Hardware

Ubuntu 12.04: Desktop perfection within reach

Jack Wallen is wowed by Ubuntu 12.04. Just how close to perfection is this latest release from Ubuntu? Read Jack's take and find out if it's enough to make you want to give Precise Pangolin a go.

Pay close attention to the following statement, because I'm going to give away the heart of this post right out of the gate. Here it is:

Canonical has released a Linux desktop distribution that is as close to perfection as any to date. How dare I say that, when everyone knows Unity is a piece of garbage? Ladies and gentlemen, Canonical and the Ubuntu developers have done their homework, listened to end-users, and created something of masterful design and execution. From the boot up speed, to the graphical elements, to the integration of all the moving parts, Precise Pangolin is, hands down, the single most impressive desktop release to date.

I first installed 12.04 on a laptop, fairly certain I was going to leave Linux Mint 12 as my primary desktop OS. That lasted all of two days. I wanted to get at least a couple of days under my belt with Precise before I made any judgment calls. It didn't work. It took all of about one hour (after installation) before I was completely and utterly sold on the latest release from Ubuntu. And the depth at which I was sold quickly informed me of one thing:

Ubuntu is back as king of the Linux desktop distributions.

Now, it's not 100% perfect. But it's insanely close. Let me first talk about what is dead-on with 12.04

HUD

I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. The Unity Head-Up Display is an incredible feat of design. With this menu interface there is no more need to switch back and forth from keyboard to mouse as you navigate and application's menu structure. Just hit the Alt key and type what you want to do. The execution of the HUD is almost flawless (the only issue being not EVERY application is HUD-aware -- but all major applications are). For any Linux application developer reading, I highly recommend you make it a goal to have your application HUD-aware asap.

Unity Lenses

The Lenses in Unity have really come a long way and make this desktop even more efficient and user-friendly than GNOME 3. As you can see in Figure A, the Unity Lens has an incredibly clean and sleek design. Tap the Super (or Windows) key to open up the Lens and then tap Ctrl-Tab to navigate through the different lenses. Or open up the Lens and simply enter a search string to search for what you're looking for.

Figure A

Ubuntu Software Center/Ubuntu One Music Store

The combination of the Ubuntu Software Center and Ubuntu One Music Store (through Rhythmbox now)  offers up the usual collection of software and music, but now includes books & magazines, and will soon offer movies that can be purchased. No matter what you need (software or entertainment), it can be found within your Ubuntu desktop. Although not a fan of Rhythmbox, it is the easiest and fastest way of purchasing downloadable music on Linux now (I will miss the Banshee Amazon connection -- but I can understand why this change was made). My music software of choice is Clementine, which is nothing more than a search away (within the Ubuntu Software Center) for installation.

Performance

I have to say, Ubuntu 12.04 does outperform Linux Mint 12, hands down. Not only does the OS itself boot faster, but the desktop responds faster and applications run more smoothly. Even with the compositor running in the background, with plenty of apps in the foreground, the desktop doesn't skip a beat. Prior to switching to Ubuntu 12.04, I had the following distributions installed on various machines:

  • Fedora 16
  • Bodhi Linux
  • Linux Mint 12
  • Ubuntu 11.10

Without hesitation, I can say Precise Pangolin bests the above hands down in both performance and user-friendliness. That is not, in any way, a slap against any of those distributions (Bodhi Linux is still a killer operating system). That statement should be viewed as a testament to how far Ubuntu Unity has come. It's incredibly stable and far more user-friendly than any desktop I have ever used.

That is not to say there weren't a few tiny issues.

The nits to pick

First and foremost, there were two pieces of software I had to install immediately:

  • lo-menubar
  • My Unity

I had reported earlier that both of those applications would make it to the final release. They didn't. They should have. Without lo-menubar installed, LibreOffice won't benefit from the HUD. Without My Unity installed, you cannot configure the look and feel of Unity. Install them both immediately.

There were also some strange crashes upon first boot. Unity and Ubuntu One seemed to not want to work without segfaulting and sending error reports. A single reboot seemed to solve that issue immediately. Since that reboot, I haven't had the slightest issue.

That's it. Outside of those two issues, Ubuntu 12.04 has been the best-in-breed of any desktop operating system I've ever had the pleasure of using. Bold words in a world of Windows, Mac, and more Linux desktop platforms than I can keep track of -- but a statement I stand firm on. Ubuntu 12.04 has made some enormous steps forward for both Unity and the Linux desktop. If you've been either on the fence or one of the naysayers, you owe it to yourself to give Precise Pangolin a try. This latest release from Ubuntu has certainly brought desktop perfection within reach.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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