Saturday, September 4, 2010

Preview: Ubuntu 10.10 Beta

Just a few days ago Canonical released Ubuntu 10.10 Beta, a development release that should go live sometime late October. I downloaded it, gave it a try and I have to say I am quite impressed with what I saw. Here's a brief preview (don't want to spoil all the fun) that I will complete when I write a full review once the final release is available.

FIRST STEPS

As usual, I downloaded the ISO and tried to create a LiveUSB to test and install from. Unfortunately, not really sure why, I wasn't able to successfully make it happen. I tried with two different USB drives and also with both Unetbootin and Ubuntu LiveUSB creator, but nothing worked out. I had to burn the ISO image into a CD and take it from there.

As soon as I booted from the LiveCD, I was impressed by the new installation wizard and menus. They were top quality already on Ubuntu 10.04, but they have been deeply reworked and not only they now look better than ever, they also are the most intuitive and easy to follow I have seen so far. Among many interesting things, the wizard ran a quick check and realized I was not plugged neither to an AC socket nor to an ethernet network cable, both of which it recommended for an optimum installation.

I am not going to cover this portion in depth because I find it exciting and very interesting, and I want to make it justice when I write my final review (I did see some wording and formatting issues that are normal in a Beta state). Having said so, I must say this is by far the best Linux LiveCD/Installation wizard I have seen. I was truly surprised and really felt (probably for the first time since I am using Linux) that this portion was 100% ready for any kind of user, with or without any Linux knowledge.

On a different note, I also noticed the installation went by really quickly, which was also welcome. After the usual reboot after the installation completes, I got to the login page. I was a little disappointed to see a GDM theme that looks almost identical to that of Ubuntu 10.04. I am not sure if it will be updated before going live, but I think it should be, because it feels a bit out of place when compared to the rest of the experience. Needless to say, this is definitely no biggie, just a personal thing.

ONTO THE DESKTOP

The default desktop is an improved, better looking version of what we saw in Ubuntu 10.04. The two new themes that made their debut when the Lynx was born (Ambiance and Radiance) have been tweaked and polished, and now they look great.


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While Ubuntu 10.10 defaults to Ambiance, I think it looks better with Radiance. Ironically, changing the fonts to Liberation Sans gave my desktop a bit of a MacOS vibe to it.


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As you can see from the screenshots above, which only include Ubuntu's own themes, fonts and application GUIs, things look better than ever. The one thing that is still not up there, and looks more and more out of place with every release, is the default icon theme. Fortunately, Canonical has already identified the need for a great icon theme and they are working on it. While they are at it, I recommend downloding the Faenza theme from GNOME-LOOK, which not only looks amazing, it also feels tailor made.


Click on image to enlarge.

Wallpapers were also a bit disappointing back in 10.04, at least from my point of view. I think that was probably shared by some because they have been renewed almost entirely, and the quality is now top notch.


Click on image to enlarge.

Whereas Look&Feel was a bit of a miss in Ubuntu 10.04, I think it has improved dramatically in Maverick Meerkat. This is probably the first Ubuntu release that allowed me to build a desktop I was totally satisfied with after just a couple tweaks. Congratulations to the corresponding Canonical team, they have done an amazing job!

SOFTWARE CATALOG AND MANAGEMENT

Yes, it looks awesome, but how does it do when it comes to applications and software management? Pretty well, I must say.

Starting with software management, we get the usual suspects: The Ubuntu Software Manager, Synaptic Package manager and the Update Manager. The last two made it almost unchanged, but the Software Manager got a deep rework and it now looks astonishing and sports an intuitive and very well designed interface.


Click on image to enlarge.

The screenshot below shows the "home screen", what we get when starting the Software Center. I wanted to install GIMP, which I would have usually searched for, but wanted to give the category browsing feature a try. I clicked on "Graphics" and I here is what I got.


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I then went into "Painting and Editing" and selected GIMP from the list. Clicking on "More info" took me to the following screen.


