we would see a lot more of them. Instead, developers are left trying to reverse engineer things all time with the likes of iPod, a job many have done well but it shouldn’t even be required in the first place in my view.

      The 3rd party plug and play apps you describe for Windows are not made by Microsoft, they’re made by the hardware vendors (Nokia, Apple etc) for Windows. The reason again is because of market share, it’s the dominant desktop and so it makes sense for them to target it. Linux vendors and developers are open to working with these sorts of companies to make these things happen on Linux. In many cases they do, but all too often it is the device vendors themselves who don’t want anyone developing software to interface with their products. I hope that explanation makes sense. It’s not just an excuse. There is a hell of a lot more we can be doing and there’s much to be improved on our part. I don’t deny that at all, but sometimes the true story is deliberately hidden from the public.

  8. Avishek says:

    Will you do a review of KDE 4.2 based distro like newly released Sabayon 4.1 KDE
    Thanks

  9. Rob says:

    @Dan The link you provided does not work for me. Do you mind checking it? Also, if you do not use symlinks, how do you set up the distro to recognize the partition instead of the default ‘/home’?

    • Dan says:

      @avishek – I looked at Sabayon 4 quite recently but I will be trying KDEmod with Chakra. I’ve been told by many people they consider the KDE 4.2 implementation in Arch is the best around. I guess we’ll see, thanks for the suggestion, I appreciate it :)

    • Dan says:

      @rob – The link works for me, perhaps you have to be logged into WordPress though. I’ve uploaded it to Flickr now. I just specify one partition as /home and another as / (or root) at install. You can do it while partitioning a drive in most distro installers. It has always worked for me on any drive I’ve tried. When you come to the partitioning section of the installer choose manual partitioning rather than automatic, and then set the drive labels appropriately. It should do the rest. I just format the root partition and leave the /home one intact. The system then mounts it as the location for all home directories. I don’t know exactly how the underlying mechanics of it work with fstab and other config files, but it’s always served me well. Someone asked me a while back to write a post about how I do this distro hopping and retain data. Perhaps I should do that. Would it be useful?

  10. Rob says:

    @Dan I would be interested in reading the article, so I imagine others would, as well. Although, you may have clarified my question already. So, you are saying that the OS sees the home partition and automagically uses it. Interesting. Thank you for moving the image for me. The other question I have that I cannot determine based on your system monitor screenshot is whether or not you use a swap partition.

    • Dan says:

      @rob – I do use a swap partition yes of about 4gb. I was always told that double your amount of RAM was a good size for swap partitions on Debian systems, but hardly any of it ever seems to get used. Suspend and Resume work well for me on this laptop, so I wonder if perhaps that’s where it helps. I have no idea. It doesn’t show the swap in the system monitor for some reason. I’m glad if this information helps you a little. If you need any help setting up your system with a separate home partition let me know. Good luck :)

  11. slumbergod says:

    I wish my experience with Jaunty was as good. I have found this release to be a huge step backwards. The video driver and performance/stability issues have dogged many of us. I see that Canonical are aware of this but their solution seems to be “fix the next version”. Disappointing.

    • Dan says:

      @slumbergod – I heard a lot of people are having trouble with video drivers under Jaunty. I agree the approach of “we’ll fix it in 6 months” is pretty useless from Canonical. Is this an ATi card by any chance? We talked about it on the last Linux Outlaws. Apparently ATi have just blacklisted a load of their cards in one go, some of them less than a year old!! They don’t work with the new version of Xorg. It reminds me a little of the bad old days of video support (or lack of it) under Linux. I hope it’ll be sorted soon though.

  12. zman58 says:

    @Gopal,
    I agree with Dan’s response to your post and would like to add a couple of comments…

    All devices that I use currently use work in Linux very well. In fact, I require that any device I purchase be usable with Linux. There are others that share this attitude in their purchasing decisions. It is this attitude that will eventually bring those “Windows only” proprietary vendors kicking and screaming to the Linux system where they will have to compete. –it’s only a matter of time.

  13. David says:

    If you want to change the system update notifier to the way it was in previous Ubuntu releases, just open up a terminal and type this:

    gconftool -s –type bool /apps/update-notifier/auto_launch false

    That’s two dashes before the word type, not one.
    That is the first thing I did when I upgraded to Jaunty. :)

  14. bigbrovar says:

    Great review .. if you remember i got the dell m1330 with ubuntu preinstalled after you recommended it in your review. On running jaunty on it now and beside the intel graphic card issue (there is a work around) everything is smooth on this machine, It boots up in 17secs from grub to GDM which is frighting lol. When i used the vanilla jaunty from ubuntu i had pulse audio problems using skype.

