As you all know I haven’t been using Linux for a long, long time. I have installed countless distributions: Some of them have seen long-term use, while some of them have been nothing more than a flash in the pan. Ubuntu is one of those that has come and gone for me. I have used it on many occasions, been generally impressed with its offerings, but ultimately gone back to another distribution for one reason or another.
I have seen, over the last few Ubuntu releases, a serious decline in performance. Starting somewhere around 7.04, each successive release grew progressively more and more sluggish. From boot times to application start up times, Ubuntu seemed to be coming to a slow painful crawl. With 9.04 Ubuntu has made a complete turnaround.
My litmus test for a distribution is an aging, quirky laptop that suffers from the old Via Chrome video chipset. On a rare occasion, a distribution will install, but generally speaking when it finally does, it’s sluggish and seems like any minute it will crap out on me. So when I burned an ISO of the x86 version of Jaunty Jakalope, I assumed it would go the same way all Ubuntu installations have gone on this laptop: I would attempt to boot the live CD only to have it stop on a small, .5″ X 1″ white line squiqqly square in the middle of a black screen and go no further. But Jaunty continued on as if this outcast laptop was a high-end machine ready to crunch serious numbers. Needless to say, I was intrigued. Could this release actually install and run?
It did. And it did it well. And all of the claims Mark Shuttleworth has made about 9.04 are real. It’s faster than any distribution I’ve seen. It’s more stable than any other Ubuntu release to date. Everything is exactly where you would think it SHOULD be. And it all works perfectly, seamlessly, beautifully.
This aging laptop, with its VIA C7-M processor, seems infinitely faster than it did with the last distribution I had installed (Mandriva Spring 2008). It also seems much more stable. GNOME 2.26.1 will seriously impress even the biggest KDE fans.
I could go on and on listing the various bits and pieces of this release. I could go all tech on you and tell you which libraries are installed and which kernel Ubuntu uses. But for Jaunty Jakalope, all of that takes a back seat to the fact that we are looking at quite possibly the first Linux distribution that could, if given the fair shake it deserves, dismount Windows as the king.
Whatever Mark Shuttleworth did to get the 9.04 development team to bring Ubuntu back to the front of the line was a stroke of genius.
Ubuntu, you have officially “wowed” me.
Now, it’s time you wow the general public. Right? You have what could easily stand as the most significant and improved release of any Linux distribution available. It’s time to make the fat lady over at Microsoft sing. Before the official release of Windows 7 is out and overshadows you with glitz, glamour, and shiny shrink-wrapped packaging, you must do something with yourself. Put on a beautiful prom dress and show the crowd that you really deserve to be prom queen. If you don’t, this brilliant release will not see the widespread installation it should.
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.
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
* 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.
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!
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.