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Installation is transparent and happens in the background. I believe this feature is perfect for users that are not interested in what is going on behind the scenes. For the technical curious, Synaptic provides more detail, and one can always use apt-get from the command line.

The application catalog is still not something I would underline as an Ubuntu strength. I think the late decisions they have made on this department were wrong, but given how easy it is to manage software from the Software Center now, I don't see this as a major issue by any means.

The game selection has been reduced to a handful of titles, which I agree with. Back in the day, twenty useless games surrounded a couple worth it, and it didn't really make much sense.

On the Graphics department Shotwell makes its debut, which means F-Spot had to go. I have never liked F-Spot much, but I can't say I understand this change, for Shotwell does almost the same things, only not as well. Yes, F-Spot relies on mono, but so does Tomboy and it is still here.

As for Internet applications, Firefox continues to make it as the default browser, now in version 3.6.9. Gwibber, Empathy, Transmission and Evolution complete the pack. Office duties continue to be handled by OpenOffice, now on version 3.2.1. Sound and Video include Brasero, Totem, Pitivi (I still don't get this one, specially when OpenShot is available) and RhythmBox.

SNAP!

In the few days I have been using it (installed it on a SanDisk Cruzer 16 GB USB drive), I realised that Ubuntu 10.10 feels fast, snappier than 10.04. Opening applications, displaying icons, menus, opening several applications together... It all feels quick and light, even on applications such as Firefox or any of OpenOffice titles, that historically took forever to open.

FINAL WORDS

Just like Ubuntu 10.04 threw me off (too many changes rushed into a release that felt unfinished and unstable, which was specially concerning given its LTS nature), Ubuntu 10.10 got me excited and hungry for more. I think most of the changes that were introduced for Lucid Lynx are now mature and make more sense, even things like the window button position shift (alright, maybe not this one) or the "Social Desktop".

There are still some rough edges in terms of Look&Feel (default icon theme, GDM theme), but the improvement is obvious. The application catalog is still not my favorite, but customizing it to one's liking should take less than an hour total. The installation wizard enhancements are excellent and I believe will set the standard other Linux distros will look up to. Last but not least, the Software Center is finally coming to life and it excels, right up there with Linux Mint's (which Canonical got so much from).

All in all, Ubuntu 10.10 raised the bar again. I personally believe that it's biggest accomplishment is that it makes the "Ubuntu: Linux for human beings" motto full justice.

I did skip Ubuntu 10.04, but they can already sign me in for a heavy dose of Maverick Meerkat!

Thanks for reading!

4 comments:

  1. I have been using the Mint incarnation of the 10.04 and have not run into any major problem since then. I also have the 10.10 since Alpha 2 up on an older 1.6 GHz 32bit AMD cpu 2x 512MB RAM, Radeon 9250 128MB. I must say it is far from the 10.04 but to the negative! The CPU shows regular 2-3 sec 100% usage peaks then calms down for some time and again. Video playback is everything but not smooth and I don't think this gets fixed (now beta stage). Visually looks really nice though I don't like the window controlls on the left and not everybody know the trick to move it back to right.

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  2. Unrefined resource management is something that is somewhat common in early development stages, I wouldn't be concerned with that. In the same way, if they are adding fixes/features to X11 or energy management, things could be a little shaky on the video department. Having said so, I haven't seen any of the problems you mention, so I wouldn't discard a problem in your hardware.

    As for Mint 9, yes, it is amazing, but it is another example of how it is moving further and further away from Ubuntu, so I wouldn't use it as a comparison to Ubuntu 10.10.

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  3. In previous release 10.04.1 I had problems with my graphic card (Radeon 9250), but it seems to be fixed, because now i can switch in 1240x768 at 85Hz which is default for the card. At Lucid Lynx I still can switch to 1024x768, but on only 75Hz and on 85 it crashed. Now I am happy with Maverick and I can say too that the themes and overall look is very polished.

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