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Ubuntu 9.04: The official review

Jack Wallen has been working with Ubuntu 9.04 for a while and finds there are some issues with the latest release from Ubuntu. Take a read of Jack's pros and cons and see if you have any to add to the list.

On April 27 I wrote a blog entry titled, "Ubuntu 9.04: Wow." This was nothing more than a knee-jerk reactionary piece that extolled the values of what the newest release from Mark Shuttleworth and company had to offer. And there is quite a bit of good to take in from the latest-greatest Ubuntu. However, once you get beyond the shiny, glossy exterior you might find a few less-than stellar issues that can raise a flag or two.

Although I have yet to come across a deal breaker in this release, I have managed to find a few chinks in the armor of Ubuntu 9.04. In this review I am going to list the pros/cons (from my experiences) and let you add your own pros/cons list. From the collective whole we can decide if Ubuntu 9.04 has helped to push the Linux envelope farther than any other release to date.

The setup

Before I continue, I should say this review was not done on my old trusty "Litmus Laptop" (which I have finally rid myself of), but on a mid-line desktop machine with the following hardware:

  • CPU: Single core AMD Athlon 2800+
  • RAM: 1 Gig
  • Video: NVdia 8600 GT
Pros

* SPEED. The first, and probably most notable, aspect of Ubuntu 9.04 is how much faster it is than previous releases. That is not to say it is the fastest of any current release. Bootup time (from start to login) is 39 seconds on the test machine, which isn't bad. When you start running applications, you really notice the difference. Here is a list of statup times for certain applications:

  • OpenOffice Writer: 3.18 seconds
  • Firefox: 2.14 seconds
  • The Gimp: 6.04 seconds

Let's compare this with startup of these same applications on my primary desktop machine running a Debian-based operating system (Elive) with the following hardware:

  • CPU: AMD X2 6000+
  • RAM: 2 Gig
  • Video: NVidia 7025

Here's how this machine stacked up:

  • OpenOffice: 6.10 seconds
  • Firefox: 3.05 seconds
  • The Gimp: 8.10 seconds

As you can see, the faster machine had slower boot times.

* DRIVERS. One of the issues Ubuntu is attempting to resolve is that of the use of proprietary drivers. Up until this release, if you wanted to use certain video or wireless chipsets you were out of luck if you wanted to remain completely free (as in freedom). With the release of 9.04 a spark of hope is shining through for those who desire no longer to be fettered to proprietary software.

Along with the NVidia graphics chipset there is a wireless card with a broadcom chipset. This chipset has always been notorious for requiring, at least, the use of fwcutter and proprietary drivers. Worst case scenario with this chipset has been employing ndiswrapper which has always been spotty at best. With 9.04 the only requirement was enabling the proprietary driver for the device.

Video was a bit of a different story. With 9.04 the new Nouveau drivers, which are open sourced drivers for NVidia graphics cards, promise to break the ties users have to proprietary drivers. I will say this is the first time I have been able to use an NVidia card, without having to install proprietary drivers, on an Ubuntu system and get a workable resolution. With the Nouveau drivers I could manage 1600X1200 resolution. The screen looked crisp and bright. There was, however, a downside to this (we'll chat about this in a moment.)

* MENUS. Finally a distribution has made perfect sense of menu layout. When you open a menu up in GNOME it all follows a logic even Commander Spock would appreciate.

* STABILITY. Even using the experimental ext4 file system, I have found that Ubuntu 9.04 is incredibly stable. GNOME, and all of its constituent parts, feel as solid as they have ever felt. I am actually quite surprised with the ext4 file system. I was expecting erratic behavior and data loss. I have had none of that - even after an intentional hard power down.

CONS

Let's get to what most a probably really wanting to see: The negative side of 9.04. There really aren't that many, but for some, they could be deal breakers.

* DRIVERS. I know, I know - how can I have DRIVERS in both? Simple. Although the Nouveau drivers free NVidia users from proprietary software, and they do so admirably, in order to get real performance you have to actually use the proprietary drivers. If you want Compiz running usably, you will have to shy away from the free drivers. You want any composite? Better install the proprietary drivers.

* FLASH. Okay, I have to be careful here. First and foremost getting flash installed for Firefox is really quite simple. Go to a site that requires flash and, when prompted, click the Install Missing Plugins button. Here's the catch - when you do this for Flash you will be offered three choices: The official Adobe version, Gnash, and Swfdec. The latter two versions will install and, on occasion, will run flash animations. Note the ON OCCASION part. Unsuspecting users might install one of the latter two versions (hoping for more freedom on their desktop) only to find out flash doesn't work as expected. In order to uninstall those unsuspecting users will have to open up the Add/Remove Software utility, search for their installed flash plugin, uninstall it, and then install the official version. This should be the default behavior until the open source versions do a better job of supporting flash.

* INSTALLED APPLICATIONS. It seems to me that Linux in general has really started paring down the amount of applications in a default installation. I remember the day when you could perform a FULL installation which would amount to around 6 gigs of installed applications. Of course I don't advocate going back to that (installations took an enormous amount of time back them). But I would suggest adding a few applications that would make the default installation much more complete. With the simple addition of Gnucash and Scribus, the basic desktop would have far more to offer the average user. Sure, you can do a bare minimum of what Scribus offers from within OpenOffice, but think about how many people use Microsoft's low-end DTP offering and how many of those people would welcome the addition of features Scribus would give them. And the addition of a finance software is a no-brainer!

Conclusion

I could easily draw a conclusion here. I could say 9.04 is an outstanding release for Ubuntu that offers something very positive for every level of user. That is my experience. From the testing I have done, this release is one finest releases Ubuntu has given us yet. It does have some room for improvement, but it does excite me to think that if this is where Linux is heading, the competition better be aware.

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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