Saturday, November 06, 2010

Ubuntu 10.10 review

Going on 3 weeks with the new Ubuntu release and I have to say that I'm in love. In one of my previous tweets I mentioned that using Maverick is almost as satisfying as Android. Says it all.

I guess that's the difference for me with operating systems. Windows always feels like a compromise. Yes I can get work done but it's always a struggle. Nothing in windows comes easy. Examples: If I need a program to do something it takes research on software and then time to locate and actually risking money to find out if the program will work for me. The same with Mac. On Ubuntu – especially with the new Software Center I just do a search. Read the description and click install to try the program. If it doesn't work I just un-install. No risk, and instant gratification.

I've done that many times over the last 2.5 weeks. The amazing thing is that I have only once or twice found that the program didn't do what I expected. The quality of software in the Software Center is amazing – even for the normally higher quality of open source.

Second example: It just works. Over and over I find that I need to do a specific task – pull up the included program and, well, it just works. No muss, no fuss. In many cases better than the specific commercially developed windows program. On leaving for a recent trip I decided to equip my laptop with software to work remotely – just in case the shit hit the fan back at the office. I installed the first VPN client that caught my eye (Shrew) from the software center and it worked the first time. It in fact does things better than any of the commercially available solutions I've found (like allowing you to set your DNS to an internal server while the tunnel is active).

My company uses Novell's GroupWise email, calendar and instant messenger and Avaya's PBX and voice mail. Evolution pulls together my personal Google mail / calendar / contacts seamlessly with Groupwise email, calendar and contacts and my Avaya voice mail. Something I cannot do at all on Windows. Period. No matter how much software I purchase.

I did run into one snag. There is a bug getting the standard Empathy IM client to work with GroupWise Messenger. It's a simple bug that will almost certainly be solved in a future release and was simply solved in my case by installing Pidgin from the software center. All of my instant messaging is tied together and amazingly Pidgin – even though it's not the default IM app (why) – is still integrated with the “me menu” - looks and works great.

Installing Linphone even lets me connect with our SIP server and have an extension on our office telephone system. And thanks to the much improved UI I was able to install a very specific and vertical firewall administration app under Wine without indecent. Wine used to be a nightmare of tweakerdom. Not any more.

All of this with the beauty of the Ubuntu improved Gnome based interface giving me 4 workspaces, my calendar/appointments, network status, IM, social network, email, and even current weather. Out of the box with no tweaks, downloads or software to buy. I also don't have to give up memory and processor (and money) to run anti-virus and anti-spyware software.

I did replace the default panel with Docky. Yes it seems a little Apple-ish but I think its one of the things that they got right in their UI. This is another thing to love about Ubuntu. I can make the desktop work the way I want it to. Out of the box without purchasing anything. Take that Apple and Microsoft.

Performance: In a nutshell – kicks butt. My laptop boots cold in 38 seconds. Something that took almost 8 min. with XP and almost 11 with windows 7.

Granted most of this is available with any Linux distro out there. What makes Ubuntu special?

Several things. First the time that was spent for 10.4 in shaving down the boot time. Wow! Effort well spent! Second – the Software Center. This goes way beyond a simple package manager. Admittedly this has been getting simpler in Linux in general the last few years but Ubuntu has taken the time to take it to a new level and do it right. Getting software is as simple as the app store on Android or the iPhone.

The installer is brilliant and the ability to do in place upgrades (I did from 10.4 to 10.10) is really convenient and something that Microsoft seems to have forgotten with Windows 7. In fact on the system that had XP previously installed, Ubuntu actually pulled over my documents and settings from windows.

Lastly – it's simply beautiful. Even in comparison to OSX. Yes it's really that polished and nice. 10.10 came complete with nice touches like it's own font. The integration of software into Gnome – like the “me menu” is fantastic and makes the admittedly pretty Windows 7 interface seem clunky.

Where I used to somewhat struggle making Linux desktops work in a windows world I've found that Ubuntu 10.4 and 10.10 make fitting into today's business world less of a task than running windows itself and the advantages of being able to integrate disparate systems AND work with my *nix AND windows based hosts, networks and servers incredibly satisfying.

In my opinion Ubuntu is the first Linux desktop that has not only met but exceeded both Windows and OSX in almost every category. It sets the bar very high and is way ahead of the other distros in the areas of polish and integration. So far that I don't think any other community has the resources to catch up. That is the real secret behind Ubuntu. It's developer and user community is hands down the strongest out there.

Downsides – as I've said in previous posts. Lack of continuity of major applications. When your users love and invest time in data and configuration of things, they have made a choice. Time to put your resources behind those projects and not just jump to the latest widget out there. Kudos to continued support of previous apps however. I was pleasantly surprised that even though Pidgin stopped being the default IM app in 10.4 that it was still so tightly integrated with the “me menu”.

The other downsides are those common to any Linux. Lack of drivers for newer hardware and lax support by some software vendors. The most visible example being the lack of hardware acceleration in Adobe Flash and the lack of support by game authors. This is rapidly changing however.

Even if you are a die hard Windows or Mac user. It's time. Make the move. Ubuntu will not only save you money and allow you to extend the life of older hardware – you will find the experience to be something you have been searching for. The experience that has been promised for years is finally in your grasp. A computer that is fast, simple, cheap, and above all satisfying.

Download and install here:
Or buy shiny and new here:

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