Sunday, May 4, 2008

Ubuntu 8.04 LTS - Hardy Heron - First Look Review

This is probably not the first review of the new release from Ubuntu that you've seen. Probably won't be the last. I have to say, if you don't want to read the whole review (which will be long), that I'm biased. I've liked Ubuntu for years and will probably continue to do so. I do like the new release. If you want to find out all the details, keep reading.

I feel that it is very important for everyone to stop and think for a minute that this is not the work of any one single team. Many teams contributed improvements in their individual contributions which, when all are added together make a seemingly grand improvement. I would like to personally thank not just Ubuntu for providing the solid stable platform for all of these developers and project to work on. Ubuntu was kind enough to list the highlights of what's new and improved in this version. With that being said, lets move on the the reviewing...shall we?

Firefox 3. This is a pretty big deal since most people need to use the primary browser for their web usage. Again, this is a case of "guilt by association" since Firefox isn't produced by any Linux team, but rather the Mozilla Foundation. The decision to include FF3 in this version of Ubuntu was theirs and I understand the logic that it is very close to final release and anyone who installs in 3 months time would have the final version in the first round of updates. I like FF3, it's cleaner looking, uses lest memory and overall a nice experience. My only "however" for this is that not all extensions have been brought up to speed on the new version so I'm missing some of that, but that is not a failing of Ubuntu or Mozilla since these are produced by 3rd parties who just need to get up to speed on the new browser, which under the hood is quite different.

Straight away after install compiz (3d effects) was enabled. That's nothing drastic, but then I observed a few small changes which I enjoyed. First I noticed when clicking on an icon in the the panel, that the symbol of the icon flares up and fades. Not a big deal, but a classy touch which wasn't present before. The second thing I noticed straight away was that in the time/calendar dock, there was the addition of weather information as well as multiple timezone selections. For me that was a very nice touch since I have coworkers around the globe. The only drawback to that is that I have an EEE PC 701 which, with the multiple timezones on expands below the visible area. On a standard desktop, this is a stunning feature, I really do like it and was a nice integration of an old Evolution function that was let go some time ago.

Since I work on laptop machines mostly and touch type in command line quite frequently I took a second while in the mouse properties (increasing the speed for the touch pad so I didn't look like I was petting it every time I needed to traverse the screen) and I saw that there is a check box for disabling the touch pad. That was GREAT news for me since I usually use an external mouse and it could be not be disabled at all in previous versions of Ubuntu.

Continuing to work with my settings to get the normal stuff I like set up the way I like them, I installed the compiz advance options control panel. This baby has gotten a great overhaul. The new control panel is a seperate entry in the System->Preferences menu which makes it much easier to get to than it's predicessor. The layout has all the same options as before (which may be too many for the normal user) but they are organized better, tool tip help is much more clear and easy to understand. I can't rave enough about the improvements here. I'm sure that even my wife will be able to super-tweak her system without a 400 page manual to decipher what everything means.

After configuring the myriad of instant messaging accounts I have in Pidgin I noticed a nice little touch, that when the person you are chatting with is typing the symbol used to appear near their avatar showing a moving keyboard. I found this in the past to be obscure and not always easy to see. Now a line appears in the flow of the conversation (where you would be looking anyway) that tells you that they are typing on the other side. This is of course, only supported in the protocols which support that type of communication.

There is now a python script program included called Uncomplicated Fire Wall (ufw) which is a command line tool for making simple rules. This then translates simple commands like "open ssh" into the correct iptables/ipchains rules which have governed the Linux firewall for ages and is very solid and stable techniques for regulating traffic requests to your system. Now even my mother could figure it out and there is an easy simple command line way of guiding novice users though the sea of managing a firewall. I'm sure it won't be long before there is a GUI that actually uses ufw on the backend. Securing you linux box very tight has never been easier.

Adding multimedia codecs, and 3rd party proprietary software to get a system ready to navigate the rich world wide web hasn't been much easier either. With the Medibuntu repositories added this also becomes a no-brainer with no other hoops to jump through, this has been one of the easies OS transitions I've done.

If you really want to get picky the one thing that I haven't been able to get working yet is a bluetooth headset for skype calls. But I'm sure to discover how to that in the near future as well. With web cams working and all hardware in the house supported this version will be installed all around in the near future. Even the process to get the EEE PC hardware working is pretty easy with simple one-page guides available.

I would advise anyone thinking about installing/upgrading not to hesitate. And for any nagging issues post-install the community resources are fantastic and very active so you won't have to wait for days/weeks to figure something out unless it is a problem at the software developer level that will just take more time to code and if that's the case, there are others in your boat who are always happy to share their work-arounds and solutions.

Simple answer, it's a great system. Use it. And it's freedom will set you free.

I'm sure with time I will observe more that is noteworthy and be creating a follow-up post to this one. Keep your eyes peeled :)


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hardy is the best OS I've used. Definitely, if you're wavering, just go ahead and install it. Like the author, the only issue I've had is Skype not letting me use my bluetooth headset.