Living With Ubuntu 8.10

As I have said before, while I prefer to use Windows Vista for day to day tasks, I can’t seem to let Linux go.  It is certainly my OS of choice on servers (the more so after I tried Windows Home Server for several weeks, but that’s another story).  I just wish it were more user friendly and had more polished apps on the desktop.

Don’t mistake what I mean, there are polished applications for the Linux desktop; Open Office, Firefox, K3D and Amarok come to mind.  But there are a number of widely used Linux desktop applications that absolutely are not ready for prime time; Pidgin, The Gimp, and Evolution pop up in this category.

In addition, there are whole categories of things you can’t do in Linux in terms of interacting with gadgets you might have around the house that are simply impossible with Linux.  Sync with a cell phone?  Probably not.  View TV from your Sling Box?  Not.  Work with a multi-function printer or use all the functions of your fancy printer?  Maybe and getting better.  Use all the functions of your laptop?  Sometimes and getting better.

The most annoying problem with Linux is the whining.  “Device manufacturers won’t write drivers or good drivers or open drivers for Linux”.  “That codex, format, whatever is proprietary and we can’t support it (or worse its non-free anathema).”  “You’re not paying for it, what do you expect.”  “Fix it yourself.”  “Works for me.”  Quit whining, keep coding until it just works.

Many of these problems would be solved by the network effect.  The more people who use Linux the more device manufacturers will be willing to write drivers, the more people might use open formats (although that seems unlikely based on the non-uptake of ogg).  People want what they want and they want things that work without any futzing around.

So with all that in mind, on to Ubuntu 8.10.  I am running it on a Dell Latitude D820 with 4 gig of ram installed (not that it matters because the MB only recognizes 3.3 gig).  I did a clean install of Ubuntu 8.10 RC on its own disk (not dual boot) and then updated to the final version when released with apt-get dist-upgrade.  This review is being written using ScribeFire on Ubuntu 8.10.

And here’s what the desktop looks like:

It looks pretty much like the desktop I had in 8.04 (see picture in this article) with only a few minor changes brought on by laziness.  For my daily usage the major changes from Ubuntu 8.04 to 8.10 are as follows:

  • The big plus is that finally, after a long time waiting, suspend and resume seems to work.  Its a little early to tell for sure but I have been able to set my system to suspend when the lid is closed and, sure enough, thats what it does.  But it did that with 8.04.  Here’s the really amazing part.  When I open the lid again after an hour or so, the system resumes.  I’ll wait a few more days before declaring total victory on this point because I’ve spoken too soon before, but it looks really good so far.
  • OpenOffice opens like a rocket on Ubuntu 8.10, as fast as Office on Windows.  Who knew that if application makers could see the innards of the operating system they could make the app run faster?  But why did they not ship with OO 3.0.  To get the newer version add the following repository: deb intrepid main
  • Installing Flash was mindless.  It installed the first time I surfed to a web page that required it.
  • No more nag for a keyring password.  I think that happened in 8.04, but its still nice.
  • Despite many advances and the addition of the Medibuntu repository, the requirement to add a repository just to get mp3 support is still a negative.  No its not hard (probably non-trivial for a newbie), but its something we shouldn’t have to do.
  • Gnome still sucks generally and is hard to make look like I want it to look.  It goes pretty fast now because I have taken notes on the process and have all the files I need at hand.  But if you are new to Gnome on Ubuntu, trying to banish the horrid ugliness that is the Ubuntu default look is a daunting process because there are so many things you have to touch in so many place.
  • The lack of a launcher bar that works as easily and seamlessly as Rocket Dock on Windows remains a notable miss for me.  If you don’t like to use a launcher bar, then there is not a problem for you.  But for myself, I need to get the testing version of AWN to get launchers that are just launchers, no task bar type action.
  • Desktop widgets in gnome remain generally ugly since the last version.  Nowhere near as nice as Yahoo Desktop Gadgets or the Vista Gadgets.  I guess I could run Google desktop gadgets if they had anything remotely resembling what I want.  I just want a Dual Core CPU monitor and a network activity monitor in a nice matching theme, or better yet a combined gadget.  I couldn’t find a multi core gdesklet monitor and the Screenlet monitors I found (ugly though they are) are the best things going.
  • Exaile is a reasonably nice music player, although I have to say I prefer both the look and the way WMP works to Exaile.  Maybe I’ll try a few Exaile themes to at least improve its looks.  Oh, wait, there are only three and none of them do anything but rearrange the tabs and 2 out of three don’t work on the version of Exaile in the Ubuntu repository.  

Now lets talk aesthetics for a moment.  I know I said Ubuntu’s default scheme was ugly, but the problems really go farther than that.  Mark Shuttleworth says that Ubuntu needs to become more beautiful than Apple if it is to gain significant market share.  I have got news for Mark, Ubuntu needs to first get as beautiful as Windows.  There is no sense of any sort of wholeness to the system.  Things like the login screens and relogin screen from suspend don’t match the others.  There is no coherency between the applications, not even as close as Windows.

So my initial conclusions reamain about the same as for 8.04.  Its ok, but there are not enough benefits make me want to rip out Windows and its huge number of supported programs, especially when Ubuntu is downright not as attractive or easy to configure as windows.  And remember all my business applications run on Windows.  I’m not talking about Office, I’m talking about real core business applications, like the ones that run my phone system, print labels on my shipping line, run my accounting system, run my point of sale system etc. 

But I still might consider switching if it can pass one test:  will it work with my docking station.  We’ll see tomorrow and I’ll report on the results.