    Then i downloaded ubuntu-9.04-dell-reinstall.iso http://linux.dell.com/wiki/index.php/Ubuntu_9.04 and that fixed the issue. the good thing about the dell image is that it now comes with an option that allows you to configure your partitions to your taste during install, an option that was missing in the last image. I think the dell image would be a better option for anybody that wants to install ubuntu on a dell laptop due to customizations which were done to make it work better on dell machines.

    • Dan says:

      @bigbrovar – I haven’t tried the official Dell image, that’s a great idea. I should compare it to this and see if there’s any difference. I’ll do that in future, thanks :)

  15. mahutchinson says:

    I tried reinstalling the root and maintaining the home partition very early on in my first use of kubuntu but ended up with a second home folder so found this reason to partition to be somewhat pointless.

    • Dan says:

      @mahutchinson – Not sure why you ended up with a 2nd home folder but having my home on a separate partition is what enables me to distro hop easily. This is my main computer and constantly copying 140gb of data every time I move is a none starter. It’s not for everyone but there is a point to it if you have specific requirements. It’s also handy if you want to upgrade between versions of the same distro with a fresh install. Keep your settings and data without hassle but get a virgin OS underneath. Hope that explains the point as I see it, it’s personal like I said. Thanks for reading :)

  16. mahutchinson says:

    I’m pretty sure I only reinstalled the root but perhaps I actually re-installed the home partition and didn’t need to ? I’ve done a few installs but am a relative newbie of a year or so.

  17. Dan says:

    @mahutchinson No problem, it’s an easy mistake to make. I probably did it myself in the past :) A few things could have happened. It’s possible you didn’t select to use the separate drive as /home during install and it made another home folder on the main drive. It’s also possible you changed your username and that in turn made a new home directory. Everyone’s home directory on a Unix-like system is their username after all. There’s lots of possible causes as I said. Would need more information to diagnose but it might be worth trying again in future, you never know.

  18. Honestly what do you expect from Linux? It doesn’t work, it never did and it never will. Linux is so inferior it’s a shame people still don’t get it. Linux isn’t even an operating system, it’s some kind of religion with all its side effects like aberration, mental incapacity, disorder and so on.

    If you prefer stability, security and superiority then Microsoft Windows is your choice!

    Linux is a crock of shit. :(

    • Dan says:

      lol nice trolling effort my friend. I hope Bill pays you well. I have allowed this comment rather than deleting it because I believe in free comment. Have fun with your Blue Screen Of Death ;)

  19. Pavan says:

    hahaha…i agree with you Dan on your previous comment.

    fyi, i ve been windows till now, but i had some problem with my windows 7 and i really didn’t want to go back to Vista, someone suggested Ubuntu and off i go… this is certainly one of the best OS i ve ever seen including windows 7, with the help of some of my friends using ubuntu regularly i configured it quick enough and its fast as hell.. no complaints here :)

    but one thing i wish to know is i ve an intel based graphic card… in vista i need to install seperate driver of it in order to activate it… then i can see my total graphics memory of 1292 mb, now when i ve installed ubuntu i m not sure if the driver of this graphic card wld have been preincluded… it might have because every thing is working perfectly but how do i chk my total graphics memory ??

    • Dan says:

      @Pavan – Intel graphics drivers are all included in Ubuntu so there’s no worries there. They’re even open source. I’m not sure exactly how you’d check how much memory it’s using but everything should be fine. There may be an Intel tool in under the Administration menu, but I don’t know for sure :)

  20. Olcay says:

    Try Pardus 2009. The best KDE 4 based distro ever.

    http://www.pardus.org.tr/eng/

    • Dan says:

      @Olcay – It’s on my list for the next stop after Crunchbang, I have reviewed Pardus before for Linux Planet and I’m very familiar with it. Thanks

  21. Curt says:

    Hey Dan, I am so glad I found you! Love your style, total dedication to trying out these distros, for us, really. Saves me time and worries with the disk partng., deciding, etc. Been distro hopping as well for a few yrs, but still feel a newbie. Would be great to read re: home direct + root for new installs, maybe with the symlink info as well. We want to hear it from you! You’re the best I’ve come across! You are taking off! Cheers mate.

    • Dan says:

      @Curt – Hi, thanks for the kind words. A few people have asked me to write about the different ways of laying out partitions for distro hopping. It’s amazing how many folks still don’t realise you can have a separate /home partition. I’ll try to get onto it soon. Cheers :)

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