This post is obsolete and screenshots have been removed.
It’s finally time to take the new Ubuntu release out for a spin. As background – it’s been about 2 years since I’ve run any version of Linux except for a brief attempt to run Ubuntu 6 on my laptop. That doesn’t count since I spent all my time trying to get wireless working and went back to Windows XP when the effort out-weighted the reward. Based upong what I’ve read Ubuntu is the most popular linux distribution and it’s strong point is that it’s easy for a person to start using it. It may not be the “best” since that depends on your definition, but the ways it’s set up makes it easily accessible to people. So my approach will simply be to fire it up and work my way through the applications and features as they present themselves. I wrote about the installation of Ubuntu 7.04 under Parallels here.
I had noticed after the installation that sound wasn’t enabled. So first I went into the Parallels VM configuration and added sounds. I picked default audio as both the output and input devices. I also change the VM configuration to use the phyiscal CD/DVD drive rather than the Live CD image which I had installed from. This change appeared to speed up the boot time.
I boot the Ubuntu VM and log on. I hear the Ubuntu music during the logon so I know the sound is now working. I’m drawn to the right half of the top menu bar:
First, I have a message that there are updates. The icon to the right of that has a warning triangle. Holding my mouse over it shows “No Network Connection” which would cause a problem getting the updates, so I click it. I get the options shown in the screenshot to the left. I click “Wired connection”. The icon animates itself to show it’s working and then displays a message that I’m connected. The warning triangle is now gone. [As an aside, the network is disabled on every boot and has to be enabled each time. This could be due to Parallels and I’ll look into it at a later time.]
Now that I’m on the network I click the icon the check for updates. There are two of them.
I click “Install Updates” and then get a prompt to enter my password. I get a warning that the software can’t be authenticated. I go ahead and allow the update. The update is quick and I quickly get a message that it’s complete. The update icon is gone from the menu bar now.
I’ll start my tour on the left side of the status bar. Rather than dig into the menus I’ll start with the icons. From right to left I click on the question mark which is obviously help.
This brings up the help center which is shown to the right. (Click to see it full size.) The “New to Ubuntu” section has “Basic Computer Skills”, a desktop overview, describes the role of the administrator and a section for Windows users. The help topics are pretty good but I don’t see a lot of people reading them, there going to dive right in, which is what I’ll do in a minute.
But first, I didn’t enter in any password for a root user which was different than my earlier Linux experience so I read the “role of administrator” section. Functionally it’s very similar to what Mac users do. The first user created has “sudo” (means “superuser do” but think administrator) access by default. Other users can be given sudo access but don’t have it by default. When there’s a need for administrator access (when sudo needs to run) you’ll be prompted for your password (assuming you have sudo access). The password will be remembered for 15 minutes to cut down on annoying multiple prompts.
Time to stop reading the help and click that envelope icon which is obviously e-mail. Holding the mouse over it tells me it’s Evolution Mail. The configuration wizard starts when I click the icon. I configure my demo IMAP mailbox (I’ll cover the configuration in a another post). The version of Evolution is 2.10.1 which is the latest version. Information on Evolution can be found on it’s project page on the Gnome website. Evolution is similar to Outlook in that it handles email, calendaring, tasks, memos and contacts. If someone is looking to use Ubuntu as their primary desktop Evolution may be a better choice than Thunderbird because it ties email, calendars, memos and contacts all in one application. Business wanting groupware would certainly be interested but my focus is more on the individual. I’ll be installing Thunderbird if it doesn’t turn up later in the tour so I can have consistency across OS’s. I send and receive a test email to verify it works then shut down Evolution.
The next icon fires up Firefox. The version is 2.0.3 which is the latest version. The nice thing about Firefox is it’s consistency across platforms so I’m not going to spend a lot of time with it. The available search engines in the search bar are shown to the left. I try the “Ubuntu Package Search” by searching for Thunderbird. While there are 53 matches, it doesn’t appear that Thunderbird 2 has been packaged up for Ubuntu yet.
Enough of Firefox for now. Time to dig into the menus. The Applications menus lists Accessories, Games, Graphics, Internet, Office Sound & Video, and finally Add/Remove.
“Accessories” includes a calculator with Basic, Advanced, Financial and Scientific modes. There’s also a character map utility and a dictionary which work as expected. Tomboy Notes is a post-it note type application that allows linking and searching notes in addition to web and e-mail links, spell check, fonts and bulleted lists.
A screen shot utility that can take the entire screen or just a window is also included while terminal is also available through the accessories menu. Rounding out the accessories are a disk usage utility and basic text editor.
The “Games” menu includes 17 selections including Solitare, Blackjack. Chess, Freecell, Mahjongg, Mines and Sudoku.
There’s four programs under the Graphics menu. F-Spot is a photo manager. Version 0.3.5 is installed and it’s the latest version. Gimp 2.2 is the image editor. A new bug fix update for Gimp was released a few days ago so the version delivered with Ubuntu is out of date. Version 2.2.14 is the latest while 2.2.13 is delivered with Ubuntu. gThumb Image Viewer and XSane Image Scanner round out the graphics programs. Ubuntu has version 2.10 (the latest) of gThumb even though it was released on March 19th. XSane is a frontend to the SANE libraries that allows you to work with scanners. XSane is up to version 0.994 although it’s a slightly older 0.991 delivered with Ubuntu.
Then there’s the meat and potatoes office menu that includes Evolution (same as the icon on the menu bar) and the OpenOffice.org(OOo)components for Word Processing, Spreadsheet, Presentations and Database. Version 2.2 is the latest release of OOo and is what’s delivered with Ubuntu. OOo is a MS Office replacement and can read Office files through the Office 2003 versions. It can’t yet read Offce 2007 formated files although they are working on it. But as an Office Suite it’s comparable to the Office features.
For entertainment, the “Sound and Video” menu includes Totem Movie Player 2.18.1, Rhythmbox Music Player 0.10.0, Serpentine 0.7 Audio CD Creator, Sound Juicer CD Extractor and finally Sound Recorder 2.18.0.
I’m not going to go through all the menu selections under Places and System, but the highlights are:
- There’s a CD/DVD creator under the Places menu. It works similarly to the OS X “Burn” folders or the XP “Send to CD” context menu.
- The Network Places has the ability to connect to a Windows Network (I’m unable to test it) as part of the network browser.
- Of course, there’s a search selection under the Places menu
The System menu has all the expected Preference options and System tools.
As expected, Ubuntu has a full complement of applications from browsing to a full office suite. I can see where Ubuntu gets it’s reputation as an accessible OS. They present one choice for each function, unlike many other Linux distros which present multiple choices for various tasks. For example, other distros have multiple browsers and email clients. While there’s sure to be debate about whether or not the choices made were the best or not, it’s certain that a large number of people would side with the choices made.
I was also happy to see Gnome was easy to use. I had seen it before in other distributions (and a couple years ago) and found it confusing and hard to use. That certainly isn’t the case here. If I was looking to give someone a desktop that would be used primarily for browsing, email and multi-media Ubuntu would fit the bill. Anyone familir with Windows could sit right down and start using it.
I haven’t tried configuring wireless yet. I’ve never been able to configure a reliable wireless connection on the hardware I have available. Ubuntu claims to simplify and improve wireless configuration but it will be some time before I put that to the test.
I look forward to starting to use the applications to see if Ubuntu’s as functional as it appears.
Next up I’ll take a look around Vista and see how the default install looks and compare it to Ubuntu.