12
Jan
12

Ubuntu 11.10 desktop

I’ve got the internet on at my house now so I’ll be able to post on a regular basis again. At work we set up a computer with the latest Ubuntu desktop system. We initially were not really that impressed. This made me think about what operating systems are available, and who they are designed for. So this week and in the coming weeks I will write some short review type stuff about some of the free operating systems. This week I’m starting with Ubuntu Desktop, but I will also be covering Debian, Fedora, Xubuntu, and FreeBSD. To test the systems I will be installing them to virtual box on my macbook, which will be set up to use 2 cores and 1 gig of ram with a 20G virtual hard disk. I won’t be changing the default settings all that much if at all, but I will be installing all the desktop components of the systems. If you have any suggestions for operating systems that I should add or try out please leave a comment bellow.

As I mentioned this week the first OS I’m looking at is Ubuntu. The focus of it is to make a stable and usable free operating system for anyone to use. Given that most people use their systems for surfing the net, checking email and work type applications such as word and excel, this is what I expect the system to focus on.

Installation

Installation of Ubuntu is about as easy as it gets with operating systems. It’s a nice graphical system which is reasonable easy to use, especially if you plan on having it exclusively on your system. Installing it in tandem with another OS is pretty straight forward as well, but you really need to be familiar with how disk partitioning works in order to do it. The only real downside of the installer is that you can’t choose what additional software you’d like installed at installation time. This is only really a problem if you want something installed which isn’t already installed. The base installation has pretty much all the basics you might need, but excludes more advanced programs such as the GIMP and some others that more advanced users may find necessary or useful. Fortunately the package management system is relatively easy to use to install extra software. It however does hide the more “technical” packages from view unless you specify you want to see them.

The User Interface

The user interface is very pretty, but I can’t help but feel like it’s a very close clone of the Mac OS X interface. A lot of the design components are very much like those on the Mac. For instance the sidebar is pretty much a clone of the dock, The initial applications there are pretty much just firefox and some basic office applications. I was surprised to see there was nothing there for access to email. If the application you want isn’t in the sidebar/dock you have to look for it elsewhere. At first I found this a little hard to find, you have to click the Ubuntu symbol then search for the application that you want. Surely there is a better way of doing this. I believe the reason they have made this design choice is to de-clutter the screen and menus so as to not overwhelm people. The downside is that even a experienced user such as myself has trouble simply finding applications that they might want to use. Once you have found the application you want, it works pretty much the same as on any other OS, although I did note that scroll bars didn’t have much of a visual presence, so I was never really sure of where I could scroll and where I couldn’t. The standard menu of the application is moved to the top of the screen in the same way that Mac OS does. I’m not really a fan of this on either system, it disassociates the menu from the program, which can be confusing particularly when you have more than one window open. It’s not a huge problem however as unlike Mac OS, you can’t end up with a program running and having a active menu bar, but no windows active.

Features

All the features you’d expect out of a operating system are present. It seems however to be trying to be Mac OS in what it provides. Many features and applications in Mac OS have equivalents in Ubuntu desktop, even going as far as having similar cloud based services. The only feature on Mac OS that I couldn’t find was garage band. It bordered on the eerie when I noticed that even the system preferences looked very similar between the two.

Conclusion

This version of the Ubuntu desktop achieves what they set out to when they created it. It is relatively easy for new users to get started, and for people with only need of the internet and basic office applications. If you are a more advanced user, or in need of applications that do a bit more, you’ll find the experience out of the box lacking. The unix/linux nature of the operating system is very well hidden, which does go in it’s favour for new users, but if you like the command line then you would be better served with either a different Ubuntu variant, or perhaps Debian instead. The main audience of course is the mass market of relatively unskilled users so some of this is to be expected, But a few questions stick in my mind. If this is so much like Mac OS why would someone choose Ubuntu over a Mac? Why would anyone already using a Linux distro want to use it over another distribution or even variant of Ubuntu? Why did it have to be so unintuitive finding applications not on the sidebar? I’d like to hear about your experiences with Ubuntu, did you find it similar to mine, or was it completely different for you? Please leave your comments bellow.

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